Cover version

I hate cover versions. I hate them even more than bonus tracks. This feeling is really intense, and pretty often extends to covers by the very people who created the song in the first place. Concert recordings included. Even though, as with most generalities, it’s not as straightforward as these statements seem to imply.

Sometimes I know and like a cover version before I hear the original for the first time. When that happens, chances are I’ll prefer the cover. (Dylan’s When the Ship Comes In as recorded by The Pogues is a good example.) Occassionally I like a cover as much as the original even without this reversion of roles (an almost incredible example being Beatles’ Help! as rendered by Bananarama). Parodies can go beyond the “cover” label. But mostly I just hate the cover.

The reason I believe is the same as that behind the usual disappointment with a film based on a book you read before watching it. Inevitably, people having different tastes, you put emphasis on different things than the cover-makers do, or even interprete the same things in different ways. There’s always something important (important for you) missing and something else given more attention than is its due.

This wouldn’t in itself justify hate, only dislike. Trouble is, while you can simply decide not to watch a film, you can’t avoid hearing a song, because you can’t avoid hearing radio. In this culture, almost anywhere you go, be it a shop, a pub, even a doctor’s waiting room, is managed by somebody who thinks that it doesn’t really matter what is being played, but it’s crucial that something plays.

I often wonder about these people. Sure, I often have some background music on at home. But that’s music that I have chosen to suit my current mood, not something imposted on me by some DJ. And I certainly don’t have something on all the time. However, many people can’t bear silence. Is it because they have to drown out their own thoughts – or the lack thereof? Yet one of the best friends I’ve ever had, whom I certainly wouldn’t suspect of either, was virtually unable to fall asleep without having the radio softly on. (Our sharing a room at the Tech meant a bit of a logistic problem – he couldn’t fall asleep without the radio, I with it, so we had to go to sleep at different times. Unless at least one of us was drunk, which, luckily, was usually the case.) Still, this phobia of silence is beyond me.

I digress. Anyway, when you don’t like a cover and can’t escape it you begin to hate it. The more so when you like the lyrics – and live, like I do, in a country where, naturally, maybe half the covers are sung with new lyrics in the local language. Not only is a translation seldom a match for the original text. They often don’t translate at all, writing brand new words instead. (One of the worst examples of this is Hank Williams’ “Take these chains from my heart and set me free…”, changed in these parts into “Give me a pair of fetters and I’ll be only yours…”.)*

For myself, there’s the further exacerbation of liking the English language much more. Sure, this is an entirely subjective perception. But knowing that makes no difference. As far as I’m concerned, listening to a song I know in English sung in Czech is something as horrible as James Blunt covering a Leonard Cohen song. (Worse. A Shane MacGowan song.) Or an Oktoberfest brass band covering Smells Like Teen Spirit. Or… can you imagine an album named Harry Lauder sings Bob Dylan?

In short, cover versions rank unco high among my pet hates.

* ETA 14/12/14: Apparently this old Czechoslovakian custom is still in vogue in Burma.



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