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In popular music, a cover version, or simply cover, is a new performance or recording of a previously recorded, commercially released song or popular song. It can sometimes have a pejorative meaning implying that the original recording should be regarded as the definitive or "authentic" version, and all others merely lesser competitors, alternatives or tributes (no matter how popular). However, Billboard and other magazines recording the popularity of the musical artists and hit tunes originally measured the sales success of the published tune, not just recordings of it or, later, the airplay that it achieved, in which case the greater the number of cover versions the more successful the song. Contemporary versions of older tunes such as "Who's Sorry Now?", "Blue Moon", "I Fought the Law, "Twist and Shout" and "Not Fade Away" have been often used to position well-known music between less familiar "originals".

Modern cover versions

Cover versions of many popular songs have been recorded, sometimes with a radically different style, sometimes virtually indistinguishable from the original. For example, José Feliciano's version of "Light My Fire" (recorded after the original had disappeared from sales charts) was distinct from The Doors' version.

A song may be covered into another language. For example, in the 1930s, a recording of Isle of Capri in Spanish, by Osvaldo Fresedo and singer Roberto Ray, is known. Falco's 1982 German-language hit "Der Kommissar" was covered in English by After the Fire, although the German title was retained. The English version, which was not a direct translation of Falco's original but retained much of its spirit, reached the Top 5 on the US charts. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" evolved over several decades and versions from a 1939 Zulu a cappella song. Many of singer Laura Branigan's 1980s hits were English-language remakes of songs already successful in Europe, for the American record market. Numerable English-language covers exist of "99 Luftballons" by German singer Nena (notably one by punk band Goldfinger), one having been recorded by Nena herself following the success of her original German version. "Popcorn", a song which was originally completely instrumental, has had lyrics added in at least six different languages in various covers. During the heyday of Cantopop in Hong Kong in the late 1970s to early 1990s, many hits were covers of English and Japanese titles that have gained international fame but with localised lyrics (sometimes multiple sets of lyrics sung to the same tune), and critics often chide the music industry of shorting the tune-composing process.

Although modern cover versions are often produced for artistic reasons, some aspects of the disingenuous spirit of early cover versions remain. In the album-buying heyday of the 1970s, albums of sound-alike covers were created, commonly released to fill bargain bins in the music section of supermarkets and even specialized music stores, where uninformed customers might easily confuse them with original recordings. The packaging of such discs was often intentionally confusing, combining the name of the original artist in large letters with a tiny disclaimer like as originally sung by or as made popular by. More recently, albums such as the Kidz Bop series of compact discs, featuring versions of contemporary songs sung by children, have sold successfully.

Organized crime, or unscrupulous labels, have been known to release original recordings in other markets, without payment of royalties to the writers or artists; these unauthorized releases could not be properly termed "cover" recordings.[citation needed]

Updating older songs

Cover versions (as the term is now used) are often contemporary versions of familiar songs. For example "Singin' in the Rain" was originally introduced in the film The Hollywood Revue of 1929. The famous Gene Kelly version was a revision that brought it up to date for a 1950s Hollywood musical, and was used in the 1952 film Singin' in the Rain. In 1978, it was covered by French singer Sheila accompanied by the B. Devotion group, as a disco song, once more updating it to suit the musical taste of the era. During the disco era there was a brief trend of taking well known songs and recording them in the disco style. More recently "Singin' In the Rain" has been covered and remixed by British act Mint Royale for a television commercial for Volkswagen. Another example of this, from a different angle, is the tune "Blueberry Hill", many mistakenly believe the Fats Domino 1956 release to be the original recording and artist. In fact, it was originally introduced on film by Gene Autry and popularised on the record Hit Parade of 1940 by Glenn Miller. The Fats Domino rock and roll version is the only one that might currently get widespread airplay on most media - due, no doubt, to the still prevailing prejudice against non-beat music artists or styles. Similarly, "Unchained Melody" was originally performed by Todd Duncan, featured in the 1955 film Unchained (based on the non-fiction story Prisoners are People by Kenyon J. Scudder); Al Hibbler having the biggest number of worldwide record sales for the vocal version with Jimmy Young's cover version rival outdoing this in the UK,[16] Les Baxter's Orchestra gaining the big instrumentalist sales, reaching the US Hit Parade number one spot in May 1955,[17] but The Righteous Brothers' later version (top five on the US Hit Parade of September 1965[18] stalling at number 14 in the UK in August) is by far the wider known version, and especially so following its appearance in the 1990 film Ghost.

Director Baz Luhrmann has contemporised and stylised older songs for use in his films. New or cover versions such as John Paul Young's "Love Is in the Air" occur in Strictly Ballroom, Candi Staton's "Young Hearts Run Free" appear in Romeo + Juliet, and adaptations of artists such as Nat King Cole, Nirvana, Kiss, Elton John, Thelma Houston, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, T. Rex, David Bowie, Queen and The Police are used in Moulin Rouge! The covers are carefully designed to fit into the structure of each film and suit the taste of the intended audience.
[edit] Introduction of new artists

New artists are often introduced to the record buying public with performances of well known, "safe" songs as evidenced in American Idol and its counterparts in other countries. It is also a means by which the public can more easily concentrate upon the new performer without the need to judge the quality of the songwriting skills.

However, some new artists have chosen to radically rework a popular song to exemplify their approach and philosophy to music. Prime examples include Joe Cocker's soul reworking of The Beatles' originally-jaunty "With a Little Help from My Friends", the band Devo's radical reconstruction of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", or Marilyn Manson's version of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". Many musicians have other goals, such as to create publicity as in Sid Vicious' notorious version of "My Way", or to personalize a song, such as Johnny Cash reworking Nine Inch Nails's "Hurt" to a devastating acoustic version that reflected upon his ill state (Cash died less than a year after the release of the album on which the song appears).

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