I’ve been thinking about musical covers lately. Since Imani’s comment in an earlier post. A cover is when a band takes an older, usually popular, sometimes obscure, song and records it for themselves, adding their own personal touch. For some reason this seems to be happening in the world of fiction. A few examples, recent and not-so-recent:
The 1992 sequel to Gone with the Wind, Scarlett “word-processed” (in the words of J.O. Tate) by Alexandra Ripley.
Peter Pan in Scarlett by Geraldine McCaughrean. No, not that Scarlett. He grew up, yes, but not that much.
And the apocalyptic tale of Huck’s pop, Finn by Jon Clinch. I actually want to read this one. I suppose I should actually read Huck Finn first, though.
Two sequels and a prequel. But all essentially reinterpretations of an original work, playing off them. Now, I’ve never read these books. And, realistically, I probably never will. But if you’re planning on reading any of these or any similar project I’ll offer up my two cents on what makes a good cover.
There’s really only two paths one can take here:
- Make the song better. Or
- Make the song different to great effect. Be it humorous, serious, sexy, dangerous or whatever.
In the first category The Wailin’ Jennys are a fine example. The addition of killer three person harmonies to Neil Young’s original Old Man is a big improvement. The crossing of gender adds something too. I’ll always prefer the original but I’ll still turn up the Jennys when they come on the radio. Like most good covers it makes me want to hear the original again. I suppose when trying to judge a fictional cover you may want to look for something similar. A feeling of meaningful dialogue between the two works would be a good sign.
In the second category I’ll suggest my favorite cover of any song ever: Jimmy Hendrix’s version of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower. How can I explain the brilliance of this interpretation? Jimmy Hendrix’s cover is to Dylan’s original as the moonshot is to Dedalus’ wings. Reviews seem to suggest Jon Clinch is trying to make his home in this category. Whether he succeeds or not is another matter. Sometimes you have to pick the right song to cover. Starting out your career with an old standard isn’t always the best idea.
For your amusement: