A look at the art of the perfect cover and some impactful pairings with visual mediums

By Bekah Touma

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first few notes sound oh so familiar…you may start to hum or sing along but soon realize something seems to be slightly off.  Ah yes, this must be a cover.  After racking your brain for the original the cover starts sinks in.  Here is where I decide if I love it or hate it.


There is so much to say about the art of a good cover song.  They can be appealing for so many reasons.  There is something so special about the instant connection one can get realizing that you know a song, but with the twist of maybe not knowing its performer.  My covers collection far exceeds the 100s, but there will always be those that stand out above the rest.  For this reason I have had a list, unspoken until now, of rules for identifying or creating a good cover.

A Short List of Specific Rules on Cover Songs that Stand Out

  1. Do not try to mimic the original.  No one wants to listen to you try to be someone who has already done it better.
  2. Make it your own.  Bring something unique to the song.  Let your voice as an artist make its mark.
  3. Change it up.  Alter the tempo or add new instrumentation.  Some of the best cover songs cross over to a completely different genre.
  4. Try something new.  There are so many amazing songs out there.  Try to cover a song that hasn’t been covered a million times.  The most striking and memorable covers are songs that in a sense aren’t covering a cover.  Which leads me to my next rule…
  5. Please do not cover  Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”  I feel like any and every singer-songwriter has covered this song at one point, including myself.  Enough!  It’s a beautiful and emotionally moving song but its been done to death.  It may be a myth but it’s rumored that Hotel Café actually has a strict ban on anyone playing that song at their venue.  Also no one will cover it the way Jeff Buckley did.  His version is a true definition of these rules realized.

 

 

 

 

 

In the spirit of my love for music fused with media I’ve compiled a playlist of some of my favorite cover songs used in films, TV shows, commercials or trailers.  In my opinion these folks managed to make these songs their own and memorable.  Some made a song popular to a generation that may have never heard the original.  As a music supervisor it is inherently ingrained for me to love and need covers.  Not only do they bring with them familiarity, but also something new and interesting.  Two important factors that can immediately help connect the viewer to the medium.  Below are some cover tracks that have made a huge impact when combined with a visual medium.

1. Ryan Adams “Wonderwall” (originally by Oasis) – from The OC

2. Katie Melua “Just Like Heaven” (Originally by The Cure) – from Just Like Heaven

Katie Melua “Just Like Heaven”

3. Gary Jules “Mad World” (Originally by Tears for Fears) – from Donnie Darko

Gary Jules “Mad World”

Gary and Michael Andrews, the composer of the film, worked together to create a uniquely beautiful rendition of this emotional song.  I even read that Tears for Fears was so impressed with the cover it made them rethink the way that thought about the song.

4. Urge Overkill “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” (Originally by Neil Diamond) – from Pulp Fiction

The clip from the film could not be embedded, so check it out here on YouTube.

Quentin Tarantino has a keen sense for using music as a character to creatively compliment his films.  This song is just one of the many examples where he has done this.

5. Jimmy Hendrix “All Along the Watchtower” (Originally by Bob Dylan) – used in Watchmen and Battlestar Galactica

6. Iron & Wine “Such Great Heights” (originally by The Postal Service) – from Garden State

Iron and Wine “Such Great Heights”

7. Scala and Kolacny Brothers “Creep” (originally by Radiohead) – from the trailer for The Social Network

This cover is a great example of crossing genre boundaries, and the risk truly pays off.

8. Jim Sturgess “Girl” (Originally by The Beatles) – from Across the Universe

The film may have had poor reviews but The Beatles music still managed to save that movie to some extent in my eyes. Jim Sturgess’ beautiful voice hitting those first few notes had me hooked.

9. Jose Gonzales “Heartbeats” (originally by The Knife) – used in a Sony Bravia commercial

Jose Gonzales has such a beautifully unique sound.  He has done quite a few moving covers.

10. Cat Power “Sea Of Love” (Originally by Phil Phillips) – from Juno

Cat Power “Sea of Love”

11. Adele “Make You Feel My Love” (Originally by Bob Dylan) – from When In Rome

Not surprising that two Dylan covers landed on this list; he’s been my favorite songwriter since high school.  I in fact wrote my senior paper on his journey as an artist (I went to a fairly freeing school in LA).  When In Rome may not have been a hugely impactful film, but I love this cover so much that its a means to and end to get the song on this list.

12. Aimee Mann “One” (Originally by Harry Nilsson) – from Magnolia

Aimee Mann “One”

13. Jason Wade “You Belong To Me” (originally by Sue Thompson) – From Shrek

Jason Wade “You Belong To Me”

Don’t let the medium for which this song made its way to film fool you.  It’s a beautiful rendition and Jason’s vocals truly stand out.

14. Whitney Houston “I Will Always Love You” (Originally by Dolly Parton) – from The Bodyguard

The clip from the film could not be embedded, so check it out here on YouTube.

This list most definitely would not be complete without this cover. This scene still gives me chills.

15. Cowboy Junkies “Sweet Jane” (Originally by Velvet Underground) – from Natural Born Killers

Cowboy Junkies “Sweet Jane”

 

Bekah is excited about and has a great appreciation for how music influences and makes its way into the everyday, in her life and others. She currently works at Format Entertainment as a Music Coordinator/Supervisor/Jackknife.