top tunes original

Illustration by Harley Turso

By Jake Rivera

Everyone has had the experience where they’ve loved a certain song for a long time and then suddenly a new artist releases a cover of that song. Covers have the potential to be great, but if they are not as good as the original then they will fail miserably. Sometimes, even both versions are just too good to turn down.

When comparing a cover song to its original, something to consider is where sound technology was when the original recording was made and where it is at the current moment of the cover. Most covers try to be as reminiscent of the original version as possible, but sometimes modernization completely takes over. Still, that doesn’t necessarily stop the new version from being enjoyable.

This week, I will be reviewing my top five favorite covers of previous hits, at least one of which has proven to outshine its predecessor.

  1. “OPEN ARMS” – Mariah Carey – Daydream, 1995 (Originally by Journey, 1982)

This top entry is actually thanks in part to Cape Cod Community College’s (4Cs) Professor Jerry Skelley for playing this in my Music Appreciation class in early 2017. The number two-peaking original became the biggest hit of Journey’s career, even bigger than “Don’t Stop Believin’”, albeit not as well-known. The Mariah version was arranged one key higher than the original, with more addictive singing and more prominent drumming. I knew the minute Professor Skelley first played the track that I was ready to welcome it with…well, you know.

  1. “DANCING QUEEN” – Cher – Dancing Queen, 2018 (Originally by ABBA, 1976)

As much respect as I have for the music of ABBA, their original No. 1 smash hit holds nothing over this fantastic cover. After coming off of a role in the movie “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”, the entertainment icon took it upon herself to record an entire album of ABBA covers. The instrumental is virtually identical to its source material, as if producer Mark Taylor found the ABBA instrumental online and lowered the pitch by one level. Cher’s singing, however, definitely serves the song better than that of ABBA. If “Believe” did not make Cher a dancing queen, this one recording absolutely does.

  1. “AFRICA” – Weezer – Weezer: The Teal Album, 2018 (Originally by Toto, 1982)

Weezer’s ability to make dreams come true helped the band achieve their biggest hit in years, as their cover of “Africa” became a Number one alternative hit and reached moderate pop success, 36 years after the Toto original became the pop smash that it was. Other than being one key lower and using modern keyboard work, the sound barely differs from the original.

  1. “ENDLESS LOVE” – Luther Vandross & Mariah Carey – Songs, 1994 (Originally by Diana Ross & Lionel Richie, 1981)

I discovered the original “Endless Love” from a Time Life advertisement and my subsequent research led to discovering this cover. After the Oscar-nominated original became a number one smash hit in the early 80s, the 1994 cover peaked at number two.

  1. “A GROOVY KIND OF LOVE” – Phil Collins – BUSTER Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1988 (Originally by The Mindbenders, 1965)

The 1960s, in which the movie “BUSTER” takes place, encompassed most of Collins’ adolescent/teen years, and those well-researched know how much influence that decade had on his craft. The Collins remake of “A Groovy Kind of Love” went to number one, besting the original by The Mindbenders, which peaked at number two. Phil Collins’ other single from “BUSTER”, the Oscar-nominated “Two Hearts”, also went to number one in 1988.

These are some of my personal favorite cover songs and I hope it will inspire people to give these songs a chance. Just because a song is a cover, that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a great, unique song all on its own.