What makes a good cover song? Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and poet/music critic Hanif Abdurraqib discuss.

Originally published at: What makes a good cover song? Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and poet/music critic Hanif Abdurraqib discuss. | Boing Boing


I’ve always appreciated how much this doesn’t really sound like Dylan OR Hendrix, but its own song:


My primary philosophy about covers has always been to bring something new to the song - either in the performance or the arrangement - that makes it a new song. Two of my favorite examples are hugely popular in their original forms, and hugely popular as cover sources. In each case, I never thought much of the originals or the covers I heard over the years. In one case, I never heard a version I liked until the one I’m about to mention. In each case, I was always puzzled by the esteem the songs were held in.

First is “it’s all over now baby blue.” I always thought this song was pretty much ok and that’s all, until I heard this overwhelming version by Link Wray. This version is so far above all other versions I have heard that I can’t even fathom it. Its relative obscurity is a true puzzler.

Second, and this is the one that I never liked until I heard this cover, is the Leonard Cohen tune “Suzanne.” Never liked LC’s version, and never liked any of the probable two dozen versions I ever heard until this one by the Flying Lizards. Once again a song I had no use for became one of my favorites. I still don’t like any other version, because this one is so amazing.


I love this cover of “Back Door Man” by Howlin’ Wolf originally from the Doors.

[note sarcasm]


My opinion as well but I have a special place in my heart for Tears for Fears’ “Ashes to Ashes”.

In a similar vein, Faye Wong’s “Dreams”

Somewhere I have a mixtape entitled “Cover Me Badd”. It has the very fine

(the standout from the Jimi covers album in the thumbnail) and

The “Before You’re Punk” series

(and Before you were punk...vol 1 & 2 - YouTube)
is hit and miss but their Every Breath You Take is splendid.


A cover of a cover, if you will, Phish doing Deodado doing Strauss

And here’s the ‘original’ Deodato as used in the sublime Being There. ‘Cause not everyone loves Phish.

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Two great ones from the mid-90s:


Sometimes a great cover transforms the source material, sometimes a great cover plays it totally straight and reveals flaws you didn’t know a great song had. I am partial to Kobra and the Lotus doing Rush’s “Spirit of Radio”.

Kobra’s vocal range is right in the same place as the falsetto Geddy was affecting for most of his singing at this point in time, and this lets her bring power to the vocals that he never could quite manage. Aside from this change it’s a fairly straight cover; there’s more double-bass-pedal rolls going on and they play around with the reggae part in the middle

Also I just like this one because it made me want to listen to more of K&TL and they are a pretty banging mystical metal act with a really well-trained singer fronting them.

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Yup. I get annoyed at covers like Gloria Estefan’s Turn the Beat Around or Dixie Chicks doing Landslide, like what’s the point? Make it your own. Laibach is the gold standard for covers.

I have lots of faves but at the moment I’ll just post this, which besides just being a great cover in that it injects new energy into an old song, strikes me as a great gen-x/boomer conversational moment. “Thanks for the 60s, but sometimes y’all are annoying as hell so here’s one of your sacred songs that we’re just going to scream all over”. I like it because it seems like homage and retort all in one go.


I don’t think covers necessarily have to be different from the original, sometimes it’s okay just to have fun with things, especially in live situations. There’s sense of community in a crowd singing and dancing to the familiar.
Covers that miss the point of the original, or make things deliberately overwrought absolutely shit me - doubly so for people covering hiphop on an acoustic guitar.

I love the Mary Chain’s cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”. Jim Reid’s deadpan delivery has is so self-assured that the title is barely a question anymore. You know you love him and his cobra-snake necktie wearing ass.


I really love Tribute - the album of ska and punky covers of Duran Duran tunes. It get replayed a lot. Standout on it is Hungry Like the Wolf by Goldfinger. https://youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_nkSMKjlBrh7hILz7BmhCIVdqSapEnfEsM

And Keller Williams (and The Keels) Thief - bluegrass versions a variety of cheeky tunes - makes me smile a lot and wish I were at a festival. https://youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_nzVVL_W86J9T6z_NDwvaW56mQe2v1_eSc

Also Cry Cry Cry by Richard Shindell, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky - folk covers of lesser known folk songs done with ethereal harmony. https://youtu.be/o1Hzpggc9lk

Pretty much anything covered as bluegrass is going to reel me in, and anything quiet cover by a metal band has the same effect. :metal:

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Two things that make a cover worthwhile:

  1. Bringing something new, something special (NB but smart and valuable, not just arbitrarily different) to the version. Examples: Grandaddy’s “Winter Wonderland”, Cake’s “I Will Survive”, Hendrix’ “Watchtower”
  2. Bringing your own/your band’s trademark sound to a great song but not otherwise messing much with it: Examples: Pixies “Winterlong”, Bryan Ferry’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, and the absolute pinnacle of not just cover versions, not just pop and rock music, not just art, but human achievement itself…



I’m guessing many people are familiar with this, but if not, it bears bringing to everyone’s attention as often as possible. A fantastic voice and a wonderful arrangement.

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Two more from the “Cover Me Badd” mixtape.
A plug for the Butthole Surfers:

You like, to think, that you’re, immune, to the stuff.


This is an example of a great cover in my eyes:

It treats the source material lovingly and adds a flavor and character that can only come through interpretation. Lots of great tunes in this thread, nice.

Another couple of excellent reinterpretations …

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Loving Prince’s Originals.

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