Cover Songs

Cover songs” have a long tradition in pop music.  One of the central debates about the beginning of rock and roll is whether the “original” versions of songs by black artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, the Drifters, and others would have become bigger hits if their songs had not been “covered” by white artists like Elvis and Pat Boone.  (Of course this issue is further complicated by the fact that many of these black “originals” were written by white songwriters, as is the case with “Big Mama” Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” written by Leiber and Stoller, but that is a debate for another blog.)

But I propose using covers in the opposite direction.  Instead of using popular remakes to introduce the public to the lesser known original artists, let’s use covers of popular originals from the past to lead us to lesser known artists of the present.

James Blake released several very well received dance 12″s, but it was a cover of Feist’s “The Limit to Your Love” (co-written with Gonzales) that brought him more widespread attention:

And that song (along with his moving cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You“) can ease us into his more experimental post-dubstep in tracks such as his recent collaboration with Brian Eno, “Digital Lion.”

A good source for covers by new artists is Mojo magazine.  The magazine’s cover stories always focus on classic rock (and occasionally soul) artists such as David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, etc., so you should feel right at home.  Plus, every issue comes with a CD stuck to the cover.  Most of those CDs compile tracks that influenced or are from the same era or genre as the artist on the magazine cover.  However, several times a year, the magazine features a CD of new artists performing the featured older artists’ songs.  To accompany the January cover story detailing the history of Fleetwood Mac’s masterpiece, Rumours, the magazine attached Rumours Revisited featuring new artists covering the classic album, track by track.

So you can listen Julia Holter’s very nice version of “Gold Dust Woman” and, if you like it, click on the link to other original tracks she has uploaded to her Soundcloud page.

The Covers Project is compiling a growing database of artists who cover and have been covered (many artists falling in both categories), so you can click back and forth between the old and the new.

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