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In popular music a cover version is a new rendition (performance or recording) of a previously recorded song. Popular musicians may play covers as a tribute to the original performer or group, to win audiences who like to hear a familiar song, or to increase their chance of success by using a proven hit or to gain credibility by its comparison with the original song. Covering material is an important method in learning various styles of music. Bands may also perform covers for the simple pleasure of playing a familiar song. A cover band plays cover versions exclusively. Electronic music cover songs are called remixes.


Early cover versions and the origin of the term

From early in the 20th century it was common practice among phonograph record labels that if any company had a record that was a significant commercial success, other record companies would have singers or musicians "cover" the tune by recording a version for their own label in hopes of cashing in on the tune's success. Since there was little promotion or advertising involved, when the average record buyer went out to purchase a new record, they usually asked for the song, not the artist; additionally, distribution of records was highly localized so a quickly-recorded version of a hit song from another area could hit the streets before the original was available, and the highly-competitive record companies were quick to take advantage of these facts.

This began to change in the later 1930s, when the average age of the record-buying public began to drop. During the Swing Era, when the bobby soxer went looking for "In the Mood", she wanted the popular Glenn Miller version, not someone else's. However, record companies still continued to record different versions of songs that sold well.

In the early days of rock and roll, many songs originally recorded by musicians were re-recorded by other artists in a more toned-down style that lacked both the earthiness of the originals and the social stigma of the original rock music. These bowdlerized cover versions were considered by some to be more palatable to parents, and these artists were more acceptable to programmers at particular radio stations. Songs by the original artists which were then successful are called crossovers as they "crossed over" from the original audience. Also, many songs originally recorded by male artists were rerecorded by female artists, and vice versa. Such a cover version is sometimes called a cross cover version .

While it is all but impossible to trace the actual history of the term "cover version," it is likely the term began to be used by record collectors once the early rock'n'roll records had become collectible. The actual term "cover" may have its origins in the fact that the artist who recorded the newer version of the song would have his records literally "cover" the original version in the sales racks.

Cover version versus remake

"Cover version" is now routinely used to mean any recording of a song previously recorded by another artist (see, for example, the emergence of such websites as The Covers Projectand

Some collectors and researchers, though, distinguish between a "cover version" and a "remake". In this usage, "cover version" is reserved strictly for those cases where the cover appears more or less at the same time as the original, in order to cash in on the popularity of the original. For a recording that is made some time after the original release, the term "remake" is preferred.

In this view, the 1956 versions of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" by The Diamonds and by Gale Storm would be genuine cover versions of Frankie Lymon's original, but Diana Ross's 1981 version would be called a remake.

There are some, especially on Usenet, who have strong opinions on this: see, for example this discussion at [1].

Modern cover versions

Over the years, cover versions of many popular songs have been recorded, sometimes with a radically different style, sometimes virtually indistinguishable from the original. For example, Jose Feliciano's version of "Light My Fire" was utterly distinct from the The Doors' version, but Carl Carlton's 1974 cover of Robert Knight's 1967 hit single "Everlasting Love" sounds almost identical to the original (the main difference being the horn fills added to Carlton's version).

Cover versions can also cross language barriers. For example, Falco's 1982 German-language hit "Der Kommissar" was covered in English by After the Fire, although the German title was retained. The English version, which was not a direct translation of Falco's original but retained much of its spirit, reached the Top 5 on the US charts. Many of singer Laura Branigan's 1980s hits were English-language remakes of songs already successful in Europe, for the American record market.

Although modern cover versions are often produced for artistic reasons, some aspects of the disingenuous spirit of early cover versions remain. In the album-buying heyday of the 1970s albums of sound-alike covers were created, commonly released to fill bargain bins in the music section of supermarkets and even specialized music stores, where uninformed customers might easily confuse them with original recordings (especially since the packaging of such discs was often intentionally confusing, combining the name of the original artist in large letters with a tiny disclaimer like as originally sung by or as made popular by). More recently, albums such as the Kidz Bop series of Compact discs, which feature occasionally "cleaned up" versions of contemporary songs sung by children, have been sales successes.

Contemporising older songs

Cover versions are often used to make familiar songs contemporary. For example "Singin' In The Rain" was originally introduced in the film The Hollywood Revue of 1929. The famous Gene Kelly version was a revision that brought it up to date for a 1950s Hollywood musical, and was used in the 1952 film Singin' In The Rain. In 1978 it was covered by French singer Sheila accompanied by the B. Devotion group, as a disco song, once more updating it to suit the musical taste of the era. During the disco era there was a brief trend of taking well known songs and recording them in the disco style.

Director Baz Luhrmann has contemporised and stylised older songs for use in his films. New or cover versions such as John Paul Young's "Love Is In The Air" occur in Strictly Ballroom, Candi Staton's "Young Hearts Run Free" appear in Romeo and Juliet, and adaptations of artists such as Nat King Cole, Nirvana, Kiss, Thelma Houston, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna and T. Rex are used in Moulin Rouge! The covers are carefully designed to fit into the structure of each film and suit the taste of the intended audience.

Introduction of new artists

New artists are often introduced to the record buying public with performances of well known, "safe" songs as evidenced in Pop Idol and its international counterparts. It is also a means by which the public can more easily concentrate upon the new performer without the need to judge the quality of the songwriting skills.

However, some new artists have chosen to radically rework a popular song to exemplify their approach and philosophy to music, the prime example being the band Devo's radical reconstruction of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, or to create publicity as in Sid Vicious' notorious rendition of My Way.

Tributes, tribute albums and cover albums

Established artists often pay homage to artists or songs that inspired them before they started their careers by recording cover versions, or perform unrecorded cover versions in their live performances for variety. For example U2 has performed ABBA's "Dancing Queen" live, and Kylie Minogue has performed The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" - songs that would be completely out of character for them to record, but which allow them artistic freedom when performing live. These performances are often released as part of authorised "live recordings" and thus become legitimate cover versions.

In recent years unrelated contemporary artists have contributed individual cover versions to tribute albums for well established artists who are considered to be influential and inspiring. This trend was spawned by Hal Willner's Amacord Nino Rota in 1981. Typically, each project has resulted in a collection of the particular artist's best recognised or most highly regarded songs reworked by more current performers. Among the artists to receive this form of recognition are Joy Division, Faith No More, Tom Waits, Oingo Boingo, The Bee Gees, ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, The Carpenters, Dolly Parton, Leonard Cohen, Elton John, Duran Duran, Carole King, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Sublime.

The soundtrack to the film I Am Sam is an example of this: it consisted of Beatles songs redone by various modern artists. Three more notable examples are Conception: The Interpretation of Stevie Wonder Songs; Common Thread an album of contemporary country artists performing hit singles by The Eagles, and the Rhythm, Country and Blues album where a country artist duets with a Rhythm and blues artist on a standard of either genre.

In some cases this proves to be popular enough to spawn a series of cover albums being released for a band, either under a consistent branding such as the two Black Sabbath "Navity in Black" cover albums and the Industrial themed "Blackest Album" cover albums of Metallica songs, or in the form of releases from a number of different companies cashing in on the trend such as the slew of Metallica cover albums released in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Metallica itself is known for doing covers; their original album Kill Em All included a couple of covers (Diamond Head's Am I Evil and Blitzkrieg's Blitzkrieg), the original Garage Days Re-Revisited was a collection of covers paying homage to a number of mostly obscure bands, which were later combined with additional new covers on the 2 disc Garage Inc., which among other things included covers of Black Sabbath, Bob Seger, Blue Öyster Cult, Mercyful Fate, and numerous Motörhead tracks. In an interesting turn around there were even a couple of releases of The Metallic-Era cd's collecting tracks from bands that Metallica had covered, both the original versions of the covered songs, and some additional songs by the same artist.

A different type of all-covers album occurs when one artist creates a release of covers of songs originally by many other artists, as a way to recognize their influences or simply as a change of pace or direction. An early example of this was David Bowie's album "Pin Ups", featuring songs from groups with which he had shared venues with in the 1960s. Since these bands included The Who and The Kinks many of the tracks would have been at least familiar with his audience. Other more recent examples of this type of album include Renegades by Rage Against The Machine featuring covers of songs originally performed by diverse artists including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Afrikaa Bambaataa, and Erik B and Rakim, as well as the EP Feedback by Canadian rock band Rush. More rarely, bands will do an entire album of cover songs originally by a particular artist, such as The The's Hanky Panky, which consists entirely of Hank Williams songs.

There are also bands who create entire albums out of covers, but unlike Tin Pan Alley-style traditional pop singers, they often perform the songs in a genre completely unlike the original songs. Examples include the Moog Cookbook (alternative and classic rock songs done on Moog synthesizers), Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine (top 40, including punk, heavy metal, teen pop and indie rock performed in a Vegas lounge lizard style), and Hayseed Dixie (a play on the name AC/DC, they started covering AC/DC songs and progressed to other classic rock, playing them as bluegrass songs, similar to The Gourds' version of "Gin and Juice.") Also notable are Nine Inch Elvis, who take Elvis Presley songs and rework them in an industrial fashion similar to Nine Inch Nails; Beatallica, who perform tracks by The Beatles in the style of Metallica.

Some cover albums take the unusual tact of doing classical versions of rock and metal songs. The unusual band Apocalyptica which is comprised of four classical celloists started out performing classical arrangements of Metallica songs. In a similar vein, there have also been several "String" tributes to popular rock and metal bands, most notably two albums of Tool songs, as well as Black Sabbath, Radiohead, the Beatles, and even Coldplay among others.

Most covered songs

The Beatles have been covered more than any other band; "Yesterday" has been covered over three thousand times since its original release in 1965, Come Together has also been covered numerous times. George Gershwin's "Summertime" (from Porgy and Bess) has had an estimated 2,500 versions recorded. Other songs which have been released many times as cover versions include the infamous "Louie Louie" by Richard Berry, "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" by Jimmy Webb, "We Will Rock You" (Queen), "Free Bird" (Lynyrd Skynyrd), "No Woman No Cry" (Bob Marley & the Wailers), "I Fought the Law" (Bobby Fuller), "How Deep Is Your Love" The Bee Gees and many of the less recent works of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen (as of December 5, 2004, there were at least 940 published cover versions of Cohen songs [2]).

Covers in particular genres


Many upcoming bands in the metal genre cover songs by their predecessors to gain public interest, although more established bands have also recorded covers. Some bands have taken this to an extreme, such as Iced Earth and Entombed, who have released entire albums of covers. In specific subgenres of metal, covers generally reflect the genre the band is in. The Norwegian black metal band Mayhem have recorded several Venom covers, while Mayhem themselves have been covered many times, their song Deathcrush has been covered around 80 times, according to Encyclopedia Metallum.


Punk music is known for deconstructing classic rock or pop songs by reinterpreting them in punk form. Bands like Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Rancid, NOFX, and Goldfinger are especially known for doing so.

An extreme example of punk cover versions is the punk tribute band Gabba, who mix the songs of ABBA and The Ramones.


In recent years, several jam bands and related groups have begun covering hip hop songs, most frequently only live in concert. Perhaps the most famous such-cover recorded in a studio and released commercially is a bluegrass version of "Gin and Juice" by Snoop Doggy Dogg, as performed by the Gourds. Other artists like Phish and Keller Williams have covered "Rappers Delight" (The Sugarhill Gang), "Baby Got Back" (Sir Mix-A-Lot) and other hip hop songs.

Swamp pop

A type of cover version that existed from the early 1950s to the late 1970s in Louisiana was known as swamp pop. Contemporary and classic rock, R&B, and country songs were re-recorded with Cajun audiences in mind. Some lyrics were translated to French, and some were recorded with traditional Cajun instrumentation. Several swamp pop songs charted nationally, but it was mostly a regional niche market.


  • The article on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" contains samples of numerous covers

See also

External links

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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