The Craft Of The Cover Essay

2605 words - 10 pages

There is nothing new under the sun. This could be considered to be the unofficial credo of the Postmodern movement, and it wouldn’t be an inaccurate statement to make. There are few universal themes; the pursuit of love, the satisfaction found in hard work, the youthful struggle against the status quo, the hatred of oppression and control being among those most often quoted, and there are only so many ways to package and repackage these messages in a fashion readymade for public consumption. Pop culture is like a melting pot for these ideas. It is a cultural stew brimming with themes and Grand Narratives. And yet the Postmodernists scorn the idea that there can be new themes discovered, and new modes of presenting those themes in a perfect, complete way. This struggle to discover new ways of revealing truth to the public has caused artists throughout history to turn to cover songs. And this use of covers has become emblematic of the Postmodern philosophy, whether due to the stagnation of the creativity of young artists, or the nostalgia with which Postmodernists view the past.
A cover song is a song that is played by an artist other than the original creator. If I were to start a band and play “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple, I would be covering their song. Performances of old hymnals and American spiritual folk tunes like “House of the Rising Sun” and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” are all covers, simply played by artists as a means of connecting with their audience through mutually well known songs. In the 1950s and 60s, however, the purpose of covers began to change. Record companies began having artists rerecord songs, “for the purposes of disseminating it among a broader or different section of the record-buying public from that of the original [audience]. At this time many international popular music hits were in fact cover versions by established white performers of songs originally recorded by black artists on small regional labels” (Marks and Witmer). Still, this began to change as artists began covering not obscure songs by cult artists, but mainstream hits (John Lennon’s cover of “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King is an example of this). And as this shift towards the prominence of the song exceeding the prominence of the performing artist occurred, the modern ideal of a cover came into being.
But why? Why are cover songs such universal things, and why do artists continue to perform songs written countless years before? Besides the obvious explanations of the odd tribute and for the sheer joy of performing these songs, one can turn to this Postmodernist idea; that there is nothing new to be created, only old ideas to be rehashed. Of course an argument could be made as to the use of covers as cultural capital. In Paul Dimaggio’s article on cultural capital, we learn that, “… cultural capital refers only to those cultural resources that are, first, institutionalized and, second, broadly understood to be prestigious” (Dimaggio...

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