I’ve always been foolishly optimistic when it comes to re-makes of films, TV shows, and, especially, music. I’m of the mindset that if an artist loves something enough to pay tribute through a remake, then have at it!
If it’s good, we get more of the thing we love. It’ll be different, of course — a new interpretation, a unique spin, a different style — but it’ll be an opportunity to revisit an old flame from a different angle.
If it sucks, I won’t listen or watch. It’s that simple. I also won’t waste my time or energy taking offense as a fan-god of the Almighty Original and bashing it. There are plenty enough people who are up to that task.
In a brilliant article from Ross Hsu about a White Stripes playlist experiment, he aptly wrote: “I’m for some reason incapable of seeing new music as a positive force that adds to my life; instead I think of it in terms of an endless torrent that I can’t possibly weather, a to-do list that I’ll never catch up with. So listening to new albums exhausts me.”
Unlike Ross, I still love to discover new tunes. But I agree that the task is arduous and challenging. Most days, I’m right there with him, listening to the stuff I know I love.
When it comes to music, I’m a sucker for a great cover. If I fall in love with a song, you best believe I’ll go listen to every (good) cover version I can find.
The best kind of cover is one that is recognizable to its counterpart yet uniquely distinct. When an artist takes an original song and completely turns it on its head, I’m over the moon. I might even like it more than the original.
Spicing up a long-running musical romance
There are some incredible old standards out there that have been re-made, shiny and new for our eager ears to absorb.
This habit has also led me to discover some great new bands I might not have noticed in our beautifully oversaturated world of digital music.
It also has the added bonus of boosting my creativity as a writer. I can play covers in the background without feeling overly distracted. That’s because I’m already well-acquainted with the song.
Does anyone care what kind of music I like to listen to when I’m writing? Likely not. Unless they’re like me — a passionate literary and music enthusiast always looking for that next big love — that next powerful combination of voice, melody, and lyric that sends chills up and down my spine.
I’d be interested in learning what Nick Hornby listened to when he was writing High Fidelity, or what Chuck Palahniuk played in the background when he was working on that brilliant fever dream, Invisible Monsters. And what would Mary Shelley have listened to on Spotify while penning the classic Frankenstein? As you can see, I’m fascinated by how music contributes to the creative process of the writing brain.
Here are some of my favorite covers. The ones that enhance my creativity and make me fall in love with a song all over again.
No, no one can do it like Toni Braxton. I totally know. But I like Weezer’s alternative spin. It’s not an abomination, it’s an emotional homage. You can tell just by listening that he respects this work of art and wants to do the best he can with his version.
Do you want to hear a folksy/bluesy version of Michael Jackson’s smash hit, sprinkled with some of the most gorgeous harmonies known to humankind? Sure you do! As an added bonus, the music video is so watchable. Joy Williams and John Paul White pour their passion into an intimate coffee shop performance, filmed in black and white.
Haunting, melodious — this guy’s take on one of my favorite Alanis Morisette numbers is a stunning example of the male falsetto at its finest. This is why I love to see what a guy’s voice can do to a song originally written for a female, and vice versa.
I’m a Hozier fanatic, and “Take Me to Church” is one of my all-time favorite modern songs and music videos. I think Morgan James does a hell of a job with her silky smooth voice in this arrangement. In one interview, Hozier said:
“Sexuality — regardless of orientation — is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.”
Listen to this cover, and you’ll hear the singer’s pure passion for Hozier’s song and its message.
I actually never heard Bob Dylan’s original until I looked it up on YouTube! (What a huge A-hole, right?) As a kid, it was the Jimi Hendrix Experience all the way. I connected deeply to this song. The ultimate respect goes to Dylan, the man who birthed this musical work of art into existence, but I can see why the song is strongly tied to Jimi’s interpretation.
I’m sorry if this seems sacrilegious, but I just don’t see it that way. This L.A.-based singer/songwriter’s ethereal voice is a perfect complement to Kurt Cobain’s haunting lyrics, and she tackles the song with a deep understanding of the notion that she shouldn’t try to do it the way Kurt does. This cover, along with 5 original songs, appears on Lorelei’s LP titled “Dopamine,” and her seductive sound fits right in with the song’s dark themes of lust, obsession, and tragedy.
I first fell in love with this song when Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, and Goldie Hawn crushed it in First Wives Club. It was during my awkward tween years, before I even heard Lesley Gore’s 1963 original, recorded when she was a wee tot at 17 years old! This song, which later became the real-life anthem of my divorce, has a place deep in my heart. Australian singer Grace and American rapper G-Eazy put a hip-hop spin on this that just fits, glorifying the absolute sexiness of the independent woman.
As you may have guessed by now, I’m a fan of upping the key of a male singer’s song so it’s comfortable for my female voice, allowing me to absolutely murder it during a karaoke session.
I’m a huge fan of the Marcy Playground number, but this is an entirely different beast. Different in a haunting, industrial, celestial kind of way.
Maybe it’s because I’m partial to HBO’s Big Love, and I’ve listened to this dozens of times during the opening credits without ever getting tired of it, but I love this rendition of the Beach Boys ballad. I can’t listen to this and not sing along. Unless, of course, I’m in an awesome writing flow…
10. Pony — Far
Warning: Side effects of this song may include involuntary striptease.
Of course Genuine gives me my fair share of mellow eargasms with his original (and then there’s his shirtless dancing on the music video…), but I love the harder edge Far puts on it. If you have trouble with writing while also dancing uncontrollably, you might want to use this one to just dance around the house and get those creative juices flowing. I’ve had one short pole dance lesson in my life, but this song makes me want to go pro.
The transformative power of art
There you have it. I could honestly compile a list five times longer, but this is a good start — and a good, eclectic mix. All of these artists have one thing in common: they aren’t trying to improve upon a masterpiece, they’re paying tribute, honoring the original artists by putting their spin on songs they love.
I hope you fall deeply in love with at least one of them. Let their creativity spark your own. We are all writing about the same topics — love, relationships, the latest AI innovation — but it’s our own unique voice that gives new life to a subject.