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Good as New Covers of Hit Songs

Pop Music Industry Recycles Top Tunes from the Past

There’s little that’s new in the pop music industry – just like most performing arts – and covering other people’s songs has always been a route to success or derision.

If a song has done well and sold a million a few years ago, most pop moguls think it will sell again. Or a movie might suddenly need that very song, and it’s rehashed, re-recorded and released to a wide-eyed generation of youngsters or nostalgic oldies.

Dolly Parton’s rendition of old-time rockers Led Zeppelin’s 1970s classic, Stairway to Heaven, is a far cry from the original. Sacrilege in the eyes of many diehard fans. Equally, Britney Spears’ recycling The Arrows old hit I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll is an interesting experiment in reinterpretation.

You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling

When the Righteous Brothers issued the original of what became the most played song on US radio in the last century (over 8 million times) and Cilla Black issued her cover almost simultaneously, the two versions raced each other up the UK charts.

On the day the American version by the duo from Orange County, California hit the Number One, Cilla was reported as sending Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield a congratulatory telegram. She didn’t do too badly out of the song cover herself, though it never became a much loved classic for her.

Unchained Melody

The Righteous Brothers did several covers themselves, including The White Cliffs of Dover (after Vera Lynn) and Unchained Melody. This one first appeared in the movie Unchained in 1955, with a variety of covers following, including Jimmy Young.

Originally the Righteous Brothers’ version was a B side to Hung On You, a Phil Spector piece. Radio DJs preferred it, and it became the hit, to Spector’s fury. From Tamlamotown The Supremes covered it their way on their album I Hear A Symphony.

It 1990 it was used in the movie Ghost and charted again. In 1995 Robson and Jerome released it, coupled with The White Cliffs of Dover – it made Number One and was the best selling single of that year.

Winners Take It All

The runner up in the first series of Pop Idol in 2002, was Gareth Gates. He chose Unchained Melody to perform in the final against Will Young. He didn’t win the show, but his version topped the charts and sold 1.3 million copies.

Pop Idol winner Will Young himself released Light My Fire, either blissfully unaware or not caring about the previous huge commercial success of the Jose Feliciano version, that was itself a realisation of The Doors creation from 1967, which spoke for an era and launched one of the great bands admired by musicians of the hippie era.

X Factor winner Alexander Burke cut a single that hit the coveted 2008 Christmas Number One spot – Hallelujah. Few appreciated it is a 1984 song from the prolific pen of Canadian singer-songwriter-poet, Leonard Cohen, frequently mocked for being the man behind music to which you could happily commit suicide. However, his extraordinary lyrics and haunting melodies over five decades have placed his songs in the unofficial league of Top Ten Most Influential Writers-Musicians of the Last Century.

Even Bob Dylan Songs Are Not Untouchable

Dylan himself has seen hundreds of his own songs covered by artists ranging from The Byrds (early devisers of folk rock) to Stevie Wonder from the Tamlamotown stable, via Joan Baez, the Beach Boys, Michael Bolton, Phil Collins, Marlene Dietrich, Sam Cooke, Green Day, Guns N Roses, Manfred Man, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and The White Stripes to name but a handful.

He has also seen his classic anthem Blowin’ in the Wind not only covered by numerous artists, but most recently used in a TV advert for the Co-Operative, claiming to be good with food. Not so much a cover, as the original Dylan version is used – but another illustration of the endlessly recycling instinct of the pop music industry.

What Goes Around Comes Around, Again

In 2001, Robbie Williams made mileage from his recording of Mac The Knife, following in the footsteps of Bobbie Darin, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong among dozens of others over the years.

When the song speaks of Sukey Tawdry, prostitutes, stabbings and old Mackie‘s back in town, how many fans know it’s an old song by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, the playwright and theatrical theoriser, written for their musical The Threepenny Opera, premiered in 1928?

Susan Boyle smashed into public consciousness in the television show Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 with the aptly titled I Dreamed a Dream lifted from the 1985 hit musical Les Miserables.

The point is that the beauty of poetry and music and any art form, is that it can be endlessly recycled, reinvented, replayed to speak afresh to a new age group, a new time and a new demand for entertainment.

First published at Suite 101, 4 March 2010.

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