Roxanne Tellier – Popping the Top off Covers


Music’s a funny thing; sometimes a song will hide in the grooves of an album, unloved and unwanted, until someone uncovers the gem and makes it their own. A struggling songwriter may dream of the day that a megastar covers their work; in the right hands, a number one hit can make the writer a fortune in publishing.

dazed and confusedUnless, of course, you’re Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, or Jake Holmes, whose song “Dazed and Confused” went uncredited until 2010. In a bit of stunning irony, Led Zeppelin, notorious for stealing songs from obscure sources and sampling other people’s music, were nominated for the 2014 Rock and Roll Songwriters Hall of Fame. Relax – they didn’t get inducted.

2 live crew caseOn the other hand, the writer may not want to give permission to a performer whose work they dislike, or when they feel their song might be damaged by a new interpretation. There was an interesting case recently involving 2 Live Crew‘s rap recording “Pretty Woman,” a raunchy re-write of Roy Orbison’sOh, Pretty Woman.”

“The US Supreme Court case of Campbell v. Acuff-Rose held that parody can also be fair use, in which case the parodist need not obtain permission from or pay royalties to the original work’s copyright holder.  Interestingly, 2 Live Crew first sought permission from the copyright owner, Acuff-Rose, and offered to pay royalties, but was rebuffed.  2 Live Crew’s recording wound up selling nearly a quarter of a million copies and Acuff-Rose sued for copyright infringement. “You can read more about the case here.

bieber losing pantsWhat makes a hit song, anyway? Is it the singer or the song? The genre, the performance, or maybe just the times in which it’s released?  And why can some artists release a song that’s greeted with disdain, only to have that song hit the charts when covered by another artist?

The first time I heard Dirty Loops cover Bieber’s ‘Baby,’ I was blown away.  The trio had taken a bit of junk pop and somehow remade it into a glorious work of sonic art. I still don’t like the song itself, but their musicianship elevated the earworm.

One of the catchiest tunes of 2014 was Meghan Trainor’sAll About That Bass.” Cute – but I prefer this jazz cover from PostModern Jukebox featuring Kate Davis on upright bass

And if you can bear to hear Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” just one more time … this is a nice alternative.

When I was a kid, I was a major Monkees fan … loved their songs (primarily written by songwriters-for-hire) and had all the albums. “Take A Giant Step,” written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, was the B-side to the “Last Train to Clarksville” single, and was on their debut album. It was a good little ‘proto-psych’ track, but I never really gave it much attention until it was covered by Taj Mahal in 1969.

boehner obamaNeil Young is an amazing songwriter. But some people cannot bear to hear his voice.  (Boehner feels the same way about Obama.) 

Luckily, everyone from Smashing Pumpkins to Roxy Music, Patti Smith, Radiohead and more, has covered his tunes. What would happen if Charles Bradley, with his  1970s funky soul sound and staccato horns of the Menahan Street Band, sang Young’s classic, “Heart of Gold”?  This ….

Neil-Diamond 12GreatestNeil Diamond started his  career in the sixties as just another hack in the Brill Building, but his songs for Jay and the Americans, and four huge hits for The Monkees – including “I’m A Believer,” – made him a lot of money and fame. As a performer, he had eleven Number One hits, has sold over 125 million records worldwide, and is one of the world’s best selling artists of all time. So – lotta covers.    

This Urge Overkill cover was featured in Pulp Fiction, and gave Diamond some real street cred.

Red Red Wine,” a song about drowning one’s sorrows in drink, was released by Diamond in 1968, and peaked at #62 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1988, British reggae/pop band UB40 grooved the song to number one on the same chart.

Eric Clapton took Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff “ to Number One in 1974. Years later, son  Ziggy Marley flavoured The CarsDrive” with reggae sauce, and his version was used in the 2004 film 50 First Dates. The film’s soundtrack is mostly covers of hits of the 80’s, done reggae or ska style by everyone from Ziggy to Jason Mraz.

mambo maniaMy husband and I had a short-lived cover band we called Mambo Jimi that began as a fusion of Jimi Hendrix songs with Latin grooves, and then moved on to latinizing hit pop tunes.  (mambo mania.jpg)

The Corrs tackled Jimi as well, but had a little more success than we did.

elvis hound dogSome covers are so iconic that they not only eclipse the originals, but begin to be thought of AS the original. Joe Cocker owned The BeatlesWith A Little Help From My Friends,” Jose Feliciano brought a whole new audience to The Doors  with his version of “Light My Fire,” Whitney Houston’s cover eclipsed Dolly Parton’s previous minor country hit “I Will Always Love You,” and Elvis Presley gave Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” the world’s attention. 

One of the oddest and most unlikely covers in recent years was Johnny Cash’s stark “Hurt.” Originally by Nine Inch Nails, Cash’s version was painful to listen to, but to date, 69.3 million viewers have watched the video, and it won the 2003 Best Video of the year at the Grammy and CMA Awards, as well as Best Video of All Time by NME in July 2011.

Diodes redIn the ‘80’s, Punk and New Wave artists loved to take great songs of the past decades and remake them in their own image. The Canadian pop punk group, The Diodes, had a hit with a song Paul Simon wrote, “Red Rubber Ball, a hit for The Cyrkle in 1966. They claimed they chose the song as a response to Simon’s very vocal disapproval of punk rock music.  

The Talking Heads reworked Al Green’s 1974 soulful release “Take me To The River” in 1978. And they weren’t the only ones.

river ukulele

David Byrne gave a little insight into the tunes and times with this from the liner notes for Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads: “Coincidence or conspiracy? There were at least four cover versions of this song out at the same time: Foghat, Bryan Ferry, Levon Helm, and us. More money for Mr Green’s full gospel tabernacle church, I suppose. A song that combines teenage lust with baptism. Not equates, you understand, but throws them in the same stew, at least. A potent blend. All praise the mighty spurtin’ Jesus.” 

Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall paid vocal homage to Teddy Pendergrass, lead vocalist of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, when he covered the 1972 hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”  Pendergrass was paralyzed from the chest down after being severely injured in a car accident in 1982. Simply Red shot to Number One in 1989 with their version.

pat boone metal moodMost musicians begin their careers covering their favourite performers – it’s how we learn, meet others with similar tastes, and we begin to define where our interests and talents lie. Some choose one artist, and specialize in sounding, and sometimes looking, like their idols, in clone or tribute bands. And then there’s the odd major musical misstep. Trying to mine a genre for easy money can really backfire on a guy at times …  

Yep, from “Love Letters in the Sand” to “Smoke on the Water” in one swell foop …

Last one, I promise. I can’t decide if this is meant to be funny, or if Radiohead’s Thom Yorke just can’t help himself, as he channels what sounds like a drunken Carly Simon stumbling through “Nobody Does It Better.” I don’t think he even has the words right at some points.

Wasn’t that fun? And I’ve still got lots more of the weird and wonderful to unveil. Stay tuned for Part Two in the near future. 


Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

Contact us at

DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.

The Bobcast

4 Responses to “Roxanne Tellier – Popping the Top off Covers”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Roxy, you rock!!

  2. Robert Johnson stole from previous songsters such as Lonnie Johnson. “Borrowing” has a long history in the blues genre. Muddy “borrowed” whole verses from Robert Johnson and claimed them as his own. It’s nothing new.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: