The suspects? They range from teenage garage bands, to wedding singers, to karaoke competitors, to American Idol contestants.
They all stand equally guilty of committing a serious offense: First-degree butchering of a good, classic, standard tune.
(feel free to insert the collective, obligatory groan here)
That phrase wasn’t always a cue for audiophiles to duck and cover their ears, believe it or not.
Back in the 1950′s, almost as soon as one artist would release his latest song, another singer or band would come along and make their own version of the record. New artists and newly-formed groups would build their names and reputations by playing songs they knew. Songs from the radio. Songs from new records. Until they came up with enough music of their own to legitimately make them original artists, there wasn’t much else of a choice – or much else to play – than covers.
And so this became the way many artists made their own names.
Without cover songs, some of the most famous groups in all of musical history would cease to exist. Here’s a prime example:
Here is The Rolling Stones’ #1 breakout hit, “Not Fade Away”
Covers have become part of musical tradition, passing down songs from one generation to the next. Most often you’ll hear artists attempting their most faithful rendition of the original number. “Attempting” is usually about as far as they’ll ever get. Sometimes, though, they’ll make it their own, adding their voices, their style, and making a tune from months, years, even decades ago…something for today’s audiences.
The most recent example of this comes in the form of two tribute albums covering the music of Buddy Holly, “Listen To Me” and “Rave On,” named aptly after a couple Holly numbers. The former can be heard for free (the entire album, no less!) for a limited time on the Rolling Stone website.
Why Buddy Holly? Why now? Well, this month is Holly’s 75th birthday, or would be, if he lived to see it. Even if he isn’t around to celebrate, his fellow musicians are.
The line-up is as diverse as a person could ask for, from Cee-Lo Green, to Zooey Deschanel, to Paul McCartney, to Kid Rock, to Pat Monahan [of Train], to Fiona Apple. You have to admit, few, few reasons – save the Grammy Awards – would ever have these musicians sharing the same room, much less, album.
But they do. And somehow, they not only make it work, but make it work for today.
Making music more than 50 years old still seem current is no small task. Holly lends a big hand with the heavy lifting. Noted for his simple chord structure and honest song writing, his music and lyrics provide a foundation for these artists never restricting itself to period or place.
Younger generations may not immediately recognize the name Buddy Holly, but they will recognize a majority of those aforementioned names. It may get them to listen to the originals. And maybe, if they like his music from that era, they may like some other musicians from that time.
Music, like any other product, is at its strongest when it is marketable to its largest audience.
Holly knew the bigger his made his themes, the bigger he made his audience.
The lyrics were simple. The chords were simple. The instrumentation was simple. The running time rarely ran more than two minutes.
80’s synthesizer-saturated songs can be dated in seconds. Even an auto-tuned electronic song from 2011 places itself in time immediately. But a guy with a guitar sounds the same, then, as it does, now. I would say that was Holly’s true genius.
I’ll leave you with some behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the making of the tribute album “Listen To Me.” I’m sure some of them will sound familiar, and if not, maybe they will in time.
You know, come to think of it, there are some cover songs I don’t mind.
Thanks to these artists and musicians like them who keep the music alive.