Distilled from several years of pop experience, here from the WORST to the BEST are ways to approach a cover version.
The Acoustic Guitar: i.e. “Any good song will sound great on an acoustic guitar”, runs the prized nugget of MOJO wisdom which results in Travis mauling “…Baby One More Time”. Culprits throw up their hands in innocence – “It’s not ironic, it’s a great tune”, not any more it isn’t mate.
The ‘Gary Jules’: When in doubt SLOW IT DOWN. Close relation of above, guaranteed to leech all life, rhythm and joy from a song. Critical banker, though (“Nick Cave’s sensitive reading of Bombalurina’s hit reveals the deep psychic wounds beneath the original’s flimsy pop etc etc.”)
The Atomic Kitten: After a karaoke night you maybe remember a quarter or a third of the performances, whether very good or memorably awful or done by your mates. These are the other ones.
The Jazzy Bit: In the old days jazz singers used to soulfully interpret a classic songbook of standards. Wouldn’t it be great if Jamie Cullum carried on that proud tradition?
The Faithful Tribute: The neutral point of the cover version, as found on every Looking Glass compilation. Lots of well-meaning bands ‘do’ Hendrix, Love, The Smiths etc. and many end up a whole 70% as good as the original!
The Satirical Alteration: Changing the words for comical or other impact. Weird Al the template here but by bending the rules a little we can include the childish and rather shameful fun that comes from hearing TOK singing “She’s a ho-o-o-o-o” over the chorus to “Tarzan Boy”.
The Violent Sodomising: Step forward V/VM and mates. MOR standard stuck in a blender, entertaining but the glee can be rather dampened by the claiming of the resultant racket for art.
The Gay Italian: Simple transcription of hit song to pumping-house-plus-anonymous-diva format, as seen throughout Klone Records back catalogue. The hands-in-air version of “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” is a satisfying act of vengeange.
The D.I.S.C.O.: When disco acts covered songs they did it right – Santa Esmerelda’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and Boney M’s “Heart Of Gold” are proof that no record was ever worsened by the application of sex and glitter.
The Microhouse Pederast: Possibly a ‘guilty pleasure’ – involves foreign producer singing breathily over ravishing glitchscapes, eg. Lassigue Bendthaus on “Jealous Guy”, Justus Kohnke on “Hot Love”. The electronica equivalent of big-eye paintings: deeply creepy but very addictive.
The Pop-Punk: The cover version dilemma boils down to – do you expand a song or compress it? Unless you’re Isaac Hayes the former route ends in tragedy – however playing a song in 90 seconds with melody and hook intact, just done very very fast on cheap guitars, is a total winner.
The Happy Hardcore: As above but i) even faster; ii) tends just to keep one verse and chorus from original, ideally something about sweets, rushing, dreams etc.; iii) embellishes original hook with giant skyscraping synth stabs to the general improvement of humanity.