Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Friday, April 11, 2003  

Run from cover

I haven't had a good rant in ages. I haven't had many, actually, and anyway recently it's the war in Iraq that I've been blogging about (although Raymond Ramcharitar in today's Express thinks that us Iraq commentators should just shut the hell up. More on that later, perhaps).

Anyway, I've been moved to vent today because of the recent onslaught of, not kidnappings, not gang-murders, but horrible cover songs on the radio. (Sorry, Raymond.)

To begin with, I'm not much of a radio person. Unless I get a hankering for some good old-time calypso (and even that's hard to find) my stereo is always in CD mode. But I listen to the radio at the office, and while I'm inured to most of the effluence that pours out of the speakers, the increasing number of dire cover songs and pointless remixes is getting to be a bother.

It's not that I'm against covers per se. In fact, I think one of the hallmarks of a good pop song, like a good play, is its interpretability. And some of the best-known versions of pop songs are covers: Aretha Franklin's definitive rendition of Wilson Pickett's "Respect" and Jimi Hendrix's amazing reworking of Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchower", for example, are undisputed classics. And recently, Johnny Cash's bare, elegaic interpretation of Nine Inch Nails' hard-rocking "Hurt" (not to mention the haunting video that goes with it) is a reminder of how a good song, in the hands of a great artist, can be made even better.

Would that I could say the same for most of the covers that get released, or rather, escape. Right now there are covers of the Doors' "Light My Fire" and German new-wave one-hit wonders Nena's "99 Luft Balloons", both done in an excruciating faux-reggae (reggae!) style that does nothing for either song; in fact, quite the opposite.

Then there's those Texas Christian popsters Sixpence None the Richer with their bloodless versions of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over", and even worse, the Las' "There She Goes", originally an ode to the dubious pleasures of heroin abuse, remade as a treacly, saccharine love ballad.

At least Sixpence..., which has a female singer, didn't change the song to "There He Goes" to make it palatable to heterosexist tastes. What was Alanis Morrissette thinking when she changed the Police's "King Of Pain" to "Queen Of Pain"? And (speaking of the Police) whoever it was that decided that "Every Little Thing He Does Is Magic"? What was the point?

Another tragedy is the fact that most people, never having heard the original versions of many of these songs, will assume the covers are the originals, or just not care either way - like people who see the movie but couldn't be bothered to read the book.

Ultimately, though, if they couldn't care less, who am I? Let the sheep follow the shepherd that is the mainstream media to graze in the fields of pop culture blandness, as Rob Gordon down at Championship Vinyl might say.

Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you'd better listen to the voice of reason
But they don't give you any choice
'Cause they think that it's treason
So you had better do what you were told
You'd better listen to the radio...

- Elvis Costello, "Radio, Radio"

posted by Jonathan | 4:53 PM 0 comments


save boissiere house
Bina Shah
Nicholas Laughlin
Caribbean Free Radio
Global Voices
Jessie Girl
Club Soda and Salt
Caribbean Cricket
Jai Arjun Singh
email me