Covers that beat the originals - e music; GENIUS Books Services
eMusic Editorial Staff
Covers That Beat The Originals
It’s one of popular music’s stranger mysteries that often the author of a song isn’t the person best suited to deliver it. The caliber of the writer isn’t the issue: One only needed to watch Fiona Apple’s shattering rendition of Elvis Costello’s “I Want You” on stage at a 2006 concert for VH1 to realize that, legend though he is, Declan MacManus was only the song’s second-best interpreter. Pop history is full of cases like this, where a good song becomes a great one with just a few simple tweaks. Maybe it’s an off-kilter arrangement, maybe it’s a different inflection, or maybe the singer just understands the words in a way the author didn’t. Or, as is the case in a few of these selections, maybe it’s a song that got so worn down from familiarity that it needed a new voice to bring it back to life. Each one is a little different, and each is remarkable in its own way. These are our picks for covers that surpass the originals.
Marianne Faithfull, “Working Class Hero” (John Lennon)
When John Lennon released his first post-Beatles solo record (1970′s Plastic Ono Band), we not only bought the album; we bought the book: Primal Scream, by Dr. Arthur Janov. Lennon’s album was influenced by therapy with Janov, in which the patient screams and cries through their pain. It was novel to hear Lennon sound so “naked,” just his voice and acoustic guitar. Marianne Faithfull, herself no stranger to emotional damage, covered “Working Class Hero” on her 1979 album Broken English. Faithfull’s setting for the song sounds like Weimar Germany, as if it had been written for a Brecht-Weill musical. It is the rare case of a cover topping a version of a song by a Beatle, even a solo Beatle. — Wayne Robins
Grace Jones, “Walking in the Rain” (Flash and the Pan)
Grace Jones called her 1981-82 world tour “A One Man Show.” That sly nod to her androgynous appearance and multi-faceted persona was rarely more appropriate than on this opening cut from 1981′s Nightclubbing. For her post-disco breakout album, Jones returned to the ace rhythm section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, plus another set of covers (Iggy Pop, Brian Ferry) as impeccably chic as the ones on 1980′s Warm Leatherette. And then there was “Walking in the Rain.” Applying a slick dub-funk makeover to not the Ronettes, not Love Unlimited, not even old Johnny Ray, but Australian new-wavers Flash and the Pan, Jones speaks the words, “Feeling like a woman/ Looking like a man,” and they’re transformed. She forgets to add, “Sounding fabulous.” — Marc Hogan
Road To Ruin: Expanded and Remastered
Ramones, “Needles & Pins” (The Searchers)
One of the best songs on 1978′s Road to Ruin album was a cover of this early ’60s pop number co-written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche and popularized by the Searchers. The Ramones had already released cover songs on each of their first three records. But this time, they left the buzzsaw guitar behind and opted for a more straight-ahead and sentimental approach. It’s the heavy
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