So, I was listening to Pandora again at the gym and enjoying a station a created based off of the Pixies when I heard an
advertisement for the genre channel called “Cover Songs Radio. There were two things that made me continue to think about this channel over the next day.
First, as some might remember, I have sort of an embarrassing obsession with cover songs. I have theorized about them (twice), I have gone through an intense period of watching amateurs perform them on youtube, I have fantasized about impossible cover songs and I have objected to particularly bad ones.
But what really go me going was the advertisement selling “Newstalgia”, claiming that this is the feeling that a cover song inspires you with because it is both something new and something old. This neologism freaks me the hell out because (1) the Greek compound nost-algia is one of my favorite words and this new word reveals absolute ignorance about the root words “homecoming-grief”) and, more pedantically, new is not a Greek root. The Greek word for ‘new’ would create a perfectly acceptable word “Nealgia”.
(I know. I know. A silly thing to get angry about. And just do a google search for “newstalgia” and see how many others have committed the same unforgivable barbarism.)
So, the idea of a station dedicated to pop songs stayed in my head for a day and a night. The next day I returned to my office and committed myself to listening to the first five songs on the station and writing them down. Here’s what happened: I got excited, I got sad and then I got angry.
Here we go:
1. Van Halen, “You really Got me” (Cover of The Kink’s 1964 hit)
In classic and typical Van Halen stlye, the vocals are sufficient but forgettable and there is way too much guitar soloing. The simplicity and the masculine directness that make the original so powerful are lost on this one. I am sure that the different style was really fascinating in the hoary year of 1978, but years later, it just seems obnoxious
2. Nirvana, “The Man Who Sold the World” (Cover of David Bowie’s 1972 release)
I was surprised when this song came on because I still think of it as a such a revelatory moment for Nirvana. For one, I actually heard this song for the first time when Nirvana covered it in the unplugged show. In this version, the bass is so beautifully and simply played, the guitar-line is like some type of call-to-arms, and Cobain’s voice works well with its under-played presentation of the song. By contrast, when I listen to Bowie’s version, it seems almost cheesy. This cover, then, shows the power of a song translated from one style and time to another with the potential to characterize artist and song alike.
3. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, “Over the Rainbow” (do you need to ask?)
I wasn’t at all upset to have this song show up. For one, I have heard it about a thousand times but I didn’t know who sang it or really helped to redefine (for me and for a generation at least) what can happen when you transform a song from one genre to another. The ukulele is simple and his voice is a little thread-bare, but every time I have ever heard this song I have gotten a little sad.
Maybe it is the memory of this song and my youth. When I was a small child CBS or one of the networks used to play the Wizard of Oz one night a year. My mom and dad made popcorn, opened the sleeper sofa, and let me stay up late to watch it. I don’t know what inspired that, but I can’t think of or hear of Wizard of Oz without that thought. Even as I type this out, I am blinking away tears–the song is just too sad, to filled with that sense of the ephemeral nature of life.
And this is even more messed up. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole died at the young age of 38 in 1997 after fighting obesity his entire life. Is there a foreboding tone in this song? What is the song about but the desire for transformative change, for the release from this life to a better one.
Shit, I am getting weepy again.
4. Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (cover of Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 release)
When this song came on after the first one, I decided that I should just stop doing anything for the rest of the day. “Hurt” is a powerfully harrowing song in its original high goth form. When Cash sings this song at the end of his life and after the passing of his wife, it is just way too much to process emotionally. Poignant doesn’t even begin to describe this shit.
I didn’t skip the song, though. I don’t pay for Pandora!
5. Aerosmith, “Come Together” (Cover of The Beatles’ 1969 release)
I did not know that Aerosmith covered this song. I can be quite honest about this. It is terrible. Tyler has such a unique voice that it does not meld well into other peoples’ songs–and this range is quite wrong for it. The over all tone of the song is really ill-fit for Aerosmith and the time period. I really don’t care that much for The Beatles, but after hearing this abomination I listened to the original as a type of soul cleansing. This is the worst type of a cover song: it reveals the weaknesses of the the band performing and makes you want to hear something else.
So that ended my day with Pandora’s cover songs. Anything new to you hear my brother?