Let’s start with a fact. Whitney Houston’s rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” is a far better, and more popular, song than the original.
There I said it.
It’s not the first cover song to surpass the source material and it won’t be the last. Which is why I think it is important to talk about the most prolific example of artists copying one another.
If you’ve read my previous post, you know how I feel about fetishizing “originality” and the harmful impact of the “starving artist” and “creative misanthrope” stereotype.
So as a source of inspiration and a point of reflection I am putting together a list of cover songs that in my opinion are either as good or surpass the original.
Something to worth considering as you go through this list is to consider that, each of these cover songs were re-imagined using the individual artist’s ability, vision, and creative choices.
Or as filmmaker, writer, and speaker Kirby Ferguson puts it:
I think this is mostly what we do. Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made. We are dependent on one another, and admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness. It’s a liberation from our misconceptions, and it’s an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves and to simply begin.
*If you want to see his TED talk, you can find it at the end of this article.
One final thing to consider is that cover songs are usually created (in my opinion) for one of the following reasons
- To boost the popularity of a fading song. (“Thou” covering “Nirvana”)
- To pay tribute. (“Ariana Grande” covering “Aretha Franklin”)
- To surprise an existing audience. (“Disturbed” covering “Simon and Garfunkel”)
- For an artist to prove their mettle by covering a master. (Every Open Mic ever)
There are other reasons too, and I highly recommend trying to figure out what they could be as you read through this list.