In the last few weeks, I've heard three cover versions of Queen's "Under Pressure." One was by the Blood Brothers, one was a collaboration between the Used and My Chemical Romance and the other one was by another collaboration, this time with members of Small Brown Bike and the Casket Lottery. The Small Brown Bike/Casket Lottery version was the best, but I wonder: how is the best way to cover a song?
Some theories on covering songs include a) be as faithful to the original b) completely rearrange the song c) do a little of both. In my opinion, those theories vary between song choice.
In the case of SBB/CL's version of "Under Pressure," they stay true to the original and their rendition sparkles. Sure, they can't hit the high notes like Freddie or Bowie could on the original, but they make this "handicap" work. Stacy from Casket Lottery has a raspy, but melodic bite in his delivery. Not someone that could replace Freddie's vocals in a Queen cover band, but rather, this is an interesting alternate view. Instrumentally, everything is performed to a T: the subtle piano fills, the hi-hat barks in the verses and the multi-tom fill in the bridge and so on.
With the My Chemical Romance/Used version, they gloss the song up with the rather sterile-sounding perfection you hear in so many mainstream rock bands. The effect is bland, but I give the band credit for trying to stick close to the original melodies.
Then there is the Blood Brothers version: stripping the original's warm melodies and replacing them with scratchy abrasion doesn't work. Devoid of any enjoyable melodies, I reach for the Small Brown Bike/Casket Lottery version.
So, for you musicians that read this blog, what's your take on doing a cover? (I'm very curious as to what Bob and Kev have to say on this subject)
Here is a list of my favorite cover tunes:
face to face's version of "Don't Change" (originally done by INXS)
The Four Tops' version of "MacArthur Park" (done by various artists from Richard Harris to Donna Summer)
The Stranglers' version of "Walk On By" (originally done by Dionne Warwick)
Ben Folds Five's version of "She Don't Use Jelly" (originally done by the Flaming Lips)
Jimmy Eat World's version of "New Religion" (originally done by Duran Duran)
Neil Finn's live version of "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" (originally done by the Smiths)