In the early days of commercially released records, it was not so much the artist performing the song that drove the industry, as it was the song itself. Music publishers, and song writers, would seek artists to perform their work. Anyone that paid royalties to the writer and publishing house could perform the material. Many singers could “cover” a song, and rival versions of the same tune would sit side by side on record store shelves. If one artist had a hit with a particular song, other record labels would try to cash in on the success by having their artists do a rendition. That practice faded as more singers, and bands, wrote their own material, and music publishers began giving performers exclusive rights to songs.
Today a “cover” is an alternate version of a previously recorded song, by a new artist. Covers no longer compete side by side, but sometimes there is still very little time between versions. The song “Baby One More Time” which was first recorded by Britney Spears in 1998, has been covered twenty-eight times in the past ten years. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most covered song is “Yesterday” originally recored by the Beatles in 1965. It has been claimed, but never verified that there are over 3,000 different recordings of “Yesterday” .
Along with cover songs, there is a related phenomena of cover bands. There are two different types of cover bands. Type one is sometimes called a “wedding” or “bar band”, and they are not usually commercially recognized. They will play at different local functions, performing a variety of popular music from various decades. Sometimes these bands will play all of their material in a specific genre of music, regardless of the genre of the original.
The second type is called a “tribute band”, which focuses only on one particularly popular band. Often tribute bands try to emulate the look and style of the original band’s performance, making them a stark contrast to artists that performs an individual cover song. A Beatles tribute band will likely attempt to make themselves seem as much like the Beatles as possible, to recreate the concert experience. A pop-band, such as U2, simply covering a Beatles’ song will try to put their own spin on it. Tribute bands are an odd curiosity in the overall process of pop-culture recycling because of how abundant they are, with very little commercial viability. Only occasionally does a tribute band find mainstream success, like a group called the A-Teens in 2001, that produced all covers of the 1970’s group, Abba. Tribute bands will also cross musical genre’s, such as the blue-grass band Hayseed Dixie that does covers of the hard rock group AC/DC.
I will not be devoting much time to covers and tribute bands, but they deserve a mention, and a spotlight of recognition on a website highlighting the recycling of pop-culture.