There is a serious lack of music articles on this site. Graham the Re-Animator has about 10 music articles (though he’s apparently posting another one soon) and I’ve done 3 myself, and apparently that man who dresses in black did some music articles before I got here, but all told, we make more video game articles every week than we’ve had music articles…ever. So, I’m here to try to fix that a bit.
The cover song is a staple of musicians everywhere. Sometimes they do it well, sometimes they do it poorly, but sometimes…sometimes they make the song their own. They make a journey to the heavens, transcending this mortal realm, and bring back a glorious version of the song that would make even the most hardcore of fans of the original to admit “yeah, they did alright”.
And sometimes, people don’t hear these transcendent cover songs. Here’s an attempt to fix that. NOTE: If there is no YouTube upload, I’ll link the song instead. Note that I am going for obscure versions of songs here.
The reason this is so low is twofold. Firstly Ash (the guys that did the original) are apparently pretty popular in the UK, particularly in Northern Ireland, but aside from the hardcore alt-rock junkies, most people from North America probably haven’t heard of these guys. Secondly, there’s a chance you’ve heard of Emm Gryner. Not a big chance, mind you, but she’s somewhat popular in her native Canada, and in Ireland apparently. She’s been nominated for a few Junos (they’re our Grammy awards, but lamer) but that really doesn’t mean that she has a lot of fans. Either way, this song from Emm’s album Songs of Love And Death, which was an album full of Irish cover songs about love and death. If you’re listened to both versions, well, you know why I included this song on the list: The first one, while a hit, was pretty generic indie-pop-rock with decent lyrics. There are some compelling images in the words written by Tim Wheeler about his then-girlfriend, and if you just read the lyrics, you can tell he really feels it. But the instrumentals kills the mood. It’s like it was meant for another song. Gryner’s breathy, subdued piano version brings out the strengths of the song and amplifies them tenfold. It’s nearly impossible to not feel moved by this, because this version perfectly captures the feeling of true love. Ms. Gryner took a popular lump of coal and turned it into a sparkling diamond.
This is the most obscure band on this list. This is a British band that is unrelated to the British punk band End Of Level Baddie. These guys essentially recorded four songs with an acoustic guitar in a bedroom and then…disappeared. It’s a real shame, because their cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight is simply sublime. The original is great, but the spectacle is all there is to it, it seems. But, as this anonymous British chick with kitty face paint shows, there is more to this than the nice orchestra. In fact, it’s almost as if the cover was more appropriate. Billy Corgan, with his confident vocals and nearly extravagant music is commanding you to “believe in me as I believe in you.” Meanwhile, the End Level Baddies version is meeker, more vulnerable…but it builds to a healthy confidence. At first, she pleads to us to believe in her, but by the end, we do. The reason this works as well as it does is that this is a song about growing up (as far as I can tell) and this version makes us feel it. The first one, while awesome, feels like it’s more about a magical journey through a mystical land of wonder. This actually feels like growing up, like losing a part of yourself, but gaining something in return. Am I reading too much into it? Possibly, but it’s the best explanation I can find as to why the cover brings more real emotion from so many people than the original did. All I can say is that I wish these kids stuck around.
#3: Van Canto: Master of Puppets
Tired of those wimpy chick covers? Well, here’s some fucking METAL for y’all! A Capella metal, anyway. Van Canto has been around for a little while, but unless you’re a metalhead, you probably haven’t heard of them, and if you have, you’ve probably laughed at the idea of A Capella metal and listened to exactly none of their stuff. They have done some pretty decent original songs, but I feel they’re best when they’re taking metal standards and re-interpreting them without guitars. While they did well on this Manowar cover, this Nightwish cover, this other Metallica cover and this Grave Digger cover, Master of Puppets is where they shine brightest. Seriously, listen to the original, then re-listen to the video posted above. They kicked as much ass as Metallica did (or at least a comparable amount of ass) just with their voices. If that is not impressive and inspiring, nothing is.
#2: The Suspects: Seek and Destroy
OK, I’m going to have to preface this entry by saying that I’m not trying to pick on Metallica here. This song is just awesome. It turns the original on its head, turns the threats of violence into comedy, and is something you can dance to. It sounds less like teen angst and more like a good time. And that’s all I need to say there, other than that this song was written when Dave Mustaine was part of Metallica, he played on the track, and fuck Dave Mustaine.
#1: Kina Grannis: Disturbia
Really, this entire post could have been Kina Grannis if I wanted to do it like that. This young lady does covers almost as well as she does original music (and she does that incredibly well. There is literally no good reason she is not on top of all the charts right now).
But seriously. You want to have a good version of a Katy Perry song? Done. A song that was patently insincere is now chock full of sincerity, and it’s a thing of beauty. Want to be able to enjoy an Akon song? Done. Now one of the most boring hits of the last decade is a breezy, enjoyable, happy little love song, and it took her almost no effort to fix it. Well, what about a song that the cool people like? Done. Now that Pumped Up Kicks song, which did the lyrical dissonance thing kind of poorly (let’s be honest) is a given the mood that it deserves, and the duet makes it sound like they’re planning the shooting together, thus adding another chilling level to the song. Fine, but can she do a Beatles song better than the Beatles did it? Yup, though to be fair, she did pick one of their weaker ones. She can even make a fucking Justin Bieber song sound worthwhile.
But this cover of Disturbia gets the top spot. The reason is actually pretty simple, but it does require explaining. See, Disturbia was an interesting song ruined by over-production. It could have been an interesting exploration of insanity, instead, it was another bloody dance track. But Kina’s version is quietly disturbing. It’s still listenable, in fact it’s still good, in fact, it’s better for properly nailing the mood. That’s an important facet of songwriting that so many people miss.
Anyway, that’s my list of the best independent, small time artists covering hit songs, and doing it better than the original artists. But here’s my challenge to you: prove me wrong. Find me five cover songs by independent artists that are better than the originals AND better than my picks. I mean, I don’t expect anyone to be able to do this, but I’d still like to throw down the gauntlet.