When Covering A Song Doesn't Seem Right

Rick Astley never really gave up anything, until   he was offered the chance to cover Roy Orbison's famous song "Pretty   Woman" for the movie of the same name. i i

hide captionRick Astley never really gave up anything, until he was offered the chance to cover Roy Orbison's famous song "Pretty Woman" for the movie of the same name.

m-alo/flcikr
Rick Astley never really gave up anything, until   he was offered the chance to cover Roy Orbison's famous song "Pretty   Woman" for the movie of the same name.

Rick Astley never really gave up anything, until he was offered the chance to cover Roy Orbison's famous song "Pretty Woman" for the movie of the same name.

m-alo/flcikr

Many of us have fallen in love with a song, only to find out that it's not an original piece of work by our favorite musician. Covers of popular songs from long ago (or even this decade, for that matter) seem to be a dime a dozen at times. And perhaps we agree that the current artist shouldn’t have attempted to do so. I've always found it fascinating as to how — and more so why — a musician would attempt replicate Michael Jackson's signature stylings, or give justice to the Motown sound of The Supremes?

As a means of a tribute? To breathe new life into a classic? The best way to break into the mainstream? (Note: The Ataris had me fooled in high school with their cover of Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer").

I find the whole process even more amusing when I listen to a cover of a song without hearing the original version. Case in point: last month, I went to one of the local concert venues here in D.C. to check out Aloe Blacc.

He's a young singer from Southern California, channeling the old soul vibes like a few other artists in years past, like Sharon Jones or Bettye LaVette. I gave his record, Good Things, a few spins, and read online that track number 7 on the record, "Femme Fatale" is actually a take on the Velvet Underground classic.

If you know the original, check out the sultry, soulful, brass-filled version:

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Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise, as were the covers of Michael Jackson and Hall and Oates that Aloe performed that night.

Ok, but here's another question — have you ever heard of an artist refusing to cover a famous song?

According to an interview with The Guardian, Rick Astley (of "Never Gonna Give You Up" fame), turned down the opportunity to cover a very well-known song — Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman." Let that sink in for a second.

YouTube

Astley says he was offered the chance in the late 80s when the film Pretty Woman was in production. At the time, he didn't care much for the premise of the movie ("I thought: a billionaire that meets a hooker? That'll send him over the edge."). But what mattered more was respect for a fellow musician:

In retrospect, the only thing that's made it comfortable for me is that nobody else covered it, because it's a family favourite, that movie. My daughter's 18 but she used to love it. We go to America quite a lot and when we come back and we've got jet lag, that's one of the movies my wife and daughter put on in the middle of the night. The kettle goes on and so does Pretty Woman.

I'm a person who tries not to have regrets. OK, I could have sung that song but it could have been detrimental to me in a bizarre way. No other artist did it; they can't just have offered it to me, they must have offered it to others too. There's some songs you can cover, and I've covered and butchered a few, but you can't do them all.

There are infinite moments in the arts and entertainment where I stand back and have a surreal experience, truly taking to heart what performers will say as a reflection on their career. This is one of those moments. Think about it — how different would the world of music be if musicians took time to ask themselves "Why should I do it?"

With that said, what song did an artist cover that you could have lived without hearing?

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