The Perfect Cover

coversessayCovers are fun. There is something almost magical about listening to someone reinterpret another artist’s blood, sweat, and tears. What did that person get from the song that I didn’t? How will that person tweak and change things to make it his or her own? Will they be reverential of the source material, or breakdown and reassemble the work to make something entirely new? Will I like the covered version better than the original? Or will I feel that some songs are sacred and not to be trifled with? It doesn’t really matter. A good cover can be a fascinating artifact of pop culture, either as a reflection of the times or as something deeply personal to the cover artist. It’s also a wonderful signifier of how transcendent music can be, and how it touches our lives. In a way, it’s just passing down art, and stories, and dreams to the coming generations, a way to live forever. All music and art eventually become part of the cultural zeitgeist, part of the collective ether. It’s a way to communicate with our long lost elders, a bridge to the past, a tie to everything that came before.

And again, covers are fun. Here are a few I adore…

- The White Stripes’ version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”
– Jose Gonzalez’s version of The Knife’s “Heartbeats”
– Nirvana’s version of The Vaselines’ “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”
– Alvarius B’s version of John Barry’s and Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice”
– The Replicants’ version of Missing Persons’ “Destination Unknown”
– The Gourds’ version of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice”
– Sonic Youth’s version of The Carpenters’ “Superstar”
– Quasi’s version of David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision”
– The Polyphonic Spree’s version of Nirvana’s “Lithium”
– Cat Power’s version of The Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason”

In no way am I saying that these songs are better than the originals that inspired them. For the most part, they just hit me on an emotional level that their predecessors do not (with the exception of The Gourds’ bluegrass reinterpretation of “Gin and Juice” which is just hilarious). Most of the time I love the first artist’s version of their song just as much as the cover, and I absolutely abhor the notion that one artist is born to write a song while another exists just to sing it. It’s completely dismissive of either artists’ other abilities or intents, and ultimately comes down to simply an expression of preference. Trent Reznor was not meant to write “Hurt” so that Johnny Cash could sing it. Leonard Cohen was not meant to write “Hallelujah” so that Jeff Buckley could record his own version of it. These people made brilliant art that inspired other artists to create more art, and as listeners, we are all the better for it.

Covers are fun. What are some of your favorites?


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit

One Response to The Perfect Cover
  1. Shawn Reply

    The Cure’s version of purple haze & Gwar’s version of carry on my wayward son spring immediately to mind.

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