This series highlights two of our passions: our unique company culture and music. Born organically out of a hobby Slack channel, The Sound of InterWorks reveals the music that powers our work and how we share that with others.
I’m a sucker for a great song cover. It’s true. I love covers so much the channel topic for our #hobby-music Slack channel is: Kirsten does covers. As an undergraduate, I was known to be found lurking on Napster and Limewire at all hours of the day seeking out new and rare versions of celebrated songs. As an adult, I gave into capitalism and developed a healthy fear of being sued by the music industry, but I’m still searching for covers. Now, I just do it on my Spotify account, where I can easily find high-quality covers without those dreaded hiccups or fear of being Rickrolled.
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
What makes a great cover? At first thought, it sounds like an easy feat. You already have the music and lyrics, but true innovation is hard. It takes a lot of work to retool something and make it authentically your own. It’s also risky. An artist opens themselves up to comparison with the original artist, and if it’s a particularly revered song, they may never measure up to the original.
You can’t just imitate the original and expect something great. There must be something about the new version that both evokes a sense of nostalgia for the original yet morphs into something celebrated on its own. Here are some of my top choices for this category:
“Always Be My Baby”
Why it’s great: “Always Be My Baby” is one of those tunes I play all the way through, every time. It’s fun to sing along with in your car, the shower or on the dance floor. It’s a love song with a “You’ll-be-back” attitude. It’s fun with just a tinge of the bittersweet.
The first time I ever heard the David Cook cover, it was Mariah Carey Week on the 2008 season of American Idol. Cook was already my favorite contestant, and I remember excitedly wondering out loud if he was going to choose this song. Cook’s take on the song removed the bubbly effervescence that Carey had and pushed it to full power ballad. The sound was more Lifehouse meets Metallica’s S&M record than lighthearted jam. Full stalker mode vs. summertime fling. Even Mariah was spellbound.
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”
Why it’s great: Several of the songs on our list change up the tempo of the song to make it “different.” In this version, Lauryn keeps the tempo similar. The change is in the delivery. Lauryn Hill was billed as a badass. She was on a one-woman mission to dominate the entertainment industry in the late ‘90s. She had so much buzz surrounding her. I remember my father even buying The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to hear what all the fuss was about. The thing about this song is that she sheds all that edge. She’s completely vulnerable in her delivery. She weaves hip hop references into the song seamlessly and makes it sound simultaneously old and new. You get a sense that this woman doesn’t fall in love easily. She keeps her guard up, but she’s singing about someone that has totally smashed that wall. The original was by a group that was trying to entertain an audience. This cover version seems like she’s telling the world about this person she’s just met.
“The Power of Love”
Why it’s great: First, this comes off a Parsonsfield album that is all covers, and I love every one of them. It was a hard toss-up between this and their version of “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me,” but “The Power of Love” is more broadly known.
One of my favorite movies growing up was Back to the Future. The original song transports me to 1985, when Michael J. Fox was a heartthrob, we dreamed of owning a DeLorean, and everyone wanted to save the clock tower.
The cover starts off a cappella and builds slowly into the rich roots/bluegrass sound of Parsonsfield. Originally released as a valentine for their fans, it might just save your life.
So, yeah … I put myself in this blog post three times. Again, I love covers. Come at me, bro! Now, here’s a list of the covers deemed worthy by the audiophiles of InterWorks (in alphabetical order). Here’s the playlist compiling all of our selections for your listening pleasure as well:
“Avant Gardener” – Mark Bingham, Experience Engineer
Why it’s great: The casualness of Barnett’s original is muted and replaced with a much more dramatic and spacious sound. Barnett’s original seethes with lazy coolness – like someone wearing the term “slacker” as a badge of honor. With Gordi’s version, there’s more of a connectedness to the anxiety, and the drama is heightened up to the cathartic ending. Barnett’s flows together so seamlessly it’s easy to forget that it’s nearly a full minute longer. I guess there are two types of people: people like Gordi who nearly die and recount the story and end on a long dramatic pause for things to sink in, and then people like Barnett who tell their story and, without skipping a beat, ask, “Hey can you pass me the chips?”. Clearly, I’m just a sucker for a dramatic pause.
“Dance Me to the End of Love” – Rachel Kurtz, Analytics Consultant
Why it’s great: The Civil Wars always add such intimacy to their songs. They’ve slowed this down and stripped it down, creating a feeling of almost desperation: to lose this love would be to lose life itself. You can imagine a couple a la Romeo and Juliet who are just so entwined with each other that the rest of the world no longer exists. The harmonies and back-and-forth also give this feeling of a couple that is one, finishing each other’s sentences and speaking with one voice.
“Hey Ya!” – Garrett Sauls, Communications Manager; Carter Link, Graphic Designer
Why it’s great: The original “Hey Ya!” is one of those rare tracks that everyone knows AND everyone loves. Find me a person who does not shout “ICE COLD” during the bridge, and I will fight them. I remember the original came out when I was in seventh grade, and it was a middle school dance favorite. Fast forward five years, and we have the Obadiah Parker cover. The cover is great for a lot of reasons. First, the stripped-down approach is a total inversion of the raucous energy found in the original. With all the excitement stripped away, the lyrics in the verses really stand out, and they’re pretty somber. Another reason I love this cover is because it came out at the height of MySpace. In fact, that’s where I first heard it. This is significant because MySpace ushered in a totally new era of music discovery, particularly among unsigned and indie artists. Suddenly, you could be completely unknown and have a cover blow up overnight thanks to the magic of social media. Without the Obadiahs of the world and MySpace, we wouldn’t have the prolific cover culture found on mediums like YouTube today. I also want to make a special honorable mention that The Blanks’ cover of this song is great, too. I’m a huge fan of “Scrubs” and its soundtrack, and I have no doubt their version had just as much (if not more) impact.
Why it’s great: The first time I heard this cover, it took me a bit to remember what the original version of the song even sounded like. The way that the cover is presented causes the listener to hear the emotionally charged lyrics to the song, which are not as easy to distinguish in the upbeat pace of the Outkast version. The slow acoustic vibes and heartfelt lyrics married with Miki’s melodic voice make this cover an all-time favorite for me.
“Hurt” – Ben Bausili, Principal/Analytics Practice Lead
Why it’s great: I’ll let Trent Reznor explain why Johnnie Cash’s cover was amazing: “I pop the video in, and wow … Tears welling, silence, goosebumps … Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend because that song isn’t mine anymore … It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different but every bit as pure.”
“Just a Dream” – Kendra Allenspach, Analytics Consultant
Why it’s great: I love the original – STL represent! But I also love the slowed down, a bit more—dare I say—tender duet version. The piano opening is so beautiful, and I love the emotion in it. To me, it’s a great song for sunroof-open driving on a sunny day. Obviously, I sing both parts of the duet.
“Me and Bobby McGee” – Dalton Parsons, Chief Marketing Officer
Why it’s great: Because this is such a great example of a cover completely OWNING a song. I don’t know how many people even know that it’s not a Janis Joplin song.
“One” – Andrea Dahlmann-Korb, Office Manager
Why it’s great: The voice of Mary J. Blige is so emotional. It still touches me even after 1000 times.
“Polarize” – Lindsey Saunders, Systems Engineer
Why it’s great: Let me be straight-up and say I don’t know if this is my favorite cover of all time, but it’s been my favorite for the last couple of years. This cover is how I discovered Tessa Violet (who is amazing), and it’s just such a completely different feel from the original song even though, technically, not much was changed. It turns from a rock anthem into a soulful, delicate plea.
“Smooth Criminal” – Marshall Roy, Systems Engineer
Why it’s great: Who didn’t love the original? ‘80s synths, that epic chorus … Fast forward to 2001: a previously unknown alternative band comes out blazing with an aggressive remake of the classic, dominated by heavy guitar riffs. Will we ever know if Annie was okay??
“The Sound of Silence” – Tim Rhymer, Systems Engineer
Why it’s great: I have always enjoyed finding covers of classics, especially when it comes from a hard rock/metal artist. Enter Disturbed. It’s 2003. My best friend and I are rebelling against our parents and driving three hours to see our first big-kid concert, Music as a Weapon II tour, at the Wichita Coliseum with Disturbed headlining. Disturbed drops a live cover of “Fade to Black” (Metallica), and the Coliseum lit up with hands holding lighters high in the air. This may have been the last time lighters were used before cell phone lights took over!
Over the years, they have done several classic covers. On their first studio album is a cover of “Shout” (Tears for Fears). On their third, it was “Land of Confusion” (Genesis). On the fifth, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (U2). In 2011, they dropped a B-sides compilation and threw in two covers: “Midlife Crisis” (Faith No More) and “Living After Midnight” (Judas Priest). Finally, on their sixth studio album (my personal favorite), they covered “The Sound of Silence” (Simon & Garfunkel). Endorsed by Paul Simon, reaching number one on the 2016 Billboard charts and being nominated for a Grammy in 2017, I would argue this is the best cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic.
“Sweet Thing” – Cort Thomas, Account Executive
Why it’s great: In 1985, my parents were newly married, and I was five years old. They weren’t much older at 21 and 22, so our house was always full of LOUD music. Funk and soul from the ‘70s, pop music from the ‘80s, and this new kind of music called rap pretty much dominated the soundtrack of my first memories. Chaka Khan singing “Sweet Thing” is still something I can listen to for hours. It makes me think about red Solo cups, playing cards, my Uncle Brian and all types of other good vibes. When I heard Mary J. Blige singing this song (produced by some dude named Sean Combs) in ’92, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was one of my favorite childhood songs, but it was all new and fresh and dope and hip-hoppy. My 12-year-old mind was melted. I danced with Aundrea Tunstall to this song at the 7th grade mixer. Good times.
“That’s All for Everyone” – Jacob Carpenter, Development Intern
Why it’s great: Same reason as Scott’s song—but with phaser pedals. Really, I just love the super dreamy somewhat psychedelic take on this song, and I think that Kevin Parker provides some great melodies and sounds overall to the track.
“This Must Be the Place” – Jenny Parnell, Global Marketing Manager
Why it’s great: You can’t hear the original and not dance around a little. It’s a feel-good song without being overtly positive. There’s something energizing about it. It’s kind of quirky and funny. If you would have just told me about the elements of this song, I’m not sure I would like it. But all of it combined is magic for me. The lyrics are something special with things like:
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, always for love
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead
The cover offers a completely new take and vibe, and it features a combination of two artists I already loved and had no idea they collaborated until I heard this song. It’s a smart cover, not afraid to make the song totally different but does the original artist justice. Still fresh. Still something I can dance around to, maybe just a little slower. They pull the lyrics out more than the original. It’s more romantic.
*My first runner-up: The Kishi Bashi version is also particularly solid. Less playful and more earnestly dramatic than the original or the Iron & Wine/Ben Bridwell version.
“Time/Breathe” – Scott Matlock, Regional IT Practice Lead
Why it’s great: Because adding banjos and mandolins to everything is fun.
“Time After Time” – Luke Davis, Software Developer
Why it’s great: I remember hearing the original by Cyndi Lauper for the very first time around 2005-ish when Napoleon Dynamite came out. The song plays during the school dance scene, and ever since, “Time After Time” has been a ‘slow dance song’ for me. Iron & Wine’s simple guitar melody and indie vocals take me straight back to my 2008 middle school dances: the excitement, the nerves, all of it. I think everyone has those songs that they are thankful for, and “Time After Time” is one of mine.
“Ultralight Beam” – Andrea Avey, Content Coordinator
Why it’s great: I always enjoy seeing how an artist decides to put their twist on an existing song. This cover is one that authentically represents the spirit and intent of the original while fundamentally changing it at the same time. The original features many artists I admire and enjoy—Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, Kanye—and the choir supporting the featured artists adds so many amazing layers, harmonies and rich depth to an already multi-faceted song. In The original alternates between instrument-supported vocals and bare voice-only moments through raps or sung lyrics, which reflects some of the struggle in the lyrics—looking for more, seeking faith in something and someone while not feeling safe, prayers going unanswered. The interplay between the voices and instruments represents this same tension and exists in both versions. However, with fewer voices and less instrumentation, the cover underscores the hopelessness of the singers’ plight while the original bears a message shared by countless others and conveys a sense of community and shared struggle. I think both versions carry a deeply resonant message that makes you want to hope but mostly just leaves you haunted.
“When I Grow Up” – Ryan Callihan, Analytics Consultant
Why it’s great: The covers that really stick with me are composed of two things: 1) one favorite artist covers another favorite artist, and 2) when the juxtaposition between styles of the artists breathes a whole new life and perspective into the song. My favorite example of this is First Aid Kit’s cover of Fever Ray’s “When I Grow Up”. Swedish sisters (who do American folk better than most American folk artists, IMO) cover the odd, but wonderful, electronic might of Fever Ray (a.k.a. Karin Dreijer of The Knife). I loved the original, as I love the synths, the percussion and the whimsical nature of Karin Dreijer’s lyrics. But, in First Aid Kit’s version, they somehow transform a set of seemingly nonsensical lyrics from the original version into a beautiful, soulful harmony about coming of age and doing what you love in life (all my interpretation, of course). This song always reminds me to keep the ‘cucumbers off my eyes’ and actively push forward in life. Other stunning First Aid Kit covers include “Running Up that Hill” (Kate Bush), “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” (Fleet Foxes) and “Dancing Barefoot” (Patti Smith).
Original: Leonard Cohen (1984) Cover: Jeff Buckley (1994)
- “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
Original: Bonnie Raitt (1991) Cover: Bon Iver (2011)
Original: Tame Impala (2015)
Cover: St. Paul and the Broken Bones (2020)
Original: The Beatles (1968) Cover: Doves (2002)
- “Here Comes the Sun”
Original: The Beatles (1969) Cover: Nina Simone (1971)
- “Black Beatles”
Original: Rae Sremmurd (2016) Cover: The Mayries (2017)
- “Dancing on My Own”
Original: Robyn (2010) Cover: Calum Scott (2016)
- “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”
Original: The Proclaimers (1987) Cover: Keith McInally (2016)