The Song Remains the Same

Covering the bands that play other peoples music

"The grand illusion of newness is pop-culture's great sucker's-racket," said Nick Tosches once. "To begin to see that there really is nothing new under the lucky old sun is to begin to understand the nature of popular culture and the business of fame." Now let me give you the cover version: "The grand illusion of newness is pop-culture's great sucker's-racket. To begin to see that there really is nothing new under the lucky old sun is to begin to understand the nature of popular culture and the business of bame." See? Maybe not as classic, but you don't always get what you expect when you pick the Next Best Thing instead of the Next Big Thing. Not to gut the tradition—before someone figured out how to sell sheet music, there wasn't even a question of cover songs, and years of popular medieval folk weirdness stayed free-of-charge until Pentangle got to it—but cover songs and cover bands are a tricky thing.

Do it well and you're still not quite as respected as the first guy; do it wrong and oh, how they'll laugh. Or do it your own way and make it yours forever—worked for Elvis, who basically never wrote a song in his life, and who launched a million cover Elvises singing "Hound Dog," by now three times removed from Big Mama Thornton and four from the two guys in an office who really wrote it, who basically never stepped onstage in their lives except probably to accept some awards. So inside: a long line of musicians who use/contuse/defuse other people's music. Some make it new again; some just make it work; some just make the originals seem so long gone. And some make you laugh and some make you feel better about yourself and some make you feel a whole lot worse. So I guess they're just as good as the real thing.

 
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