Song covers often get a bad rap. The amount of criticism they receive is usually directly proportional to the popularity of the original.
I’m guilty of constantly comparing covers to their original. But covers are one of the oldest traditions in music production and their role in disseminating music should be more widely acknowledged.
For one, song covers are a way for fledging artists to fine-tune their skills. Playing with musical variation on a familiar song can make it easier for artists to focus on making their performances more expressive.
There’s a reason why most new artists don’t jump head first into writing their own songs — it can be overwhelming to create new material while simultaneously working to improve one’s singing or playing.
Covers are a quick way for new artists to get their names and faces out there and show their chops.
At the other end of the stereo, song covers are a great way for listeners to encounter new music. A popular song can lead you to an array of other artists and genres that you would not have come across otherwise.
For me, that popular song was “Let It Be” by The Beatles. When I searched for the song on YouTube, I was led to a cover by Dyme Def, a hip-hop trio. Their version of the song made me think of it in a whole new way.
Dyme Def dramatically changed Paul McCartney’s lyrics to incorporate a contemporary rap that addresses issues like alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
In truth, the musical world is a big old love fest, with artists referencing, sampling and covering each other all the time.
When my favorite artist, Emilie Autumn, recorded a cover of “I Saved the World Today” by Eurythmics, I was introduced to the band whose song “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” was infamously covered by Marilyn Manson.
However upsetting it may be for some to hear, I listened to The Bird and the Bee’s cover of “How Deep Is Your Love” before I ever heard the original song from the Bee Gees. And now, I often dance to the Sean Paul song by the same name that samples the original.
Back in 2008, The Morning Benders — who recently changed their name to POP ETC — released a free album called The Bedroom Covers that introduced me to The Crystals, The Ronettes and Roy Orbison.
So if musical covers are so widespread, why are we still wary of them?
Our reaction to music covers often depends on the context we’re in.
When we’re listening to a cover by ourselves or with a group of friends, we’re often much more critical of it than we would be if we were, say, at a party. (Unless, of course, the cover is kind of amazing.)
At a party, we’re less likely to analyze the lyrics or structure of a song blasting around us. Instead, we’ll pay attention to the beat and whether or not we can sing along to the lyrics.
You’ve probably experienced this while listening to Slow Dance Chubby, a band composed of Penn students that plays for Penn students.
Like many newer bands, Slow Dance Chubby has struggled to find the right balance of musical covers and originals. Next week, they will be releasing a new album that features both since “each serves [its] own purpose,” according to Wharton senior and band member Aaron Kirkbride.
When playing a cover, Kirkbride said the band tries to “take a song that people recognize” but “employ artistic agency to make it more engaging and original.”
For artists like Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno, this artistic agency enables her to translate songs into her native language. Her cover of “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,” by Cake allowed her to convey the affinity she felt with the song to a Spanish-speaking audience.
Covers make sure that music is not confined to the arbitrary limits of a country or language. And our playlists are the better for it.
Yessenia Gutierrez is a College junior from Hollywood, Fla. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Yessi Can” appears every Monday. Follow her @yessiwrites.
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