Cover versions of original songs are regarded by some as a valid re-interpretation, or sincere rendering of a piece of music that already exists, others see covers as derivative, wholly lacking in creative merit or artistic worth, and yet some of the most obscure songs that have been re-birthed via covers, are admired for their uniqueness and often uncanny sense of imbuing a song with a completely different persona, many have also been huge hits.Elvis Presley covered songs by Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes), Big Mama Thornton (Hound Dog), Arthur Crudup (That’s Alright) and was imitative but never unoriginal throughout his whole career. Otis Redding’s 1966 hit Try A Little Tenderness was first recorded by a big-band orchestra in 1932 and then popularized by the crooner Bing Crosby in 1933, Peggy Lee took Little Willie John’s Fever and made it her own, as did Julie London with Cry Me River, which was later given a rocked -up work over by Joe Cocker, as part of his Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour, with ringmaster Leon Russell.
The British Invasion began when pale English singers acknowledged the influence of black American rhythm and blues artists, it was their emulation of such performers as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and others, that enabled the British Invasion bands to re-invent rock and roll through authentic covers of great original songs. In doing so they allowed the genre to evolve in a way quite distinct from the teenage crush pop, of the white US artists of the early 60’s.The Rolling Stones version of Willie Dixon’s Little Red Rooster, originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, was the first blues record to top the UK charts in 1964.
Bob Dylan has been covered by many diverse artists – A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall (Brian Ferry), All Along The Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix), Mr.Tambourine Man (The Byrds), It’s all Over Now Baby Blue (Graham Bonnett), and If Not For You (Olivia Newton-John). The Beatles too have been a fertile back catalogue for cover freaks, the English music hall simplicity and innocence of I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends became a bluesy rock anthem when made over by Joe Cocker, Australia’s Zoot gave Eleanor Rigby a turbo-charged, proto-punk Led Zeppelin-esque re-birthing in 1970, and Doug Parkinson wrung every ounce of soul out of the Beatles nursery rhyme plea to Prudence Farrow, with their 1970 version of Dear Prudence.
Sometimes the tribute overtakes its origins, Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit Respect for example, was first recorded by Otis Redding in 1965, but Aretha made it her own two years later; Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman is forever identified with Santana, while Sinead O’Connor completely owned Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U after her dramatic 1990 classic cover, which has more recently been covered by Capital Cities.
Late in his career in 2003 Johnny Cash recorded his version of Trent Reznor’s (Nine Inch Nails) Hurt, which became arguably the greatest cover version in history, selling 2.5 million copies. The themes of the song were self-harm, depression, heroin addiction, and the stunning video that Cash made has been awarded a Grammy award, an MTV award, an NME award, and Rolling Stone magazine rated the song 15th in the list of the 50 greatest songs of the decade. Johnny and his wife June Carter both appear in the video made in February 2003, June would pass away three months later in May and Johnny in September of the same year, Trent Reznor simply said “that song isn’t mine anymore”.
Whitney Houston turned Dolly Parton’s heartfelt but slightly aw shucks C&W ditty I Will Always Love You, into an all guns-blazing power ballad much-beloved by reality show song contestants, and ten years after Leonard Cohen had recorded Hallelujah, his hymn to sexual climax, Jeff Buckley completely stole the song with his moving and nuanced version in 1994.
In recent years cover songs have emerged as a credible musical genre as shows like Glee, The Voice, and Idol, regularly feature them, Jimmy Fallon has had celebrity guests performing covers on his show, Drake did a karaoke rendition of Kanye, Bruce Springsteen covered Lorde, Arctic Monkeys covered Tame Impala, Steps covered the Bee Gees, Susanna and the Magical orchestra covered no less than AC/DC, and everyone from The Weeknd to Ed Sheeran to Rita Ora and John Mayer covered Beyoncé, Mayer was even catapulted back onto the Billboard rock chart with his cover of Queen B’s XO. In today’s Internet economy, music is more available and accessible than ever before, and cover songs can serve as a powerful launching pad for a musician, or in Mayer’s case, a re-launching pad.Australian performers like 5 Seconds of Summer (above) and Troy Sivan (below) started their careers as enthusiastic YouTube vloggers covering their favorite songs, and reaching out to an ever-expanding fanbase via digital platforms and social media like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter; cover songs effectively launched the careers of two of Australia’s most successful international artists in the past decade.Before and outside of the Internet, countless bands have got their start based on their ability to do a credible live cover; Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic started out in a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band, and most bands would have performed covers until they were confident enough to attempt original material. The Rolling Stones debut single in 1963 was their cover of Chuck Berry’s Come On, and the Beatles first album Please, Please Me, was liberally sprinkled with covers of hit songs including the Shirelles Baby It’s You, the Cookies Chains and the Isley Brothers Twist and Shout.
Cover versions abounded in the Ausmusic of the 1950’s and 1960’s as early rock and roll and then 60’s beat music transformed the local music scene and existing songs were pilfered from all over the world and covered by local artists. We should celebrate the great cover versions of songs that enabled our local musicians to find an audience in a local market already crowded by at first American and then British performers, and nourished the emergence of a more confident and capable local music industry that nurtured creativity and encouraged others to take great original Australian songs to the rest of the world in the next 50 years.This week 4TR has nominated its list of Top Ten Ausmusic Covers, you will note that two of them were awarded ARIAs as Single of the Year in 1993 and 1998, we also include a list of honorable mentions, let me know what you think of our choices.
Top 10 Ausmusic Cover Songs (Original versions in brackets)
- Torn – Natalie Imbruglia (Ednaswap) +
- Funky Town – Pseudo Echo (Lipps Inc.)
- Locomotion- Kylie Minogue (Little Eva)
- The Horses – Darryl Braithwaite (Ricki-Lee Jones)
- My Island Home – Christine Anu (Warumpi Band)
- I Get a Kick Out of You – Gary Shearston (Ethel Merman)
- Eleanor Rigby- Zoot (Beatles)
- Dear Prudence – Doug Parkinson In Focus (Beatles)
- It Ain’t Necessarily So – Normie Rowe (The musical “Porgy and Bess”)
- Black Betty- Spiderbait (Ram Jam)
- Poison Ivy – Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs (The Coasters)
- The Day You Went Away – Wendy Matthews (Soul Family Sensation) *
- You’re So Vain – Chocolate Starfish (Carly Simon)
- Forever Young – Youth Group (Alphaville)
- Shout – Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays (The Isley Brothers)
- Don’t You Know Yokomo – Dinah Lee (Dee Dee Sharp)
- Hitchhiker – Bobby and Laurie (Roger Miller)
- Big Time Operator – The Id and Jeff St. John (Zoot Money)
- In the Summertime – The Mixtures (Mungo Jerry)
- If Not For You – Olivia Newton- John (Bob Dylan)
- When The War Is Over – Cosima De Vito (Cold Chisel)
- What About Me – Shannon Noll (Moving Pictures)
- Shivers – Screaming Jets (The Boys Next Door)
- The Loved One – INXS (The Loved Ones)
- Sunshine On A Rainy Day – Christine Anu (Zoe Pollock)
- Kiss, Kiss – Holly Valance (Stella Soleil)
- When You Say You Love Me – Human Nature (Darren Hayes)
- Tears On My Pillow – Kylie Minogue (Little Anthony &The Imperials)
- Mona – Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2 (Bo Diddley)
- Bizarre Love Triangle – Frente! (New Order)
- When Something Is Wrong With My Baby – Farnham & Barnes (Sam & Dave)
- Don’t Give Up -Shannon Noll/Natalie Bassingthwaite (Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush)
- We Got To Get Out Of This Place – The Angels (The Animals)
+ ARIA Single of the Year 1998 * ARIA Single of the Year 1993
In our song profiles this week we feature two covers from the 2000’s with Cosima De Vito’s moving rendition of the Cold Chisel song When The War is Over, remarkably the only Chisel song to make it all the way to #1, and Don’t Give Up, a duet by Nat Bassingthwaite and Nollsy. The 90’s are represented by the biggest -selling cover version ever by an Australian artist with Natalie Imbruglia’s global hit Torn from 1997, in the 70’s Olivia Newton-John covered Bob Dylan’s If Not For You for a breakthrough hit, and in 1959 Johnny O’Keefe showed the world that we could do reckless rock and roll as well as the Americans, when he tore into the Isley Brothers hit Shout at the Sydney Stadium.