I like cover versions quite a bit. At best they can reveal unemphasized aspects of the original. Take Rasputina's cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here". The sense of melancholy is almost palpable, a mood present in the original but not nearly so ... heavy. Of course there is also a worse case, where the cover actually detracts from the original version.
I generally like to keep things positive around here, so for the first batch of covers I look at we'll start with one of my favorite songs: "Because The Night". This track off Patti Smith's 1978 album Easter was originally written by Bruce Springsteen and given by him to Smith when the two were recording in adjoining studio spaces. Smith rewrote the song's typically Springsteenian blue collar workingman lyrics to emphasize the relationship in the song over the protagonists. (The Wikipedia entry for the song claims this is a 'females' perspective, but there is nothing in the lyrics themselves to support this assertion.) There are numerous covers of this justifiably well-known song. Let's look at a few. Not all are great, but none really that bad.
This live version from "MTV Unplugged" is probably the most famous cover of "Because The Night", so well-known in fact that many believe that 10,000 maniacs did the original! This version adds little to the Smith version beyond an acoustic arrangement, but Natalie Merchant's vocals more that make up for that. Her voice has a sultry, almost smouldering quality that fits the song very well.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My opinion of Natalie Merchant probably colors the above sentiments quite a bit.
We go from a sultry cover to one that is anything but. "Because The Night" is a passionate song which requires a passionate delivery. So one would think this nearly antiseptic cover would not get praise from me.
One would be wrong, then. This cover achieves the rare trick of being passionately dispassionate. The tension between the lyrical passion and almost lackadaisical delivery adds an interesting dimension to the song. The instruments mirror the vocal delivery - the clean, synthetic beat one would expect. Don't let labels like "synthpop" and "electronica" fool you - this is disco.
From passionate vocal delivery to oddly dispassionate vocals, and now to NO vocals. The SKAndalous All-Stars are a, well, all star group of musicians from the New York ska scene. There are no vocals on this track. What we are left with is essentially muzak. This cover would feel at home in elevators around the world. Hip elevator music, but elevator music none the less.
What I'm Missing
What I'm Missing is not a band name, rather the place where I talk about some versions of a song that are out there but that I don't have yet.
Of course it would be interesting to hear the song performed as originally written. Although only 'committed to vinyl (CD?)' once, on Live 1975-1985, many live recordings of Springsteen performing "Because The Night" are floating around, several in fact being video clips on YouTube. If I was more than interested in passing it would not be that difficult to add to my collection, but I'm not really that horribly interested.
I am horribly interested in the cover by Kim Wilde from the various artists album Philharmonia. This was only released in Germany and it has been difficult to find a copy. You'd think with the vaunted global nature of the Internet it would be much easier to find. Actually, I was able to track down a copy for sale.
(No, not Austria. Unlike our president, I'm not confused by the two names.)