May 2017 Assignment
One way to explore your own songwriting is to do it on the back of another songwriter. In reinterpreting a familiar cover song, you stretch your skills at writing lyrics and melodies and reveal to yourself aspects of your perspective and influences. And you’ve added a cool new song to your repertoire.
The goal of most cover bands is note-for-note duplication. For this exercise, reinvent the song in a way that is distinctively yours. Slow it down, speed it up, replace the rhythm, change some words or melodic lines. Reinventing a familiar song may help you to see how different interpretations of your originals could sound.
In the examples below compare the originals with later versions of the songs. What was changed and what did the change do to the song? What is communicated in the cover that isn’t said in the original? Is the cover distinctive?
Listen to the original.
“The Sounds of Silence” by Paul Simon. Simon & Garfunkel on “Wednesday Morning 3 a.m.,” 1964
As the story goes, when the duo’s first album failed, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel broke up the group and started working on other projects. Columbia Records thought a poppier electric version of the acoustic folk song might sell. Without telling Simon they brought in producer Tom Wilson to dub drums, bass and electric guitars over the original vocal tracks and released it as a single. Simon was outraged and intended to sue. When the remix became a major international hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, he duo reunited and hastily re-released the new version on the 1966 album, “Sounds of Silence.” Listen to the remix.
“The Sounds of Silence” by Paul Simon. Simon & Garfunkel on “The Sounds of Silence,“1966.
“The Sound of Silence” by Paul Simon. Cover by Disturbed, 2015.
“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, 1970.
“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, 2007.
“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell. Cover by Counting Crows, 2009
Click here for a surprisingly long list of cover songs that were distinctively recorded by The Beatles.
Click here for more cover song tips from DIY Musician.