I've been coming across of bunch of great cover songs by indie bands lately. Usually what happens is I download a bunch of random music, load it into my "New Music" playlist on iTunes, and then put that playlist on shuffle while I'm driving or doing design work. I'm half listening, half not. There's no conscious effort on my part to analyze the music; I'm just kind of letting it play in the background. But before long something will pop out and grab me, demanding that I listen more closely. I'll put that track on repeat, paying attention to the lyrics the second time around. Occasionally, one of these songs will make me go, "Why does this song sound so familiar? I'm pretty sure I never heard it before…" Then I'll look at my iPod to see who it is and what the name of the song is, and I'll realize I'm listening to a cover song.
Music, and art in general, is all about interpretation. But I think it's especially cool to see how musicians reinterpret other artists' music. It's fun to look (or listen) to familiar things in a brand new light. Cover songs, though, take it to another level, because it's like the musician is inviting you inside of his or her mind. Instead of saying, "Here's how I experience this particular piece of music…" and then simply explaining it to you, they're actually sharing their experience with you.
So let's join in on the experience. Here are some of my favorite indie cover songs, along with their original counterparts.
April Smith's cover is so different from the original that it's almost impossible to recognize as a cover. Her version blows Trey Songz' hip-hop track away. A jazzy singer with a pretty voice, April takes something that's vapid and meritless and turns it into something that's full-bodied and spirited. Complete with stand-up bass, violin, accordion, and fiddle, she and her band (The Great Picture Show) give "Bottoms Up" a scrumptious old-timey swing feel.
Like Robyn's original song, this cover is dancey and synthy. But unlike Robyn's original song, this song is a gender bender. In this version, a guy, not a girl, sings about watching his ex kiss another girl. I think the guy's ex is a girl. But it's never explicitly stated. So that means he's either singing to another dude, which only adds another gender-bending layer, or he's singing about one girl kissing another. Surprisingly, this song somehow manages to come across as neither cheesy nor raunchy. It comes across as being a little funny, but mostly just very nicely done.
You can get Real Magic's "Dancing On My Own" cover as a free download if you like their page on Facebook. Normally having to like or tweet something to unlock a download annoys me. It's rare for me to do it, and rarer yet for me to promote it. But this one's totally worth it.
The thing I like most about Beyoncé is her dancing. As for her music, it's not something I could ever get into. I feel like she strains her voice, which strains my ears. This track by ceo, however, I could listen to over and over again. It soars, is nearly orchestral, and has a beat that bumps harder than Beyonce's backside.
Out of the entire playlist, this track is the one that sounds most like its original. Both versions are soulful, funky, and make for good times. Though Mark Lesseraux's cover isn't a completely different take on The Gap Band's early 80s tune, I just had to include it. I've played this song four times now in front of different groups of people, and I kid you not, EVERY single time at least one person comments on liking it.
Lesseraux actually created an entire album of cover songs named Get Your Back Up Off The Wall. Three tracks from the album, including "You Dropped a Bomb On Me," can be downloaded for free here. Check 'em out. Each is highly enjoyable.
Jose Gonzales of Junip has excellent original music, but his covers are absolutely phenomenal. Actually, it was his covers on YouTube that made him blow up in popularity a few years ago. His most popular cover, "Heartbeats," is his most popular cover for a reason. Jose's acoustic version of The Knife's "Heartbeats" is breath-taking. Cover or not, music just really doesn't get any more beautiful than this.