And then there are the ones that take you by surprise: the ones with the quirky musical arrangement, those that make you rethink your understanding of the lyrics, those covers that make you fall for a song all over again, the interpretations that you can’t help loving as much as (or maybe more than) the original.
Gender has been at the centre of the Australian political debate for a few weeks now, so we thought we’d throw in a twist for your Tuesday and look at the way the concepts of masculinity and femininity are tackled through cover songs. This week, we’re taking a look at ten covers that have flipped from one side of the gender spectrum to the other, with varying degrees of success! Some are fantastic based entirely on their own merits, and some are guilty pleasures, but all of them have challenged the idea that songs are locked into the gender of their composer.
Want to get stuck straight in? The Spotify playlist is right here, but there’s plenty of YouTube goodness (including links to the originals) after the jump!
1. Jack The Ripper – Lanie Lane
This was easily one of the highlights from triple j’s Straight To You tour last year. Lanie Lane really gets her teeth stuck into this Nick Cave tune, practically growling at you. Once you’ve seen this performance, you’ll surely be convinced that crossing Ms Lane is a very, very bad idea. (And for extra gender-swap points, Abbe May on guitar!)
2. You’re No Good – Van Halen
Okay, okay. Yes, this one definitely falls into the slightly bizarre category. Van Halen take the Linda Ronstadt classic and add balls, ridiculous guitar work and a whole lot of hair. Sure, it’s not as good as the original, but you can’t pretend it’s not fun, because it totally is. Just roll with it, and let the rock be its own reward.
3. If I Know You – Tania & Jori
This is one that may have gone under your radar – I certainly had never heard of it until a friend pointed it out to me. The Presets liked this interpretation so much that they added it to the track listing when the original was released as a single (which has a delightful video clip). Rather than tripping into the dance beats of the source material, Tania & Jori have left this cover floating in serene electronica, lending this interpretation an ethereal feel, furthered by the use of the female voice. Incredibly soothing, I imagine this is the kind of music mermaids listen to.
4. Jolene – The White Stripes
Oh man, Jack White. Is there anything he can’t do? Doing justice to a Dolly Parton classic? Singing a tune from a female (or gay) perspective and making it so amazingly credible it hurts? When he begs her “please don’t take my man”, it’s so utterly believable. White takes what could have been a complete and utter disaster and turns it into one of the greatest covers of the decade. And that is why I am in love with him. The End.
5. Crazy – Patsy Cline
If ever you’re looking for the ultimate song of incredible feminine heartache, Patsy Cline’s rendition of this tune has to be right up there. It would easily make the Top 2 (the other contender is coming up), if only for the pain and beauty evident in her vocal alone. But this song didn’t come from her pen – the man who wrote this one was none other than Willie Nelson, back before he was the bearded and pig-tailed hippy we all know and love. Not that it mattered; it was Patsy Cline who made it her own.
6. Landslide – Lior
The No Man’s Woman compilation is one of my favourite albums, and this is easily one of my favourite tracks on it. It really takes you by surprise, starting off small and meek before swelling into a rich tapestry of sound, tied together by his remarkable voice. The reflection of the lyrical theme of growth in Lior’s arrangement is really quite lovely, and when it finally reaches its crescendo, it almost winds you. I don’t know what Stevie Nicks thinks of this one, but it gets a tick of approval from my Fleetwood Mac-loving sister, and that’s enough for me.
7. Be Your Husband – Jeff Buckley
I can vividly remember the first time I heard this song. I had just bought the Live at Sin-é Limited Edition double CD, and was at a Relay For Life in Dubbo. I was settling down to sleep at our campsite, but needed something to block out the noise of the announcements. I popped the first CD in my Discman (I know, it was a long time ago…) and this was the first track. I immediately fell in love.
It wasn’t until later that I realised it was a Nina Simone cover. When I finally heard the original, I have to say, I was less than impressed. Why? Because I don’t like the idea of a woman begging and pandering to a man in the way she does in the song (albeit in the most kick-ass of ways).
Buckley’s version, however, turns the song on its head, basically making him some kind of early 90’s Feminist Ryan Gosling.
8. Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinéad O’Connor
Yet another example of an artist covering a song and making it their own. This one was written by Prince, of all people, whose original soars with a significant guitar line (and was apparently a duet). Rather than follow his lead, Sinéad O’Connor strips it right back, and injects it with a huge dose of anguish, with just a dash of anger that doesn’t quite know who it’s directed at. It’s no wonder this version is the one everybody thinks of first – it’s an absolute killer, and leaves the original for dead. Definitely in the running (alongside Patsy Cline) for the Greatest Heartbreak Hit of all Time.
9. It’s A Man’s Man’s World – Renee Geyer
I simply had to include this one, or my mother might have disowned me.
She needn’t have feared though, because Renee Geyer is one of the greatest voices Australia has or ever will produce. Therefore, her place on this list is assured!
This cover refuses to be ignored, taking a James Brown classic and turning the intensity up to eleven. It’s undeniable – this is a rendition that would do even the Godfather of Soul proud.
10. House of the Rising Sun – Bob Dylan
Of all the songs listed here, this is the only one for which there is no original to link to. That’s because ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is actually an old American folk song, originally sung from the female perspective about prostitution and destitution in New Orleans.
The first folks to make the song popular were arguably the British band, The Animals, and their version is easily the most recognised. That version was released two years after Dylan’s, which keeps the feminine aspect of the lyrics intact. (Which actually means the song makes more sense.)
Plus, he’s freaking Bob Dylan. You can make any joke you like about how he’s singing about being a woman, and he’s still going to be one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time. So best just save your breath.
BONUS: Teenage Dream – Darren Criss
I’m not a huge Glee fan. In fact, I would probably say I’m not even a fan at all. But occasionally, they do alright, and when they do, I immediately have a new addition to my Guilty Pleasures playlist (that’s for another week).
Then again, I’m not guilty about this one at all. It’s a really good cover of a light and fluffy Katy Perry song, which in itself isn’t too bad a piece of songwriting. And it features Darren Criss, who I am quite fond of looking at.
(While the video above is the full, polished, studio version, feel free to play Russian Roulette with your feelings by taking a look at how he performed it in the actual episode it comes from, which aired last month. WARNING: I don’t have any emotional connection to the characters, and I nearly cried.)
I’m just a bit bummed that I had to go with the Warblers cover rather than this one for the Spotify playlist because the acoustic version isn’t on Spotify yet. Oh well. It’s still nice.
Now excuse me while I mourn the tiny shred of music nerd credibility I had and have now lost.
That’s it! If you have any suggestions for future playlist themes, you think we missed something important off this list, or you just want to discuss the merits of a certain musical-comedy television show, let us know in the comments, send us a tweet or drop by our Facebook page!