There are many great tribute bands out there whose objective is to mimic their idols. I think over the years I’ve enjoyed at least 3 Queen tribute bands. The best of them was the least soundalike of them – on board a cruise ship (don’t ask). Instead of trying to do impersonations of the band members they went for the spirit of Queen and hammed/camped it up brilliantly. Mastering the tribute is one thing; mastering the cover version is another. Cover versions ideally need to take the original song and do something new with it – to make you hear the lyrics in a new way, smile or even like a song for the first time. There have been a few where the cover is more famous than the original – Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” come to mind. Considering the way that bands often perform songs in a different way live it is surprising not more songs are covered by their writers rather than just the acoustic alternative. This came to mind again during the Olympic Closing ceremony. Much as I enjoyed it, the glimpses of what was possible shone through. I would have loved a whole set of old British classic songs performed by new British artists in a new and exciting way. It would have fitted the theme of the Olympics perfectly.
Here’s some of my favourite cover versions that I think are worth a listen:
- Build Me Up Buttercup – Frank Turner. This was the track that made me think about cover versions. It’s a surprise choice of song by him and just a really good version
- Romeo and Juliet – Indigo Girls. There’s a few cover versions of this great Dire Straits song – most notably by The Killers. This one has the most amazing heart-wrenching vocal.
- Walk On By – the Stranglers. At first a little incongruous but the menace that Hugh Cornwell imparts in the vocal really works
- One More Time – Travis. I think this was first done for a Radio One unplugged session. It’s a superb version which shows what a good song it is.
- 21st Century Schizoid Man – Kiss. I bought the album Dynasty many years ago and kept returning to this track before realizing it was a King Crimson song originally.
- Leaning on a Lamppost – The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Take a George Formby standard and add a touch of Red Army. I don’t think I need to say more.
- No Woman No Cry – The Fugees. I like the odd substitution of lyrics, rhythm and melody which just takes the song a slightly different way – from reggae to hip hop.
- Feeling Good – Muse. A great lounge song that works surprisingly well as a full blown rock anthem.
- Guns Of Brixton – Nouvelle Vague. They specialize in taking songs the other way – from rock anthem to lounge. My favourite is probably this one.
- Personal Jesus – Johnny Cash. His American Recordings albums are stunning – they have a truth about them and his vocal is amazing. Give them and this song a try before you knock them.
- They’re Red Hot – Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I love the band and Blood Sugar Sex Magik is a cracking album – but a Robert Johnson blues standard? Really? Why Not?
- Superstition – Stevie Ray Vaughan. My favourite guitarist playing the disco classic. It makes you realise that most popular music comes from the same roots. Anyone confirm he was the guitarist on Bowie’s China Girl too?
- Lost In Music – The Fall. As with SRV it’s a disco classic…just more interesting…and snarly
- Back In Black – Hayseed Dixie. I challenge you to keep a straight face
Anyone got any favourites I should be listening to?