Better than the Original or not? We want you to be the judge as you pursue our picks of some cover, remakes and do-overs of some great movies and music.
Feeling Good was originally a song from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd, but it can't come even a little bit close to Nina Simone's exhilarating rendition, which I heard for the first time on this reaction video. You can stream it on Freegal or listen on cd.
Another Nina Simone cover which is better than the English language original is the bone-chilling Pirate Jenny. The original is from the 1930 German Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht, sung by Lotte Lenya. The English translation also featured Lotte Lenya, but the song became more well-known by folk singers like Judy Collins, which was the first version I heard. You can stream Nina Simone's cover on Alexander Street.
I didn't know Mad World was an original song by Tears for Fears, when I first heard it sung on American Idol by Adam Lambert. But the best version in my opinion is the one by Gary Jules from the Donnie Darko movie soundtrack. You can stream it on Freegal.
I rarely watch remakes of movies, since they're almost never as good as the original. But one of the greatest and funniest movies ever, Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, turns out to be a remake of a forgotten 1935 French film, Fanfare of Love (Fanfare d'Amour), later remade as a German movie in 1951, Fanfaren der Liebe. Those movies aren't even available to watch, but there's no doubt in my mind that the remake is better.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is the American remake of the French movie, Purple Noon (Plein Soleil), both adaptations of Patricia Highsmith's novel. The original is great, but the American version doesn't cop out with a moralistic ending. You can stream the original on Kanopy.
The White Stripes' Elephant contains a cover of I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself that blows Dusty Springfield's version away. Jack White's vocals have more emotion and his electric guitar sounds amazing.
Big props to Fleetwood Mac for giving us Black Magic Woman, which can be found on The Pious Bird of Good Omen, but I prefer Santana's Black Magic Woman. The conga drums, organ, and Carlos Santana's guitar makes it my preferred Black Magic Woman. It can be found on Santana's Greatest Hits.
As someone who has loved and appreciated the breadth and depth of all the music created by David Bowie for at least 35 years of my life, it's hard for me to say that any cover could be better than his originals. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Let All the Children Boogie: A Tribute to David Bowie when it first came out after his death in 2016. Listening to the album again now, I'm struck by how beautifully the various artists interpret his songs while keeping his genius and essence firmly in place. Not only is it a wonderful hommage, it's also a perfect introduction for families and children, put together by some of the best Children's Music artists around today. Compare these adaptations to the original works of Bowie, available through our library catalog and Freegal. And, get ready to boogie!
Turning it around the other way is a mix of popular, 2000's-era artists covering Children's Music favorites, Muppets: The Green Album. I was surprised at how well these rock and alternative (and metalcore!) versions of some of my childhood favorites paired with Let All the Children Boogie. Bowie's playfulness matches the romp and sweetness of the Muppets and both albums offer surprising new renditions that are well worth the listen. Great for adults who know next to nothing about (and those who love) the Muppets.
It is a difficult feat to improve on the polish and production of a Drake track, but Paramore’s cover of “Passionfruit” is perfection. Proving furthermore that there is hardly a song or style that the vocal ability of Hayley Williams cannot handle, her slowed-down version of the dance hit “Don’t Stop Now” gives Dua Lipa a run for her money.
While it is quite common for a musical artist to cover another artist’s song, it is unusual for one to remake an entire album of songs. Such a work is Angelique Kidjo’s song-by-song remake of Talking Heads’ album Remain in Light..The original Talking Heads album, Talking Heads album, produced by Brian Eno, exhibited the marked influence of African pop music and funk. The resulting 1980 tour by the Talking Heads saw the original quartet augmented by many other great musicians who were able to tackle the complex polyrhythms in celebratory fashion. Kidjo, who is from Benin West Africa, dials up the African sound to the max and delivers an album that brings the Talking Heads opus into the 21st century.
You can see the Talking Heads big band performing some of the songs from Remain in Light, including the hit Once in a Lifetime, in Jonathan Demme’s concert film Stop Making Sense. It also includes the great cover version of Soul Music & Gospel Music legend Al Green’s Take Me to the River.
Little Shop of Horrors (1960) started as a B movie by Roger Corman. It was filmed on a tiny budget in just 2 days. This black comedy about a meat eating plant that must be fed became a cult favorite at midnight shows in the 60s and 70s. In 1982 Howard Ashman adapted the movie into an off Broadway musical with composer Alan Menken. (The Ashman/Menken team later won 2 Oscars for best songs in the Disney films Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.) Ashman wrote the screenplay for the 1986 Little Shop of Horrors movie that was directed by Frank Oz and starred Rick Moranis and Ellen Greenein lead roles, plus Steve Martin, John Candy and Bill Murray. The voice of the mature meat-eating, talking and singing plant Audrey II was performed by Levi Stubbs of the Motown group Four Tops.
Easy Star All-Stars is a reggae band that works with A-list reggae vocalists to create reggae versions of classic rock concept albums. So far, they have done Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (which they call Dub Side of the Moon,) OK Computer by Radiohead (Radiodread), Michael Jackson's Thriller (Thrillah) and the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band.) It is a kick to hear these albums in a new way.
(The library has CD copies of all but the Thriller cover Thrillah which is available through Freegal.)
I am not afraid of movies with subtitles and sometimes even watch films in other languages from other countries, imagine that. In fact, one of my favorites was the film MOSTLY MARTHA (in German) about a chef, so I was interested when it was remade in America as NO RESERVATIONS with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, and Abigail Breslin. I liked both versions, but perhaps it is a little like the great debate of watching a movie after reading the book (the book is almost always better- right?). So in this case, like a book, I think I liked the German original a little bit better.
Similarly, I watched the French film THE INTOUCHABLES based on an interesting true story of friendship between a man and his caregiver. I have not yet been able to bring myself to watch the recent American translated remake, THE UPSIDE with Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston. I was surprised how much I liked the original film, and will brave a comparison between the two soon.
Finally, I wanted to share the interesting cover music of THE STRING QUARTET'S TRIBUTES. Take a listen to James Taylor's YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND, then if you like, check out some of their other cover tributes including U2, Pink Floyd, and Bob Dylan.
Well this was a lot of fun researching! I found some covers that I didn’t realize were covers, like Black Magic Woman, I had no idea Fleetwood Mac created that song (see RL's picks). In addition to Santana’s cover of that song, we have Patti Smith’s cover Van Morrison’s Gloria, Janis Joplin’s cover of Roger Miller’s Me and Bobby McGee, and my last suggestion, which is so much fun to listen to, Aretha Franklin covering Otis Redding’s song Respect.
Trent Reznor was at first flattered but reluctant at the idea of Johnny Cash covering his song, but then after watching the video…he had a change of mind.
“I pop the video in, and wow... Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps... 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 windsup reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning – different, but every bit as pure.”
Seeing different artistic interpretations of the same material illuminates the work itself in a different way, sometimes it re-energizes and updates it.
One of the most famous, and for me revelatory, covers is Roberta Flack's extraordinary recording of British folk singer Peggy Seeger's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. The original is simple and charming. Flack also takes a simple approach, she's accompanied by a piano and bass, but, playing with the tempo and feeling, the song becomes almost overwhelming in its emotional force. Flack's influence can be heard in many of the subsequent covers, such as this one by Celine Dion.
Isaac Hayes' Oscar winning Theme from Shaft remains one of the great film songs and film openings of all time. It's amazing that it's been covered so many times. While, the original remains unmatched Jazz Trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's driving cover is a great experience of its own, showcasing Ferguson's exceptional range.
One of the greatest series of film remakes has to be A Star is Born. The original story has been remade numerous times and each of the five films is memorable in its own way.
What Price Hollywood? directed by George Cukor (who would later direct a remake of this story) is the 1932 movie that first dealt with the story of a young actress on the rise being lead into Hollywood by a fading (and alcoholic) director. This movie is complicated by another relationship between the actress and a dashing leading man who drives a wedge between the actress and her director.
A Star is Born (1937) is clearly inspired by What Price...but also was inspired by director/writer William Wellman's friendship with actress Barbara Stanwyck and her husband Frank Fay. It stars Janet Gaynor as the rising actress and Fredric March as the alcoholic leading man. Besides being the first in a series of remakes, the film is notable for Gaynor and March's moving performances and being a very early example of technicolor. (A Star is Born is also available on Overdrive).
A Star is Born (1954) directed by George Cukor, is famous for being the film Judy Garland lost an Oscar for (to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl) while she was in the hospital giving birth. This is the first musical version of the film as Garland's leading lady sings and acts. James Mason is also exceptional as Norman Maine.
A Star is Born (1976) directed by Frank Pierson updated the story to the music industry with Barbra Streisand playing the up and coming star and Kris Kristofferson as the self destructive star who falls in love and gives her a break. While this version did receive mixed reviews, it also completely dominated the Golden Globe awards that year and somewhat helped shape the more acclaimed future remake.
A Star is Born (2018) the latest remake with actor Bradley Cooper making his directing debut and Lady Gaga making her feature film debut with great results. The movie keeps the 1976 music angle but manages to retain the powerful heartbreak of the original story and continue a great tradition of remakes.
I can't say for sure if Richard Cheese's covers of songs are better than the originals but we all owe it to ourselves to take a listen to him. In the style of a swanky lounge singer, Cheese covers such hits as Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher," Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia," Radiohead's "Creep," Madonna's "Material Girl," and much, much more. Perhaps the greatest of these covers is his mind-bending (no, really) version of Disturbed's "Down with the Sickness" which movie fans will recognize as being featured in 2004's remake of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. See what I did there?
Movies & Music - Question of the Week
Big Mountain’s 1994 reggae cover of “Baby, I Love Your Way” by Peter Frampton was included in the soundtrack for this film.
There's Something About Mary0
Last Week's Trivia Answer: "1999" by Prince