Listen to Melt-Banana's mash-up/deconstruction of the Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA" and "You're Welcome"
Hear Crowd Lu fearlessly scale the upper registers of Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You"
Dig Anthony Wong's Lou Reedy take on Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind"
Let your jaw drop in utter disbelief as Kahimi Karie reconceives Jimmy Cliff's "Harder They Come" for the 21st Century
Thrill to Mika Nakashima's dead-pan run-through of Sid Vicious's version of "My Way" (Note how "fucking" passes the censor several times, but not a reference to killing her cat, which gets bleeped out)
Sweat and fret as O.N.T.J detonate The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb"
Grab it all in one big glop, here.
According to George Plasketes’ Play it Again: Cover Songs in Popular Music, there are an estimated 40,000 songs floating around out there with at least one recorded cover version. This strikes me as an incredibly conservative estimate.
Whatever the real number might be, there are degrees of covering, and not all acts of covering mean or resonate in the same way. There’s a significant difference, for instance, between a Cambodian pop musician of the 70s swiping guitar licks from Santana or Creedence Clearwater Revival and a contemporary Latino group in Los Angeles basing a whole career covering songs from The Smiths catalog.
Neither act is better or worse, neither more nor less interesting than the other. But they are, in terms of their meaning, different enough to note.
Likewise, and more recently, Gwyneth Paltrow’s covering Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” (the clean version of “Fuck You”) on an episode of “Glee” exists on a whole other meaning-plane from that of Gnarls Barkley’s cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone,” despite the common denominator of Cee Lo.
Speaking of which, what is UP with Gnarls Barkley’s “Gone Daddy Gone”? First, take a look at this official video. (Sorry, you'll have to click the link; embedding has been disabled.)
The song was a huge hit in the 1980s for the Violent Femmes, who were, if memory serves me, THE voice of the geeky white ectomorph. Every song seemed, regardless of the lyrics, to be about the experience of being extremely uncomfortable in one’s distressingly reedy, pasty body. So, what could a rather larger-than-normal black guy possibly be wringing out of this song?
As it turns out: Everything. The video, which pictures Cee Lo as a plump fly, his band mates as other insects, emphasizes and expands on the discomfort of the original, even as the actual musicianship slickens and pop-readies the song up from the much more spastic original. Cee Lo’s and Gordon Gano’s meaning are not exactly trans-racial equivalents, but there are interesting echoes going on. In the context of Cee Lo’s later smash-hit “Fuck/Forget You,” the “Gone Daddy Gone” cover makes even more sense: both recordings pitch Cee Lo as heroic outsider, marginalized underdog. But Ceelo doesn’t feel uncomfortable in his body; it’s more about him wondering what your problem is with it.
So, getting to the mix at hand. While listening to one song after the next might make it all sound entirely random, there are reasons for each inclusion—though there was no one single criterion that covered everything. First, and at bare minimum, I only included a cover if, in transit, some significant border was crossed: ethnicity, gender, nationality, race. Beyond that, I chose sublime examples of reconfiguration, amped-upness and unlikely verisimilitude.