Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Suddenly I'm not half the man I used to be There's a shadow hanging over me Oh, yesterday came suddenly

The most covered and recorded pop song of all time is "Yesterday" by the Beatles. I find this odd, because I cannot recall a single cover of that song by anyone, only the original, but apparently its the top cover. Over 3000 covers of this maudlin pop song have been done, and I don't even really like it. Even Frank Sinatra did a cover of this one.

The second most covered? The Girl from Ipanema. Again, I have only heard a couple of covers, if you don't count the muzak version while on hold. This song, however has an interesting Bossa Nova beat and is interesting to listen to. Here's an odd version by drugged-out freak Amy Winehouse:

Other highly covered songs include Eleanor Rigby, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, Over the Rainbow, The Look of Love, Imagine, Stardust, and Summertime. Most of these are sort of breezy, easy to sing and easy to listen to pop fluff songs. Imagine has a really pretty if cloying melody but the lyrics are the kind of thing an 8 year old would come up with. Over the Rainbow, Stardust, and Summertime are so old its tough to really consider them pop songs, but they make the list because they are popular even if not from the rock and roll era.

There was a (very welcome, to me) time when stars would record mostly covers of classics and "standards" then mix in a few of their own, hoping they would become standards. Now if you hear a cover, chances are its either a very special recording of covers or at a concert, and that's too bad. For example, the Who did the best version of "Roadrunner" I've ever heard, but they only did it live, and the only recording I'm aware of this song is in the film The Kids Are Alright. There are so many great old songs just begging to be covered, and nobody even wants to do that any more.

Unless you consider rap karaoke guys like P. Diddy (or whatever he's calling himself these days) who take a song and remix it with heavier beats and looping. That's not really a cover in my book, its just lazy writing.

Of course in other musical branches, the story changes. Bluegrass for instance has a few new songs every year, but gets by on old standards - some of which have origins hundreds of years ago in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Country, which developed out of Bluegrass, tends to have a lot of covers, and so does blues, zydeco, and other folk music types. Its not that there is nothing new, its that these musical styles heavily respect tradition and classic songs and love to cover them.

Its too bad modern pop folks don't learn a bit more about their past. Part of the reason the music in the 70s was so good was that most of those artists had classical training and studied old music. They loved the old blues, jazz and other musical forms, and brought it to the stage. Now, people think Nirvana is old traditional music and draw from influences as far back as Three Doors Down and Matchbox Twenty. Its hard to innovate or bring richness to your music when you're just repeating what people did ten years ago.

Incidentally, Amazing Grace is actually the most recorded song in all of history, and I expect White Christmas has to be pretty close. Christmas songs are so covered they probably eclipse songs like Yesterday twenty times over; how many versions of Silent Night have you heard in your life?

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Ever heard of Noluvelle Vague? the do bossa nova covers of new wave and punk songs.