My favorite covers
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to explain why I love covers and share some of my favorites.
Two Valentine’s Days ago, Frank Ocean released his cover of Moon River. I remember listening to it with my boyfriend in his dorm room, and we were mesmerized. It brought out an emotional response from both of us, and I found myself unable to listen to it again without tearing up.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I want to discuss some of my favorite musical covers. I find there to be something valuable in artists taking an already beloved song and putting a unique twist on it. Covers serve as a lens into artists’ musical inspirations and personal music taste. Additionally, they demonstrate the interconnectedness of music and the subtle links between genres. With all these reasons in mind, I want to share my favorite covers and why I enjoy them time and time again.
Moon River – Frank Ocean (2018)
This song has a long history, and many artists have sung their renditions of it. It was originated with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (back in 1961), and the song’s lyrics speak of wanderlust and a desire to explore the world with somebody else. What I find most impressive is how Frank Ocean puts an almost sixty-year-old song in a modern and fresh context. He’s the perfect artist to do so; he’s no stranger to melancholy and nostalgia. It’s hard for me to pinpoint why this song almost always makes me cry. However, I think one reason may be that his voice sounds so authentic and raw. Even though this song is not his own, he makes it sound like the emotions are. The ethereal sound is another reason why I enjoy this song greatly and find myself returning to it on rainy days or late at night. An aside regarding Frank Ocean covers – he was supposed to be singing Willy Wonka classic Pure Imagination in this Chipotle commercial. Although Fiona Apple sounds beautiful in it, I can only help but wonder what Frank would have sounded like (probably otherworldly in the best possible way). Oh, what could have been. I guess I’m stuck with the Maroon 5 version.
Killing Me Softly With His Song – The Fugees (1996)
This Roberta Flack ’70s classic (which is technically a cover since Lori Lieberman first sang the song a year prior) was rejuvenated in the 90s with the immensely talented Lauryn Hill. My favorite aspect of this song is the vocal harmony present throughout. Hill’s layered vocals sound beautiful and create a sense of soul and conviction behind the words. I also love how the drumming beat present during the chorus evokes a sound that is so distinctly ’90s. The melody of the song is also an earworm, but I’m never mad when this song gets stuck in my head. I’m even humming it as I write this, and I can’t say I’m upset. This song stays on repeat, and I like walking in tandem with the beat on my way to class.
Blue Velvet – Lana Del Rey (2012)
This song was initially sung by Tony Bennett in 1951. I think something distinct about Lana’s version is that it’s not some insanely different version from the source material. Lana’s aesthetic and brand early in her career of mainstream popularity was something of a mid-twentieth-century woman. In her music, she seems both infatuated and disillusioned by her life’s course in many ways. I think this song fits into her discography excellently because it speaks of bygone beauty and nostalgia for a time where she felt truly alive. Lana is another artist who basks in melancholy – she thrives on music where she can reminisce on better days and face a quarter-life crisis in the meantime. Additionally, the deep capabilities of her voice help her to glide through a song traditionally performed by men. I love the musical outro to her version. The orchestra sounds simultaneously gorgeous and sad. The violin follows her lamentation, “I still can see the velvet through my tears,” as if it feels her pain. When I listen to this song, I feel it too.
There are dozens of other covers I enjoy, but these three came to mind as being impactful on my understanding of the power of musical inspiration. It’s always fun to see artists create something new out of a tried and true song. If you enjoy covers like I do, I’d recommend visiting the BBC Radio 1 Youtube Channel and watching their Live Lounge series. They bring along very popular artists who cover some unexpected songs. A fun one that I particularly enjoy for its charisma and character is Harry Styles’ cover of Juice by Lizzo. Enjoy!