The Original vs. The Cover
I consider myself a music snob. I listen to a TON of music of all different genres spanning several decades. I grew up listening to my Dad’s music (Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, you get the picture). When I got to junior high/high school music became my identifier. I “discovered” rap, hip hop, alternative rock. This will date me, but I loved going to the record store on Tuesday when the new albums were released and pick up 1 or 2. Take a look through my Iphone today and you’ll see Bonnie Raitt, Beyonce, Chromeo, N.E.R.D., Michael Jackson, and the Stones – a little bit of everything.
I liked listening to music because of the stories that were told but also the way it made me feel. There was always a song/album that represented what I was feeling/experiencing. Then there was also music that just sounded good – maybe the lyrics were vague or limited, but the beat was solid.
In Snellow’s The Musical Perspective chapter, we are introduced to the concept of congruency (lyrics + music = clear message) and incongruity (emotion + concept contradict each other and where the critic either has to examine the music or lyrics in isolation). Seems pretty simple to understand. Either things match or they don’t.
Then I got to thinking about cover songs. You've heard the saying, “Everything old is new again” especially in music. The original can be substantially different from the cover even though the lyrics, the message is the same. The original could be targeting your Mom’s crowd with 80’s guitar riffs and sultry saxophones, while the cover can be your teenage brother’s anthem of angry rockers. So, how does a cover change the original? Does it? Is the message the same? Is the feeling the same? Is the audience even the same?
Take, for example, George Michael’s 80’s hit Faith, a buble-gum-ish/rock ballad that was written and produced as G. Michael’s breakout song. On the surface, it’s got a simple up-tempo beat. Lyrics are pretty direct, not much room for ambiguity. From my reading, it’s a song about a torn lover trying to get past a relationship with someone who might not have been as invested as he. An optimistic take that someone better is out there. “Well I need someone to hold me, but I’ll wait for something more…”. The target audience mostly likely is the adult contemporary/young adult female audience. Seems pretty straight forward as far as congruency in lyric + music).
The Original -- George Micheal (GM)
Now, here are 2 covers by 2 very different bands.
The Cover -- Limp Bizkit (LB)
** Careful -- some blurred out images included **
The Cover -- Lake Street Dive (LSD)
The tone of these songs change, absolutely. LB’s version sounds like the ultimate “screw you” to the girl that tore you up and stepped on your heart. The fast past and sudden switch of beat, tempo, and song (singing vs. screaming) is reminiscent of the schizophrenic mood and opinion changes hormonal teenager and young adults often deal with in relationships. The target audience is most likely young, rebellious, invincible, and dare I say, arrogant men and women. The song is absolutely congruent with its target audience and tone, but not necessarily the original. I doubt an older listener would feel much more than a headache from this.
In LSD’s version, the songs ton is similar to GM’s. However, the old jazz standard style is more reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald. Definitely something your hipster roommate would identify with. The song now has a soulfulness and aching feeling to it. It’s less “screw you” and more “thanks, but no thanks. I’m going take care of me”. The feeling of this version is much less angry and more insightful. The lyrics and music in this version still operate with congruency within itself, but again, not necessarily the original.
Here’s my take. These versions all express congruency within their own context and audience. The GM version will resonate and be clear with your Mom’s crowd, but would be lost on your brothers. LB’s version speaks to the shared emotions of many outspoken rockers, while your millennial hipster sister will identify with LSD’s version. Laid side by side, these songs don’t seem to have anything in common or congruent. However, within the context of their audience, the tone of the music, and the style, these songs are very clear – and congruent. These songs all make each respective audience feel something in a way that will resonate only with them.
When looking at other cover songs, do you see the same thing? Versions resonating with one audience over another yet having the same meaning and feeling? Am I right in my analysis?