Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Imaginary Covers

by Scott

AC/DC recently released what is being hailed as their best album in nearly 30 years and, granted, the band sounds great but, when it comes to the success of the new material, the songs themselves, apart from the delightful “Rock and Roll Train” the band seems incapable of creating any new material that even verges on the best of their classic material. After mulling this over for a while, a thought occurred to me, while they are still a talented team of musicians that plays well together they seem to have run out of steam in terms of songwriting. So, why not do what so many other artists have done in the later stages of careers: the cover album! Many artists, from Rod Stewart to James Taylor who find their well of original material drying up, will often resort to an album composed entirely of the songs of others. This provides an interesting opportunity for the artist to display their talents as vocalist, musicians or arrangers without the burden of having to produce quality original material.

On the one hand, it may seem lazy (and the worst of these albums usually are) on the other hand, when done properly, it is an interesting opportunity to hear a great artist giving their unique take on an already great song. A while back on this blog, I listed Def Leppard’s Yeah! as one of my ‘most underrated’ albums. This, I think, is a great example of what a good covers album should sound like: a group of artists having fun playing music that they love, while still giving their own unique twists on the songs. In the case of Def Leppard, this meant covers of, often obscure, glam and 70’s rock tunes that the band members grew up on. For AC/DC, who at the end of the day are just a good ‘ol fashioned Rock N’ Roll/Boogie Woogie Blues band, I would suggest an album of early rock songs: imagine how great the band would sound tearing through “Jailhouse Rock” or classic Chuck Berry numbers like “Too Much Monkey Business”

This line of thought led me to a rather odd musical question that crosses my mind every now and again: What covers would you most like to hear (but probably never will)? That is, what is an artist/song pairing that seems absolutely perfect… or that you think would just be really interesting.

Here are some of my favorite ‘Imaginary Covers’:

Bruce Springsteen tackling Don McClean’s “American Pie”- Is there really any explanation necessary for this one? Who better than the great American Rock N’ Roll purist to cover this song that chronicles the history of the music he loves?

Queensryche doing Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”- I don’t know how I ever came up with this one. Basically, the song is Jackson’s attempt a sort of sexy heavy metal song and I think Queensryche (a very underrated band in their own right) could pull it off; I also think Geoff Tate’s voice would be a great match for this one.

Johnny Cash Vs U2’s “Wake Up, Dead Man”- I cannot begin to describe how much I hope that somewhere, in that collection of three dozen or so songs that Rick Rubin has yet to release from his final sessions with ‘The Man In Black’, that there is his take on this woefully underrated U2 track from their equally underrated album ‘Pop’. This is mostly because I think hearing Cash deliver the opening line of the song (which I consider one of my favorite opening lines) “Jesus, Jesus help me, I’m alone in this world. And a fucked-up world it is too” in the deep but worn vocals of his final days would be a damn near transcendent experience.

Also, do you think any of these would actually be a good idea? Maybe some ideas for covers (like U2’s cover of “Instant Karma” that I mentioned last week) are best left exclusively to the imagination.


James said...

I once went to a (boring-ass) Mars Volta show, and one of those At the Drive-In guys said something about it being the anniversary of Doctor Who (this was pre-resurgence, so props for that). I spent the rest of the gig hoping they'd do a rendition of the theme tune.

Jason said...

A friend and I once had a conversation along similar lines. Our variation was to take two bands we really loved and ask what would be a good song by one for the other to cover, and vice versa. I've also thought of "Imaginary Cover Albums," i.e., what list of 15 or 16 band/song combinations would make for my ideal Kinks Tribute Album?

It is indeed a fun exercise.

But, I think your last paragraph nails the truth of the matter -- the covers that often sound awesome in our imagination turn out to disappoint us in real life, whereas the best covers out there are the ones we never would've conceived of (in my case, usually because the band doing the covering is one I've never heard of).

Ultimate Matt said...

I know I'm probably the only "metalhead" on this board, but does anyone else listen to Type O Negative? Theyre are, hands down, my favorite band for cover songs. (Almost) every album has a cover on it and they're always imaginative & interesting re-workings of the originals . They took Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl, a quiet, cheery song, and turned it into a bombastic power ballad, which isn't even remotely the band's style in the first place. And it works.

Curt said...

Hmm, perhaps AC/DC should release an album covering the work of Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters). After all, Kozelek's AC/DC cover-album, What's Next to the Moon, is absolutely stunning. I'd be interested to see AC/DC produce the inverse to that album for shits and giggles, if nothing else.

Geoff Klock said...

Why is there no such thing as a comic book "cover" of this type. Some young daring artist should make a name for himself by taking one of these comic book scripts that are now appended to the back of "classic" graphic novels, and just redraw the whole thing in a totally different style.

Jason said...

Years ago, someone in Comic Buyer's Guide suggested that it would be a great sales gimmick to have four versions of the same comic, each drawn by a different artist. Much more enticing than just the same comic with four different covers (by which I mean the other definition of "cover").

There is an example of this with Alan Moore's Supreme, albeit in miniature. Melinda Gebbie drew an eight-page sequence in Supreme #54. In the back of the comic, they published the same eight pages (sans word balloons), by a different artist.

When the Supreme TPB was released, the publishers used that second version, this time with all the word balloons. So, the TPB essentially contains the "cover version" of what was in Supreme #54.

Kyle said...

I would like to hear The Doors do versions of The Pixies "Hey" or George Thorohgood's "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer." Time travel would be involved.

Marc Caputo said...

Frank Sinatra doing "Stray Cat Strut".

And, this exists, although I myself don't believe it - even though I own it - David Bowie doing Springsteen's "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City". KAR-AY-ZAY.

James said...


James said...

Also, I think these kind of "covers" are a fairly common way hopeful artists create art samples for publishers.

Also 2: A lot of people were annoyed by a gatefold poster in that Kirby coffee-table book, which featured an Alex Ross rendition of a New Gods page. So there's your "bad cover version" right there.

Paul said...

I always wanted to hear Johnny Cash cover Fugazi's "Shut the Door".

scott91777 said...


I think Bowie actually did a couple of early Springsteen covers... I'm thinking he also did "Growin' Up" maybe?

Stephen said...

Why is there no such thing as a comic book "cover" of this type. Some young daring artist should make a name for himself by taking one of these comic book scripts that are now appended to the back of "classic" graphic novels, and just redraw the whole thing in a totally different style.

I've been hoping that someone would do this for a long time now. Even better: get a single brilliant strip and get a bunch of very different artists each to do their own version. It'd be a lot of fun.


Eddie C. said...

One of the most disappointing for me was when the Rolling Stones finally covered "Like a Rolling Stone" a while back. It was undewhelming.