Cover songs: one of the trickiest balancing acts in music. Artists face the tremendous pressure of putting their own stamp on a time-honored classic, while still paying homage to the original. Add extreme skepticism from purists to the mix, and it seems like a no-win situation for musicians simply trying to wear their influences on their sleeves. Still, against all odds, these artists’ renditions manage to not just make the cut, but even surpass the original versions in the eyes of the ORANGE music staff.
Bryan: Peter Frampton — “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (Original: The Beatles)
I had never cried over a guitar solo until I heard this song. Frampton’s 2003 rendition boasts a more muscular, yet tasteful arrangement, but like all great masterworks of rock guitar (Jimi’s “Red House,” Stevie’s “Texas Flood”), the song itself is just a vehicle for two of the most incendiary solos of all time. While Clapton’s performance on the original lent a simplistic beauty to Harrison’s classic, Frampton’s work is bombastic and cathartic, pushing his instrument to its limit with lightning-fast picking and gonzo bends. Clapton’s solos are smart; Frampton’s are wise, packing 30 years of experience and perspective into a seven-minute epic that even the staunchest Beatlemaniac can appreciate.
Tess: Kate Nash — “Fluorescent Adolescent” (Original: Arctic Monkeys)
I actually heard Kate Nash’s cover of the song before I heard the original version, and instantly fell in love. While both the cover and the original are flawless in their own ways, Nash’s unique voice puts a feminine twist on the song. I think it’s especially cool that with her cover, she changes the perspective of the song from just an observer watching a woman grow older, to that of an actual woman going through the motions of growing up. In that sense, Nash fully embodied the theme of the Arctic Monkeys’ original.
Sam: Ellie Goulding – “High for This” (Original: The Weeknd)
The Weeknd, a contemporary R&B artist, has been long recognized for both his mystique and soft, yet soaring, vocals. His broadly interpreted lyricism comes to a head on track “High for This,” which tells of an unspoken state of ecstasy. With this cover, Ellie Goulding’s sugary, sweet voice beckons the listener to adopt a state of mind not unlike the song’s title. Indeed, the track manifests itself in the listener’s mind in a such a way as to be suggestive of the Weeknd’s almost hedonistic lyrics. She accomplishes this through careful layering of her vocals — which carry a unique vibrato and strong emotional croon — as well as a punchier and more atmospheric production. Her soprano voice carries the subject matter of the song incredibly well, and her piercing delivery perfectly articulates the intoxicating and carefree spirit of the track. Ellie Goulding’s take on the Weeknd stands as an eloquent interpretation of this modern R&B classic and is certainly a must-listen.
Quinton: Chance the Rapper — “Wonderful Everyday” (Original: Arthur theme song)
Arthur was such a great show, remember that? Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers crafted the reggae tune “Believe in Yourself,” and the first lines have stuck with us all to this day. Leave it to 21-year-old Chance the Rapper to pull out the classic morning cartoon theme song and turn it into a jazzy masterpiece. The message stays the same throughout the song, despite the instrumental rearrangement. Chance sings a wonderful rendition, encouraging kids to stick with it and believe in themselves.
Devonshire: First Aid Kit — “When I Grow Up” (Original: Fever Ray)
In the original song, Karin Dreijer Andersson (known by her stage name, Fever Ray) beautifully twists her notes into vocal phrases that are equal parts haunting and whimsical alongside her brother in their electro-pop duo, The Knife. While it’s a stretch to say that Swedish folk-pop duo, First Aid Kit, achieves the same depth or darkness with their cover, they do nail the ethereality. The airiness of the acoustic guitar along with Johanna and Klara Söderberg’s vocal harmonies give their version a transporting nature of its own, taking listeners to a daydreamy place that’s slightly less moody, yet just as fanciful as Andersson’s night visions. Even if this bare-bones deconstruction of the original is simpler and more direct, First Aid Kit’s cover maintains Andersson’s evocative idiosyncrasies. Although not an adequate replacement, the cover breathes fresh air and a new perspective into the already intelligent and poignant lyrics.
Maria: Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse — ”Valerie” (Original: The Zutons)
To be honest, I didn’t know this song was a cover the first time I heard it. The effortlessness in Winehouse’s vocals make it seem like she’d been singing the song for years, always an admirable quality in covers. The melody showcases Winehouse’s vocals in such a beautiful way that the song seems as if it were originally written for her, not The Zutons. Mark Ronson’s jazzy approach to the song makes it an extremely enjoyable listen, and it is also what made this made it an instant classic. I like to call this song one of the few musical gems of the decade, even though it was orginally released way before our time.
Cover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HLY1NTe04M (starts at 00:50)
Jenna: Birdy – “Skinny Love” (Original: Bon Iver)
Having heard Birdy’s cover before the original, I was in love with her rendition. The delicate piano provides the perfect backdrop for her soulful voice to convey a raw emotionality that augments the song’s meaning. Bon Iver’s original song creates an entirely different, a vibe that sounds too much like a campfire singalong. Instead, Birdy created a power ballad that stands on its own.
Adam: Iron and Wine — “Such Great Heights” (Original: The Postal Service)
When listening to the two renditions of the song “Such Great Heights,” you can tell that both bands stay true to their distinct sounds. Evidently, these two styles have very little in common. Although the lyrics are not altered in the cover, the way that they are presented is on the opposite side of the spectrum. In the Postal Service version, the words are sung over a fast-paced, electronic sounding beat that vaguely reminds me of Owl City — not in the good way. Meanwhile, Samuel Beam of Iron and Wine simplifies the sound by stripping the instrumentation down to just an acoustic guitar. He articulates each word smoothly and slowly, ensuring that none of the emotion is lost through unnecessary speed. While the original song is well done, Iron and Wine’s rendition mesmerizes the listener and shows what kind of art can be created through just a voice, some wood and six strings.
Lauren: Daughter — “Get Lucky” (Original: Daft Punk)
Honestly, I was not a fan of the raunchy Daft Punk song, so when I stumbled upon Daughter’s cover of “Get Lucky,” it was a miraculous chance of fate that I even pressed play. The original song is reminiscent of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” because both songs aim to be sexual and promiscuous in a way that, ironically, is a complete turn-off. Something about songs that hinge on constant thumping bass and a robotic vocal hook sucks out any attempts at sexiness. In contrast, Elena Tonra of Daughter sings in a hushed, sensuous voice—against bass guitar rather than electronic beats—that makes you feel as if she’s singing into your ear while lying next to you in bed. After hearing Daughter’s version of “Get Lucky”, all of the suggestive lyrics were finally translated to me. Daughter’s cover is the version you want on your bedroom playlist. Sorry Daft Punk, you’re not invited.
Britny: Guns N’ Roses — “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (Original: Bob Dylan)
GN’R did what all artists should do with cover songs: They kept the spirit of the original, while also making it their own. With the crashing electric guitars and Axl’s distinct vocals (layered on top of each other, so that he’s essentially using different parts of his range to sing back-up for himself), their version sounds undoubtedly like a Guns N’ Roses song, circa Use Your Illusion. The extra sound effects (machine guns, an angry voicemail) just add to the group’s quirky take on the track. Not to mention that it’s basically impossible not to sing along to those “heys,” while doing your best Axl impression.