By Maya Mabern
A lot of people seem to be against cover songs, and unfortunately, I used to be one of them.
Regardless of who covered who or what, I was always convinced that the original version of a song was the only one that mattered. I’d like to think that the widespread disdain for covers stems from the extremely common practice in the 1950s and 60s in which white artists recorded songs originally written by Black artists, while those Black artists received little to no compensation or recognition.
But I think most people are just purists who don’t want their precious artists’ songs tampered with.
Sort of the same energy as cisgender men vehemently hating female reimaginings of their favorite TV and movie characters (The Hulu original “High Fidelity” was so deeply wronged, but that’s a blog for another day).
In recent years I’ve become somewhat of a cover song stan and I’m fully convinced that some covers are actually better than their originals (sacrilege, I know).
Here are some of my favorite covers from this year that may not be better than the originals, but might be just as good.
- “Hammond Song” by Whitney (originally by The Roches)
I’ve loved Whitney ever since I first heard their song “No Woman” in a mall back home in 2016. The Chicago duo released last month “Candid,” which is a full album of covers. So, yeah, I’m obsessed with it.
They cover David Byrne, John Denver and even Sisters With Voices, known as SWV, but my favorite is their rendition of “Hammond Song” by the 70s family band The Roches. The underrated folk group, composed of sisters Suzzy, Maggie and Terre Roche, released the song in 1979 in their self-titled album “The Roches.” The original is an acoustic track dominated by the sister’s beautiful harmonies, but Whitney’s version manages to sound just as full, with piano and horns replacing the vocal harmonies.
- “Thirteen” by Bedouine, Waxahatchee and Hurray For The Riff Raff (originally by Big Star)
The only thing I love more than a cover song is a collab.
When the two songs blend together for a song I love, it’s magical. Bedouine, a.k.a. Los Angeles-based Syrian-American musician Azniv Korkejian, teamed up with Alabama indie project Waxahatchee and New Orleans band Hurray For The Riff Raff to record Big Star’s “Thirteen” — possibly one of the sweetest songs ever written.
The cover’s music arrangement is very similar to the original, but Bedouine’s smooth-like-butter voice fills me with so much warmth and happiness that I’m adding this version to my inevitable “Fall 2020” Spotify playlist.
- “Southern Belle” by Palehound (originally by Elliott Smith)
One of my favorite Boston-based bands covering one of my all-time favorite artists, who they’ve repeatedly cited as a major influence? Yes, please.
This cover is absolutely perfect. Ellen Kempner completely nails Smith’s signature raw sound and double vocals without sounding like a full-on imitation. And the addition of drums and electric guitar? A power move. I’ve probably listened to this version 20 times just in the last week.
- “Weird Fishes” by Lianne La Havas (originally by Radiohead)
I’m a firm believer that Radiohead’s entire discography lends itself beautifully to rhythm and blues covers, (Roman GianArthur and Janelle Monáe’s cover of “No Surprises,” anyone?) and this is my favorite example.
As soon as I heard the iconic drums from the original track cut down to half tempo, I knew I was in for a treat. La Havas’ voice, which is somehow a perfect mixture of raspy and smooth, is so well-suited for this song. The bass line, the buildup that brings in the arpeggio: all flawless.
And yes, I’m probably going to listen to this version far more than the original. Sorry, not sorry.