February 22 is the traditional day for cover songs. These can be fun, but they can also be a lot of stress. It’s bad enough when I’m murdering my own compositions, but I worry a bit when I’m committing attempted murder on someone else’s.
It’s natural to want to sing or play a song you like, and with somewhere between 15 and 30 tracks being posted every day, there’s bound to be something catchy. But this is where my philosophy on covers potentially comes into conflict with the spirit of the community.
In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, there’s no point in doing a cover if you don’t have a substantially new vision for the work. A good cover version can illustrate the hidden depth and beauty that the original might not have captured. Or it will put an entirely new spin on things.
One of my favorite examples of a great cover song isn’t really even a cover song – it’s just a different version by the same band. Everlong, by Foo Fighters, is one of my favorite songs ever. I loved the original, but when I heard the acoustic version for the first time, it revealed how insanely good it really is.
- Villa Greenleaf Preservation Society Pure Moods 1:25
- Villa Greenleaf Community Orchestra (Pure Moods Cover) Ray Toler 2:10
So we come to the problem I have with the 22nd. There are a lot of great songs, but in many cases I don’t hear something I could do that wouldn’t essentially just be redoing the same song, just with my voice or my preferred instrument (typically keyboards instead of guitars), and I don’t really see the point of that. I’d rather just let the original artist know that I really like their song in a comment.
Don’t Delete It!
I had a few candidates this year, but threw out all but one for various reasons, either because the original wasn’t something I felt I had the sound, voice, or talent for, but most commonly because I didn’t have anything new to bring to them.
Opening up a fresh project, I started work on my cover around 8 pm. Four hours later, I referenced the original to see if I’d gotten a chord change correct, and realized that I had just tarted it up without doing anything significantly different. It was more guitar-driven and mine was a lot more electronic and dancy, but I hadn’t really done much more than overproduce it.
On top of that, I wasn’t really enjoying myself. It felt like drudge work. This isn’t saying anything bad about the song (I like it a lot), just that I wasn’t having fun doing it, and that’s really anathema to the point of this month. I do this because I love it, not because I have to.
So it’s midnight and I don’t really want to finish this track. I came close to a select-all, delete moment, but under fear of the wrath of my wife, saved it and put it aside instead. But now what? Write my own song for the 22nd and skip cover day? Find something else? Yeah, let’s scroll quickly and find something else.
I don’t know what drew me to Villa Greenleaf Preservation Society. It’s got a couple of things working against it. First, it’s by Pure Moods, who always posts insanely good-sounding stuff. So, I’m already getting a magic marker out to improve the Mona Lisa. Second, it’s a short, quirky, electronic instrumental thing – a ditty or a noodle. How can I make a full track out of this?
Ok, I need to do something, so if it’s electronic let’s go acoustic. My first thought was a piano piece, but I didn’t think I could stretch that without it being boring and without drums. But you know what? Acoustic doesn’t have to mean small. An orchestra is all acoustic instruments. What if…
And here we are.
It’s not every day you can post a 2 minute song and say you lengthened the original by 100%. The original opens up with a sound wash, so I used a big tremolo swell in the strings. Originally I just had a measure of silence before bringing in the main theme with pizzicato strings, but the gong was in my head, and it ended up being perfect.
Arranging was remarkably straightforward. I created the plucked theme, then played in the lower riff. Then I added basic drums. I then copied both of the riffs to various other tracks, adjusting for harmonies, doubling, octaves, etc. All of the typical stuff you do for an orchestral arrangement, moving the theme around the sections.
I wasn’t methodical in this, and the results sort of show it. There’s not a cohesive approach, it’s just a little random feeling. Once I had the basics fleshed out, I then went back and started adding some of the longer chords, the big horn section near the end (which I termed “Pirates!!” on that section’s marker because it felt like one of those old sea battle movies), and more percussion.
Everything was 90% there when I went to bed around 2 am. Getting up the next morning, I added even more percussion, mixed it, and posted. Later in the afternoon, I listened to it with fresh ears and couldn’t believe I’d posted it in that state. The drums were insanely loud, it was muddy as hell, and just sounded bad in general. So I did a quick 15 minute remix and it’s now in the state you hear it, which is an order of magnitude better than what it was.
This ended up being fun, and I hope it’s well-received. I have no idea what the Villa Greenleaf Preservation Society may be, but figured they must also have a community orchestra, so I made a minor tweak with the title.
Moving forward, I think I’ll only be doing cover songs if there’s one that speaks to me, rather than out of a feeling of obligation. My past efforts have been spotty at best, with my ideas typically way beyond my abilities. It’s ok if I phone it in on one of my pieces, but I feel a strong desire to do really good work on a cover, and there’s just not enough time to do it right.
Never say never, though…
- Orchestra: Spitfire Albion One
- Additional Percussion: Spitfire Percussion