I have a rule about covers. There is an inverse relationship between the song and covers on my continuum of love to hate. The more I love the original the more likely I am to hate the cover.
Here’s some examples that prove the rule. “Lovesong” by the Cure is perfect. Literally every cover of it makes me angry, especially the 911 cover. Adele’s and Death Cab for Cutie’s are not as rage-inducing but when they come on I would just rather hear The Cure. “Jolene” is a hell of a song, and although most of the covers of it don’t enrage me, nothing will unseat Dolly’s version in my mind. I’m not even going say how I feel about Sheryl Crow’s cover of “Sweet Child O’Mine”.
But there are exceptions to this rule. I love Leonard Cohen and I love “Hallelujah”, but I love equally Jeff Buckley’s cover. I loved NIN’s “Hurt”, but I also love Johnny Cash’s cover. Honestly that cover made so much sense it seemed like destiny. When Tori Amos covered “Smells Like Teen Spirit” it was a shock, but it totally works. I wasn’t a huge Nirvana fan, so I wouldn’t say I loved the original but I liked it. If you had told me Tori covered it, I would have fully expected to not enjoy it. But it’s great.
I’ve been thinking about why the exceptions work. I think there’s a number of ways a cover can go right. If the artist makes the song their own. Or if the spirit of the song seems in harmony with the vibe of the artist. I think that’s why Orgy’s cover of “Blue Monday” works for me, it seems totally plausible that 90’s industrial would inherit New Order. I’m not sure why Jeff Beck’s cover works. Maybe his works because Jeff Beck? I’m just going to go with that.