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Reimagined: the cover versions that changed the game
From James Blake to Jimi Hendrix, Sam Kershaw takes a look at four of the finest covers of all time
Last updated: 12th Feb 2020
It’s a risky business attempting to redo a piece of modern popular culture. On paper, it often sounds like a horror show. Only the brave shall succeed.
From a bewildering take on a Kate Bush classic from a bunch of students in the North East to a garage rock adaptation of some of Burt Bacharach’s finest work (supported by a visual sideshow of Kate Moss in lingerie...it actually happened), here we take a look at four cover versions which don't make you want to chuck your smart speaker in the dishwasher...
There are unwritten rules: covering a Kate Bush song is one of them. Kate Bush is a whimsical creature, one of Britain’s last great eccentrics. She is not to be emulated. So when The Futureheads, a mischievous four-piece post-punk outfit from Sunderland rolled out a cover of her seminal single ‘Hounds of Love’, one could be forgiven for feeling slightly perplexed.
What we were met with was a beautifully crafted adaptation featuring a ramped up take on Beach Boys harmonies, a cheeky North East colloquial slant on the vocals, and an electro clash of duelling guitars which was nothing short of brilliant. In 2004, jukeboxes across the UK at last orders saw youngster’s harmonising in unison whilst locked in lager soaked embraces. More ten sheets to the wind, than two steps on the water.
‘I just don’t know what to do with myself’ was covered by both Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield, in 1964 and 1966, respectively. The two versions, although delivered with true soul, seem very much more in line with Burch Bacharach’s original intention. Jack White had other ideas.
In 2003, The White Stripes released Elephant and sandwiched between ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘Black Math’ was a blues assault on Bacharach’s original work.
With White’s hysterical and wailing falsetto, lo-fi garage rock drums and whisky soaked blues guitar licks, it showed how a sedate piece of classic songwriting can be transformed into a sonic tornado without losing any of its sentiment.
The song also took on a life of its own when Hollywood director Sofia Coppola cast Croydon supermodel Kate Moss as an exotic pole dancer in the music video - leaving very little to the imagination.
It seems James Blake has a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to reinventing songs written by Canadian female singer-songwriters. His cover of Fiest’s ‘Limit to your Love’ went stellar back in 2011, the first insight into his vocal-pop, which incorporated a deep piano cut, subtle hints of early dubstep amongst a beautiful spacial arrangement.
Not content, he once more upped the ante with his take on Joni Michell’s ‘A Case Of You’, debuted live in session on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show from Maide Vale and complete with his breathy vocal runs and nimble musicianship on the grand piano. It’s Blake’s searching vocal that really steals the show, as he croons, “If you want me I’ll be in the bar”, breaking a thousand hearts in the process.
And finally, leave it to Jimi Hendrix with his cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ to raise the stakes. The original sat on Dylan’s 1967 album, John Wesley Harding, and was largely ignored. Hendrix brought the melody to the forefront with support from his apocalyptic guitars riffs and an uncompromising solo. His soul-inspired take on the vocal oozed sex appeal but allowed the narrative to take a back seat to the musicianship.
Sometimes the music itself can tell the story and set amongst the backdrop of the Vietnam War, The Jimi Hendrix Experience were dropping metaphorical bombs of their own. It’s rare that a cover version is better than the original - I appreciate that is a bold statement – but this is very much the case.
As we grow up, whether it be professionally, personally or creatively, we are encouraged to not rock the boat, to not put yourself out there, due to the fear of how you will be perceived. Thankfully, the four acts and artists above did not play by those rules, and because of such we were treated to a different perspective on something equally great... perhaps even better.