The best thing about playing someone else’s song is the unwavering faith in its brilliance. At least that is taken care of. If people are booing, it’s not the song’s fault. Also, the chance to take a trip in someone else’s skin.
Recreating someone else’s work is frowned upon in other mediums. Comedians don’t say, “I’m going to do a couple classic Rodney jokes and get out of here.” And when painter’s try it, Interpol gets involved. Both the band and the government agency.
Some bands like to make cover songs their own, taking more liberties with the tune’s DNA than Trump’s accountants. Here is a list of amazing renditions where the artists totally made the song their own. I tried not to list any songs that were done for parody, but, you know what Yoda says about the word “try.”
Elvis Presly: Blue Moon.
The king took this doo-wop number from the Marcels and made it strange and etherial enough for David Lynch to include in his masterpeice Blue Velvet. Man, that old school slapback echo on his voice is to die for, especially on the falsettos at the end.
Will Oldham: Am I Demon?
I don’t think anybody expected the man they call Bonnie Prince Billy to rock out to Danzig, let alone cover him. Somehow, his use of acoustic guitars dialed up the evil. Love the yodel into the second chorus.
Klaus Nomi: The Twist
When Chubby Checker asked people to “twist again like we did last summer,” this ain’t what he had in mind. Nomi took the dance for the remedial and turned it into an operatic order for us humans straight from Alien High Command. Also, Nomi’s “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” is worth the price of admission.
Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole: Somewhere over the Rainbow.
The big man with the little ukuleleI added a unique phrasing that even Judy Garland would approve of.
I know this somber version was oversaturated a couple years ago, but if it hadn’t been, every hipster worth his Buddy Holly glasses would be spinning it at artsy parties.
Angélique Kidjo: Once In A Lifetime
An african woman appropriating the Talking Heads appropriating african music. How can you lose? It’s definitely not the same as it ever was.
Viagra Boys, Featuring Amy Taylor: In Spite of Ourselves.
The Viagra Boys flipped this John Prime classic on its head, adding 90’s lofi drums and messy guitars. Amy Taylor proves to the world once again that she is nothing if not a good sport. I wouldn’t want to piss her off, though. The watermarked stock footage in the video gets me every time. They did the pandemic remote thing right.
The Defibulators: This Charming Man.
Ever wondered what the Smiths would sound like as a bluegrass band? Wonder no more. Listen to those harmonies!
The Pet Shop Boys: You are Always on my Mind.
The Pet Shop Boys take on this Elvis classic, composed by Wille Nelson, annoys the ever loving shit out of my wife. Needless to say, it’s on heavy rotation whenever I’m feeling contrary or acting out for attention.
Gwar: Get Out of My Dreams.
Richmond’s finest, Gwar, polluted Billy Ocean faster than us mere humans polluted the Atlantic and Pacific.
Extra credit: Speaking of Pet Shop Boys, here is Gwar with their new singer, doing their version of West Ends Girls. At the end, they do a tear-jerking tribute to their fallen leader Oderus Urungus (RIP).
XTC: All Along the WatchTower
XTC took this Bob Dylan classic in a different direction than the Hendrix version we all know and love, giving the song a caffeinated nervous disorder. Andy Partridge sings it like he ate speed and ran just out of beer. That organ creeps like the orgasmitron from Barbarella and the guitar is nails on a chalkboard. Love it.
Of course, Devo is number one. Devo is always number one, spuds. (Except if you are Jon Spencer.)
Devo pondered, “Are We Not Men?” The Rolling Stones answered, “You can’t be a man because you do not smoke the same cigarettes as me.” Fair enough. Actually Jagger was reported to be “up dancing within thirty seconds” of his first listen.
The video feels like Monday morning.