Cover it

One of the really interesting things about music, IMO, is in how different musicians will cover an existing piece. This can take an infinite variety of forms, reflecting the intention and style of the covering artist(s). Some try hard to render a nearly exact reproduction, perhaps using it as a skill advancement technique, while at the other extreme only the broadest structure of a piece might be recognizable. And there is every conceivable outcome in between those endpoints.

It seems that almost any good or popular piece of music will be covered by many others, including by really famous artists. Indeed, the history of music is seemingly nothing if not an endless borrowing of styles and sounds from other artists and/or other genres/styles of music entirely. There are countless examples of this, sometimes reaching what might be called a craze. Back in the 1960s and 70s for example, a bunch of electrified British groups somehow got themselves infatuated with the acoustic music of the black Mississippi Delta bluesmen from several decades earlier. All manner of covers resulted from this, ranging from the great to the awful to the bizarre and misplaced, mostly the latter IMO.

Sometimes the covered version ends up being even more popular than the original, Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower coming most immediately to mind. It is a well known fact that Hendrix’s version has been played on the radio more times than the number of known stars in the galaxy, while many have never even heard Dylan’s version or know that he actually wrote the thing in a very different style. Both are masterpieces from musical geniuses in my view (Hendrix appears not to have fully known the lyrics, but he compensates with his typical guitar virtuosity and general energy). I’d add Dave Mason’s version to that list, and others.

The wide range of styles and qualities mentioned above certainly applies to the staggering number of Bob Dylan covers on YouTube: some are just terrific and others are, well…feel free to spend numerous hours on YouTube exploring the matter, I have. 🙂 What I particularly enjoy is listening to previously unknown artists, including street musicians, doing some really nice renditions; YouTube is just invaluable as far as that goes. Here are some examples, including a couple for probably my favorite Dylan song:



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6 thoughts on “Cover it

  1. I agree, trawling through Youtube in search of the different and interesting is a great way to spend a spare hour or two. One of my favorite finds:

    • Oh, I’ve been around lurking/reading at all my usual sites, but summer is my crazy busy time – time to read and think, but not to comment intelligently on much of anything. Winter is a different story…

      And yeah, with Richard Thompson, hard to go wrong. I originally found this one by one day idly tracking the fate of Fairport Convention members.

  2. I was just discussing the oral traditions of American music with some friends last week. Most or maybe all of the early roots blues and folk songs ended up being attributed to the first person to record them, but those folks were covering them. AP Carter has his name under Carter Family songs, but he was always upfront that he paid (mostly black) folks on rural porches to teach them to him. Those folks didn’t write them either.
    I cannot resist posting my (current) favorite example of cross-cultural music fertilization, an Irish sea shanty done in Hawaiian slack key(?) by four Australian dudes in Havana. With a guitar fashioned from what appears to be a cooking oil canister. Watch for the canine cameo:

    • Oh my gosh…you win Matt! Sure seems like slack key to me but what do I know… Man that is sweet. And I liked how the dog had the manners to wait to the end to wander through 🙂

      And the auto-next-up, for me anyway, was Ry Cooder and the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces doing Maria Elena in Santa Cruz in 1987. His work with various people, especially Ali Farka Toure, back in the 90s, that was great stuff in my book.

  3. The well-known version of Coast of Malabar is by Ry Cooder and the Chieftains; if you haven’t heard it, it is worth a listen just for Cooder’s amazing vocals. And the Chieftains get credit for digging up the old sea shanty, which the more I listen to it, the more it seems to have a touch of perfection. As for the Chieftains themselves…despite their obvious skills, they just don’t get the juices flowing for me.

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