Covering Note

One of the underlying themes of last week’s post set me off on this one. I find cover versions rich with potential for musicality. It’s tough for an artist to take an original and interpret it in his/her own way. Often the effort falls flat. Sometimes the cover versions strike a chord in us mainly because they stick quite close to a much-loved original. Not too frequently, cover versions are completely fresh takes on the originals – some surpassing them and others not quite as likable yet interesting.

In listing two of my favourites here, I have opened myself to hate on both sides of the ridiculous pop-rock divide. These are far-out takes of iconic songs of these two genres.

The Voice from Benin, Angelique Kidjo has a tremendous body of work. She’s such an outstanding singer and musician. If you look for versions of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ (‘Voodoo Child’), Stevie Ray Vaughan’s is consistently rated the best. I love SRV’s take but it’s a version that’s still fairly close to the original musically although it has SRV’s own stamp on it. But what Kidjo does here is to create one of the coolest, grooviest and most creative covers I’ve ever heard.

She goes one step further with this alternate take on her version live with Buddy Guy – voice phenom meets guitar legend.

One of the earliest pop videos that I saw was Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’. Yeah, that one with the square blocks lighting up under his feet just as he’d step on them. Till recently I hadn’t heard any cover of it, at least nothing that stuck to memory. Then I heard this one which took me a while to get what it was. I searched and found that this piece is by Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave). The hunted, persecuted theme of the pop original finds a different voice in the tortured, rocking growl in this rendition.

And now, for something original. I’m surprised by the number of people who love Eric Clapton’s ‘Cocaine’ but are not aware that it’s a cover. This despite Clapton being very open about it being a JJ Cale original. I’m not being I-will-go-against-popular-notions here when I say this – I prefer the original to the incredibly more famous cover. I like the cover, but I think it’s a little over the top. JJ Cale conveys a menace with his low raspy voice and the quieter guitar work in his song which I can only rather melodramatically relate to the warning growl of a tiger – it makes your hair stand on end, or at least it should. I’ll stop at that.

It’ll be fantastic to hear from you of other originals/covers that you think are noteworthy.


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