Ten on Tuesday can usually snag me with pop-culture prompts. This week, Yano asked for “10 Favorite Movie/Song Remakes” – I went with songs, and over on Blogenstein, Tall Paul took the movie route. That’s pretty much in character for us. He’s more of a cinemaphile than I am, although “cinemaphile” is probably too highbrow a word for his tastes; better to say “movie maven,” perhaps. On the other hand, he recently asked me – as I started singing along with the radio yet again – “Don’t take this the wrong way, but is there any song you don’t know?”
I went through my entire iTunes library (presently at over 6400 songs) looking for songs that I knew were cover versions. I found some instances where I had more than two different versions of a song, and others where the remake is probably better-known than the original. I have multiple versions of several Christmas songs, and chose to leave them all out of consideration.
I used to be a purist – or snob, really – about preferring the original version of a song, particularly if it was recorded by the songwriter. Who could do it better, after all? As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve come to appreciate different interpretations (and, sometimes, better voices) and how they let me hear a song in a new way. Sometimes a cover version is actually my introduction to a song, and it turns out to be the one I like best.
It was a bit tricky to narrow it down, but here are ten song remakes I really like, in no particular order:
Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah” – I wavered a little on this one, because it’s a Leonard Cohen song and I’ve never heard Leonard Cohen sing it, but I decided to count it anyway, and for this reason: No offense to Leonard Cohen fans, but his songs tend to sound better when sung by other people’s voices. I’ve also heard other people sing it besides Jeff Buckley – k.d. lang does a good interpretation too – but Buckley’s version seems to have become the definitive one over the last decade. You’ve probably heard it on TV and movie soundtracks. I love it – it can still give me chills sometimes.
The Beatles, “Twist and Shout” – Like “Hallelujah,” a cover version that stands as the definitive. I think that the fact it isn’t a Beatles original (it was first recorded by the Isley Brothers) may have been lost over time to most people who aren’t Beatles trivia nuts like me.
Aretha Franklin, “Respect” – By a fluke, I actually have both Aretha’s remake and Otis Redding’s original in my iTunes library. Aretha’s rules. It’s an anthem for very good reason.
Annie Lennox, “Train in Vain” – This was an extremely tough call. Annie Lennox’s album Medusa is mostly covers, and most of them are extremely well done, so I had a hard time singling out just one. I settled on this one because her take on the song just sounds so different from the Clash’s original, which I also happen to love. Still, her interpretations of “Can’t Get Next to You,” “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” and “Take Me to the River” from the same album could fill this slot just as well.
Scissor Sisters, “Comfortably Numb” – My husband will not be impressed with this choice, but I’m nowhere near as big a fan of Pink Floyd as he is, so I don’t consider their music sacred territory. A disco-influenced version of one of the best-known songs from The Wall? Audacious, a bit bizarre, and certainly an unexpected creative choice, it’s probably not to everyone’s taste, but I like it.
Cake, “I Will Survive” – This remake goes in the opposite direction from Scissor Sisters, taking the disco completely out of the Gloria Gaynor classic. Cake’s sound is pretty much all their own, and it’s not very likely to be the kind of music you’ll hear on the dance floor. Another one that probably doesn’t have mass appeal, but again…I like it.
Fountains of Wayne, “Trains and Boats and Planes” – My favorite modern-day power-pop band proudly wears its 1960’s influences, and this song was originally recorded in the 1960’s (by Dionne Warwick, as written by Burt Bacharach). It’s one of several covers on their Out-of-State Plates collection of B-sides and previously unreleased material, and it’s just a good piece of classic pop. However, their remake of a far inferior bit of pop history – “…Baby One More Time” – might actually be more memorable.
Clint Black, “Galaxy Song” – My husband introduced me to this highly unlikely cover: one of country music’s biggest stars performing Monty Python? I loved it when I first heard it on his iPod, because I’ve always enjoyed the song itself…and when he told me who was singing it, my jaw dropped. Clint Black does a little editing on the lyrics, but the fact that he recorded this at all is probably one of the things that helped soften my anti-country-music stance (and pave the way for using one of his songs as the first dance at our wedding).
The Fray, “Heartless” – I have to be honest; I’ve managed to avoid Kanye West’s original of this, and I’m fine with keeping it that way. Even so, I can safely assume that The Fray’s mostly-acoustic take on it sounds very different, and it managed to turn the song into an earworm that’s still lodged in my head.
David Cook (via Chris Cornell), “Billie Jean” – David Cook is my favorite American Idol winner, largely because of the way he put his own stamp on everything he did during the competition, taking it far away from the high-level karaoke show it sometimes is (and I say that as someone who mostly likes AI and has watched it pretty consistently since Season 2). He’s acknowledged that sometimes his takes weren’t entirely original, though, and his performance of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was based on a version recorded by Chris Cornell. Still, it was probably new to most of AI’s audience, and it got far more exposure thanks to Cook. It’s a very different spin on a song very closely associated with its original performer – and again, I love it.
Do you have any favorite song remakes? And here’s the even more fun question: Are there any remakes you absolutely can’t stand – you know, the ones that make you wonder what anyone was even thinking to record that song again? Tell me!