Song Stories: Covers vs. Originals

I love when bands cover songs. I like how they interpret things and change things up and I like hearing what it sounds like for them to play something completely different from their own songs. Most recently, I have completely fallen in love with Julian Casablancas’ cover of “Run Run Run” by The Velvet Underground, and that is the catalyst for this blogpost. Since I love covers so much and I’ve already compiled a list of my favourite BBC Radio One covers, I decided it was time for another post confessing my love for them. This time around, I’ve gathered my favourite recent-ish covers of older songs and compared them to the originals, with a few exceptions. As per usual, it is quite possible that this installment will be full of ramblings and professions of love and admiration. Proceed with caution.

1.“Run Run Run” covered by Julian Casablancas vs. “Run Run Run” originally by The Velvet Underground

As I mentioned before, this is the cover that kicked off the entire idea for this post. Julian covered the track for HBO’s new show Vinyl, which I’m obsessed with, and I’ve listened to it dozens of times since it’s release. Julian is a self-proclaimed lover of The Velvet Underground, so I’m sure this was a dream come true for him, as it definitely is for me – I can’t think of much that’s better than him covering this track. Julian’s vocals are deeper and more distorted than the original version, and although I love that on all of his own songs, I appreciate Lou Reed’s clarity of vocal tone. The cover is heavier overall, but it still has the integrity of the original. I love both of them, but in the end I think The Velvet Underground almost always wins – Lou Reed was a musical genius, after all.

2. “Whole Wide World” covered by The Vaccines vs. “Whole Wide World” originally by Wreckless Eric

I had never heard this song until The Vaccines covered it, and even then, I only listened to the original version a few days ago. Both versions are catchy and hook you right away, but there’s something about The Vaccines’ version that I absolutely love. Of course I’m biased as they’re my favourite band, but I like their delivery and the urgency with which they play the track. The pace is quickened and Justin’s vocals are whinier and flow in a way that he constantly pulls off. There’s also an echo in there that I thoroughly enjoy, and I like the multiple layers of instruments while Wreckless Eric’s original is quite simple. The Vaccines win this one for me, but I’m sure you had guessed that one from the very beginning of this paragraph.

3. “Clampdown” covered by The Strokes vs. “Clampdown” originally by The Clash

This is one of my favourite songs by The Clash, and the fact that The Strokes have covered it – and made it a B-side – makes me incredibly happy. Julian’s vocals are hard to decipher, but that’s true of many songs by The Strokes and only makes it sound more like their own song. They haven’t changed much or put a wild spin on it, but sometimes a cover doesn’t need that. I love how Julian manipulates his voice when he sings punk tracks, and this one is no exception. As much as I love The Strokes’ version, The Clash win by far. The band remains incredible even years past their prime, and I think this is one of their best tracks, so it’s obviously hard to beat. Nothing can top a boppy, catchy, punky track like this one.

4. “All You Need is Love” covered by Florence and the Machine vs. “All You Need is Love” originally by The Beatles

Obviously this song is a classic. Every time I watch the scene it’s featured in in Across the Universe or Love, Actually, I can feel myself get about ten times happier and tears come to my eyes. Now add Florence Welch into the mix and I’m a complete mess. The woman is an absolute vision and she makes this song one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Her cover is glorious beyond words. The brass section is perfect, the voices in the audience singing along make my heart happy, and her trademark vocals are wonderful as always. She also has some sort of power that makes everything she says sound one hundred percent believable, and she has me believing every single line of the song. I can already feel the judgement from some of you as I say I like Florence + the Machine better than The Beatles, but her version of the song does something incredible for me that I will never be able to understand.

5. “I’m Going Down” covered by Vampire Weekend vs. “I’m Going Down” originally by Bruce Springsteen

I feel like I don’t give Vampire Weekend enough love on the blog, so I felt compelled to include them in this post. Their version of the track is lighter and airier than Springsteen’s original, and Ezra’s buttery soft vocals melt into your brain like it’s nothing. It’s doesn’t really sound like a Vampire Weekend song but it doesn’t sound like the original either, and I like that it’s somewhere in between. Vampire Weekend’s version is dreamy and comforting compared to the harsh rockiness of Springsteen. I do like both, but Vampire Weekend wins this time. Mostly because of my love for Ezra Koenig, but also because I like their interpretation. Either way we have the same outcome.

6. “Strong Enough” covered by HAIM vs. “Strong Enough” originally by Sheryl Crow

I’ve been listening to HAIM quite a bit since they were announced for WayHome, and in the process I was reminded of this cover they did a couple years ago in Australia. When they first performed it I was obsessed and had it pretty much on repeat, and that is happening yet again. Their harmonies are like no other, and their chill, low-key vibe comes through. It sounds super powerful and each time I listen to it I find myself making fists and lip-syncing with as much passion as I can. Sometimes that happens and you’ve just got to embrace it. Sheryl Crow reminds me a lot of my childhood, and although I don’t listen to her much anymore, her original version of the song is great. It’s way more acoustic and folky than HAIM’s interpretation, and I like hearing the contrast between the two. Overall HAIM wins this one for me, but I like the intense amount of female power going on in both versions.

7. “Gimme Shelter” covered by Patti Smith vs. “Gimme Shelter” originally by The Rolling Stones

Oh, Patti. This woman has covered dozens of tracks from Bob Dylan to Nirvana, but this is one of my favourites. Her voice is so unique and intense that I feel like I have to close my eyes and soak the whole thing in. The raspy timbre of her voice coupled with the passion that she exudes makes for a beautiful version of the song. It sounds effortless and relaxed compared to The Rolling Stones who go all out with each performance. With my strong attachment to Patti it’s pretty predictable that I favour her cover, but there’s no denying the greatness of The Rolling Stones’ original.

8. “Don’t You Want Me” covered by Bahamas vs. “Don’t You Want Me” originally by The Human League

Bahamas gets me every time. The original of this song is catchy and cheesy as hell, but he and The Weather Station turn it into a beautiful, soft, romantic track. It feels full of love and adoration and sparkly goodness and I adore every second of it. It’s completely different than the original, and that’s what makes it perfect. The duo of voices blend together perfectly to create a dreamy landscape of harmonies that’s not quite consuming but enough to cloud your brain. It’s absolute perfection, and in my mind it far surpasses the first version.

9. “He’s On the Beach” covered by Alvvays vs. “He’s On the Beach” originally by Kirsty MacColl

Alvvays makes everything sound like a surfy girl-pop dream. For a long time, I thought this was one of their new tracks just because it sounds so much like something they’d create, but it turns out it’s not (obviously). Molly’s vocals are beautiful as always and you legitimately cannot help but tap your toes or shake your head a long to the beat because it’s just so catchy. It reminds me of summer days and sticking my toes in the sand and running away as the tide rolls in so that you don’t get your jeans wet, and I love that. This is another song that I’d never even heard of before Alvvays covered it, and although the two versions are a little similar, Alvvays does a beautiful job at breathing new life into it, so obviously their rendition is my favourite.

10. “I’m Gonna Love You Too” covered by Blondie vs. “I’m Gonna Love You Too” originally by Buddy Holly

Along with my love of seventies New York comes Blondie. I love the band, especially Debbie Harry, who seems to take control of every space she enters, leaving everyone in awe. This song – both the original by Buddy Holly and the cover by Blondie – is super upbeat and catchy, the kind of stuff you want to dance and sing along to. Holly’s version is rockier and slower, while Blondie’s cover is fast-paced and in-your-face. I love both artists and versions of the song, but something about Blondie just captivates me and puts a smile on my face straight away, and I think their interpretation is incredible.

And just like that, I’ve spoken about twenty songs in sixteen hundred words. All of these covers are wonderful and I love quite a few of the original versions as well, so make sure you check out a bunch of them. I hope I haven’t offended anybody while choosing favourites, and I hope you’ll let me know if you have any favourite covers that I should check out!

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