Monday Mixtape # 12: Breathing New Meaning into Old Songs

This week’s Monday Mixtape is brought to you by Tori Egherman of Arseh Sevom , a great organization that brings out important and well researched stories and reports about the state of Iranian civil society. I very much recommend that you visit their site and like their facebook . When I asked Tori to send us her favorite songs she in face sent us a list she dubbed: Breathing New Meaning into Old Songs: Covers I Love

A good friend of mine was visiting me in Amsterdam some years ago and everywhere we went we heard one lifeless version of a great tune after another.  Finally fed up, she turned to me and said, “How do they do that? How do they take a great song and suck all the soul out of it?”

This post features covers by artists who have so re-imagined the originals that they are transformed and surprising with the soul firmly in place. I’ll begin with the cover I’ve got on endless repeat right now: Hit ‘Em Up Style from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Their version is picked clean, sharper than the original, and infused with righteous anger:

In case you forgot the original made popular by Blu Cantrell, it’s here:

When Leonard Cohen sings I’m Your Man, I think, “He’s my man. Yeah mine… someone I can depend on through thick and thin.” When Nick Cave
sings it though — well, that’s something else. It’s erotic and explicit, sweaty and visceral. It makes my heart palpitate and my mouth water. I love you, Leonard Cohen, but it’s Nick Cave I want.

Leonard Cohen’s original is here:

Like many people who were young in the 80s, I am a huge Clash fan. I saw them live in the Aragon ballroom in Chicago sometime or another
before they stopped touring. There were no seats, and we danced with a kind of rage and energy that was powerful and fresh. When I listen to
them now, their songs sound surprisingly mild and melodic. Nouvelle Vague has done some breathtaking covers of the Clash (Guns of Brixton
comes to mind: and Lily Allen’s version of Straight to Hell deserves a good listen, but in the spirit of the times, I want to highlight  Rachid Taha’s version
of Rock the Casbah. It just seems like great timing for a rebirth of this song, and Rachid Taha really brings it home.

(Listen to the original here:

My final recommendation for today is Ramblin’ Man from the Residents. It wasn’t until I listened to the Residents perform the Hank Williams classic that I understood just how dark the original really was. It can be found here: Listen to both… isn’t it clear the ramblin man just killed his girlfriend and buried her in the
woods? Or am I crazy?

I hope to be invited back to the Mezrab Blog because I’ve got a lot of covers to cover. I hope you, dear readers, will introduce me to even more. Leave your suggestions in the comments section, and make sure they’re dark and gritty.

3 thoughts on “Monday Mixtape # 12: Breathing New Meaning into Old Songs

  1. Here are some favorite covers of mine that sound very different from the original:

    Sugarland, Little Big Town & Jake Owen, “Life in a Northern Town”
    Jonathan Coulton, “Baby Got Back”
    Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run” (live acoustic off of his Chimes of Freedom EP — a complete reworking of the song that really alters the original meaning/spirit of the song)
    Metallica, “Turn the Page”
    Dar Williams, “Comfortably Numb”
    Colin Hay, “Down Under” (last track off of Man @ Work album, which is a complete reworking of many hits from his Men at Work days)
    Fountains of Wayne, “… Baby One More Time”
    Ben Folds, “In Between Days”
    Barenaked Ladies, “Fight the Power”

    1. On second thought, scratch the BNL song at the end. While I enjoy it, I’m also an incredibly biased fan of BNL and therefore that particular recommendation is not as strong as the others.

    2. Of these, Turn the Page is the only one I’ve heard (so far..) I often listen to Bob Seeger’s and Metallica’s versions in in a row (and over and over again). Look for comments tomorrow after I’ve listened to all the suggestions.

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