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Sunday 6 September 2015

People Writing Songs That Voices Never Shared

Call me a musical elitist but there are some songs that I think people shouldn't cover.

I've found plenty of covers that are better than the originals - "All Along The Watchtower", for example, is a superior Jimi Hendrix cover of a Bob Dylan song (and I bet I know which one you're more familiar with) - but there's plenty more songs which suffer the indignity of a truly shoddy cover.

I don't just mean one of those dance covers - like take the lyrics of the original, have them sung by a different (usually bland and usually female) vocalist, and put a pulsing eurodance beat behind it. There's plenty of those, mind. No, it's the artists that attempt to cover a song in a similar vein to the original...and it badly.

Is it a case of overstretching their limitations? Knowing they'll suck at it but doing it anyway because it's easier than writing something new? Record company manipulation? Actual villainous intent? Who knows - but it happens...and more often than you might think.

Fair warning. The links below may contain awful music.

Look at Alexandra Burke's much-maligned cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" - a song that she admits she never wanted to cover (which possesses an already fully acceptable brace of covers by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainright). Look at Leona Lewis - a trio of awful covers on one EP, "Iris" (originally by the Goo Goo Dolls), "Colorblind" (originally by Counting Crows) and "Hurt" (originally by Nine Inch Nails, and covered superbly by Johnny Cash). Look at the dire cover of "Under The Bridge" originally by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers as vomited out by All Saints, and the terrible rendition of "American Pie" by Madonna, who needs to apologise to Don McLean.

 I feel I am perhaps picking on the ladies here. So let's even the field. "Tainted Love" - originally played by Gloria Jones, lamentably covered by Soft Cell, and once more regurgitated by Marilyn Manson. Shitcoverception. The My Chemical Romance cover of "Desolation Row" does no justice to the Bob Dylan original. U2 are repeat offenders - "Satellite Of Love" (by Lou Reed) and "Fortunate Son" (by Creedence Clearwater Revival) are two notable offences. And let's not forget Paul Anka, who produced an entire album of swing covers that devastate the originals. Just listen to how he desecrates "Black Hole Sun", and then hear how Soundgarden meant for you to hear it.

I have used some pretty strong language here. Vomiting, desecration, so on. I do feel pretty strongly about the subject, it bears mention - music is very, very important to me. Enough so that hearing a bad cover, to me, produces the same reaction as watching someone smear shit on the Mona Lisa.

All this leads up to me being very cautious, very suspicious even, when it comes to artists recording covers of songs that are already wonderful. You know the songs I'm talking about. Things like "Stairway to Heaven" or "Wish You Were Here". When you find out someone's recorded a cover - you feel antsy. I know I do.

The last track on the new Disturbed album is a cover of "The Sound Of Silence".

I didn't actually know this, as I was listening to it on my break at work. Just plodding through the songs, as they streamed the album on various websites in the week leading up to its release. So I wasn't looking at a track list, when the song began.

Here's the song.

...hearing this was like a religious experience for me.

My skin went into goosebumps. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I shivered. I could do nothing but listen, and I was glad that nobody else was paying attention to just how lost I was to this song.

It hit me in every primal centre. I bet my pupils dilated. I could do literally nothing but listen - and then I went back and listened again. Six times, I listened to that song, between 11 and 5. Six times. Then I went home and listened to it more - and I have listened to it at least once a day since.

In fairness, Disturbed have produced a significant amount of good covers in the past - "Shout" by Tears For Fears, "Land Of Confusion" by post-Gabriel Genesis, "Living After Midnight" by Judas Priest, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2, and more besides. Maybe this one shouldn't have surprised me, but it's one of those songs - one of the ones you should be very careful about covering.

I truly think they did it justice. It's always haunted me, this song - and this cover of it still touches me in the same way that the Simon and Garfunkel original does. David Draiman's voice is a huge contributor to the overall quality of this track, there's something about it, a texture to it that sinks right into your bones and makes you feel what he is saying.

In conclusion...listen to the song. Expose yourself to it. I know it may not touch some people the way it has touched me, but I would beg any of you that read this to at least give it a chance.

After all...silence like a cancer grows. We should fill that silence with music.

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