C is for Cover songs

For arcane reasons, I listen to a lot of Beatles covers in the month of July, in honor of Ringo Starr’s birthday.

A cover song is a version of a recording released subsequent to the original one. Sometimes the most popular version is a cover: Good Lovin’ by the Young Rascals [LISTEN] was initially recorded by someone dubbed Lemme B. Good, then was a minor hit by The Olympics [LISTEN], which I own. I Heard It Through the Grapevine was a massive hit for Marvin Gaye [LISTEN], though the original by Gladys Knight and the Pips [LISTEN] (my preferred version, actually) went to #2 on the US charts a year earlier.

What makes a good cover song is that it is not merely a slavish imitation of the original. Otherwise, what’s the point? The version of You Keep Me Hanging On by Vanilla Fudge [LISTEN] had been criticized as excessive, but it’s sure different than what the original Supremes [LISTEN] put out.

Sometimes a cover is SO good that even the originator will bow to the successor. Otis Redding [LISTEN] acknowledged that Aretha Franklin [LISTEN] had “stole” Respect from him, meaning it was now hers, though he wrote it and sang it first. Likewise, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails realized that Hurt has become a Johnny Cash [LISTEN], not a NIN [LISTEN], song.

For arcane reasons, I listen to Beatles covers in the month of July, in honor of Ringo Starr’s birthday. There are a LOT of them; by the time the Beatles broke up, there were over 2500 versions of Yesterday alone, most of them boring.

I have about three dozen Beatles’ cover albums. There are classical, Latin, bluegrass, country, soul collections. I have whole albums covered by various artists, some compiled by MOJO magazine, plus whole albums by the Smithereens, Big Daddy, and others. My friend Fred Hembeck put together some compilations; the worse version among them, Hey Jude by an uninspired, off-key Elvis Presley. I made a few collections myself, from CD that have Beatles-inspired cuts.

Arguably the best Beatles interpreter is Joe Cocker. He came to fame at Woodstock singing A Little Help From My Friends [LISTEN to the studio version]. He’s made a whole song out of the Abbey Road-segued She Came Into The Bathroom Window [LISTEN]. But my favorite of his takes is You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away [LISTEN].

I should mention again my favorite music podcast, Coverville, which comes out twice a week. One episode is a cover story of a particular artist, while the other might be a request show, some independent artist hodgepodge, or based on a theme.