Somebody else's song. A nascent band employs these to pad out their set list; an up-and-coming band will use the familiarity of one in order to reach a wider audience: e.g., Talking Heads with Al Green's "Take Me To The River", Run DMC with Aerosmith's "Walk This Way", or Marilyn Manson with Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams". Some bands - cover bands - play covers exclusively, though this is a somewhat dubious practice.

A cover song is, amongst pop artists, usually nothing more than good business. Take Britney Spears, for example. After her first album's success, her follow up album included a cover of the already-often-covered Rolling Stones classic "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Since "Satisfaction" is familiar to even the simplist of music listeners (and as already stated, a classic tune), to hear that the newest hippest young singer in the world is going to tackle it on her next album immediately creates curiosity in everybody, whether possitive ("I love that song and really wonder what she's going to do with it!") or negative ("She's going to butcher it!"). For most, it's really just a simple and harmless way of stirring interest in a record.

This almost by definition makes cover songs terrible. It takes a song that someone dedicated themselves to creating and fine tuning and puts it in to the vocal chords of someone who likes to sing it at karaoke, though they are deaf to the intentions and emotions of the original artist involved. Of course, this is not always the case. In the earlier days of jazz, blues, and rock, it was almost a given that artists would perform each other's songs. The fruits of this practice were in many cases fantastic. And though most artists have spent more time in the last forty years or so trying to distinguish their own voice in music, some have made memorable impressions with their covers. Jimi Hendrix's performance of "All Along The Watchtower," for instance, was written and recorded previously by the oft-covered Bob Dylan, even though Hendrix's became the standard. Both Manfred Mann's hit "Blinded By The Light" and Patti Smith's "Because the Night" had been written by Bruce Springsteen. And who can forget the legendary Johnny Cash, whose career began when the sharing of songs was the norm, who has made countless tracks from other artists work, most recently (and right before his death) covering Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt", which NiN frontman Trent Reznor says he was honored to hear being performed by Cash. The reasons artists perform covers include:

  1. As a marketing tool (see above)
  2. Overwhelming appreciation for the original song
  3. To energize a crowd during a live performance
  4. To "ride the coat tails" of the original artist in to fame and fortune
  5. To bring recognition to the original
  6. To rearrange the song in to a different style for a different audience
  7. Any or all of these reasons

It is the varied nature of these reasons that divides the art of a cover song. Whereas Britney's "Satisfaction" cover will continue to be nothing but a forgotten shiver down the spine, many performers are capable of taking a song and making it not only their own, but thoroughly appreciable (for instance, "The Wind Beneath My Wings," made famous by Bette Midler, though originally a country song). Sometimes new blood can reinvigorate an older song for a new time, like with Van Halen's cover of The Kinks "You Really Got Me," which remains relatively the same song as recorded by it's original band. And sometimes it's just a kick to hear the song where you didn't expect it, performed live by a band that didn't write it (the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Barenaked Ladies are held in high regard as examples of excellent live cover bands). Whatever the case, I just wanted to give evidence that often times we as music listeners do like cover songs, and often rightfully so. Please consider for a moment the following three songs:

  1. Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You (Original Artist - Dolly Parton)
  2. Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U (Original Artist - Prince)
  3. The Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody (Original Artist - Various)

Just some examples of cover songs that nobody really thinks of as cover songs. But it's true, for the most part they're terrible. Really, really terrible. But if you think I left something out feel free to message me, or continue posting under this node. I think I've made my case.

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