Every video has an equal and opposite reaction video

I’m not a big fan of reaction videos as a genre, but Glamour‘s second-order reaction video series You Sang My Song is an exception. A star watches YouTube1 covers of their hits, and then the people who made each cover watches the reaction video of the star watching their cover. The stars sometimes get genuinely excited. The YouTubers are often genuinely verklempt.2

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Sucking on a chili dog

One thing about cover songs is that there are a lot of weird edge cases. And so people ask What does your account say about… some oddity that they have in mind. For example: What does your account say about Tom McGovern’s video where he plays John Melloncamp’s “Jack and Diane” but replaces the usual lyrics with permutations of the phrase “suckin’ on a chili dog”?

The answer is a bit convoluted.

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Why I don’t give a definition of “cover”, Christmas in October edition

In a remembrance of his friend Rob Aldridge, Rick Beato recounts being in a band with him. They were playing Christmas songs in a bar. The proprietor interrupted their set and said that he thought they were going to play covers.

Aldridge replied, “What are you talking about? We didn’t write these songs!”

Unamused, the proprietor paid them for the gig on the condition that they stop playing immediately.

a donkey with a harp

Write “whim” on the lintels

Last month on Twitter, Helen De Cruz asked what the motivation is to work up an idea into a paper or book, rather than letting them remain as musings, scribbled notes, or blog posts.

My initial answer, “Whim.” I added, “Not in a fleeting sense, though. There are some papers that I just find myself writing, and I guess those are the ones.”

The thing I currently find myself writing is a book on the philosophy of cover songs, tentatively titled Philosophy of Cover Songs. Although there’s a path that got me to this point, there is no real deliberation in it. The alternatives would be either to struggle to write something else (and so get less written) or to wander off to some other activity (and so write nothing).

Hey, mister banjo

Some people have argued that the phenomenon of cover songs is inexorably bound up with racism— white musicians lifting black music. For example, Don McClean wrote that “A ‘cover’ version of a song is a racist tool.” I don’t think so. Here’s part of what I say in a current draft…

…although covers were sometimes used as racist tools, racism is not intrinsic to the concept of a cover as such. As Michael Coyle puts it, crossover covering of R&B hits by white artists “exploited racist inequality but did not arise because of it.” The word cover originally had a sense of coverage which was not in itself tied to race, and covers in that sense continued.

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Same words, different meaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about cover versions lately. A cover is typically the same song as the original version. Even if the words are changed a little, the broader meaning is the same. An example I’ve used before is Willie Nelson’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” Where Simon sings about “a girl from New York City”, Nelson makes it “a girl from Austin Texas.”

Yet there are also cases in which the very same lyrics can mean something different, because of a change in who sings them. Consider some examples.

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