Friday, April 22, 2005

Ripping the covers off

Like this much-blogged-about article says, there's some irresistible compulsion that bloggers have to post when they have little or nothing to say and even to apologize for lack of substantive content. I haven't been posting too much recently and what I have hasn't been much connected to law and politics. I've started a bunch of posts about cultural stuff that remain as drafts, as well as a few bits abandoned as repetitive (another post about how weak David Brooks is) or trivial (a post criticizing NYT Ethicist Randy Cohen, but defending him against readers). Of course, triviality is what blogs are for, so I don't know what I was thinking.

I spotted this piece about song covers this morning. One of my alarmingly grumpy-old-man rants is about the decline of the good cover song. Some of the covers mentioned in the article aren't familiar to me, but I recall hating the "Smooth Criminal" and "I Will Survive" covers. The latter, murdered by Cake, is not only bad, it's also not very original. Tony Clifton did a similarly "ironic" version in the mid-80s (revived for the Man on the Moon soundtrack.) Chantay Savage did a good version of "I Will Survive" about ten years ago, though, so it's not impossible. The "Boys of Summer" cover by whoever they were was incredibly bland, practically anonymous, but I did find it interesting that they changed the Grateful Dead reference to Black Flag. To me, this just proved that post-punk bands think that being "post-punk" means it's OK for everything they do to sound exactly alike.

In my pantheon of great covers, Isaac Hayes looms large. Not all of Hayes' covers are excellent; indeed after awhile they started to sound compulsory, as if Hayes thought it necessary that every album contain a pop standard given the "Ike treatment." Still, it's hard not to be awed by what Hayes found in Bacharach and David songs. Actually, Bacharach songs are a good measure of how effective a cover artist can be, separating the Ron Isley's and Mike Patton's of the world (check out his versions of "She's Gone Away" and "This Guy's in Love with You") from the Luther Vandross's (see his "Anyone Who Had a Heart", "A House is not a Home" or "What the World Needs Now is Love"). Vandross has made a second career out of doing flimsy, superfluous covers of songs done better before. Heck, Vandross and Mariah Carey's cover of "Endless Love" makes you appreciate the original, if you didn't already.

The 70s was a great era for covers, though. Beyond Hayes, you had tremendous covers coming from Donny Hathaway (whose covers of certain songs are so good he ends up "owning" them for all intents), Bryan Ferry and several others. Lots of people did great covers back then, moreso, it seems, than now. The contemporary scene sees covers, as the article says, as a free pass, rather than a challenge.

On that exceedingly grumpy note, I'll leave this for now.


Blogger tappedfull said...

It's sad that Bacharach isn't more well known. Nice blog.

11:51 AM  

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