I really don’t talk about music enough here. Mostly because I don’t do music as much as I did before college, maybe? For context, I was never in any less than 4 musical groups from 7th grade to graduation. Now, I’m in none. But that being said, I still love it, and really want to talk about it more often here. If you have any suggestions for what you would like me to talk about, the comment section is down below. I can do just about every genre.
Today we’re going to talk about cover songs. My view on cover songs is similar to my view on remakes, it should add to the conversation about the song, give it a new perspective. That is harder to do for a song than it is for a movie: if you change the lyrics, it’s a new song. But that’s not all there is to music, and certainly not all I’m going to consider here. I also want to make it clear that when I say ‘better’, I do mean better. The original versions of these songs range from solid to lackluster, but every cover is compelling and interesting and worth the time to listen.
There’s really not much more to say here, so let’s get started.
5. “My Heart Will Go On”
I think I know why Jack let go. The best thing that I can say about Céline Dion is that she is technically competent. That is, her technique is competent. She obviously has an immense amount of control over her voice, and her tone is clear and consistent. The problem with the song really isn’t her, its in the style of the music, in the slow pacing, to the point where it just tips over the line from being dramatic to being melodramatic. And then, of course, you attach it to one of the biggest films ever and give it an Oscar and it just never goes away.
I’ll admit that this would be a bit less appropriate for the movie, both stylistically and emotionally. But my god is it more interesting to listen to. The smooth Four Seasons-style was surprising when I first found this, but it worked fantastically well. Of the list this definitely gets most improved. That’s Mykal Kilgore on lead vocals, and he just nails the performance. The tight harmonies that he has with the back up singers is a great feature as well, and perfectly fitting the chosen style. Post-Modern Jukebox does a really good job on all of their songs: I highly recommend their “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and their “Bye Bye Bye” if you want to hear more, but it would hardly be fair to make this entire list PMJ.
Now this song is the reason we even had The Police, so I’ll go easy on it. It’s easy to see how inspired the group was by the punk genre in this song, with the dirty rhythmic guitar and Sting’s pleading vocals. It’s honestly the best use of his voice in any of their major hits. The draw here is the grit of the song, but it’s very minimalist. The use of silence in the song gives it a discomfort in much the same way that their other two “love” songs, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Breath You Take”, would make far more explicit, but unlike the other songs, it’s not clear how the other party feels. Would there even be a way to fix that?
As it turns out, yes. I will admit, I do wish I liked this movie. I like some of Baz Luhrmann’s other stuff– Romeo + Juliet is fun, The Great Gatsby was surprisingly good– but the editing of this movie is what throws you. It’s very fast, dizzying, and distracting. But for this song, it works. The edge of the guitar in the original transfers perfectly to the Narcoleptic Argentinian’s vocals, and the orchestral arrangement gives the song a depth of sound that it needs for the sequence, but it is also juxtaposed with Mariano Mores’ “Tanguera” (the source of Christian’s counterpoint vocals). The context cannot be ignored either– both Christian and the Duke are experiencing this song and that discomfort from the original is made clear. In the original, you don’t know if the speaker of the lyrics is her boyfriend or a client. In the cover, it makes it clear that it’s both.
3. “Time After Time”
Cyndi Lauper is one of those 80’s things that never really stopped being an 80’s thing, but still stuck around somewhat? I see her on Bones every now and again as Angela’s psychic. While she might have stuck around, this song certainly didn’t– “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” becoming far more of a cultural mainstay. “Time After Time” is very much an 80’s ballad, the heavy use of synth, the cross-fading vocals, it fit the general style of music then, but it’s almost depressing for a song that’s ostensibly about being there for someone you love. It really didn’t age well, like much of the 80’s, to be honest.
Cause this doesn’t sound dated at all! I kid, I kid, this is pretty obvious late 90’s-early 00’s pop punk. The “better” here is mostly just giving the song freaking beat. The original is so aimless it seams to get lost in the middle of it’s own lyrics. Well, the drum isn’t beating out of time here, and is actually pretty prominent in the song, especially the chorus. The overlapping vocals make more sense here, as it’s turned into a proper duet. The band that did this cover, Sewing With Nancie, isn’t around any more, but some of its members went and founded The Reason, if you know them, so they’re still making music. That’s cool.
2. “Holding Out For a Hero”
Speaking of the 80’s… I actually really dig this song, and don’t have much to say against it. It’s a solid power anthem, Bonnie Tyler is a good singer, etc. The video’s a little weird, but they can’t all be “Take On Me”. The only real complaint I have is that it doesn’t really have a strong ending. Fading out works for some songs, sure, but whatever happened to just ending a song when it ends? Maybe it’s a radio thing. I don’t know.
I really only have one opinion about the Shrek franchise and it’s that Shrek 2 is one of the best comedies put to film this side of the millennium. Everything else I’m more or less ambivalent about, but this movie is fantastic, and it turned this song from good to great. Reason 1: Orchestration. Replacing the 80’s synth with a full orchestra generally raises the quality of most 80’s songs on the spot, but the orchestra, and the brass especially, really pull through here. Reason 2: Jennifer Saunders. It’s a power anthem, after all, and without a powerful voice behind it, it would fall flat. Saunders did a really good job on this one. Reason 3: Context. Fiona’s parents are throwing this ball for her and her new husband, Shrek, who has been forced away from her and replaced with Prince Charming by his mother, the Fairy Godmother. The Fairy Godmother (the villain of the film) sings this song to get Fiona to kiss Charming while they are dancing. Meanwhile, Shrek and co. are storming the castle to save her. The best comedies have stakes behind them– if the characters don’t do this, something bad will happen. You see it in The Princess Bride, Ghostbusters, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, etc. Shrek 2 is very intelligent in this scene, using the irony of the song in this context to create a situation that is not only comedic, but exciting.
1. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”
I feel like this song was trying to be “99 Luftballons” but didn’t quite get it. Like, it has the dark lyrics with the upbeat tempo and the happy music, but it’s just missing something that “99 Luftballons” just nailed. With the other song, the dark lyrics work because it’s about events happening in rapid succession, and the music backs it up with a clear beat. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” doesn’t commit to that– it’s just slow enough that you can’t dance to it, but it’s not slow enough to be a ballad, and it’s in a major key so it sounds happy but it’s got really strange lyrics. It’s a fun little song, sure, but it probably could have used another rewrite.
Taking the lyrics to this song literally was the best thing in this case. Written for Catching Fire, this is a much darker and slower song than the original, obviously. The reason it works better is more or less because the original tone didn’t. They went with the darker tone because of the movie, but Lorde’s performance is really what stands out here. Her voice is something very different in the current pop scene (partially because she’s an honest-to-god Alto), it’s very haunting and that’s used to great effect here. The way that the music builds during the bridge and final chorus is also fantastic.
Any covers I should take a listen to? Any Tears For Fears/Céline Dion/Cyndi Lauper fans that want to tear into me? Any suggestions for future music posts? Leave your voice or vitrol in the comments.