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Published on July 26th, 2010 | by Lisa McInerney


Under The Covers

Like all drunken Irish balladeers, myself and my friends love a good yowling session of a Saturday night. At our most recent Singstar marathon, my cousin and I got up to sing Erasure’s A Little Respect, and were surprised (really, because we’re terrific singers) to get relatively low scores, until it occurred to us that we’d instead been belting our way through the version by American ridicu-rockers Wheatus. We’d been emphasising the wrong words, rushing through the wrong lines, because we were rocking out to synthpop. Funny thing how a good cover version can nibble its way through your beloved original.

It’s not the custom for a cover version to outshine the original (fear not, Erasure fans! I’m not strictly referring to the Wheatus usurpers!), so when you do come across a particularly wonderful cover, it’s a real treat. There are those, like Wheatus’ version of A Little Respect, that are brilliant because it’s so obvious that the band adore the original and are having the time of their lives singing it. And then there’s the cover which takes the original as a lyrical or musical jumping-off point, and takes it in a completely new direction. The best, most recent case in point is Marina And The Diamonds’ stunning version of 3OH!3’s Starstrukk. The original is an tuneless mess with an ugly sentiment behind it. Marina takes this, slows the tempo, lashes on the melancholy, and creates a mournful spine-tingler that seems to document the dead-eyed isolation of modern romance. Woah. Unintentionally Deep.

And here’s the original, for horrifying comparison.

I can think of a couple more that do this (though none with such a nasty base camp): Tori Amos’ cover of 10cc’s I’m Not In Love. Scissor Sisters death-threat-inducing disco cover of Pink Floyd’s po-faced Comfortably Numb. Catherine A.D’s gorgeously unsettling version of Hurts’ Better Than Love. Alabama 3’s magnificent role reversal for country chintz Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness. Glen Hansard and Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s take on Britney Spears’ Everytime (although they do seem to snigger towards the end).

The straight-up homage songs that come to mind include (as well as Wheatus’ rocking out to Erasure) Florence and Kid Harpoon’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m Going Down, Amy Winehouse’s lovely cover of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Placebo’s gorgeous tribute to Kate Bush in Running Up That Hill, and Queens Of The Stone Age’s surprisingly subtle take on Elliott Smith’s Christian Brothers.

I do adore a good cover version, so I would love – LOVE – to hear your suggestions for a few more meaty tributes, as well as your complaints about covers-gone-wrong. For me it has to be Girls Aloud preening through The Pretenders’ I’ll Stand By You – stomach-churning rubbish. And does anyone else remember Atomic Kitten’s bawling through The Bangles’ Eternal Flame? It’s the single reason I went on that cat-drowning spree.

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About the Author

That cranky young wan from award-winning blog, Arse End Of Ireland, Lisa’s also noted for her dedication to cobbling together unrelated imprecations to make new and bemusing insults, mostly because she’s not eloquent enough to otherwise explain her deep-seated terror of genre fiction and Fianna Fail. In 2006, The Irish Times called her “… the most talented writer at work in Ireland today”, and her mam still can’t understand why this is better than being the new Marian Keyes. Which it totally is. Alright? Website Twitter: @SwearyLady Facebook.com/sweary Last FM: LeislVonTrapp

15 Responses to Under The Covers

  1. Emlyn says:

    Hmmm…my possible favourite cover is Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ (though way back when i first heard it, i actually thought it WAS the original version as i knew little or nothing of Mr. Cohen’s back catalogue). The aforementioned Placebo version of ‘Running Up That Hill is gorgeous too (as well as the original Kate Bush version of course).

    My worst cover version is that horrible Alexandra Burke version of ‘Hallelujah’ – nothing against the girl personally, but she almost ruined that song forever. Another would be that awful Hole cover version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gold Dust Woman’ a good while back…grrrrrr.

    How about a cover of ‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys? It just popped in there…dunno who could do it justice though. Great post Sweary!

  2. Sweary says:

    God, I’d completely forgotten Jeff’s version of Hallelujah – beyond a doubt the best version out there and a vast improvement on the original, in my humble opinion.

    I bet I’d do a lovely “God Only Knows.” In Sean Nós.

  3. John Braine says:

    I adore Schneider TM’s cover of ‘There is a light that will never go out’. Had one of those special moments seeing them live at Sonar years ago. Massive crowd participation. Was a great big love in.


  4. John Braine says:

    Pretty obvious ones but I love Johnny Cash’s hurt http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmVAWKfJ4Go and all the Nouveau Vogue stuff.

  5. John Braine says:

    I do love a good cover. They keep coming to me. I could be leaving comments here all day!

    Another one I love is Tricky – Black Steel. Already wrote about that one.

  6. Emlyn says:

    @ Sweary – i’m sure that would be an excellent cover then!

    @ John – yes, JC’s version of ‘Hurt’ is fantastic (even Trent Reznor thought it was better than his original version). I also love Cash’s cover of ‘Personal Jesus’.

  7. Dave says:

    Duke Special’s cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “The Power Of Love” is something special. Check out the top rated comment on the video if you don’t believe me:

  8. Niall says:

    I’m a huge fan of Johnny Cash’s version of The Mercy Seat. And the Arctic Monkeys did a decent spin on Red Right Hand.

  9. Swe.Ge says:

    Gary Jules version of Mad World sent a shiver up my spine when I first heard it while watching Donny Darko.

  10. Darren Byrne says:

    Johnny’s Hurt is wonderful, but I prefer Camille O’Sullivan’s take on The Mercy Seat.

    I love covers and there are so many great ones to choose from. Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah is my favourite version. The entire Tom Jones Reload album is brilliant, especially his take on Portishead’s All Mine. Any cover done by Neil Hannon tends to be great. How about Marilyn Manson’s version of Personal Jesus (Cash’s version ain’t half bad either)? Jack L’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head is better than Kylie’s…by far. 🙂

    Limp Bizkit’s cover of Behind Blue Eyes is amazing. Juliet Turner’s Winter’s Tale, Suggs’ Cecilia, Oasis’ Heroes, Duke Special and Paul Noonan’s Psycho Killer…

    There’s gazillions more, but I’ll stop now.

    I’ll also admit to loving Tori’s I’m Not in Love.

    Ok, I’m done now.

  11. johnmfinn says:

    The Beatles covering Twist And Shout is probably as good as it gets.

  12. Jason S says:

    Marina’s Starstrukk is one of my favourite cover versions too.

    Another which simply must be listened to is Nina Gordon’s incredible reworking of NWA’s Straight Outta Compton (first verse onyl sadly). This never gets old for me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NG2EGOB9-lc

  13. I have to add to the chorus of fans of Johnny Cash’s take on “Hurt”. It’s fantastic.

    A few of my other favourite covers:

    Soft Cell – Tainted Love (Gloria Jones)

    Hayseed Dixie – Highway to Hell (AC/DC)

    Tori Amos – Raining Blood (Slayer)

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