I've mentioned before that I love a great cover song. There is something incredibly fun, wonderful and delirious about hearing a song redone fantastically well. A great cover song can completely transform the original. Think of Jimi Hendrix's version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." Jimi took a relatively obscure Dylan track and made it huge - an electric monster of a song - and he made it his. Dylan himself now plays it like the Hendrix version and it is now one of Dylan's most popular tracks.
But a great cover songs doesn't have to be revolutionary it can also keep the basic structure of the song but through simple changes enrich the song making it even more potent. Jeff Buckley took Leonard Cohen's majestic "Hallelujah" and made it divine yet musically the song is very much the same. Buckley added a little bit to the beginning, stripped out the cheesy sounding synths and pushed the gorgeous lyrics to the forefront. It's still very much the same song but it's brilliant.
On and on we could go. Artists have been interpreting each others works for ages. Sometimes they outshine the originals, sometimes they just make it different, and sometimes they completely fail, destroying the integrity of the original. Either way I love to see them try.
With that I introduce my (hopefully) regular article about cover songs. Every week (or so) I'll highlight some interesting cover songs from around the world. Some will come from officially released studio albums others will come from live bootlegs or stints on the talk show circuits or other television specials. Sometimes I'll highlight one song, other times I'll focus on multiple versions of the same original, or perhaps we'll find cover songs about a theme. Whichever way we'll look at cover songs from all angles and hopefully find something new, or at least different.
Bob Dylan has, perhaps, been covered by more artist than anybody. He's really just about the perfect guy to cover. Musically Dylan is usually not all that complicated, he writes pretty straightforward melodies and the tunes can easily be built upon to create something completely different. Its the lyrics though that make Dylan a genius. He's a songwriter with a poet's soul. His words speak across continents and through the ages. It is no wonder then that there are thousands of cover versions of his songs.
It doesn't hurt that Dylan's voice is something of an acquired taste. While I personally love the man and his voice it's understandable that a great many folks can't stand to listen to the haggard croaking and thus prefer to hear his music and words through smoother vocal chords. Enter Madeleine Peyroux and her sultry, gorgeous voice. She covered Dylan's lesser known "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" from his very well known album Blood on the Tracks. Where the original contains plenty of that album's lonely angst, Peyroux slows it down, jazzes it up and really makes you feel the heartache of the lyrics while simultaneously making me want to put on a bowtime and glide across the dance-floor.
I won't say that her version is better than Dylan's, nor is it a complete reworking of the song, but she does make it completely her own and it certainly stands up to the original. The two version are different enough that I have no problem keeping them both on my iPod without ever feeling the need to skip either one even when played within close proximity to one another.