Cover me: “Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon and Garfunkel, the Bangles and more

Back in the day, when Paul Simon wrote “Hazy Shade of Winter, the song revolved around a melancholic poet wondering about his life and achievements, an ode to midlife crisis even though Simon was in his twenties back then.

Even though the song itself was more energetic and aggressive then what the duo usually wrote and performed, it still had a certain young debonnaire-charm about it.

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Guilty Pop pleasures: The Masked Singer is joyful surreal weirdness

When I read about the US version of The Masked Singer, I was immediately intrigued. I am all for singing talent shows but to add colorful costumes and Mystery-Person-guessing? A dream (phone) come true.

I was therefore quite startled when I read Doreen St. Felix’s review on the show in the New Yorker. Now (!), the New Yorker is probably the last place where I want my guilty pleasures reviewed. Although their TV reviews are usually amazing, these tend to focus on high quality TV dramas and not glam-glittery peacocks singing musical tunes. The Masked Singer, St. Felix writes, is a rebrand of “the dystopia as wacky”. But what kind of dystopia does she mean?

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Weezer’s cover album is boring, here’s 11 better cover versions of the tracklist

I have three pet peeves, when it comes to cover songs:

  1. breathless whispered sad sack ballad versions of amazing upbeat pop songs
  2. „funny“ parody cover songs that show that the cover artists don’t really get the original (that does NOT include Weird Al because he usually really loves the songs he covers and yes, he’s kinda in the “Africa” version but come on …)
  3. Cover songs that are so similar to the original that all you can ask is, why they exist in the first place.

Welp, Weezer „surprised“ the world with a cover album and the whole tracklist is 3. and I know a lot of you love it because you love Weezer and yes, Weezer are very charming but still, this album is not it.

While I get that one or the other song might be really fun because you love River Cuomo’s voice (I’ve heard people especially loving „No Scrubs“ and „Everybody wants to rule the world“) but other than that, these songs are just one tracklist full of uninspired Karaoke. There’s bits and pieces that are a little different, but all in all, there is hardly any deviation from the originals, no spin, no interpretation, really. If this were school, this would be that poetry recital where the pupil was hellbent on learning all the words but really didn’t try to understand what the poem is about. It’s the kind of cover song that would give you so-so-critics on „American Idol“ (unless you have a voice like La’Porsha Renae or Haley Reinhart, but they were always on point and amazing and unique in their interpretations, so there’s really no excuse).

I have a big achy breaky heart-relationship with cover albums. I did love Peter Gabriel’s project „Scratch my back“ and „And I scratch yours“ because it was such a labor of love (even though not all cover songs by Gabriel or the other artists were amazing, it was an impressive project all the same and one that oozes mutual respect which is my cup of tea).

Other than that … if you are not a seasoned musician who can really put their all in these interpretations and make them their own in new unique ways like Johnny Cash did – why bother? I can get better cover songs at the Mauerpark Karaoke in Berlin every Sunday during Summer. I mean … wouldn’t an EP be enough?

Oh, and also: they could have really put a smaller, lesser known song/band on the radar but their selection is really such a Karaoke night clichee, it hurts my heart.

And because it’s lazy to simply write off this album (which probably was a lot of love and passion for Weezer), here’s a list of cover songs of these Weezer covers that I personally prefer. Yes, I do put in the work if I have to.

Africa (Toto) – Angel City Chorale

Look, “Africa” is cheesy as it gets, so if you do a cover, cheese it all up. The a cappella-choir version feels amazing because most singers seem to genuinely enjoy being part of this and the essence of the song stays but it’s also just an EVENT! I love it.

Everybody wants to rule the world (Tears for Fears) – Lorde / Maps & Atlases

I usually don’t like cover versions that warp melodies too much but I really dig that creepy, dark, post-apocalyptic version that Lorde presents and it’s a full commitment to the song, her vocals are amazing and somehow, that dark, looming doom fits the lyrics perfectly.

By the way, everyone and their mother covered this song, so there’s plenty of versions out there waiting for you to enjoy. Me, I also truly love Maps & Atlases’ version because they’re a guitar band and Dave Davison not only has a lovely voice but he also puts a little something else in his rendition which is appreciated.

Sweet Dreams (Eurythmics) – Fitz & The Tantrums

I like the nearly manic energy of this version, this and the slightly 60s feel of it still feels as sinister as the original but turns the fear factor out on the dance floor.

Take on me (Aha) – The Blanks

I had no hecking idea that “Ted’s” a cappella band from “Scrubs” was an actual thing. But here we go. Sam Lloyd has this amazing ability to play an incredibly pathetic character with “Ted” but as soon as he’s singing, it’s just honest and charming and lovely.

Happy Together – Miley Cyrus

Look, my problematic fave has such an amazing voice and usually a great grasp on the songs she performs that her cover versions are usually a knock-out. There’s no surprise then, that her “Happy Together” is equally fantastic (and a little more sexy than the original).

Paranoid (Black Sabbath) – Liliac

Look, as soon as the vocals started, I dropped my lower jar. That’s an amazing voice. And it’s Melody’s vocals that make this a truly fantastic cover. She adds juicy little changes to the vocals and I would go so far to say that she sings it better than Ozzy (sorry, not sorry).

Mr. Blue Sky (ELO) – Connie Talbot

Apparently, this song is so well composed (no wonder, Lynne is a beast) that no one is able to put a tiny bit of variation into the cover. But Connie Talbot’s version is something sweet. It might be too saccharine sweet for some but I think it is adorable and it makes me smile and that’s basically the main reason why this song is so popular – it makes us smile. I also like the trumpet solo.

No Scrubs (TLC) – Unlike Pluto ft. Joanna Jones

Yes, if you cover such an epic song then you better do your thing with it. The greatest thing about this cover version is the power it has. This song is all about trashy dudes and women who are over putting up with them and this version sounds exactly like that. Also, that voice is gorgeous.

Billie Jean (Michael Jackson) – Aloe Blacc

This is a killer cover song. You hear laughter when Aloe starts singing because no one expected it. That’s how you do a cover song on stage. The version turns the 80s pop song into a version that goes back to the 70s, Bill Withers style. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

Stand By Me (Ben E. King) – The Kingdom Choir

This song was one of my first song obsessions I ever had. I loved and still love this song to death in the Ben E. King version, it moves me so much that I get almost angry whenever I hear a version that feels lackluster. And let me tell you, that fucking Weezer version is lackluster as it get. What a bunch of fucking punks, singing like they’re a cheap lounge band on an all-inclusive cruise, like they’re Avril Lavigne’s supporting act in lesser known cities circa 2003. Even 4 the Cause had more heart. Respecting a cover song also means to drop it if you can’t give it justice. And there was no justice given.

But the Kingdom Choir does it justice. Everyone who is all up in the UK Royal’s affairs has probably heard it at the wedding of Harry and Meghan. It’s a beautiful performance that has gravity. Goose bumps, yes please.

Coversongs: ‘It takes a muscle’ by Spectral Display

I had NO idea that M.I.A.’s amazing version of “It takes a muscle” was a cover song. Even on Wikipedia, the first sentence to the song is “is a song by British recording artist M.I.A.” and only then says that it’s a cover. In my opinion, that’s shoddy since it should say: “is a song by Spectral Display, more known for the cover version by M.I.A.”

M.I.A.’s version is lovely because she amped up the slight reggae feel of the original and performs it in a nearly playful way which makes it a cute, fun love song to relax to. It also works quite well on the dancefloor when everybody is already super drunk because you can just sway forth and back for a couple of minutes. I like that the cover kept a little of the 80s vibe but modernized it. It’s a gorgeous cover version.

Spectral Display are from Dutch and the song was released in the early 80s and is a super weird, chill reggae-synth love song that is honestly, it’s own gem. I absolutely adore M.I.A.’s version but this original is such a beast! It’s really stripped down during the verse and then during the chorus a synth wall creates this dramatic feeling and then the song goes into this absurd synth solo (which only ever can be absurd).

This version is a lot more melancholic and feels almost surreal which I guess fits the feelings when you’re falling in love. It doesn’t feel playful but rather heavy, even a little sad. This and the cover show how you can shift the whole mood of a song with slight changes in the production, it’s fascinating, really.

Spectral Display were founded in 1980 by keyboarder and producer Michel Mulders and discovered Henri Overduin who wrote the lyrics (which are genius) and sang the song. As far as I can tell, they only released two albums, their self-titled debut in 1982 and “Too much like me” in 1983.

There’s a ridiculously horrendous homepage out there, saying that the band is back (dated: 2012) and they are working on new music.

Cover me: “Without You” by Badfinger

The history behind Badfinger and one of the greatest, most dramatic love songs ever written and performed is a sad tale of the horrible, not very good music industry. In 1970, Badfinger released “Without You”, one year later, Harry Nilsson covered the song brilliantly which is nowadays probably the version most music fans think is the original. But then in 1994, Mariah Carey, diva and voice extrodinaire, sang a version that is THE VERSION and will forever be the greatest version of all.

Badfinger could have lived from the royalties till eternity but then some unfortunate lawsuits financial and managerial issues led to one of the members to commit suicide in 1975. 1983 another member committed suicide and at that point the band still couldn’t get all that sweet money whenever the song was on the radio or in a movie.

Now, the original is beautiful and has a completely different vibe than Mariah’s version which goes to show that a good song can change shape according to the artist and be amazing whatever you do with it (the best example for this is a weird reggae version of Britney Spear’s song “XY” which is better than it should be).

You can hear that Nilsson’s version was the one that Mariah was inspired by, a bit like everyone covers Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in the Jeff Buckley-version even though Cohen’s version is equally amazing but a little edgier. Nilsson is an amazing performer because he simply sounds authentic in all his emotions.

Say what you will about Mariah, this woman was an integral part of the sound of the 90s, next to Whitney, Toni Braxton and that’s it, sorry, those three were the trifecta of “I can’t believe their voices”.

And even though aspiring singers would take the wrong cues from her dramatic performances (those runs, all those runs on “American Idol” were always unnecessary), she created a (back then) modern version that brought a little more church choir into the mix which is never a wrong thing (give me a gospel background choir anyday, anytime, anywhere).

Cover me: The Police and “King of Pain” by Alanis Morissette

First things first: “King of Pain” by the Police, released in 1983 on their album “Synchronicity” is a perfect song. The simple percussion at the beginning, Sting’s voice having this weird echo as if he’s singing from the other side of the room and then this dirty piano and the key change towards the chorus that doesn’t even feel like a chorus before everything gets into focus.

The amazing thing about this song – a real skill of the Police – is a really sad song that at first glance does not sound like a sad song but immediately feels like one. It’s the best example of that weird juxtaposition that so many 80s songs had, with those danceable beats and deep, sad truths.

With that being said, Alanis Morissette’s cover version (recorded for her Unplugged session) is a beautiful cover because it does two things:

It strips the song down but it keeps the structure.

It keeps the melody, my god, it keeps the f***ing melody. Do you know how many musicians cover a song in a “naked” version and then completely butcher up the melody? I’ve written about it over and over again, that’s how many. She plays a little bit with it by the end of it but that’s about it.

I also really like how Alanis manages to turn this specific 80s-sounding song into a song that has a distinct sound of the 90s with the jazzy piano and of course her voice which is part of the 90s musical canon.

Cover me: ‘Only You’ by Yazoo

Look, it might be that I heard the Flying Pickets first with their version of “Only You”. It might even be that I really loved that version and put it on all my mixtapes. But as soon as on some 80s sampler or the other Yazoo turned up and Alison Moyet drowned everything in her soulful voice, I was done with the Flying Pickets (and you know how much I love a cappella).

Margaret Thatcher supposedly liked this song version.  

This is one of those instances that completely obliterate the popular version as soon as you hear the original. Because Alison sings it so sweetly and the synth-sounds by songwriter Vince Clarke give this the weird 80s polish that exemplified great vocals back then. I really love love songs that cling to the fraying ends of a relationship. There’s so many beautiful songs out there (many of them dealing with metaphorical ghosts) and this is yet another example that the time before the break-up can be just as heartbreaking as the break-up itself. There’s an interpretation of this song floating in the web, that Clarke wrote this mainly as a way to deal with his departure from Depeche Mode but as all great songs go, it is about what you hear and feel when you hear it. And thanks to Moyet, that’s a lot.

That outfit is a statement. I don’t know whether I agree with the statement but it is a statement nonetheless.

PS: At some point I should write about Vince Clarke who is also the main composure of Erasure’s songs since 1985 and therefore has written some of the greatest bops of the 80s including his stint with Yazoo.