Cover Songs & Cover Bands
Updated: May 1
cover song - a recording of a song that was first recorded or made popular by somebody else; "they made a cover of a Beatle's song".
Even the great songwriters of all time - Dylan, Lennon/McCartney, Van Morrison, are not above routinely covering someone else's songs as performers. Why is that? It's because the cover song is a beautiful thing. It's flattery in musical form. The chance to perform without the sentimental attachment of songwriting. The freedom to improvise, modify, and expand on. It's a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of taste. Covering a song is an expression of influence, acknowledging those who came before, and an admiration for their craft.
Scores of articles have been written on the greatest cover songs of all time. It's hard to resist the challenge of trying to put together a good playlist of covers. Cover songs are all over the place. It's hard to find a good playlist of all covers because they defy mood and logic, and often strain to locate any semblance good taste. The guilty pleasures creep in. Sometimes cover playlists need a theme to tie them together - like this mix of Spotify Singles covers. They have in common that they were all recorded by Spotify in the studio.
Occasionally, a cover song will become more famous than it's original. It raises the bar against which it was conceived. The second artists vision of the material proved to be superior to the original artists. Often the key components of the song - chords, lyrics, melodies, etc. lend themself to impersonations, to new growth and discovery. The original song is a map, but one that doesn't require a precise route. There is room for exploration along the way.
What then about the cover band? A unit whose whole identity is to bring out the joy in other peoples songs. A cover band can be whatever you make of it. Sometimes, a cover band can be everything.
There is so much variety and scope and depth to the cover band. So much possibility in its purpose. Are they just covering one band? A decade? A genre? A good cover band can set the mood for a room and it can feed off the energy of that room to bring it to a higher place. A place of understanding, of union, of connection.
While it's true that we've all probably seen the bad version of this type of band - bad song choices, not enough talent, a poor copy of the original. It can be tough to listen to. But done well, a solid cover song in the setlist of a great band is a powerful tool. With the right skills, environment, and crowd appreciation, covers songs can unleash a torrent of pent up emotion and joy. Sometimes the randomness of cover bands can bring pure bliss - much like the right song coming on the radio on a spring day with the windows down.
The best cover bands connect deeply with their audience in a few different ways Bands can show their technical abilities with instrument and voice, with their charm, looks, attitude, gear, humor, etc. But the genius part of the cover band is the connection the audience feels with the songs. They know, and hopefully love, the songs themselves. No need to teach them the chorus - they already can sing it! Every song is a potential sing along. Cover bands get us tapping our toes during dinner, and shaking our thangs on the dance floor. Cover bands remind of life's infinite possibilities, and of the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Cover bands have the freedom to throw genre out the window. On a recent night out, the band mixed classic rock covers with more modern folk rock, 90s punk, and indie. The band wound down the night with the unlikely pairing of Rich Girl -> Love the One You're With -> Stairway to Heaven. It was late, and the crowd was into it. All seemed right. Combining songs that shouldn't seem to segue together, cover bands can push the limits of imagination. It may be that nobody had ever recorded a "Grandma's Hand/No Diggity", until they did. The possibilities are endless.
The cover band exists to make music more accessible to you, to bring it closer to home, easier to see and hear. Cover bands are familiar to listen to, easy to digest, and possible to interact with. You don't need an expensive ticket, there are no services fees (maybe a cover charge). The cover band may be coming to your favorite pub or restaurant without you knowing it. You may get a concert when you thought you were getting nachos.
There is always a delicate balancing act that goes on within a cover band. How to satisfy the tastes of the crowd, and stay true to their own selves? The audience may want to hear Journey, but the band may want to play the Clash. It's not easy picking songs to cover. It's so personal. It's a lot of pressure. At the highest levels of touring musicians, the cover is a universal way to invite a guest on stage to collaborate, to make something old become new again. Covers songs are songs that are reborn.
Earlier in the year, i was in a pub in Newport, RI - One Pelham East. There was a guy playing acoustic guitar at happy hour. Everyone has seen a version of this guy. He was all over the map in terms of his taste. He'd go from Nirvana, to Creedence, to obscure folk rock songs. And he was fantastic. At his set break, I asked him about one of the tunes he played - "Feathered Indians" by Tyler Childers. A song I really admire. He said that most of the songs he plays were for the crowd, but that one "was for him". Artists need to feed their own souls, and please the crowd. Just like singer-songwriters. It's a balance.
Next time you get the chance, give your cover band some love - throw in a request, get up and dance, belt out the chorus. They deserve it. They love the songs just like you do.
And give that covers playlist a try. Pull a few themed covers together. There's an almost unlimited supply of material. See where it goes.