cover song: A recording of a song that was first recorded or made popular by someone else.
"This is a cover of a Beatles song." Cover = Remake. But don't say remake anymore :)
(a note from Val)
A funny thing happened at the concert the other night...
I took a few friends to see a new artist at my local stomping grounds SPACE Evanston. It's a small room, our table was a few feet from the stage, perfect acoustics; it doesn't get any better than this. As we drank in the sweet sound (and some wine) friend #1 leaned over and whispered in my ear, "does he ever sing anything we know?" JOLT. I didn't understand. New artist, new music, isn't that what we came here for? I nodded and said, "probably, just wait." The show went on. Not even ten minutes later friend #2 tapped my hand and asked the same question!!! "do we know any of this artist's songs?" JOLT. I was having an epiphany right in my seat. Then my mind started racing - "they must not like the show - damn, I want them to love this new fave artist of mine - wait, I know the artist, maybe I could give him a sign: play a cover! that's what the audience wants!" I had to combat my need to control this, so I sat back in my chair, listened to his original songs, one by one. And soon my mind wandered to a show I saw just last week...
It was Dawes, another new favorite artist of mine - he's the talk of the industry, especially his live shows - and boy did he deliver. I remember very clearly now, about a third of the way into his set, when we least expected it, he started a song... wait, which track is this?... hmm do we recognize... whuh? wow! YES!!!! The crowd went nuts when he started - the familiar guitar intro - then... "When I think back to all the crap I learned in high school... it's a wonder I can think at all.." My friend and I watched: everyone over 40 was shouting every word, every stanza, crying out the refrain of Paul Simon's Kodachrome. The youngsters were hyped, not sure why yet, but they played along. Bodies were hopping up and down, singing along with Dawes - even me, who never does this. I don't even like the song - too overplayed on the radio when I was 15. But I sang every single word - proudly - I owned that era. You know what that was? A gift from Dawes. A gift. He's confident enough to make a left turn off his own highway - and treat us to something genuinely familiar. He took a stab at his version - and watched us at play. Talk about a jolt of a different kind. He injected even more life into his show than there already was. My favorite part was watching the 20-somethings mouthing the words, looking at the oldsters for guidance. It was the talk of the show. The audience will talk about it later too. Tell their friends. They'll love Dawes even more, encouraging friends to catch his next show. Brilliant. Another cover success story is NYC band Harper Blynn's cover of Beyonce's Halo - it's one of the most fun experiences I've had at a live show. Everyone knows the lyrics, and the band does clever stuff like syncopate the harmony, each taking his turn. It's like a groovy new circus act and the whole audience gets involved. It's an unexpected jolt of energy delivered right into your veins. Tons of fun. The artist surprises you. Shares with you. Invites you into their show and asks you to participate. You didn't expect it. You got more than you paid for. You love that artist. You leave happy.
Back at the show with my friends - the new artist came over to our table to say hello. So I asked him, "do you guys do any covers?" He replied, "hmm, cover songs are risky. The audience will judge you, compare you to the original. It's tricky business." I asked another (very well known) artist the same question. She said, "Sure, I do cover songs, they're fun. It's a challenge to take a popular song apart and put it back together your own way.. " If the fans like it sometimes they request it more than your original stuff. This can get a bit old!" A third artist I know well, Andrew Belle, decided to throw in a holiday song at a show last December. It was brilliant, and brought down the house - so much so that he published it on iTunes last month (on my playlist below.) I just keep hitting replay.
I really want to analyze this dance - this dilemma between artist and fan - the "who wants what" when it comes to cover songs. The fan's need for something familiar vs. the artist's perceived threat of risky business...
Artist, I'm taking the fan's side on this one. Even though my entire business model is based on getting new music to the fans, I firmly believe that a cover is important.
Your cover song is our security blanket. My advice to you is relax and throw in a cover - It's like recess during school - let us run out on the playground for a few minutes. We'll come back to you, ready to listen even more intently. You'll look smarter because you showed us the breadth of your ability. You'll sound better because you deviated.
So go ahead, play us a cover.
We won't judge, we'll be too busy singing along with you at the top of our lungs.