Monday, May 4, 2009

80's songs still haunting the present

The trend of covering 80's songs by contemporary artists persists much to the joy or chagrin of those who love the originals. As for me, I either like the cover or I don't, but whether or not someone thinks a cover is 'done well' seems to be a subjective matter anyway. My hypothesis is that one's opinion of whether or not a cover is 'done well' comes down to two factors, 1) how much they loved the original song and the band who wrote it (assuming the band wrote it in the first place) and performed it combined with 2) how much the listener enjoys artist performing the cover and how they decided to interpret the song. Personally, I can't seem to stomach a cover that is almost exactly like the original, I tend to think that any band who performs in a dive bar can take care of that. I want the artist covering the song to offer something more substantial; slow it down, speed it up, change the melody slightly, just do something so it doesn't sound like a night of karaoke was recorded.

A couple recent covers that have sparked my attention are Greg Laswell's cover of Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Kat Edmonson's cover of The Cure's Just Like Heaven. These are two classic 80's anthems that can easily be identified not only by those who owned leg warmers and abused gallons of Aquanet, but also by those born too late to succumb to the wrath of neon being in fashion. Kat's rendition of Just Like Heaven is a bossa nova jazz infused tranquilizer. Mild and mellow her pixie like voice is a gentle contrast to the driving energy of Robert Smith's exultation in the original. I think it was a brave decision to abandon the familiar guitar lick and rely on the lyrics to remind the listener of the original magic of the song. There is no doubt that I love the original version of Just Like Heaven, but Kat's cover also has a place in my music library (particularly in the chill- out playlists).

Greg Laswell's cover of Girls Just Want to Have Fun is an example of a stripped down and simplified version of the original. With just a piano and his wind scratched voice, he abandons all the flash and splendor of the original. Laswell also chooses switch up the two parts of the first verse and cut out a bit of the second. This gives the song an impromptu feel and the simplicity of the lyrics are transformed into a somber assertion instead of a boisterous declaration.

There are countless examples of covers gone wrong and covers 'done well.' I invite you to post some of your favorite covers here for embrace or scrutiny. And if you are interested in some more 80's covers, check out how they sound with a French touch with Nouvelle Vague's albums Nouvelle Vague and Bande a Part.

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