One of my musical passions is the cover song. I love hearing my favorite musicians put their stamp on another artist’s song or, conversely, hearing my favorite musicians being reworked by other artists. At times the results can be disappointing. Sometimes the artist performing the cover simply produces a note for note rendition of the original, bringing nothing fresh to the song. On some occasions, however, the cover artist produces a version that meets or exceeds the original and makes the song a classic all over again. Joe Cocker certainly did that when he performed the Beatles “A Little Help From My Friends”, infusing the song with a passion and urgency that the Fab Four did not. And have you ever heard Johnny Cash’s version of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt”? I would not have guessed that the Man in Black was even aware of the Nine Inch Nails existence, let alone that song. Yet he takes that already disturbing song and finds a level of even deeper solitary suffering.
This may be sort of a golden age for fans of cover songs. Tribute albums, audio valentines from one group of musicians to the bands and performers who influenced them, seem to hit the shelves regularly these days. Matthew Sweet and former Bangle Susanna Hoffs are two musicians who have collaborated on two collections called Under the Covers on which they play their favorite songs from the 60’s and the 70’s. Movie soundtracks also provide a rich source of cover songs. The problem for the cover song buff is finding out all the ways a favorite song might be available.
A nice solution to that problem is the Covers Project website. Music fans from all over have pooled their musical knowledge to compile an alphabetical listing of recording artists and the songs that they have covered, as well as their songs that have been covered by others. Users can search by the group or artist’s name or they can search by the song. For example, I love the old Townes Van Zandt song “Pancho and Lefty”. A quick search reveals that Emmylou Harris, Dick Gaughan, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, Steve Earle and Willie Nelson have all recorded versions of the Van Zandt classic. If you’re interested in more information or purchasing the tune, each song listed includes links to Amazon, iTunes, or MusicBrainz. There are also links to Facebook and Twitter if you just want to share. And if you know of another version that they haven’t listed, you can add that to the webpage. (Delbert McClinton did “Pancho and Lefty” too!)
The Covers Project’s website is a lot of fun to snoop around on, and you might even learn that your favorite song by your favorite group wasn’t theirs to begin with.