Luke Furman writes a lot about hip-hop, he switched it up and wrote about awful folk covers.
I have never been one to care for song covers. Unless the song in question is a certified standard within the genre, the original performer almost always records the superior version, with only a few notable exceptions. However, what’s even worse than an average cover is a folk cover.
Musical acts ranging from Rage Against the Machine to Green Day have covered songs from folk’s golden age of the ‘60s and ‘70s. However, with these more modern bands so far removed from the issues prevalent at the time these songs were penned — Vietnam, high racial tension, and corrupt politicians — their covers lose the topical bite that made the originals so poignant.
For example, Counting Crows’ 2002 cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic 1970 environmentalist anthem “Big Yellow Taxi” removed all the charm and charisma of the original, favoring a more pop-rock approach with synthesized drums. Part of the appeal of folk music is its stripped down instrumentals and intimacy between the listener and the singer or the singer’s message. When you take away that trust in favor of commercial appeal, it’s almost as if you’re rendering the message hollow.
In another instance, The Lemonheads bastardized Simon and Garfunkel’s timeless “Mrs. Robinson” into a Radio Disney-friendly electric jam far removed from the subtle, nuanced original that was portrayed in the context of a somewhat tragic affair. Even though the rendition came out 24 years after the original, the heavy drum beats and palm-muted guitars feel dated compared to the original’s fresh-sounding acoustic guitars and mixing.
Musical artists need to ask themselves, “Does the world really need another version of this?” Sure, artists may find certain older folk artists as inspirational, but why can’t they just forge their own classics rather than covering those of other people? The Smashing Pumpkins really didn’t need to cover Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” and Stone Temple Pilots were not forced to cover Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days.” But they wanted to.
This is not to say that some folk covers can’t be done well and even exceed the quality of the original. Hardly anyone thinks of the Bob Dylan version of “All Along the Watchtower” when it gets brought up. They think of Hendrix’. And Kurt Cobain’s unplugged performance immediately comes to mind when considering the traditional folk number “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” rather than Lead Belly’s less famous 1944 recording.
But, despite these rare examples, maybe covers of folk classics are best saved for live performances and not the radio, where I don’t need to be reminded of how much I wish I were listening to the original.
Luke Furman is a freshman studying journalism. Email him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @LukeFurmanOU.