My Musical Rant

Why Cover (and Ruin) a Song?

Bob Ledbetter, Cactus Contributor

A few weeks ago I received this text from a close friend of mine:


For readers who aren’t familiar, “Hunger Strike” was the first single from the band Temple of the Dog. The band was a one-time collaboration of members from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden during their collective career high points. This dark, powerful duet was written by Soundgarden frontman, Chris Cornell, and features Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder. The song, released in 1991, peaked at #4 on US Charts. The album itself reached #5 on Billboards’ 200. Having known this song inside and out through my adult life, I had to see what Halestorm did to it. I was mortified, offended, angry, and disgusted with the result. Not only did Halestorm speed up the song making it poppy (which changes the overall mood of the song losing the dark theme of the lyrics) the lead singer, Lzzy Hale, sings all the parts herself in her wannabe Lita Ford vocal stylings. It bothers me the band didn’t seem to attempt to keep the duet aspect. It made me think, why cover (and ruin) that song?

Unsigned artists play cover songs simply to add time to their live performances. These artists, me included, simply don’t have enough original material to play 2 to 3 hours of music needed for venues. So we are forced to play covers songs or “tributes” to extend our set lists. But why would signed popular artists, though who penned multi-album contracts with record labels, add a cover song to their album and then release it as a single? There seems to be many answers to this question.

I think Halestorm’s version of “Hunger Strike” was a poor attempt at making money. Their last two albums have not met sales expectations compared to their awesome debut album in 2009. They have released two EP’s of cover songs. Each EP contains 5 songs each. These 10 covers range over several different genres. Collectively these EP’s make no sense. I’ve searched but can’t find any information as to what “inspired” them to cover these particular songs or put out these EP’s versus just writing better original material for a 4th comeback album. I would love to know why Lzzy Hale thought this version of “Hunger Strike” in particular would be cool.

Some artists are forced to record a cover by an overbearing label desperate to gain attention. Take Avril Lavigne’s version of “Imagine.” This song was recorded to be part of a tribute album to benefit aid for Darfur in 2007. While it had good intentions, Lavigne’s version makes me think of a sad karaoke night in a dimly lit downtown Phoenix bar with only 4 people in the whole place. I feel kind of bad for her having been forced to record this version.

Then there are the movie covers. These are usually well-known songs covered by the hot artist of the minute then added to movies in hopes of selling a soundtrack. Take the movie Shrek, for example. While we all love Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah,” the filmmakers also added Smash Mouth’s version of the Monkee’s “I’m a Believer” to the soundtrack. Personally, I like to think someone on the film got fired over this decision. Not only was Buckley’s version amazing on its own it was also placed so well in the movie. Smash Mouth, on the other hand, was a terrible party band in the late 90’s early 2000’s who really only had one actual hit. Their cover of “I’m a Believer” was placed at the end of Shrek. It seemed like the filmmakers were trying to emulate (or shamelessly copy) the movie Something About Mary when the cast sings “Build Me Up, Buttercup” at the end.

Sadly,d we’ll always have covers by popular artists seeping from our radios & streaming sites. Maybe knowing the formula for what makes a good cover versus a bad one will help us steer clear of the bad ones before our ears are tortured in the process.} else {