The Art of the Cover

So the purpose of this post is to discuss that thing just above this text. Before we can dive into that matter we need to first address an important question: what makes a good cover song? A quick search brings up a number of articles concerning this topic. The first comes from CTV News. They interviewed a number of musicians to get their take on this question.

According to Ron Sexsmith: “Try not to sound anything like him.”

“I thought Michael Buble’s version of my song (‘Whatever it Takes’) was pretty interesting because it was so different — he did this Latin lover take on it and then Feist’s version of ‘Secret Heart,’ I always thought was great too, because for the most part, most people who have done that song have done it kind of like me — but her version was like Euro pop or something, it was cool.”

Matthew Morrison

Matthew Morrison, a  cast member of the television show Glee said, “It’s an interesting question because I’m sure there’s some kind of specific answer but it’s either like a really good cover or a really bad cover. There’s never an in-between cover.”

Royal Wood commented that making small, creative changes to the music “are crucial to putting out a relevant cover.”

“What offends me the most is when people cover a song but they don’t change it … they basically just sing karaoke. What’s the point? I can listen to the original, which would have been far better and inspired and real and raw, and in the moment, and all you’ve done is copy and paste.”

A more succinct and ordered way to answer this question can be found at: Musicalis Eclectica:

  1. Be original
  2. Have a point
  3. Respect the original.

The source of this post gives a detailed explanation for each point and is worth checking out.

Trent Reznor

So now we return to the video above and Trent Reznor. Let me start by saying I think he is incredible. A friend turned me on to the album Broken when it was released and I’ve been hooked ever since. The man is able to tap directly into emotions and manipulate his listeners any which way he likes (I mean this as a compliment). He’s gifted, original and after a number of questionable years where I thought we would never be together again he’s back in my life.

Whether you loved The Social Network or, like me, you thought it was an incredibly pointless film to make, you can’t deny that the score played an enormous role in the film’s success. Here we are, on film number two and David Fincher, Reznor and Atticus Ross are at it again. The video above, as I am sure everyone already knows, is the opening sequence to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It is also a bad cover.

While it would be impossible for me to say I am not biased, based on the criteria I attempted to loosely collect above I would argue this cover is poor because it does so little to change or improve upon the original version of the song.

I imagine this seems like a silly matter to devote so much time and text to but my respect for Mr. Reznor is truly that great. I have no doubt that the score for the film itself is wonderful, especially since the subject matter seems nearly tailor-made for his style of music. Much like my previous post on George Lucas I am willing to concede that this is possibly a generational thing. Perhaps the people who are praising this cover are younger and nostalgia or sentiment are keeping me from hearing what is really there.

There is no way to answer that question so instead I will leave you two videos. The first concerns The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, dealing with the sound design for the film. Ross and Reznor discuss, among other things, the difficulty of creating this cover.

The second is from the band Toad the Wet Sprocket (who are alive and well, who knew?). I am including this to give an example of what I think is an excellent cover. The band really puts their mark on the song by slowing it down.

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