If imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery, then today’s young breed of singers re-recording some of the greatest songs of the 80’s and the 90’s are paying tribute to the legendary musicians of our generation.
From ‘Glee’ doing its harmonic version of Journey’s monster hit “Don’t Stop Believin’” to multi-awarded newcomer Adele rendering a ballad version of the 80’s rock group The Cure’s classic hit “Lovesong”, we’ve seen and heard many younger artists re-recording the songs that we grew up listening to, not on the non-existent You Tube, iPods and smart phones back then, but mostly on the newly created and groundbreaking MTV and the ever dependable radio.
Is the original always the best or do we tend to get biased for novelty reasons? You be the judge.
Here’s a list of some of the modern “copycats” and what I think of their individual renditions. Give me a thumbs-up if you agree.
- The song “Forever Young” was recorded by the German rock/synthpop group Alphaville in 1984 and has since been used in many TV episodes, movies and advertisements.
- One Direction, the famous British boy band that gained fame and fortune after finishing 3rd in 2010 on the British TV singing competition “The X Factor”, recorded “Forever Young” as their winning song as part of the winners’ tracks. The single whose title was used many times in the group’s promotional publications is rumored to be included in their upcoming album.
- Hip hop rapper Jay Z used parts of the song in his single “Young Forever” during the chorus as sung in its original version by British pop star Mr. Hudson.
What I think: Although One Direction’s tempo and delivery were upbeat and energetic, the song was sung without eliciting much meaning except for the band’s obvious joy for being young, famous and maybe, for having the best time of their lives. While entertaining and fun, the song was performed very casually like a group of vocally talented teenagers will do during a festive sing-along.
Jay-Z’s song, on the other hand, depicted the joys, the struggles, the ambitions and the opportunities of youth, their “seize the day” attitude and the blessings of friendship. Mr. Hudson’s rendition was haunting and poignant which somehow preserved the original version’s tempo, melody and message to the youth of any generation.
- The lead vocalist and songwriter, Robert Smith, of the iconic British alternative rock/post-punk band The Cure wrote the song “Lovesong” as a wedding gift to his longtime partner and wife Mary Poole in 1988. The song landed at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts upon release in 1989.
- Reggae rock group 311 is not exactly “young” as the band was formed in 1988 but they covered the song late in 2004 as a soundtrack for the film 50 Modern Dates, earning the band a #1 hit that landed on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks.
- Multi-awarded British singer-songwriter Adele recorded the song in 2011 as one of the tracks in her much celebrated and award-winning album “21”. In one of her concerts, Adele told the audience that the song was for her mother who took her to one of The Cure’s concerts when she was a child.
What I think: Although I love Adele’s big voice and most if not all of her ballads, I did not like her rendition of the song. I thought it was haunting and a bit bluesy yet boring. Her acoustic guitar dominant version reminded me of my favorite Duran Duran classic “Save a Prayer” but set in the 1920's which I hope she would not cover. To anyone who did not know the original version of “Lovesong”, maybe Adele’s cover would pass for an epic ballad but for those who did, it’s painful to listen to a special song whose deep, emotive meaning was lost “in translation”.
311’s version was true to the original and the singer’s rendition was closer to Smith’s poignant version. The only distractions, however, were the vocals and the singer’s laid-back look. Robert Smith’s voice and style are so unique, I doubt if anyone can ever interpret any of his songs and elicit the same connection that Smith has with his captivated audience.
"State of Love and Trust"
- In 1992, Eddie Vedder and his Pearl Jam band mates appeared in the Gen X classic film “Singles” as the back-up musicians for Matt Dillon’s aspiring rock band Citizen Dick. “Singles”, said to have inspired the creation of the hit 90’s TV series “Friends”, has produced one of the greatest soundtracks of all time including Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust”.
- The Gas Light Anthem, an American punk rock band formed in 2006, covered Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust” and recorded the song as part of their 2009 single “The ‘59 Sound”. Lead vocalist Brian Fallon lists Pearl Jam as his favorite band and has already performed the song live with Eddie Vedder in one of their performances.
What I think: Eddie Vedder wrote the song about “being faithful” or loyal in a relationship and always sang it with passion in concerts and recordings. Vedder’s voice is so compelling and full of emotion that when he sings, it’s almost impossible not to get the message of the song. Brian Fallon, on the other hand, has a gritty, big, loud screaming voice that may be perfect for punk rock. The man almost sounds like a growling werewolf who is vocally gifted. However, when it comes to covering an iconic rock band like Pearl Jam, having a big, screaming voice is not always enough. Although The Gas Light Anthem’s music is energetic and quite enticing, Fallon’s delivery while passionate is just average, in my opinion. It was lacking in depth, thereby failing to capture Vedder’s emotional connection.
"The Bodyguard" Soundtrack
- Charice started her career in the US singing Whitney Houston's timeless classics from Houston’s 1992 movie “The Bodyguard” and has wowed audiences all over the world.
What I think: I’m a big fan of Charice and I love her powerful voice but given her youth and raw singing skills, Charice did not have the soul and the maturity that the older and more seasoned Houston had. Charice's rendition was impressive but not as captivating as the original version. When Charice sings other covers, however, it’s a different story. Her version of “God Bless America”, for instance, was hands down stunning.
Maybe one day, Gen Y will come up with a Gen X classic makeover with the same caliber as those rendered by Gen X musicians covering Baby Boomer classics. The alternative rock group “Nirvana” covered David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World" on MTV Unplugged like it’s their own song.
Remember “If I Were A Carpenter”, a tribute album to the Carpenters released in 1994 by different alternative rock musicians of the 90’s?
My favorite track in that album was Dishwalla’s “It’s Going to Take Some Time” which perhaps is a fitting theme to this write up. Maybe these talented modern musicians need just a little bit more time to ripen up so they can nail the older generation’s classics the next time around.
Maybe one day, they can finally say what Boy George of The Culture Club once said during their prime, “It’s not who did it first, it’s who did it better.”