Being possessive about music is a part of life. Music is one of the ways we distinguish ourselves from the 7 billion other humans that we have to share this world with. It’s also how we connect with communities of fellow freaks n geeks who share our music taste. We become so enthralled by bands and songs and albums that we start to take ownership of them. Some fans even go as far as to say “this is my band” or “this artist saved my life” (this is a self callout). This relationship between the musician and the listener is extremely and beautifully sacred, and it is pretty much unbreakable. There is absolutely nothing at all that can encroach upon a person and their beloved artist except for one small inevitable fact of life: covers.
When a song by an artist that you have claimed as “yours” becomes robbed of its original, unique, sometimes life-saving essence by another artist, one cannot help but feel betrayed. You may think to yourself, “how dare they ruin this song. How could they possibly try to juxtapose their fandom with the fandom I’m a part of? This song belongs to my group of fellow fans and mine alone. It’s not fair…. those cashgrabbing assholes… trying to steal my band….” etc. etc.
I understand what it feels like to have been robbed of an excellent song by another band because back in eighth grade, in the thick of my emo phase, Twenty One Pilots covered My Chemical Romance’s “Cancer.” I filed through a mental rolodex of ill wishes towards Twenty One Pilots in my head for days. I hated that the TOP fandom, people who I considered “normies” at the time, was trying to distract from the emotional stadium rock essence that MCR had blessed the world with. I thought that if Twenty One Pilots truly loved My Chemical Romance as much as I did, they would have left their music to stand on its own.
That said, my emo phase is now well and truly over and I could care less what anybody does with MCR’s music. More to the point, my perspective on covers has shifted since I marched around middle school in a ratty sweater. I have come to realize that there are actually some really great covers out there. Covers that don’t try to pull focus from the original sound, but just place a new lens on a beloved song. Yes, it is true that the original is always going to be better, but this is a big world. There’s room for everything when it comes to music, and that’s beautiful. So in order to change the world, one cover at a time, I would like to share some of my favorite covers of the last few decades.
Happy Together- Slothrust
I love this cover because it takes a song that I normally wouldn’t listen to and gives it an “angry, young, and poor” attitude that contrasts the original, almost cute sounding aesthetic. It’s got roaring guitars, thrashing drums, metal screams, and those same familiar, wholesome lyrics that are almost funny when paired with the music.
Addicted To Love- Florence + The Machine
It is true that Florence could cover anything and I will still rave about it no matter what, simply because her voice is so immaculate that it’s impossible to not just weep when you hear her sing. That being said, this equally as *addictive* as the Robert Palmer because it packs the same amount of punch, just with harps instead of guitars and ghosty, reverberated vocal goodness instead of attitude-packed, unaffected singing. That said, Florence’s version is much more calming and mellow and if I wanted to listen to the version that energizes me more, I would go with the Palmer.
Feeling Good- Muse
Here we get into muddy territory because Nina Simone is somebody who I would both kill and die for. When I discovered Muse had done a cover, I felt similarly to how I felt in eighth grade when Twenty One Pilots covered “Cancer.” I felt like somebody was encroaching on Nina Simone’s legacy, when that simply wasn’t true. Muse takes this song and gives it a different character. The distortion effects on the vocals and replacing horn riffs with guitar powerchords were really impressive, but what gave this cover a place on this list is the drums. In Simone’s version, the drums are background and the voice is the true focus. But Muse gives the drums a character. They drive the entire vibe, seamlessly changing from strong cymbal crashes to little high hat/bass combinations that somehow pull focus from the vocals. Either way, I listen to this cover very frequently and would highly recommend it.
Femme Fatale- King Princess
Again, I was skeptical about this one because I love the Velvet Underground and Nico with my whole heart and was worried that a modern, pop sounding cover would be criminal. However, I was also excited because King Princess and Nico for me are kind of on the same level in my eyes- iconic stage presences with unique vocals. King Princess gives this song a romantic edge to it that I love, and a sweet, mellow, rounded sound texture that contrasts from the original version’s more direct drive. I will always love Nico’s version the most, but King Princess gives the song a breath of fresh air, not to mention putting the character in a less critical context.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody- Fall Out Boy
Okay, maybe I lied about my emo phase being over. I admire Whitney as a person, but this song is not necessarily my favorite. Fall Out Boy gives it a more punky character, which appeals to me because of the wild guitars and drums. The lead guitar has a really pronounced countermelody throughout the cover, which I promise you is the definition of free oxytocin.
Don’t Stop Me Now- Jukebox the Ghost
I only recently discovered this band and this cover, but OH MY GOD- I have never heard somebody sound so similar to Freddie Mercury. I swear I could never possibly say that about any other Queen cover except for this one. It’s almost freaky. But what makes this cover unique is that you can tell how much reverence and respect this band has for Queen. It feels like the band is not trying to get attention for themselves, but share in a moment of love for the legacy of Freddie and I nearly shed a tear.
Speaking of Twenty One Pilots, MisterWives covered their song so unbelievably well that this is another one of those covers that I love more than the original. It’s so raw and heart-wrenching and full of fun in the way that the original radio hit just… isn’t. MisterWives lead singer Mandy Lee has such a dynamic voice that one cannot help but love her rendition of this 2010s classic.
I Will Survive- Cake
Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is one of the catchiest songs known to man, but Cake’s rendition might just be even catchier in a completely different way. It almost feels like a different song, so you can’t really compare it to the original. It’s a really excellent cover on its own merit, and the lyrics are really the only common ground between itself and the original.
In conclusion, resistance to a cover of your favorite band’s song is completely understandable. But in the end, music does not belong to anybody. As long as nobody’s intellectual property is stolen, there is no reason to believe that “your band” or “your song” is under attack. Nobody is making your favorite rock star any less of a god/goddess by covering their songs. If anything, they’re contributing to the tapestry of their legacy, and who can argue with that?
Here is a playlist of all the songs:
Artwork: Breanna Keane