Cover Songs Better than “Africa”
Unless you have just arrived on this planet from Mars, you’ve probably heard the Weezer remake of Africa. If not, you are so lucky, and I apologize for this in advance.
No. I don’t like it.
Honestly, though, I am not a huge fan of cover songs to start with. I mean, if the universe has been blessed with a great song, why mess with success? We pay these people a positively gross amount of money to be creative and I expect some original ideas out of ‘em. Get strummin’, Musical Cats and Kittens.
But that having been said, there are some decent remakes out there and over time I’ve tried to figure out why it is I like some remakes and not others and why I believe Weezer’s “Africa” is NOT even remotely the “best cover ever” as I’ve heard some people say over the past few weeks.
Not. Even. Remotely.
Kristin’s Rules of Cover Songs:
1)It can’t just be the exact same song sung worse by some douche.
This is what I despise about the Weezer version of Africa. It’s the same fricking song! Only it’s sung with less emotion than the original and the instrumental part is lame.
2)It needs to be a different song in some way.
This is really just a rewording of #1, isn’t it? My point is, just doing the exact same thing again and putting it out there is pointless. Do something different. Speed it up. Slow it down. Make it acoustic, or electric, or country, or dubstep. Deconstruct it. Reconstruct it. Make it do the Hokey Pokey and turn itself around. A fresh take on a song can make the listener experience it in a totally new way. It’s fun to have an entirely new emotional reaction to a song you’ve heard way too many times, to be transported to a different world by the exact same set of lyrics and general tune.
3)If you can’t make it different, at least make it BETTER.
Now that I see my rules all laid out here I’m realizing that my first three rules are really just the same rule stated in 3 slightly different ways. Kind of fitting for an article on remakes. Anyhoo, I will also accept a very similar version of a song if the person singing/playing it knocks it out of the ballpark, particularly if the original performance wasn’t quite up to snuff.
4)All the rules go out the window if the song being remade is a song that isn’t famous but deserves to be. If a cover takes a great song from oblivion to fame, all is forgiven. Even if it is the same exact song done over again, if it’s the B side of a 40 year old single from a band that no one ever listened to, remake away. You have my blessing.
There are plenty of obviously awesome cover songs that everyone has likely already heard like Johhny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”:
And Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ take on Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”:
And since both those songs are super depressing, here’s Cake singing “I Will Survive”, made famous by Gloria Gaynor:
They’re great songs for sure, but I know of several off-the-beaten-path covers I vastly prefer to Weezer’s take on “Africa” that I will now submit for your approval. Not the same song just done over again, but different, better, or both.
Social Distortion – “Ring of Fire” (June Carter/Johhny Cash). Not as good as the either of the originals – both June Carter and Johnny Cash recorded this song with a lot of emotion, fitting since it was about their love affair – but it’s different.
Willie Nelson – “The Scientist” (Coldplay) – I like the original song a lot but I’ve always felt it was a little too saccharine somehow. Adding Willie’s grizzled voice to the mix adds some rawness. Plus it makes me imagine this old scientist constructing a time machine to go back to his youth and warn himself about an impending romantic disaster. This is a great example of a cover song telling me an entirely different story than the original.
Amy Winehouse – “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles) Saying this is better feels sacrilegious since the original is so good, but I feel way more of an emotional connection to this version.
Alanis Morissette – “My Humps” (Black Eyed Peas) Don’t be scared to give this one a whirl, even if you hate the original. This is sheer fun (I’m not sure the word “fun” has ever been used to describe anything sung by Alanis Morissette) and vocally awesome too.
Ben Folds and Rufus Wainright – “Careless Whisper” (George Michael) This one actually breaks my rules, because it isn’t very different and it definitely isn’t better, but it’s got some magic in it I just can’t explain.
Let’s add a Rule 5 – Inexplicable magic.
Disturbed – “The Sound of Silence” (Simon and Garfunkel) There are so many remakes of Simon and Garfunkel songs I seriously considered writing a piece about JUST Simon and Garfunkel cover songs. But most of them weren’t different and/or better. You’ve probably heard this one already since it’s gotten radio play, but I had to include it since it was what gave me the idea to write this article in the first place.
First Aid Kit – “America” Another Simon and Garfunkel cover. I consider this the best song on this list and I demand you drop what you’re doing and listen to it immediately. It’s perfection. The original gives me goosebumps, this version gives me goosebumps on top of my already existing goosebumps.
Lindsay Stirling and Pentatonix – “Radioactive” (Imagine Dragons) Between them, violinist Lindsay Stirling and a capella group Pentatonix have a kajillion remakes on Youtube but this song is like two great tastes that taste great together.
Sia – Diamonds (Rihanna) This is a performance of a song that Sia actually wrote in the first place so I’m not sure if this is even a cover exactly but it’s still really good. While I love Rihanna, I kinda felt she was phoning it in on the vocals in this song and Sia doesn’t seem to be capable of phoning anything in ever.
Ryan Adams – “Shake It Off” (Taylor Swift) For reasons that I will never understand, Ryan Adams remade an entire Taylor Swift album and somehow transformed my least favorite song from my least favorite artist into something I actually kind of like. This is like the quintessential example of what I believe a cover song should do.
twenty one pilots – “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” (Elvis Presley) Last but not least, my favorite band singing a beautiful and beloved song with sweet simplicity. I had to get the Taylor Swift out of my ears somehow.