By Pia Cabrera

Cover songs have been popular in the world of music for a long time. These days, they are recognized as an artist paying homage to the song or artist they admire. Cover versions occasionally turn out to be more popular than the original song, but in many instances they’re criticized by fans who feel the cover artist ruined their favorite song.  In either case, it’s usually because the cover artist has given the song a completely new arrangement and sound – sometimes it’s a hit, sometimes it’s a miss.  It’s amazing how an artist can take an R&B song, for example, and give it a rock n’ roll twist.  But the opinion of whether a cover is better than the original depends on a matter of personal taste.

The number of cover songs is countless, there are several that can be discussed, from filler songs on albums, to soundtracks, YouTube videos, live performances and even talent competitions.

Award shows like the Grammy’s, Oscars, MTV Awards and more, are known for their tribute performances, where musicians and vocalists often collaborate to honor legendary artists and their music. One of the most recent tribute performances that stunned audiences far and wide was Lady Gaga’s homage to Julie Andrews for her role in the film The Sound of Music.  Gaga’s Oscar performance was a pleasant surprise, with phenomenal vocals that undoubtedly stole the whole show. In this case, fans were not offended by the cover, but instead embraced it as a fantastic performance that sound hauntingly like Andrews.

American Idol and The Voice are all about covers, and are known for encouraging up and coming artists to ‘make it their own’ by putting a new spins on the music.  Some contestants do it successfully and are applauded for it.  Others are criticized for butchering the original song.

When it comes to new musicians getting noticed, covers are the best way to go.  They show up easily in a Google search and allow a new artist to perform without the added hassle of writing and developing new material.  As such, YouTube is full of covers.  Justin Bieber is just one example of an artist who was discovered on YouTube as a result of performing covers by Chris Brown, Usher and more.  And some radio shows are known for inciting artists to cover their favorite songs, especially BBC Radio 1 from the UK.  Some more well-known examples of this are Ed Sheeran’s cover of Christina Aguilera’s song “Dirty,” Sam Smith’s cover of Bruno Mars’s song “When I Was Your Man,” and Hozier’s cover of Ariana Grande’s “Problem”.  Each of these artists contributed something a little bit different from the original.  Some fans consider them to be masterpieces.  Others think the covers fell short.

For me personally, my top three covers include:

  • Whitney Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s country song “I Will Always Love You”. Houston’s 1992 cover was recorded for the soundtrack of her film The Bodyguard, and till this day it is known as one of Houston’s greatest hits and one of the biggest pop music singles of all time, showcasing her remarkable and iconic vocals. In this particular instance, the cover was indeed more popular than the original.
  • Legendary rock band Nirvana did a live rendition of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World”, a song who’s main character feels lost in his life. Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain felt akin to the lyrics as he struggled with similar feelings, so he gave the song a brilliant performance.
  • Amy Winehouse’s cover of The Zutons song, “Valerie”, which is a great example of a song that most people had no idea was a cover. Winehouse’s amazing, unique and jazzy vocals made the song unique and listenable time and time again.

It’s a shame that all these three aforementioned artists have passed away, leaving behind their catalogue of songs for future artists to cover, therefore allowing their legacy to live on.

The fact is that covers comprise a large part of music, with artists borrowing from other artists over and over again in an effort to breathe new life into songs. For example, where would Marilyn Manson be without the dozens of songs he’s brought back to life as cover versions? And where would dozens of artists be had they not delved into the Beatles’ catalogue to cover one of their songs?  Even an aging Tom Jones, who was originally popular in the ‘60s, borrowed from Prince in 1988 in order to record a cover of “Kiss”.  So, it doesn’t matter who the artist is, or what the genre is, artists dip into each other’s pools on a regular basis to pay homage by creating a cover song.  Whether or not it’s better than the original, is a matter of personal taste.