Can a good song be performed different ways? This is a deep philosophical question that has troubled publishing companies and lawyers for decades.
There are a lot of songs where the production is a pretty integral part of the song. You can’t really imagine the song done another way because the initial arrangement/production is so distinctive and so much a part of the song.
Well, youtube is changing any notion we might have had of there being only one version of a tune. Thanks to the wonders of youtube you can now find covers (and even covers of covers) of relatively obscure songs, often in a wide range of styles (and talents).
They say a good song stands on its own, though, regardless of the treatment. Here are a few tunes which I originally considered to be defined by the original production but which are now done in very different styles.
I’m Not in Love – 10cc
This was the first song that came to mind when I was trying to imagine songs which could not possibly exist in another form. The original 10cc version is so unique, with the tapestry of vocals and ambiance and probably mellotron, this song seemed to be joined at the hip to its production. Plus it’s also old enough I didn’t figure I’d find much on youtube.
You can waste an afternoon listening to covers of I’m Not in Love, on ukulele, piano, finger style guitar, you name it. Bonus points if you can find bagpipe or bluegrass versions. For a favorite I’ll pick this video which was likely shot from a phone. There are several other versions of Janet Devlin covering this song but I liked the forced simplicity of this live version.
Runners up include a jazzy version by Diana Krall, a version with Chrissie Hyndes and the Pretenders doing her signature treatment, a Tori Amos version which is very modern and beat-centric, a bossa nova version (search for “bossa cover”), versions by original 10cc member Graham Gouldman, and a bunch of versions by amateur players of modest abilities who often don’t even seem to have the chords right.
And here’s the original 10cc version:
Africa – Toto
Africa is pretty heavily covered on youtube. I think the original is very distinctive and I thought it was pretty wed to the kalimba version from the studio, but this version was going around on Facebook a year or so ago. The playing is average but the guys singing do a magnificent job.
And the original Toto version:
Marie Digby – Umbrella
Marie Digby was one of the first folks I noticed on youtube doing covers. I thought she was an amateur but then I later heard that she was a signed artist that the record company was experimenting with, trying Internet marketing. Not sure where that ended up, but here’s her early cover of Umbrella by Rihanna.
And then here’s Rihanna doing it:
And here’s my friend Jeff doing a cover of the cover. He’s imitating Marie’s little thing with the bra strap on the very beginning. Super funny.
A Day in the Life
Another song I couldn’t imagine in any other form is the Beatle’s A Day in the Life. But youtube does not disappoint. There’s a lot to choose from. Mike Masse from the Toto cover above has a very nice version. There’s a totally bald guy delivering the line about “dragged a comb across my head.” And of course everybody seems to have a different take on how to do the orchestral noise part, ranging from ignoring it to flailing wildly at their guitars. Frankly, there’s an embarrassment of riches to choose from but I’ll pick these guys:
And of course the Beatles original:
I Took a Pill in Ibiza
The remix ethos of modern music lends itself to many divergent versions of a tune. Mike Posner’s I Took a Pill in Ibiza is a case in point. The original is a slow, acoustic meditation on the fleetingness of pop music, whereas the Seeb remix that became the huge hit is a totally different animal, faster and spun up as a dance track..
These are both Mike Posner, but here’s his original slow version. The video is a tip of the hat to Bob Dylan’s widely imitated Subterrean Homesick Blues video. Note: there’s one bad word coming out of the gate but the rest of the tune is sweet.
And the Seeb re-mix was was a huge hit:
Mike Posner, IMHO, is one of the best of the current crop. Free associating here, his video for Bow Chicka Wow Wow is hilarious, done up in the style of the 70s chicka-wacka wah-wah guitar (or porn soundtrack):
And in conclusion
youtube has definitely changed the game, as I note above. Now there are literally dozens of versions of even pretty obscure tunes. And the re-mix ethos for EDM has also helped do away with the concept of the definitive version of a tune. There are way too many tunes to name. Maybe post your favorites in the comments.