Don’t worry, it’s not another blog about bloody X Factor. Let the tear-snuffling emotional pilgrims do what they want – it’s only TV. Nor is it about sacrilege – the best covers always leaven their tribute with irreverence. It’s about those moments where a band, sometimes a band you love, crack out a choice of cover that makes you go, ‘guys, really? REALLY?’
These horrors are usually the preserve of B-sides, second encores or acoustic radio sessions. Covers as album tracks are usually well-chosen, thought-through experiments where the original song, the covering artist and some mysterious catalyst create something new. The casual, impromptu nature of the ‘well, we need another song, quick!’ moment, though, can lead to some rash decisions, veering recklessy into the hard-shoulder of the overdone and the ultra-iconic. Some songs just do no one any favours, not matter who and no matter how they do it. For instance…
The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby’/’Blackbird’
Two of the most taken-on of all time, these. It’s not that the Beatles are uncoverable – such a range of work means there’s lots of lesser-known gems, lots of possible perspectives, lots of iconoclasm to be had. So why stick with the obvious? And nobody needs Dave Grohl showing us his emotional depth on the latter, cheers.
Leonard Cohen – ‘Hallelujah’
I wonder if when Laughing Len first penned this soul-scouring dissection of love’s dysfunctions, that he could have imagined it being performed by one of the characters in One Tree Hill? Of course not. No one could have imagined One Tree Hill.
The Zutons – ‘Valerie’
The classic case of the cover that overtook the original – nobody is actually thinking of Dave Zuton when they sing this any more. Amy Winehouse owned the song totally, and her death adds a whole other level of ‘don’t go there’ – a live snatch of it was the only low point of Azealia Banks’ first UK shows. She recorded little enough, leave it with her, eh?
Bob Dylan – ‘Knockin On Heaven’s Door’
Guns N’ Roses we will allow, if only because who the fuck could even be arsed arguing with Axl these days. But the rest of you – you ain’t as rawk as you think you are, k?
The Rolling Stones – ‘Satisfaction’
Whether sincere, in which case you will not live up to it, or ‘reinventing’ it, in which case you are ill-advisedly trying to steal Cat Power’s thunder, why would you do this to yourself?
Anything by Joy Division
But most especially ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. If you were going to a big party, you wouldn’t go dressed in a replica of Marilyn Monroe’s Seven Year Itch frock, would you? No, because you’d look like you were in fancy dress and people would think you were not all there. That’s why you don’t cover ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
It’s not just the era-defining iconicity of the song, it’s that there’s nowhere you can take it. You can’t popify it – the whole point of Nirvana, their controversy, was making the underground mainstream and poppy. You can’t make it more fucked up, more sad – that’s all right there in the foreground, bumping up against the big bouncy riffs. And you certainly can’t top it. So don’t try. But please don’t go for ‘All Apologies’ instead.
The Velvet Underground – ‘Sunday Morning’/’Pale Blue Eyes’
They’re cool, the Velvet Underground, aren’t they? Very cool. But a bit scary… apart from when they’re being pretty and twinkly! Get knotted.
Any current big pop hit in an indie/acoustic fashion
Otherwise known as the ‘Travis do Britney’s ‘Baby One More Time’ model. If that’s your model, whatever you chisel in its image, whether sad-face Rihanna or ‘now with added angst’ Gaga will be dire. We’ll say this one more time, baby – pop music is not ipso facto stupid and devoid of emotion. By waving an acoustic guitar at it and putting your ‘thinking really hard’ face on, you are more likely to detract than enrich.
Any golden-oldie alternative hit in a drippy, trembly-breathed acoustic-girl fashion
What are you trying to do here, sell me contents insurance?