The Song Remains the Same? A Prelude To The Great Cover Song Challenge #4 ...

  1. With the fourth official Great Cover Song Challenge set to launch on Monday, I thought it might be a good moment to take a second to discuss just what it is that constitutes a cover song, and perhaps more particularly, what do I mean when I talk about them, because for the purposes of these challenges, I have a broader definition than others might.
  2. Here are the three official challenges and one side challenge that we've done so far, with their write-ups in the holy trinity of my writing and editing life, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, OC Weekly and Radius.
  3. These challenges have so far generated 197 pieces of music from artists all over the world. Which is actually rather a lot more than I expected to happen when this started. It's also generated, as an incentive for the musicians to get their songs done in time, three terrible instances of myself singing karaoke, the less said about which, the better.
  4. But what am I talking about when I talk about a cover song? Because there are a lot of ways to do it.
  5. A Straight Cover: This is actually, for my money, the least interesting, because the whole intent is to sound as much like the original as possible. You'll see this a lot on movie soundtracks, when the studios either can't get or can't afford the rights to the original version:
  6. echo & the bunnymen - people are strange(OFICIAL - THE LOST BOYS)
  7. Personalization: This is a lot like a straight cover, but it involves bending it more to the individual artist's style and voice. Sometimes it can involve some reworking of the structure – verses may get dropped, a bridge may be extended, the melody might get rewritten – but fundamentally, it's the same song, just presented differently:
  8. Richard Thompson - Oops I Did It Again
  9. Genre-Shifting: This one's a lot of fun, actually, as it involves shifting the song from one genre to another, and in the process unveils something fresh and new within the song. It's similar to the previous tactic, but more about the genre than the artist. There are a lot of great examples of this, but the hands-down masters of the tactic have to be Postmodern Jukebox:
  10. Creep - Vintage Postmodern Jukebox Radiohead Cover ft. Haley Reinhart
  11. Perspective Shifting: This one involves some work, because it involves some reworking of the lyrics to create a sort of response to the original song, one that's recognizable, but which takes the music to an entirely, often contrary, place. (Note: This is different than a parody, which is often just a straight send-up.)
  12. Translation: Translating a song into an entire different language is hard. You have to approximate the lyrics while while preserving the melody, and language isn't always very cooperative. It's really hard to do, but in the right hands, it can be extremely exciting:
  13. Parody: This one, I'll admit, I'm not fond of, at least in the terms of the Great Cover Song Challenge, unless it's something the artist regularly does. A good parodist, such as the mighty "Weird" Al Yankovic, can take a song, rewrite it to be funny, and still be loving in the process. It's not straight up mockery. Even better, he can make the song be about something else in the process, which is pretty dang impressive.
  14. "Weird Al" Yankovic - Tacky
  15. Sampling: This one is actually more of a cousin to the cover song, but it still involves taking the song's raw material and creating something new. I like to include it as an option in the cover song challenge because a lot of hip-hop artists feel "covering" songs, per se, is verboten (although I've seen some big names do it to great effect.) Still, there's something inherently cool about remixing part of an original recording into something new, and then rapping an entire new song over it:
  16. Just Plain Strange: We get lots of this, and we like it. Get creative and let your musical freak flag shine!
  17. And there we are. There's no right way to do a cover song, at least not from where I'm standing. Like I said, the song is the raw material. What I'm interested is seeing what the artist does with that material when they take it and run. The call out for The Great Cover Song Challenge #4 goes out Monday. If you're a musician and want in, hit me on Facebook.
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