Cover it, don't smother it
Gone are the days of class and elegance in the entertainment industry. Remakes flood the shelves for a quick sale without thought or care with the expectation they’ll be eaten up like cake thrown into a fat camp. And they are. Movies like Carrie, a film adaption of a 1974 Stephen King novel and originally released in 1976, hit the cinemas late last year with a cagey reception at best. The greatly anticipated remake failed to deliver the all-important class and elegance that movie geeks demand from their cinema seats and it’s not just movies that get slashed; music has been strung out too many times by careless pop stars whether they are, or aspiring to be, the next big thing.
Musicians, partnered with their bandits for producers, often attempt to hi-jack and corrupt true musical greatness through the sampling or covering of well-known songs from the past. This, when done carelessly, can have huge implications on the rest of the industry and diminish the over-all respect of fellow artists and performers. If done correctly however, a whole new masterpiece can be created.
In an attempt to justify the theory of bad sampling, it would only be right to start at the bottom; the very bottom. Just before the end of the slightly questionable 80s, Ice Ice Baby hit the charts with a shocking degree of success, despite its obvious hack-job attempt at storming an original. Vanilla Ice’s chart-topping track needs no explaining; only that it took the iconic bass line from Queen and David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’ and relieved it of its peaceful soul. One-hit wonders come around for just one reason; they use what is already great without providing originality in anything else they do. It’s a shame to see, but it happens.
Turning away from one-hit wonders now, the artist Pitbull turned heads at the start of 2013 when he teamed up with Christina Aguilera to sell a song with a rusty hook. A-Ha’s 1985 smash hit ‘Take on Me’ got recklessly thrown into a bowl with a limp drum machine and topped with vocals from someone who should know much better; Christina Aguilera. “Ask for money, get advice, ask for money, get money twice”…indeed.
Moving swiftly on to covers, it doesn’t seem to get much better. We all know the king of covers was Frank Sinatra. The pure class and style that shone from his music is a true force to be reckoned with. He hit each note with both sympathy and passion and had, and still has, many people believing the songs were his own. His rendition of My Way still stuns listeners as he makes it his own, despite it being originally written in a different language. Most artists, but not all, fail to reach the towering heights of Mr Sinatra but most are happy just to come close. But some lay dormant at the man’s feet without a single gleam of shine in their dubious copies.
In 1998 Limp Bizkit (as in biscuit) attempted to create a wider following by hinting at originality in covering something they would never be expected to cover. With five brains working to gather one coherent thought, a Faith cover was devised. George Michael’s original hit was ambushed with Fred Durst’s squeaky but aggressive vocals and wedged between heavy guitar riffs and DJ deck scratching. What could go wrong?
Edging towards the new millennium, Six Pense None the Richer orchestrated a smooth and catchy love song that very hard to avoid and dislike. However, American skate-rock band New Found Glory didn’t agree. In 2007, the released their own version, but just replaced the soft guitar and tender vocals with “cool” edge to pump sales for their new album.
Regardless of the debatable releases that have plagued the charts over the years, some artists do get it right whether its sampling or covering another track. Although both sampled and covered by Ed Sheeran and 'pop-sensation' Devlin, All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix is also a cover by the momentous Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix oozed originality in everything he did. He was an icon of a generation that successfully displayed the true way to cover another icon of a generation through complimenting the artists and their music.
Radio 1’s Live Lounge for 2013 features tremendous covers from the likes of Ben Howard (see his latest performance below) and Arctic Monkeys, among others, that again show how easily a cover or a sample can be created. Artists should fight for originality on their own grounds without begging for acceptance in another. The songs that are covered are great in their own right because they were different and they broke boundaries beyond what people were expecting. This is what musicians should strive towards today.