Recent Thanksgiving break activities have me thinking a lot about cover songs, cover bands, and the like. I would imagine that an artist or group would consider it an honor to have someone do a cover of one of their songs, or maybe they are offended by someone wanting to put out a "better" version of something they've already done. Despite the motives, I think its very interesting to hear different versions of the same songs, because it unleashes a new meaning to something that may appear to be rather static.
Everyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows who Rihanna is, and one of her more recent hits was the song "Rude Boy". I didn't initially know or understand what a rude boy was, until I was reminded by Destiny's Child in their song, "Soldier". I don't think it really matters anyway, because the song is catchy. In an effort to find a new ringtone I did a search for "classical pop music" in youtube, and the results included a group called Aston from Australia. This is a group of young musicians (21-23) who take top 40 hits and arrange them for strings and percussion. (This is totally what I thought I was going to do with my life, but it looks like they beat me to it.) "Rude Boy" is one of their top sells right now, and I can see why. The original by Rihanna is kind of in your face, hip, and makes you want to dance. Aston's version, to me, sounds a little retrospective, and I think that puts an interesting twist on the song. I imagine myself thinking back to my younger days when listening to this piece, and being THANKFUL for all the "rude boys" I let slip by. I can only wonder how Rihanna feels about this.
After my Thanksgiving in the San Gabriel Valley, we returned to Andy's brother's house, Brian, to a group of guys playing Rock Band. I'm not very sauvy on the game, but being the only musician in the room, I wasn't going to allow myself to be stood up. I started out simple by playing the bass parts, then to guitar, followed by drums, and ultimatly took the mic. Granted, I didn't know most of the songs, but one I did know was "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette. I'm not claiming to have performed a great cover of this song (even though I was on the "hard" difficulty and scored a 94%, count it). I have to note, though, that the only reason I knew this song was through Beyonce's recent cover of the song. I'm biased, yes, but I do think Beyonce's is better. As I say that I have to wonder if this is only because I heard her's first.
This topic is relevant to classical music - I promise. I heard the LA Phil for the first time over the weekend (pictured below - I had pretty good seats. Thanks Shawn Mouser!) and fully enjoyed the performance. I sought out tickets to this specific concert because one of my all time faves, Hindemith, was being performed (Symphonic Metamorphosis on a Theme by Carl Maria von Weber).
Often times we know an original first, and then hear a cover. Well, I was introduced to this work through a Wind Ensemble transcription, and "bandstration". I'm sure many will disagree, but I think the band version is better! Don't get me wrong - the performance was top notch, but I think Hindemith would have better appreciated the exaggerated gestures a Wind Ensemble can produce from his piece, as opposed to an orchestra. A previous post discusses how I make up stories in my mind to go along with classical music. For this work, I think of a war. The first movement exhibits plans for battle, and the building of a machine. The second is a party full of the war generals, politicians, and the groupies. The third tells the story of the victims of this war, with the big flute solo representing an orphaned child. The last movement is the march to the battle field, and ultimate victory of the "good guys". I could still play that silent film in my mind while watching Salonen conduct the LA Phil, but the gestures only reminded me of my pre-conceived ideas. The opening string melody didn't sound as industrial as a group of woodwinds doing it. The chaos at the party wasn't as roucous with the smaller brass section (even though the timpani player in the LA Phil blew me away in this section), and the vengeance in the hearts of the soldiers marching into battle, in my opinion, was a little soft, as compared to the band orchestration. Again, it was a blast hearing such a great orchestra play such a great work, but I guess my ideas of the piece have been skewed (or brought to life) by the Wind Ensemble rendition. I have to give props to the North Texas Wind Ensemble, because I think they have the best recording.
Are there cover songs you like better than originals? Do you think it matters which you hear first? Do you think the original artists like it, dislike it, or even care? From an artistic point of view, I don't think I could say either way. Personally I enjoy hearing music through difference voices. In todays world, however, money drives the music (often times) more than the music itself, so I'm sure Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" was totally fine by its original singer, Dolly Parton.