Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pat Boone Syndrome

From CounterPunch:

But Pat Boone Syndrome is not as simple as just covering another artist's song. Many, many artists have done great things with other people's music, giving new perspectives or new emotions, creating interpretations that add to what the song has to say. Pat Boone Syndrome has none of these endearing qualities. Artists that suffer from this ailment perform songs in a way that is safer than their original versions and less complicated, adding nothing to the content of the song.

More here.

It's late and after a very busy dinner shift at work, I'm tired, not much blogging energy tonight. But the above excerpted essay did catch my attention recently, and it's definitely worth a few words.

Any rock music fan who came of age in the 70s or 80s very probably has or once had a bias against so-called "cover" songs. You know, one artist doing a song originally popularized by another artist. The music industry's reassertion of creative control over its acts in recent years, and its accompanying sense of music-as-product, has very likely blunted such a bias for people under thirty or so, but, once upon a time, the only real rock bands out there were the ones who wrote and performed their own songs. Fuck you, Whitney Houston wailing out your shitty version of an only so-so Dolly Parton tune. Fuck you, early 90s piece-of-shit techno no-name band who covered 10cc's classic "I'm Not In Love." Fuck you boy bands. Fuck you shrill divas. Fuck all of you who aren't capable of writing songs, which is where the real creativity is.

Of course, my personal exploration of jazz over the years has made this attitude, for me, impossible to maintain. All the jazz greats were, and still are, into interpreting songs. "Duke's Place" done by Duke Ellington is great, and waaay different from the same tune, also great, performed by Louis Armstrong with Duke on piano, or even Duke's earlier version of the song, also great, called "C Jam Blues." All great, all unique statements of musical art, all the same song. The anti-cover bias simply cannot exist in jazz; it misses the point entirely.

Nonetheless, there are some rock covers that continue to be worthy of scorn and derision. Pat Boone's cover of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" is a case in point.

Here, check out the original:

Now check out what Pat Boone did with it:

But, like I was saying, it's not covering a song that's the bad idea here: rather, it's covering somebody else's song for all the wrong reasons; it's failing to interpret the song. When an artist plays somebody else's tune and succeeds, however, it's like magic.

Another case in point. The Rolling Stone's "Satisfaction." Check it out:

Contrasted with Devo's radical departure:

I'm still a bit disturbed, thirty years after first hearing it, by how far Devo takes it. But hey, that's fucking powerful. That's art.