Take it and make it your own.

Want a hit song? Do a cover! It worked for Joan Jett, Tiffany, UB-40 and a lot of other musical acts. Before The Beatles (who did their share of covers early on) pop stars weren’t expected to write their own tunes, but the Fabulous Foursome from Liverpool changed all that. The rest is rock’n’roll history.

Sometimes people aren’t even aware the song is a cover. Did you know Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused is a cover? Stevie Wonder’s Superstition? Patsy Cline’s Crazy? Click here to get a list of songs most people are unaware are covers. If you knew, give yourself 10 points.

This week I want to look at a few cover songs by artists who didn’t do a faithful rendition. They made these songs their own…

Devo – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1977)

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Photo credit: Mother Jones

The Rolling Stones had started out doing mostly cover songs, but soon began writing their own songs and Satisfaction is probably the best of their early non-cover efforts. When Devo covered it and performed it on Saturday Night Live it was a real shocker. Cold and robotic dispassion seemed to be the way some of the New Wave was going on in the late 70s (see the next two entries) and Devo’s style may have had a lot to do with that. I dig the “babybabybabybabybaby” part that I can’t seem to pull off without gasping for air. Mark Mothersbaugh must have a far greater lung capacity than I do. Devo’s version is brilliant.

Talking Heads – Take Me To The River (1978)

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Photo credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

The late 70s cold detachment continues with this cover of an Al Green song by Talking Heads. Now I’m not saying Talking Heads were incapable of passion, there’s just a cool weirdness to this song. Al Green’s original is, of course, as soulful as soulful can get. It’s Al Green! Duh! Still my cold, cold heart prefers the Talking Heads’ rendition.

The Flying Lizards – Money (That’s What I Want) (1979)

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Photo credit: DB Burkeman

This wasn’t a Beatles’ song. No, The Beatles’ version is itself a cover of the original version recorded by Barrett Strong in 1959. Strong’s version is soulful and passionate, while The Flying Lizard’s version is cold and mechanical. It’s a cool, aloof, dispassionate and sparsely instrumented song that was recorded on the cheap. And it was a hit in the UK.

Johnny Cash – Hurt (2003)

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Screen capture from Hurt video

OK, enough of the New Wave 70s detachment. This cover is anything but detached. Written by Trent Reznor and released by his band Nine Inch Nails in 1996, the original Hurt sounds more like a demo when compared to Cash’s far superior version. Cash brings a level of experience and understanding at age 71 that Reznor just didn’t have when recorded the song at age 30. The weariness in Cash’s voice is heartbreaking and the video has been hailed as one of the all-time best. Reznor wasn’t sure how the song would turn out when he was first told about Cash’s intent to record a cover, but when he saw the video he knew Cash nailed it. I think it’s more a case of Reznor writing the song for Johnny Cash, he just didn’t know it at the time.

Packing Peanuts!

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One thought on “Take it and make it your own.

  1. The Johnny Cash version was so achingly beautiful and I agree his age and experience brought something so original to his cover. The video was also exceptional!

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