Cover songs have been around forever – perhaps since the second performer recorded “Happy Birthday To You.”
Back in the Fifties, cover songs took on a certain controversy because so many black musicians saw their original compositions recorded by white artists – often without credit or acclaim. One of the most famous was Elvis Presley's “Hound Dog,” recorded in 1956.
Few know (and count me as one of those who did not) the song was written and recorded four years earlier by Big Mama Thornton. It turned out to be her only hit, spending 14 weeks on the R&B charts the next year.
When Elvis recorded his version, the song went the Fifties equivalent of viral, going on to sell more than 10 million copies. According to Okayplayer's Abel Shifferaw, “The King's” cover hit #1 on the pop, country, AND R&B charts simultaneously for 11 weeks.
Here's the original “Hound Dog” from Big Mama Thornton:
“Hound Dog” was hardly an outlier. Hits like “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen were originally recorded by black artists – in that case, Richard Berry. The same is true for Eric Clapton's “I Shot The Sheriff” (written and recorded first by the great Bob Marley).
Bet you didn't know Soft Cell's mega-hit, “Tainted Love,” was recorded by Gloria Jones 20 years earlier. It stiffed.
Covers have never gone out of style, underscored by last year's most successful cover – “Africa” by Weezer. Most people know Toto wrote and recorded it back in the early 80s.
One of my favorite recent covers is “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed. It is haunting, and takes on an entirely different feeling from the original Simon & Garfunkel hit. I can't think Paul Simon was disappointed when he first heard it.
I don't want to go all Sean Ross on you, but for me, that's the key to a great cover – that it reinterprets the original artist's song in novel or even unusual ways. Too many covers sound indistinguishable from the original version, like Aerosmith's “Come Together” – in my mind, too darn close to the Beatles version. The closer in sound to the original, the harder it is for us radio programmers and researchers to get a true music test reading.
But what about artists who cover their own material?
That doesn't happen very often. One of the best known is Eric Clapton's acoustic version of “Layla” – nothing like the original version released years earlier during his Derek & the Dominos phase.
The slowed down version of “Layla” made its first appearance on the “MTV Unplugged” series, more than three decades after its original recording. And you can hear the buzz throughout the live audience when they figure out what they're hearing.
Clapton has an equally interesting and compelling cover of “After Midnight” as well. You'll hear both versions on many Classic Rock stations.
One of the most interesting “self-covers” hit my desktop last weekend. It was reimagined by the iconic 9os writer and performer, Alanis Morissette. Her “Jagged Little Pill” album became synonymous with angst, emotion, and the rhythm of the times.
At the time, Morrissette was unknown. But not for long. The album went on to sell 33 million copies (one of the most successful of all time), netting her 9 Grammy nominations and 5 awards (including Album of the Year, which made her the youngest performer ever to win it).
“You Oughta Know” was the breakout hit, but “Ironic” was also a huge song from “Jagged” with a focus on its sometimes (un)ironic lyrics.
And “Ironic” is the song she recently covered with “The Late Late Show's” host James Corden in a duet that provides a whole new context for what's ironic in 2019.
With all the technology all around us, it is often easy to become oblivious to many of its impacts because we live it every day – social media, dating apps, and Netflix. Leave it to Morissette and James Corden to remind us of our modern-day ironies.
As you watch the video, you realize that most of the ironies in this new cover of the song are technologies, gadgets, and products that weren't around back in the mid-90s when the original was recorded.
It's a reminder to all of us just how quickly our day-to-day lives have been permanently altered by the rapid march of tech, invading every nook and cranny of our lives.
As the Industrial Revolution redefined American culture well more than a century ago, so has the semi-technocracy that has permeated our jobs, our businesses, our families, and so much of our daily routines.
Some might think it's a little demonic. Or perhaps even a bit sardonic.
I'm going with “tech-tonic.” That should cover it.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.
Latest posts by Fred Jacobs (see all)
- Radio's Transition To Digital: Like Turning The Queen Mary - February 15, 2019
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- When Do We Lose Interest In Discovering New Music? - February 13, 2019