Many bands have a musical reference to other bands that is integrated into their band image, usually in the form of covers, or in descriptions of the music. Even bands as preposterous as the Peppermint Creeps are providing us a cover of the Vapors smash hit: Turning Japanese. The local Minneapolis band, White Light Riot got their name from their musical heroes, White Lion, Gordon Lightfoot and Quiet Riot. And you simply don’t see a CD review without the music being referenced to other recordings.
Sure, people need a reference, and it’s almost impossible to tell people what the music sounds like. But it’s hard for bands to convey their originality when the review says they “sound like Band X”. Billy Joel already said, “There’s a new band in town, but you can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine…”
Covers in live shows are standard fare, they’re a quick and painless way to stretch out your set, and they are usually fun to play. But covers on recordings are sometimes used by new bands to ‘break’ into radio: “Hey, if you liked Band X then your gonna Love this Band X cover by new band Y!”
Musical comparison to other bands is required in Press Kits, and expected on websites and in the “sounds like” box on Myspace. I have no problem with giving a tip of the cap to your forebears, but I also wouldn’t want to become famous for a cover song. Are there Any famous ‘cover bands’? There’s plenty of famous ‘knockoff’ bands that try to be like someone else, and if you are a talented musician but an untalented song writer, this is the way to go. Weird Al Yankovich is a ‘parody band’ and therefore, the exception that proves the rule.
When most bands cover songs, they try to be extremely true to the original. I think that’s not always the best idea. The closer people get to sounding like the original, the less I like it. If I wanted to hear “Cars” by Gary Numan, I would pull out the 12″ vinyl record of The Pleasure Principle and cue it up. If your band manages to pull off the perfect cover of Cars, note-for-perfect-note, guess what? It still ain’t the real deal. You didn’t write it. But if you grab the song by the balls and give it a twist the way Fear Factory did on their Obsolete album, that’s pretty cool. They made the song their own.
The best twist on a cover song was the Scissor Sisters cover of “Comfortably Numb”. Brace yourself: its Disco. I’ll pause here to let that sink in – A Disco version of Comfortably Numb.
Sacrilege right? I would have thought so if I hadn’t seen them play it live at the Fine Line. Talk about making a song your own. It was pretty amazing.
Not that all cover songs need to be twisted. Led Zepplin’s “Rock and Roll” was made to be covered and played live, but there is no need for anyone to release a recording of their bands version of this song.
I’m blogging up all this nonsense about covers because Jagged Spiral is learning some covers to pad our (dare I say it?) live set. Each of us picked a song (and of course, we all have to agree that the other’s choices won’t make us puke). Colin picked “Temple of Love” by The Sisters of Mercy. We played through “Temple of Love” a few times, and decided it was a keeper, it’s a good song for us to play just the way it is, without much twisting at all. We will still sound more like Jagged Spiral than The Sisters of Mercy, and I think that’s a good thing, since we aren’t The Sisters of Mercy.
Josh picked Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”. We haven’t practiced this song together just yet, but I think that song will suit us well.
I was waffleing over some ancient Marillion songs like “Freaks” but Josh asked me if I might like to cover the Fleetwood Mac song, “Tusk”. Wow. Simple, distinctive, catchy, cool. We listened to the song and talked about the tuning, structure and progression of the song. We are going to give it a try next week, and see if we can make it work for us.
Anyway, the image of Jagged Spiral is growing, as we pick cover songs that define us as a band, and as we pick out references to other bands for our press kit. We’re also working on a band logo.
It will be interesting to see what all this adds up to…