I’ve been thinking a lot about covers recently.
I have a sort of tradition — that started probably when I was in junior high — of giving my dad a mix tape for Father’s Day. There was a span of many, many years where I did not continue the tradition, but a few years ago I started it back up and have made a mix cd every year. So, for Christmas this year, my dad made me a mix cd of cover songs, which I thought was pretty cool.
So that got me thinking about covers and I know I’ve got tons. Not just covers that appear on albums, but b-sides and then countless tribute albums. I couldn’t help but start thinking about a sequel to send in response. The mark of a good cover song is how well the artist adapts the source material to their own style while still staying true to the original. A straight repeat of the original isn’t interesting, nor is the punk version when the punk version is just a sped up version of the original. A truly great cover can stand on its own without needing to reference the original song.
As I was sorting through my hundreds of covers (narrowed down to a collection of about 80 that I don’t really know what to do with now…I’ll probably make a 2-cd mix for my dad’s birthday in February, but that will leave about 50 tracks behind…), I stumbled on this Charlie Feathers track. At first, I did a double-take — Folsom Prison Blues? Was Johnny Cash’s version actually a cover? No, in fact it’s Charlie Feathers — a relatively obscure (at least these days) rockabilly artist who influenced bands like The Cramps, The 5, 6, 7, 8’s and The Stray Cats — covering Johnny Cash. My timelines in my head got all skewed because, though they did perform around the same periods, Charlie Feathers was first, so this must’ve been recorded sort of later in his career. Anyway, it’s a great track, and a total reimagining of Johnny Cash’s classic in which he “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”[audio:rsotd11.mp3]