That ever-whipped deceased mare of a musical institution. The premise of the ironic cover is simply this: “Look at us!”
These songs have been around since the Classical Age, when the Roman poet Catullus would end a set of propulsive set of odes with a cover of Plato’s Apology. Reviews were mixed.
What is an ironic cover? It’s a song that has been drastically re-imagined by someone far out of its original genre, such as a metal band playing a sappy love song, or a milquetoast singer-songwriter covering a Sex Pistols song. By placing the song in an entirely new light, the artist might be attempting to communicate a real passion for the original tune but more often than not, they’re just trying to look clever and multifaceted.
In the 90s, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, a punk supergroup made up of members of groups like NOFX and Lagwagon, elevated the ironic cover into cult status with their album Have a Ball, which included punked-out covers of cheese purveyors such as Neil Diamond, John Denver and Barry Manilow. See- they were sweet songs, but sung by punks!
The album wasn’t just ironically massive- it had a commercial undertow that pulled the weight of the music industry back from the beach of creative songwriting and into the murky depths of sarcastic reinvention. It soon became an overdone cliche- an artist’s clumsy, ham-fisted stab at suggesting there’s more there than meets the eye, with that eye then winking to let you know that it’s all just a joke. “Lookit us! We’re punks/metalheads, but we’re singing a sweet song! We’re edgy, but lovable!”
The ironic cover jumped the shark ages ago, but its obituary has been reiterated time and again with obnoxious Hampton Inn television spots featuring jaunty ironic covers over montages of perky consultants reveling in hotel lobbies and breakfast bars. If ever there was a reason to stay at Motel 6, it is this ad campaign.
That all being said, there are scores of ironically-rendered cover songs that are clever, fun and that inspire a new respect for the song or artist. Here are my favorites
10. Supersuckers- “Hey Ya!” (covering OutKast)
Supersuckers, the self-proclaimed “Greatest Rock Band of All Time” completely devastate this OutKast cover, staying pretty close to the original song’s vibe and tempo while infusing it with the authenticity of a bar band.
9. Soul Asylum- “Rhinestone Cowboy” (covering Glen Campbell)
This live show favorite by Minneapolis’ second favorite sons (next to The Replacements) is a tongue-in-cheek, fun-loving number that goes over so well because the band knows how to have fun with it. They don’t take it seriously and you shouldn’t either. It shows just how good the original song really is.
8.Bobaflex- Sound of Silence (covering Simon & Garfunkel)
On their latest album, these West Virginia melodic metalheads flex their inner Garfunkels with a bang-on, balls out cover of this classic ballad. This makes the list because it avoids going cartoonishly heavy and stays pretty close to the original song, injecting just the right amount of heaviness to retain the song’s sincerity.
7. Mary Lou Lord- Jump (covering Van Halen)
Mary Lou Lord is one of Boston’s songwriting treasures and on this Van Halen cover, she brings a gorgeous, wistful spirit to this MTV classic. Breezy acoustic rhythms wash over an easy, honey-sweet lead with just enough organ to make you feel like you’re back in the golden days of FM radio, vans and beach parties.
6. Steve Poltz- Waterfalls (covering TLC)
Poltz, an acoustic dynamo, so thoroughly re-imagined this cover that many audiences who were unfamiliar with the original assumed it to be his own song. Initially rendering it during live shows as a smokin’ hot rocker with his band The Rugburns, he continued performing it solo and eventually released it on his killer album Chinese Vacation.
5. Clem Snide- Beautiful (covering Christina Aguilera)
Of this list, none exemplify the shamelessness of the ironic cover like this one, yet it is such a toe-tapping foot rhythmic blast that it had to be included. Christina would approve.
4. Travis- Hit Me Baby (covering Britney Spears)
Travis are a fun, Glaswegian pop band who have enough hits that they don’t need to prove to anyone that they don’t need to draw attention to their music. Sugary harmonies and lilting acoustic ripples elevate this to bona fide status.
3. Cake- I Will Survive (covering Gloria Gaynor)
This one caught people by its weirdness. Cake frontman John McCrea’s spoken word approach to singing made this one of the most unique covers of the 90s, although Gloria Gaynor, who made the song famous, dismisses it as her least favorite take on the song. Still, it’s musically inventive and catchy as hell.
2. Marilyn Manson- Sweet Dreams (covering The Eurythmics)
Ohio’s Brian Warner, aka “Marilyn Manson” turned this cover into a commercial supernova, pushing him into the mainstream with this garish, metallic cover of the old Eurythmics hit. A creepy video cemented this version into our cultural consciousness, inducing nightmares in thousands of small children who should have been in bed instead of watching MTV so late.
1. The Gourds- Gin and Juice (covering Snoop Doggy Dogg)
Ironic or not, this is the best cover ever. Fact.