Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra in Walter Kaufmann, trans., The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Penguin, 1954), 251.
I like cover songs - not mash-ups or remixes or sampling (although come to think of it I like these for the same reasons) but covers. For one reason or another, they have tremendous power for me. I had trouble articulating why exactly I like the idea of covers so much until I remembered the above passage from Nietzsche.
So what follows is a quick and dirty examination of the function of cover songs:
Now, after that last category, I could accuse the inimitable Johnny Cash of "phoning it in" for the several albums of covers he did at the end of his career, but Cash's project reveals the redemptive power of the cover. Due to Cash's wide-ranging appeal, the video for Cash's "Hurt," for instance, played on all the music video channels, MTV, VH1, and CMT. Now, on CMT, they display the songwriter's name as well as the name of the artist, song, and album, so, for "Hurt," you saw Trent Reznor's name. My thought upon seeing that was: "Hell yes, there are millions of country music fans out there who hate the music I love and they're proud of it, and here they all are, marveling at the work of Nine Inch Nails." That's what I'm talking about when I say redemption, the work of both artists is raised up, if only briefly, from the mediocre morass of popular music by a creative and gifted will.