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April 20, 2009

A cover song that's better than the original

I think the best covers give you a new appreciation for the original songs.

I've always liked Blondie's "Heart of Glass," probably because I like disco funk. But I never paid too much attention to the lyrics, until I heard this cover. It's by a Charlottesville-based Americana group called Old School Freight Train.

Take a couple of minutes and watch this music video. The best part comes about 3:40 minutes into it.

I actually went back and re-read the lyrics to "Heart of Glass" after watching the video. Old School Freight Train tweaks them just a bit:

Once I had a love and it was divine
Soon found out I was losing my mind
It seemed like the real thing but I was so blind
So much mistrust, love's gone behind


Lost inside
Adorable illusion and I cannot hide
I'm the one you're using
please don't push me aside

Not bad, Debbie Harry. Not bad.

Old School Freight Train's cover kind of reminds me of Iron and Wine's cover of "Such Great Heights" by the Postal Service. They both slow down and pare down the originals. As a result, the covers have an ethereal, cinematic quality to them.

And I love the video of the Civil War re-enactment. Well done, all around. Thanks to Amywoo for the tip.

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:16 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Random stuff


This was enjoyable, but better than the original? C'mon, Sam! The original is a perfect pop song. I don't think it can be improved upon.

Aztec Camera did a great version of Van Halen's "Jump" back in the 80's.

Is this Ben Harper?? Such warm Americana...

Richard Thompson does a hilariously earnest version of "Oops I Did It Again"

Andy, I agree that the original is a shining example of late 70s disco. But I also think that when a cover gives you a new interpretation/appreciation for the original song, that puts it into a category where you can say better without really taking credit away from the original.

How can you even think of not mentioning Devo's version of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction???

I read that Mick actually prefers it over the his original.

Davie Bowie did a version of "Let's Spend the Night Together" that takes the song somewhere than Mick & the lads, like being on speed.

If you are going to do a cover, low-key seems to be the way to go. The only times when people can ever make a convincing argument that a remake is better than the original is when it is slow and emotional.

I am thinking of Johnny Cash's Hurt. Hrm.

All covers Nirvana did during their unplugged session are better than originals......namely Lake of Fire.

Worst. Blondie. Cover. Ever. It does sound a bit like Ben Harper & Sam Beam teaming up to cover this.

The original version of this song (which can be seen at had a reggae-ish feel to it, but producer Mike Chapman gave it the disco treatment, which ignited a not insignificant amount of controversy for New Wavers Blondie.

I always preferred The Cowboy Junkies version of Sweet Jane more than Lou Reed's.

Scissor Sisters does a wicked cover of "Comfortably Numb". Where the original is a sad song about a guy who lost his mind on psychedelics, the driving electro-disco beat in the cover makes it about rolling in a club. Either way, the "numbness" is still present, just repurposed.

Also, The Gourds cover of "Gin & Juice" brings west coast G-funk to the Appalachians.

"Ghost of Tom Joad" covered by Rage Against the Machine (orginal by some guy named Bruce Springsteen??)

Anyone into punk covers should check out the band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. They've made a career out of covering songs. A few of my favorites:

"Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks
"Country Roads" by John Denver

I love covers where they keep the lyrics but change the tune. Sarah Dougher does this best with the Eagles "Take It to the Limit" (sadly, no link to offer).

This is a great cover. But the original is so good...

The Ataris - Boys of Summer, it's a true harmonic cover, only changes one lyric, great song.

Anything by this guy.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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