Oliver has been exploring cover versions and samples today using the website WhoSampled.com.
While I’m the last person on earth to go out of my way to hear a cover band, especially of the later day “Classic Albums Live Presents Celine Dion’s Falling Into You” type, a good cover can take the manna of the original and transform it into an entirely new and wondrous thing.
Fleetwood Mac released Landslide on a self-titled album in 1975:
Stevie Nicks performed the song live, accompanied by Cheryl Crow, on Oprah in 1988:
In 2002, Dixie Chicks released a cover that is arguably more popular than the original; until recently it was my favourite rendition:
British solo artist Robyn Sherwell released a version in 2015 that was featured in the film Suffragette; it takes everything that was special about the original, and the covers that followed, stretches it out a little, adds some lovely harmonies, and becomes my new favourite:
(Nicks returned to the Oprah network in 2013 for an episode of Masterclass where she explained the meaning of the song).
Another example where a cover transcends the original is the 1983 Talking Heads track This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody):
This song has been the victim of more dreadful covers of perhaps any popular song in recent memory, including a unlistenable cacophony by Arcade Fire. The covers generally fail because they try to out-Talking-Heads the Talking Heads.
The 2009 cover by Shawn Colvin, however, like Sherwell’s Landslide, makes something new out of it by turning it into something completely different.
Another example of transcendence-by-cover is the 1982 Alan Parsons Project Eye in the Sky:
The original is inescapably a product of the early 1980s, good and bad; the 2004 cover by Jonatha Brooke is different enough to almost sever the connection to the original. But it’s wonderful.