Sunday, March 15, 2009

Covers and Remixes

What do ya'll think of it when an artist does a cover of a song by another artist? Or what about a remix? Does it sometimes make the song better? Does it give you a new appreciation for the original version? Or is it just lame artistic imitation? What's your opinion?

Nowadays some of my favorite songs are covers of much-much older songs, like Battle Hymn of the Republic, and The Midnight Special. But I've also got modern covers that I like A LOT better than the originals. I'm talking about Iron & Wine's cover of "Such Great Heights", and The Shins' cover of "We Will Become Silhouettes". (Coincidentally both are songs by The Postal Service... which says a lot about what I think of their music.) One band, Nouvelle Vague, ONLY does covers, but unlike other cover-bands they cover multiple artists. They have a great version of Human Fly, by The Cramps.

***Side-note: an interesting trend I've noticed is that lots of "indie" bands have been doing covers of each others' songs, like Grizzly Bear to Born Ruffians, or Kaiser Chiefs to The Cribs.***

When I listen to a cover right after its original, the dualities and differences give me a greater appreciation for the musical effort that went into BOTH songs, which in turn fuels my enjoyment of the music. I notice things I didn't before, and really listen to the things I simply "heard". Is this too intellectual for music? Maybe... but then again, maybe I just have higher standards than your average iPod user.

Then you've got remixes, which is essentially the same basic song. Sure, it's got different back beats, some psychedelic electronic effects, and maybe changes the verses or choruses, but all of that is pure mixing/mastering, not actual song writing or recording. There's no group of musicians going into a studio laying down an entirely new track. Instead they rip apart the original and super-glue their own elements to it.

When it comes to music, I tend to be a purist: originals are better than covers, and covers are better than remixes, and remixes suck.

(And that is something that has been bothering me lately. It seems that there's a lot of remixing going on lately. People take a song and then change it through electronic manipulation to make it more dancey, or more popy, or psychedelic, or whatever, and then call themselves musicians. In fact, that goes for anyone who uses a laptop instead of guitar, who uses a looping program instead of chord changes, who need dumbed-down songs because their taste in music sucks. They are nothing more than glorified programmers.)

On the other hand - besides different fingers - there are some covers which piss me off in an almost religious sense. Take, Hey There Delilah, by the Plain White T's. Okay, I'm not a fan of their music, but it's still a great song that has obviously been overplayed. And since it tsunami'ed the airwaves, a plethora of half-assed covers have been done by artists like The Hit Crew and Empty Suits. (The latter tried to put a reggae rhythm on it... and failed, miserably.)

Or, for instance, take the remixes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' song, Y Control, which has been remixed like a bitch, and even has its own single on iTunes for some of the more popular ones. They attempt to change and improve the song, not realizing that the song is already basically perfect. The same goes for Peter Rauhofer's remix of Beautiful, by Christina Aguilera, and the South Rakkas Crew doing Black Tambourine, by Beck. They screwed up the songs! Totally kills it for me.

But judging from the wide-spread popularity and acceptance of the form, remixes are likely here to stay. I just hope they can develop into a truly respectable format, instead of succumbing to destructive and cheap imitation.

Anyhoo... Some of the most popular songs ever have been covers of someone else's original. (I'm looking at you Elvis Presley.) From The Byrds to The Beach Boys, popular bands have been fueled by the creativity of others. Which makes sense artistically; inspiration can often come only from the work of someone else.

In jazz music, this is a mainstay of the genre. Most bands will play "standards" (i.e. songs that most musicians know and that people like, which are easily recognizable) but then change it COMPLETELY. I've heard versions of Now's The Time, by Charlie Parker, that sound like an ENTIRELY new song rather than a cover. I call these reversions.

But what does it mean when even some of the most talented musicians can only recycle old glories? Is songwriting - instrumental or otherwise - a waste of time? Through the slow progression of time, the accumulation of art has seemed to overwhelm us so that every story, every chord change, every brush stroke has been done before. Is it impossible to be truly original anymore? Was it ever?

Will we one day need to tear down the monuments just to build new buildings?

7 footnotes:

Angelyca said...

I'm a bit of a musical purist, so I rarely listen to covers (unless I'm not aware a particular song is already one).

But I do like covers of samples. Like Common's sampling of Afrika Bambaataa.

MIA's Paper Planes was remixed, covered, and sampled to death though!

Zek J Evets said...

@angelyca: agreed. paper planes was a decent hip-hop-pop-electronica song only to lose its relevancy and attractiveness through over-play and over-use.

Curtis Jackson said...

I, for one, welcome our new Hipster overlords.

Andruba said...

Thats why classical music is the best. You can't remix it, there are no other versions. It's perfect because you can only play it one way. It has it's own rhythm, it's own mood, its own undulating, never ending, can't control this shit pulse. It causes you to dream to imagine, to figure things that never could be. Like the movie Fantasia. The bass drum is the thunder, the fast flutes is the rain, the saxes and trumpets is the call of the God of All. It's all about the imagination. Hell's yes! Perfection bitcheZ.

Zek J Evets said...

@curtis: *cry*

@andruba: wow... didn't figure you for such a classicist. but i would agree. it's hard to cover/remix classical music, though it can be done, as evidenced by the neo-classical movement.

Andruba said...

@ zek: eeeeee... ruin my moment :/

Zek J Evets said...

oh, sorry.