Cover Song Theory

The fame power of the cover song… what IS a cover song? A cover song is a song that is resung and  released on an album by a different band, years after it was a hit. Get it? Yeah, it’s not a hard concept to grasp.

An amazing consequence of creating a cover song, is the growing fame of the cover band. What is a cover band? A cover band is a band who, as a tribute, or just cuz they don’t have any talent, or as a way to put a new spin on a favourite song of theirs, covers some song from the past (I’m not counting tribute albums where other bands cover songs for the CD) and releases it with their own original material.

Why is it, that a cover song can launch a band’s career? Let’s look at some examples….

1) Marilyn Manson…..If you asked people a few years ago who Marilyn Manson was, most people wouldn’t have a clue. Then what happened? Suddenly Marilyn is on the lips of the entire US population. What happened was the COVER SONG phenomenon!! A few years back Marilyn Manson released their cover of the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams (are made of this)”…..Marilyn Manson had albums before the release of “Sweet Dreams” but very few people knew who he was, or even cared. After “Sweet Dreams” he’s on TV, videos are being shown on MTV (even vh1, if you count their show Mixology) and he does a huge record with Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails). I would never have known who he was without “Sweet Dreams”. moving on

2) Limp Bizkit…..This is a toss up, because yeah, they are famous now, partly because of the attention paid to them by covering “Faith” by George Michael. Since it was off their first album, it’s hard to say if they would have become famous without “Faith”… maybe… I don’t know (whereas in the case of Manson, they had albums before they “hit it big” with “Sweet Dreams”). But anyway, the main reason that the US paid any attention to Limp Bizkit was because of their rocked out version of “Faith”. They are huge right now, on their own merit with “Significant Other”, but was it because of “Faith” launching their careers? next

3) Orgy…..Again, their cover of “Blue Monday” by New Order is off their first go at the rock business (in the band Orgy, all members had been in the LA rock scene for years). Would they be as big as they are without “Blue Monday” (my personal feelings on this I must leave out, since they’re my favourite band, of course I’m going to say yes, they would be as big as they are now since their CD has way better songs than “Blue Monday”)? This is harder to judge because many people didn’t know “Blue Monday” was a cover song. They thought Orgy wrote it and they still loved it. Time will tell if Orgy was a flash in the pan one album band, or more. and yet another example

4) Puff Daddy (and the whole rap business for that matter)…. do I even need to say anything about Puff Daddy? How many songs has he sampled for his own work, and his friends (like Nas, or whoever that guy is)? Does Puffy have ANY songs that he didn’t sample? Would Puffy be anything without sampling? Does he have an original bone in his body? one more for now

5) Fear Factory…..I don’t know anything about this band, except they’ve been around for a while because they toured with Cannibal Corpse years ago…. I’ve just heard about them now with their cover of “Cars” by Gary Numan. Will I hear any other song by them in the future? I don’t think so, it seems to me like “Cars” is all they’ll ever be… but who am I to say?

Those are only 5 examples of the many bands who do cover songs (and the whole Tribute Cover band thing that local bands do). I could name many more, like the covers of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”(I’m not sure if Nikki French was the original singer, or the cover singer), “Bizarre Love Triangle” (originally by New Order, not sure of the cover band), “Wild Horses”, “Paint It Black” (among others originally by the Rolling Stones), “Come Together” (originally by John Lennon/The Beatles, covered by Aerosmith and Michael Jackson), “The Passenger”(originally by Iggy Pop covered by Michael Hutchence) to name a few. Some of these artists who covered songs became famous one hit wonders by their cover song, and others already had a name for themselves before doing the covers as a tribute.

Now, what is the reason why these bands become so famous because of their cover song? Why is it when I hear a Puff Daddy song I listen to it and jam along (for a very small amount of time) even though I absolutely hate him? My theory….

-In Puff Daddy’s case, the popularity of his songs is very greatly based on us late Generation Xers who grew up in the 1980s. His sampling of popular 80s songs have brought back fond memories for us. I rediscovered Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” which is the first song Puffy sampled, for example. I hear his songs and always think they are the original song (especially whatever song samples David Bowie’s “Lets Dance”), not the sample and I get excited. Then I realize it’s Puffy and I change the station. I think this is the same with Manson, Bizkit, Orgy and Fear Factory to an extent. I paid attention to Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” because I liked that song as a child. I used to love George Michael, and Bizkit’s cover of “Faith” was rather amusing. As soon as I heard “Blue Monday” I knew it was a cover, although I don’t ever remember knowing who New Order was, I just KNEW I had heard it before (and in Orgy’s case, they just thoroughly impressed me to no end) and the first time I heard Fear Factory’s “Cars” I thought it was the coolest thing, not because it was them, but because it was Gary Numan! I think the nostalgia factor plays a big part in why these bands have become popular due to their choice of cover. Years from now someone is going to cover “Counterfeit” by Limp Bizkit or “Stitches” by Orgy, and it’s going to happen all over again. I’ll get into that band for bringing back memories of college for me. It’s a never ending circle, one which I do not wish to end 🙂

update 6-22-01 – another cover song is about to “make” a band… it’s Alien Ant Farm’s cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”. I don’t feel this way because I like Michael Jackson. I can just see how people are reacting to the song and AAF. I saw AAF 3 times with Orgy in March, people recieved them well, but their first single “Movies” did nothing on the radio or MTV. I saw it once on MTV on a new band weekend but not during any regular programming. I never heard it on the radio. Now they release “Smooth Criminal” and I’ve heard it on the radio alot, and I’ve also seen the video on mtv. Wait til a group of teenie boppers discover it, thinking that they wrote it, and how cool it is…. they’ll get on TRL, they’ll be the next big thing. That’s my prediction…we’ll see how it turns out.

update 1-02-02 – what do you know – i was right!! see above update regarding Alien Ant Farm. They did the exact same thing Orgy did. Release first single, no attention paid to it, make it big on a cover song, rerelease first single and it blows up too.


Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 etc by Sara Etten updated january 2002

**Disclaimer**- Listen, I like these bands. This totally is not a dig on their talent, creativity, or originality (except maybe in Puff’s case, seriously, is he at all original ever?). I’m just stating my crazy ramblings on why bands get popular because of cover songs…I’d love Orgy just as much if they never  sang a word or played a note of “Blue Monday”. Personally, I have a list of songs I’d like to cover if I became a singer. It’s totally not a bad thing to do covers, I think it kicks ass, especially when the songs are covered in a different way (not like “Bizarre Love Triangle” which sounds basically the same). So don’t send me hate mail telling me how talented these bands are, because, I already know that. 🙂   have a nice day