As most of you may already know, I am part of a music community called Muziboo where amateur singers/composers/musicians post covers and original work. I always find it interesting to see how people sing covers and also how covers are critiqued. It seems that in general there are a two different schools of thought. There are those who believe that when a person sings a cover, he should try to reproduce the original as is. If he is not able to, then it shows his inability to do so and is seen as a flaw/shortcoming in the cover. There is also a second set of people who believe when a person sings a cover, he/she should be creative and add some originality to the interpretation. The basic structure and the essence of the original should still be maintained though.

I belong to the the second school of thought. I have always believed that an artist should let his/her imagination run wild when doing covers and try to bring in as much of their own individuality as possible. I dont want my cover to be known for being just like the original. I would be much happier if people remember my version of the song for its originality. The next time they hear the original, I want them to think of my version. Today I was listening to Kris Allen’s version of Aint No Sunshine, which is what prompted me to write this artice. When he sang this song on America Idol last year, I was lost for words. It was that authentic and creative.. So much so that a lot of people now remember his version first. I am posting the original by Bill Withers and also the cover version by Kris Allen. I think this is one of the best examples of an excellent cover – Keeps the essence of the original and yet stand out on its own!

Bill Withers Version of aint no Sunshine:

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Kris Allen’s Cover of Aint No Sunshine:

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17 comments on “My Thoughts On Cover Songs”

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your analysis 😛 And as you already know, I belong with you on my opinion on how I would want a cover to perceived as.

    In addition to the things you mentioned, another thing that has always intrigued me is the artists never ending strive to imitate the voice as in the original. Ofcourse, it’s okay to a certain extent, but I personally think the rendition would be more flavorful if it had the essence and mood/feel of the original, rather than reproducing the exact voice.

    I know I have told you this, there’re definitely a size-able number of Hindi songs where I have always prefer your version to the original. Actually, you are one of the very few singers who does that consistently, and kudos to you for that!

    Awesome article BTW.. think you brought to light a topic which many are either struggling to ignore or don’t want to acknowledge :=)

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  2. Well you could have added your own example – Lady ( Modjo).. After listening to your cover, I dont remember listening to the original..

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  3. Good one George…….as long as the’keeping the original flavor’(which in itself id highly subjective)is understood by the renderer from a listener’s perspective,I am fine with this argument……But when that is not understood fully the results disappoint…….as has been with the majority of cases in general…….despite all other parameters being of excellent quality,the cover falls short of listeners expectation ……and in covers which are hugely popular(by definition,a psycho acoustic affiliation has already been established with a large number of listeners)9/10 times the ‘change,the improvisations’ fail to register,kind a connect with the listener…….This may be my view,purely.

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  4. I am of the opinion that a cover could have minor deviations from the original structure, but the soul and mood of the original should be kept intact. Again agree with Subbu, it is always a tricky business. Sometimes the audience love it and sometimes they dont ..because of the fact that the original is registered in the listners mind like a carving on a rock…but it never hurts to experiment…

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  5. I am relatively newer to the audioblogging and online music forum community, so will plug in my thoughts in a mild manner.
    I fully agree with you on songs needing the artist’s own style and input, improvs and variations. I too belong to that school of thought. I also think listeners are entitled to forming their own judgements of how the song finally sounds to them.
    I personally love unplugged renditions when we sing free of any track restrictions and go with our own flow and variations. Sometimes in a couple of takes just because the mood made it possible. Don’t we love an improv inpromptu live rendition? 🙂
    I am here to listen, sing, learn and enjoy music from all of you, and to support and encourage you in the best way possible.
    A very Happy New year and keep the music flowing!
    -Sudha

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  6. Hey George.. very nice post! Agree with your thoughts and always appreciate originality/creativity. From my observation.. u maintain originality and never over do things in the name of improvisation. I dont compare songs with the original but always look for perfection. Shud sound original to me:) Thats the reason ur covers never disappoint me:) But somehow I tend to copy the mood/expressions and singing and cant think beyond when it comes to singing covers. I see more room for creativity when singing originals.. Dont think thats wrong either.

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  7. George!! Such an amazing coincidence! Just as i was opening your invite to this post ,i was listening to this piece by Hari ji on youtube
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lITXL0SYLVo&feature=channel
    Please read the comments below ( though not in very good taste) – they reflect peoples views on improvisations in general.
    I also belong to your school of thought. . It introduces that bit of curiosity from beginning till the end of the song to see how aesthetically a particular sangati has been modified..

    I loved what you did with Pehla Nasha and a lot of your other songs.

    Good luck George!! And improvise away!

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  8. I am a bit skeptical about adding “cover” to the title for my songs because I am not sure what classifies a song as a cover song – in terms of audience expecations. I agree that a singer should add his/her improvisations when singing a song as long as it does not deviate too much from the original song. This is one thing I try to observe in every song that I listen to – how the singer has captured the mood of the song, where they have improvised and how it sounds. When singers like SPB, Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan perform on stage, I like the way they improvise their original songs and it is always a pleasure to listen to those.

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  9. George,
    Wanted to chip in on this discussion even though I am on vacation :-). It is an interesting topic that gets more intiguing as one does more covers and digests all the feedback. I think expectation of the listening audience varies and it is not easy to satisfy everybody. Some songs are remembered and liked for subtle nuances and if these are not reproduced the audience is dissapointed and as you rightly said it could be easily perceived as inability of the singer. This is especially true with oldies and classical based songs that have been heard by audience over and over.
    I am a big fan of improvisations, as long as it is aesthetically pleasing, so a big fan of Hariji 🙂 for his abilities in this dept. But I know countless people who hate it when he deviates from his own original versions.
    I think each song is different in terms of audience expectations. SInce musical tastes vary, there is no one right approach here and I think the singer should deliver what he/she believes in and it will reach the ‘right’ audience.

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  10. Dear friends,
    First of all thank you for all the feedback. This turned out to be a good discussion. It was interesting for me to go through all the input. Some points made were worth pointing out:

    1. Meera said “artists never ending strive to imitate the voice as in the original” – Very good point Meera. Even if we want to sound like the original, i think imitating a voice is going to far and prone to failure in most cases. It is better to just sing with our natural voice in my opinion.

    2. Subbu said that in most cases “a psycho acoustic affiliation has already been established with a large number of listeners)9/10 times the ‘change,the improvisations’ fail to register” (Subbu) – Once again a great point. I have noticed that if I listen to a cover before the original, I tend not to connect with the original sometimes and vice versa. But I can also say that sometimes, I might have listened to an original a 100 times and love it, but then I listen to a cover and it totally takes over. The song that I have posted by Kris Allen is a fine example. So the bottomline is that if the improvisations are good and the arrangement is different, it is bound to touch the heart.

    3. Sudha felt that “listeners are entitled to forming their own judgements of how the song finally sounds to them.” – Absolutely agree 🙂 Thats what gives us the variety and diversity we need.

    4. Tara expressed that “somehow I tend to copy the mood/expressions and singing and cant think beyond when it comes to singing covers. I see more room for creativity when singing originals.. Dont think thats wrong either.” – I feel that another important reason why people tend to cover songs like the orignal is because the original is a benchmark for them to see how well they have done. So for instance in Tara’s case, the original registers in her head, she tries to reproduce and can very easily judge how well she has done. With improvisations, its much harder to judge if something worked or not.

    Even though one sings a cover like an original, he/she can still appreciate improvisations found in other covers, which is true in Tara’s case as she appreciates originality in general.

    5. Mythri stated that improvisation “introduces that bit of curiosity from beginning till the end of the song to see how aesthetically a particular sangati has been modified..” – Very very true. When I listen to a cover, I am constantly looking for changes and seeing how the singer made the song his own. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesnt.

    6. Kumar said “I think expectation of the listening audience varies and it is not easy to satisfy everybody. Some songs are remembered and liked for subtle nuances and if these are not reproduced the audience is dissapointed and as you rightly said it could be easily perceived as inability of the singer. This is especially true with oldies and classical based songs that have been heard by audience over and over.” – Excellent point! I think oldies are the hardest to improvise on as most listeners of oldies are pretty opinionated and have fixed notions on the nuances of the song. When they see the subtleties missing, they are disappointed. And this is definitely true for some newer songs too, but not as much as the oldies 🙂 I know from experience as I tried to cover Tere Mere Milan 🙂

    Kumar also makes another excellent point that “there is no one right approach here and I think the singer should deliver what he/she believes in and it will reach the ‘right’ audience.” – I COULDNT AGREE MORE !

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  11. Another fine example of improvisations:

    httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LROapnqM_v4

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  12. George
    Good to see that you have some discussions going in Muziboo.
    I like the Cover version to be more like the Original because we love to hear the same. Any changes if done in the name of improvisations then the singer should see to it that the listener enjoys the version and does not deviate much.
    I love your singing a lot. Don’t know to write big comments and hence will be short.
    YOU ARE MY FAVOURITE SINGER IN MUZIBOO AND LIKE ALL YOUR SONGS TOO. WILL GET CONNECTED TO YOU IN ALL CHANNELS SOON!
    Thanks for singing good songs always.

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  13. Hi George –

    Interesting topic. When I was younger and learning my instrument, my goal was to reproduce the original song as closely as possible. Now that I’m older, I wonder what the point of that is. If someone wants to listen to the original version of the song, they should just listen to it. Why listen to me copying it?

    For the past few years, I’ve been drawn more and more to “live” or “unplugged” versions of songs, where the original artists are performing the song, but in a different way, or other artist’s “original” cover versions. What I don’t like is when someone tries to pass off a cover version as their own original work (plagarism), which is why I always include “(cover)” in the title or description of song I do that isn’t my own composition or in the public domain (a traditional folk song, for example).

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  14. Singing a song which has already been sung is like walking a known path in our own way…. May be the guy who has sung it before have showed us the way, the road to reach it. The road whose end is the essence of the very song. But the way of travelling on the road will be different for different people, and that what makes them unique, their USP. When i walk along a known street which somebody has shown me, i can just walk, can run inbetween on that street, do some sumersaults in between :), anythin which shows the world “who i am”. Furthermore, there are always right people for “right” you.

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  15. Very very informative topics have been covered with extensive details in depth. thank you my friend.

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  16. You hit the nail right on the head and guess what, after listening to the video you posted in the article, I thought of listening to a few covers this guy Kris has done and was suprised! He’s very artistic and this cover of thorne York’s Paranoid Android caught my attention. Man, the guy has got balls!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl6zZyBuyEo&feature=related

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