Saturday, July 14, 2012

When is a cover not a cover?

Picture the scene. A popular song-writing duo writes a song for another band, who have been struggling to get into the charts. That song is released and does quite well. Then, only three weeks after the song is released the guys who wrote the song release their own version of it, although only as an album track.

Well all this happened in 1963. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote I Wanna Be Your Man in the corner of the Rolling Stones’ studio, and the Stones went on to record it.

I wanna be a top 20 single, baby.

It was released on 1st of November, 1963, reached number 12 and was the Stones’ first top 20 single. But only three weeks later it appeared on the Beatles’ second album, sung (mainly) by Ringo Starr.

I wanna be your cover, baby.

Given the simplicity of the song, and the general music of the time, they are different versions, and both bands bring their own flavour to it. The Rolling Stones make it sound like a Rolling Stones song, and The Beatles make it sound like a Beatles song. For the most part this is an important aspect to a cover. If a band can make it sound like they wrote the song, then it has in some way succeeded.

I’ve never much cared for the Rolling Stones, though. I like Paint It Black, mainly because I loved Tour Of Duty, the 80s Vietnam TV series which used that as its theme song. And so their version of I Wanna Be Your Man, being one that sounds so much like a song they might write, doesn’t really do it for me. The slidey guitar thing they do, the fact that it’s slightly slower and Mick’s voice all add up to something that simply doesn’t appeal to me.

The Beatles version, on the other hand, seems brighter, and boppier. It seems like he does, actually, wanna be her man. It’s easily my preferred version.

It’s interesting to me that the chords are slightly different between the two versions. The Beatles version stays on the same chord throughout the whole verse, whereas the Stones version alternates between two chords. I wonder which way it was originally written and I wonder who changed it for their version and why.

But the big question is: which version is the cover? Usually the band who first releases a song gets the right to call it the “original” recording. And as I have discussed in other posts, that original recording comes with certain responsibilities. It is the version that all other versions are compared to. The definitive version. But if someone writes a song but gives it to someone else, do they also hand over the right to claim the “original” tag?

Quite simply, yes. The original version of I Wanna Be Your Man is the Rolling Stones version, regardless of who wrote it. The Beatles version is the cover. So it is completely coincidental that it is also the superior version.


  1. Its a bit like China Girl, originally written by Bowie and Iggypop in Berlin and release on Iggy's The Idiot (Bowie on keyboards and backin vocals).

    Six years later Bowie recorded the more famous version for the highly commercial Lets Dance. Is it a cover? In a sense yes, especially as six years is a lot longer than three weeks but the material was as much his as Iggy's.

    Incidentally the video clip was filmed in Sydney's Chinatown except for the mildly nudy bits which were filmed on a beach...

  2. I'll have to hunt that down. I can't imagine that as an Iggy song. Heard another good example today. Queen recorded 'Too much love will kill you' when Freddie was very ill sand as trying to record as many vocals as possible before he died. Then, after he died, Brian May (Queen's guitarist got those of you playing at home) released a solo album which featured his version of that sing as a single. Then, after THAT, the surviving members off Queen got together and recorded all the songs that Freddie had done vocals for, including that one. It's a cheesy sing either way,but the Freddie one is much better not only because he's a much better singer but it also has that sadness attached to it.