Cover Bands

September 4, 2006

The discussion between Andrew and Polly about cover bands (and why they’re hated) has really got me thinking.

Writing a good song is really, really hard. Walking into any original music venue in Melbourne will tell you that. While I’ve got all the respect in the world for bands getting out there and plying their trade, most of their songs suck. The bands I’ve been involved with are just as guilty of this as anyone else.

So why wouldn’t you start a cover band? The hardest part of starting a band is writing songs, so why not draw on the collected efforts of every songwriter who has gone before you? You could say that it’s the difference between being a musician and an artist, but who would deny the artistry of Johnny Cash, Miles Davis or the multitude of other great artists who have made great careers out of (at least in part) performing the songs of others?

Most successful bands get around their average songwriting by being entertaining. I don’t think that U2 have ever written a really great song. U2 became popular by working hard and having a really good live show; not by being great songwriters. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Most successful bands are in the same boat. Many of them have written one great song that got them noticed, but their continued success is due to hard work and providing entertainment.

This is why most bands fail. They’re just plain boring, or they just don’t work hard enough. Again, I’ll put up my hand and admit I’m guilty of this, too. I guess a bad band is just a bad band, but a bad band playing good songs is better than a bad band playing average songs when you’re trying to sell bourbon and coke.

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7 Responses to “Cover Bands”

  1. rob said

    So my personal problem with cover bands is that they spew out dull and inane songs that appeal to the lowest common denominator. I can guarantee that if you were to head out to a Irish O’Reilly’s tonight, you’d be checking out some band of gell-haired dudes in printed t-shirts and designer ripped jeans performing a set list including the likes of brown-eyed girl, small things, jessy’s girl, mustang sally etc.

    So what’s wrong with that? Well I’ve heard these songs a bizzillion times before, and for me personally I don’t know what you can get out of seeing such bland renditions of repeated-till-death songs coming out of jackson guitars and $4000 digital amps.

    There’s no character or soul, or any room for musical expression or innovation, if you’re just playing songs as close as possible to the studio reproduction of “Triple M’s Best Beer Drinking Songs Volume 2”, to appease the crowd. You might as well chuck on the CD over the P.A.

    That crowd isn’t usually made up of music enthusiasts. It’s made up of people who think music is “ok”. I mean, I think everybody likes music to an extent: but there are some people who are into music, who go out and seek new things that stray from the proven formula and that may not be catchy on first listen, but may turn out to be one of your favorite albums of all time; and some who can’t be bothered with something different, and think of music more as background noise that’s nice to shake your arse to whilst pissed and trying to pick up.

    So I wouldn’t call myself an authority on music, but I don’t pretend to know what a good wine is like – but I like wine with dinner some times. I don’t go to gallerys and be moved so much by a painting that I cry – but I like seeing exhibitions sometimes. I’m not really into sports – so anybody could out-whit me in any sporting related conversation. People are into different things. Other people know heaps of stuff that I don’t know about in their particular area of interest (or “passion”), and they’re willing to devote a lot more time to these areas.

    A cover band is fine if you’re not really into music. But for me, I appreciate original bands that haul their gear around week-in week-out just to make a lousy $20 at the end of the night. They’re busting a gut because they believe in their own music. It might not be slick, but they make up for it with soul, desperation, passion and losing their shit in the moment.

    If you set out on a night of original bands, maybe every band that night might not do anything for you. But occasionally you’ll find something new and exciting that inspires you to write better music yourself and makes you thankful that you didn’t give up on original music. I’ve seen lost of shit bands in Melbourne but I’ve seen some awesome shit too that I would never have seen if I didn’t bother to seek it out.

  2. rob said

    Sorry, just some thoughts as to why they’re hated (I think I just went into why they’re liked by some). Rock and Roll like other arts likes the starving artist/no selling out idea (eg. people suffering for their art, staying true to their self over making cash). And I guess I also subscribe to this.

    The way I can best describe it is the Beckham hair-cut. Lots of dudes in offices wear it because they can do the a little bit out-there bad-boy thing – you can gell it up on weekends, but still change it into a nice hair-part come Monday morning. That way your grandma and your boss like it, but you also think you look like a badarse at Icon on Saturday night.

    Rock and Roll is about fuck your grandma and fuck your boss (although I think my grandma liked our cd – my dad likes it too), and not wanting some haircut cause it’s accepted by the mainstream. I think that cover bands are the beckham-haircut of live music. You can rock but you can still get guranteed cash. It isn’t really the music you want to play, but the I’m still playing. In my opinion it’s not the full sandwich.

    Maybe I’m wrong in instances where a guitarist NEVER gets sick of playing Brown Eyed Girl. I know if I did it week in week out for 2 years, I’d wanna cut my head off, but that’s me.

    Same goes for venues that support original music. Sure you’ll make more money if you get some pokies in, sell $7 pints and have a cover band in on weekends to lure everybody from Wantirna South out. But (most) the people who run original music venues are choosing to do it for more idealistic reasons in my opinion, rather than for the dinero. And fuck it, there’s enough breadheads in this world already, I really respect those going out on a limb.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to make money out of music, I just think it’s better to do your thing first, and if it pays off, then excellent.

  3. Bowie said

    I have no problem with Johnny Cash, or anyone else who basically sang other people’s songs (John Farnham, Tom Jones, Sinatra). They do them well. They pepper their shows with originals.

    Even a band that played 50% covers and 50% originals wouldn’t bother me too much.

    Even the dudes in the corner playing acoustics at the local Irish aren’t so bad as long as they’re quiet.

    I hate the professional pub cover band you see so much of in Melbourne. The cover band that play “all the hits” and that are a drawcard in themselves. I hate the market that creates that. Only play what you’ve already heard.

    A really good song is just an average to OK song played enough to become familiar to enough people.

    Maybe I’d respect a coverband who just played the good indie Melbourne band tracks.

  4. neilmoog said

    “She got the way move me, cherry……….She got the way to groove me….Cherry baby..”

  5. hayso said

    I really agree with Rob, and I’d like to add that alot of these “saturday night rock gods” are ex original musos who either couldn’t take the heat of not making money at every gig or realised they were too crap to write a good song, or maybe even failed at their idol audition.

    I like to think of myself as a musician who is starving for his art, but in reality I have a good paying job and don’t need to rely on making money from gigs (thats not why we do it) if I did I would be so fucked cos we hardly ever play gigs for some reason. So i think some ppl who are in cover bands are using this as a job to pay for their docklands condo…or their cans of baked beans. Some of them I assume probably have an original side project and this is a way of funding that band.

    A major problem I have with these bands is the fact that pretty much anyone can do it, it’s not hard to download the tablature and play along to the cd to learn the song…the next week they are playing it onstage while the band that wrote it are yet to step on australian soil.

    The sheep that follow these bands are worse the bands themselves, I’ve spoken to a guy from a cover band who said they had groupies…I really don’t know what to say about these types of people. But again these people aren’t looking music themselves or for something good, they are being told by the radio and tv which cd they should purchase next. Pussy Cat Dolls…

  6. gretagumbo said

    I think you poor closed minded people are pretty pathetic. How sad this world would be without Joe Cockers’ interpretation of “With A Little Help From My Friends”. And how about the reworking of that old Tears for Fears song “Mad Mad World”. The new cover version is so far superior to the original as to be laughable. I love hearing someone else’s interpretation, someone else’s ears. And if you think I don’t mean every single word of “I Can’t Tell You Why” then you are more than a little arrogant.
    From a 57 year old woman who still has an open mind.

  7. Bowie said

    greta, you’re comparing Joe Cocker (and Tom Jones and John Farnham) to a bunch of sad musicians whose job it is to play random pop songs badly in the back of pubs. These bands aren’t interpreting. They’re not crafting. They’re not tributing. They’re juke boxes.

    You appear to have completely missed the point.

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