Cover me godly: 21st Century ‘Remember the Rain’ covered by Kadhja Bonet

If I interpret her interview in The Guardian back in 2016 correctly, Kadhja Bonet does the orchestra arrangements on her music herself. That is important to know because the arrangements on her cover version of 21st Century’s “Remember the Rain” – a soft soulful ballad with a punch in the chorus – are absolute heaven.

The original is lovely because that young voice and that chorus (including the spoken word) is weirdly cheesy but in a good way. It’s always weird hearing those super young singers sing songs about broken hearts but man, they really sold it.

But then there’s Kadhja Bonet’s version and it’s so amazing. She takes this song that in its raw production is so charming and sweet and turns it into a glamorous, dramatic, epic, orchestral masterwork, all with a voice that is in contrast to 21st Century’s vocals absolutely in control emotionally, like a woman who thinks about a pain long ago that still hurts but now is part of her allure.

Think of those songs they would play in an old spy-movie at the end, when the protagonist eventually has to walk into the sunset on his own because he’s simply one of those guys who can’t be close to anyone. That’s the kind of gravitas the song brings with it. There’s a purely instrumental part near to the end when you even get a flute solo which brings me so much joy that I can’t properly describe it.

Bonet’s cover is one of those songs that sneaks up on you because it sounds so easy-going yet decadent, so soft and rich that it takes a few listens to realize how perfect everything comes together, how many details create this picture perfect piece of art.

I mean, that’s one hell of a cover song. I am absolutely overwhelmed.

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Cover me badly: Natalie Imbruglia ‘Torn’, originally by Ednaswap

Look, despite me hating on numerous cover songs in this column, I genuinely love a good cover song. Cyndi Lauper is a queen when it comes to great covers (and might even get her own special soon) and Tom Smith from the Editors can sing every song in the universe and make me happy.

Enter Natalie Imbruglia who turned the alt rock song “Torn” by Ednaswap into one of THE hymns of the mid to late 90s and still resonates with a lot of people.

Ednaswap were an LA-band in the 90s and released “Torn” with their album “Wacko Magneto”.

Their song is angry, raw and sounds like torn jeans, old boots and oversized flannel shirts. I love it.

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Cover me badly: stop covering “Halo” – it won’t work!

I already mentioned that Florence Welch tried and failed covering Beyoncès “Halo” but at least that seemed to be in fun and not as a single release. However, Jono McLeery thought he could cover this icon of a pop singer to start this year dreery and kinda annoying.

Jono does everything I hate about bad cover songs:

  • He somehow manages to slow down a ballad (that needs no slowing down)
  • He extracts all the amazing pathos and leaves a soft, soggy singer/songwriter tune
  • speaking of tunes: he absolutely slaughters it, he starts out ok but then he veers off, leaves the original melody on the wayside like a sad dog, stop doing that, Jono, write your own songs if you want to make up your own melodies.

Look, I am all for violins and a warm Winter ballad and the orchestration is actually quite beautiful but there’s no need in destroying the melody of a perfect Pop song just so you can be unique and quirky and put your own twist to the song. The best cover songs manage to keep the spirit alive of the original song and to be honest, Jono failed majorly.

He is not the only one, unfortunately. “Halo” is the white whale of many an accomplished artist. Ane Brun – who I love! – did the same with the song. With a beautiful cello, it turns into this timid soft ditty.

Love the cello but NO to the song

Lotte Kessner, meanwhile, somehow creates a funeral march with it.

NO! THIS IS A HAPPY SONG, GODDAMMIT!

People! “Halo” is amazing because it is sung as an ode to someone who is overwhelming, who leaves you breathless, who is like a storm wave, a force of nature, an epiphany. There’s no place for timid breath-singing, this needs to be sung with euphoria, exactly like Beyoncè does.

And before you’re like: well, some of these songs are supposed to be intimate, duh. Here’s Beyoncè singing a live rendition in a hospital for children with just a guitar alongside and she still burns the house down because that’s just how this song is. How can you sing a line like “you hit me like a ray of sun, burning through the darkest night” and think that this should be a sad, depressing song to sing like Denethor is about to send Faramir into death and all is lost?

This love is all encompassing, people, why would you sell it short?

Cover me badly: Spirit ‘Taurus’

Disclaimer to my mom: Sorry, but a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

Update: Looks like Taurus had it with “Stairway to Heaven” being one of the greatest rock songs of all time. They sued and a judge decided that the melodies are close enough to be put to trial. Ooh weeh!

Spirit are one of those lost and forgotten prog rock bands from the late 60s, early 70s who have a beautiful orchestral and quite aloof sound (so no King Crimson madness and instead the roots of art rock that sometimes even hint at what Ween might have listened to before they came to be Ween). Their song “Taurus” – coincidentally my favourite zodiac sign if I had to choose – is a lovely relaxed guitar piece backed up by a luscious orchestra and even a cheeky cembalo. It’s one of those slightly humorous ventures into anachronistic sounds of the courtyards of yesteryear because despite its sometimes gaudy reputation (thanks to the gaudy leanings by the late 70s early 80s), early prog rock was quite smart and witty.

The song was on Spirit’s self-titled debut album which was released 1968 and toured heavily. One of the supporting acts, Led Zeppelin, apparently liked the song so much that they did their own cover version. However, they failed to grasp the concept of a cover song and kind of renamed the whole song and left out the original credits and added a bunch of stuff so their guitar player could noodle along for a while.

http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/237801/Taurus-by-Spirit/embed/

(sorry; I could not properly embed the video)

Now, the cover “Stairway to Heaven” is hailed as one of the greatest rock songs of all times and – as with quite a few cover songs – the original got shoved a little into obscurity.

Unrightly so, because “Taurus” is a great song, a little pretty ditty gently placed in the middle of an album that is overall a very impressive debut, especially given that these guys didn’t rip off a whole catalog of blues musicians of that time like some other bands might have done (or would do a little later).

Besides, the weird thing about “Stairway to Heaven” – but this is solely subjective – is the fact that I personally think that the way that “Taurus” was implemented into the intro is not very delicate. The real strength of “Stairway to Heaven” doesn’t lie in the watered down original melody, it lies more in Robert Plant’s climactic vocal delivery (and the noodling, I guess), so the rip-off is pretty much wasted (again, in my humble opinion). Additionally, the lyrics provided by Led Zeppelin really don’t do the song a favour because they are…not very good (as many lyrics are that try to be a lot more philosophical than they actually are – crying spirits and random ladies and pipers usually don’t make for good song lyrics in my experience).

So, to get that sub-par cover out of your heads, here’s “Fresh Garbage” by Spirit. A pretty fun song.

Cover me badly: The Ronettes ‘Be my Baby’

It’s no coincidence that motown (-ish) songs of the 60s are amongst the most covered songs in history and yet, the originals (or the endless cover-versions in that time-frame) hardly ever pale in comparison to the endless strain of interpretations by the most known and skilled of modern artists. It was a different time and there was a clarity to the music and execution that a lot of the cover versions unfortunately don’t share (even though there was often the pomp of orchestral background, the vocal delivery was precise and far from the pretentious exercises that artists like Mariah Carey introduced to the music scene).

That’s why they are so great – there’s a great melody that is not buried under vocal trailings, there are very strong voices (so incredibly strong that modern RnB – especially by male artists – for a very long time suffered from whistly breaths instead of the self-assured voices of Sam Cooke and Co) and there is a way of orchestrating that is pretty grand but hardly ever over the top (that, most RnB producers left to the less skilled producers who copied this style for the segregation-loving audience).

“Be my Baby” was originally performed by the Ronettes and written by the infamous Phil Spector along with songwriter duo Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry (you’ll find that quite a few of your favourite songs of that time were usually written by a female/male-songwriter duo). This song is layered like a wedding cake and I guess that the production team and especially the sound editor went crazy over it but it’s not overlayered (like, for example, Meat Loaf’s early 90s phase of cheesing all hell out of Rock and Roll). It’s a lovely song, especially if you can exclude all pop-cultural associations* and lo and behold, Darlene Love and Sonny & Cher provided background vocals for the original recording (mind = blown).

Now, I won’t get into the hundreds of cover versions of the song, in fact, I am only writing this because only recently I heard a version that is the perfect example of what’s wrong with a lot of modern cover versions (I actually wrote about it before but let me drive this point home again).

People, this is not how you do a cover song. You don’t spit in the face of the songwriters by transforming the melody so much that only the lyrics hint at the original. You just don’t. And there is so much of this going on nowadays, it makes me mad. Sure, a playful cover version that rearranges this and that is amazing and that even a highly altered interpretation can add to the original songwriting has been proven over and over again but this is just butchering a great tune, meandering along and turning a very clear song into bedspreads of sadness that go nowhere. And you can add the fact that way too many great peppy RnB-songs get turned into sad little puddles of misery by indie-bands. Why are you so miserable, indie-bands? What is wrong with you that you can’t feel joy when you listen to Ronnie Spector (aka Veronica Bennett) and instead want to channel funeral marches in your cover version? What went wrong in your life?

*Full disclosure: I hate “Dirty Dancing”. I watched the movie as a teenager and even though I loved the music (and back then, I could fall in love with movies solely for their soundtrack-choices), the movie itself held no appeal for me and the older I got, the worse the movie transformed (I experienced the same with “Pretty Woman”, by the way). It’s not even just a single thing that bothers me, it’s the whole movie, all character motivations, all character backgrounds, the actual lack of a proper story (there is none, there really is none), the very sad attempts at forced romantic moments and the fact that the female teenage character who falls for a much older guy is called – of all names in the world – “Baby”.

Cover me badly: Randy Newman ‘I think it’s gonna rain today’

You know, people can make fun of Randy Newman – and I mean hilarious fun – as much as they like but the dude can write a darn good song. And whenever his vocal delivery doesn’t make his music appear to sound the same always (ALWAYS), you can just see it so clearly and when a song like this:

…when a song like this gets interpreted by a singer who generally is known to put an amount of emotion in her singing that it simply breaks your bones under the weight, you really see it so so clearly as if it’s the first memory you ever had and that you will always keep.

Oh, not her, sorry. I mean, this is great, but scroll down a little more, ok?

Now, there have been many many great artists (and many more not so great artists, *cough* UB40 *cough*) tackling this song. Bette Midler does her Broadway-thing where everything is a little too theatrical to go all too much under your skin and Peter Gabriel gives you a hug as he usually does and you turn your head away because of the tears. But Nina Simone’s version. I mean Nina Simone’s version is the one that understands Newman as a songwriter and elevates the song, so it can leave you space to really feel it and get silent for a while.

Cover me Weirdly: ‘Royals’ by Lorde

People can compare her to Lana del Rey as much as they like but in contrast to Lana del Rey’s bored-ass non-singing I actually enjoy the smart lady from New Zealand and even though Lorde is your typically mopey intellectual teenager, she probably (hopefully) enjoys Weird Al Yankovic’s parody of her summer hit.

Man, Weird Al. For very long, I pretty much hated parody music like this but since this ridiculous video:

I am a total Weird Al-fan and enjoy his parodies so much that my five-years-ago self would probably cry out in embarrassment. But what can I say, there is wit, stupid puns and a very joyful silliness to everything he does. For Christ’s sake, this guy did a “Pokerface”-parody called “Polka Face”. I don’t even have to hear the song to start laughing on inconvenient occasions just by thinking about that name.

By the way, this is one of 8 planned music videos that Weird Al releases in anticipation for his new album. When Beyonce did it, I actually didn’t watch a single video even though I like me some Queen Bey now and then but this time around, I am excited for every new ridiculous song.