What makes a good cover song?
Or more specifically, what makes an artist’s songs good for covering? Some people get their songs covered all the damn time, and those covers of songs end up huge hits in their own right, enough so that sometimes we forget they are covers, or they become the “regular” versions. And other people’s songs…don’t.
Everybody wants to cover Prince. Of course, he writes fantastic songs, which is the first step, but not the only step. I remember my mother telling me that everyone loved covering Bob Dylan, because he wrote these great songs but he couldn’t sing. I think its not “bad” singing, per se, just a really distinctive sound. Anyone who covers a Bob Dylan song will sound different than the original, radically different. It’s easy to make a cool different version. Which is true of Prince, too – your version will never sound like Prince. Only Prince sounds like Prince.
Which is not to say that every cover of a Prince song is great. YouTube is littered with boring covers by perfectly respectable artists (as well as, of course, tons of terrible covers by terrible artists). Its more that everyone tries a Prince song. And for real, everyone; when I was poking around thinking about this post I wondered if there was some
Wikipedia page clearinghouse for all the Prince covers, and then I found this: http://www.webng.com/tamboracca/default.htm and just like, holy Web 1.0, but also hot damn that is a lot of covers/tribute albums/awesome looking album covers, and of course the site will never be up to date – that is like keeping up to date on the universe.
But there are some pretty sweet Prince covers, and I’ve put most of the ones I know on this page (see what I did there). There are one or two that are even better than the original, but mostly there are a lot that are interesting, and I think that’s why people keep doing it. Bob Dylan, Prince, the Cure – the originals sound so distinct that is easy to make something out of it that will sound monumentally different. Whereas how many good covers of The Beatles do you know? Ryan Adams’s “Wonderwall” I think is the exception that proves the rule – he did something very surprising and different with a pretty straightforward song, and that made it interesting (and fantastic).
It’s always fun when girls cover Prince songs; of all the gender-bendings out there, right? I have always loved Cyndi’s little growly hiccup “going with another gurrroyyyy” so that it still rhymes with “lie” in the next line. (I also absolutely adore how she says “kinda, sorta my best friend,” which is even better on the version on the album [this is me, debating Cyndi Lauper versions, on my blog]). Sinead at least just barrels through and makes it “put my arms around every BOY I see,” though she also seems to be debating whether or not to make it “girl you better have fun now” (“but he’s a fool!”).
It has always delighted me that the incredibly self-serious 90’s Sinead O’Connor had a huge hit (with a video that’s a super closeup of her face crying, for god’s sake) on a song called “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Literally every time I think about those little “2” and “U,” I think it’s funny. And then the two of them got into a big fight about the song, and she said that he “raped” her and it was all pretty nuts. Sinead O’Connor, lots of feelings. She totally owns that song though – I freaking adore “Nothing Compares 2 U,” self-serious 90’sness and all. It also helps that the Prince version is kind of shit.
Anyway, here’s is my absolute number-one all-time favorite cover of a Prince song, no question (although the last time you guys watched Romeo + Juliet, did you fall asleep? Because I keep falling asleep):