Thou shalt not steal is an important commandment. But thou shalt not covet a song? Well. . .there is no commandment saying we can’t COVER a song. Which may explain why some of country’s biggest hits are eerily familiar. In the past few years, artists have not only reached into the country archives, but also cherry-picked songs from the Top 40 charts across other genres. The results: pure magic.
Like Carrie Underwood’s recent single, “I Told You So.” Originally sung by Randy Travis in 1988, the song asks the question, “Suppose I called you up tonight, and told you that I loved you. And suppose I said I want to come back home. And suppose I cried and said I think I’ve finally learned my lesson…Would you say ‘I told you so’?” Travis, who wrote and sang the single, initially tried to shop it to other crooners. However, reviews praised Travis’ vocals explaining that his raspy tenor made the song touching and believable, and the country music community agreed, making his version go Number 1 on the charts. In Underwood’s version, critics applauded her strong, unwavering voice in the verses but felt the vocals overpowered the chorus, making it just another song and not a plea for love, acceptance and understanding. Radio listeners begged to differ, and Underwood’s cover made the Top 10 on charts. The two versions are like night and day; the differences that stand out are exactly the ones the critics harped on. Travis sings this song simply, while Carrie’s bravado makes her song a production. Emotionally, Travis’ is more resigned, while Underwood’s is desperate and yearning. The two teamed up for the duet in March of 2009, and it seems that opposites do attract— listeners that is. Their duet went Number 1 on the Country charts shortly after being debuted.
Brian McKnight's single
Another interesting cover was taken from what might be country’s polar opposite genre—R&B. Brian McKnight wrote “Back At One” for his 1999 album of the same name. His smooth voice carried the song to Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts that year. Shortly after, Mark Wills — a country singer with hits like “19-Somethin’” and “I Do (Cherish You)”— covered McKnight’s hit. His country-twanged version of the R&B hit also made it big, also climbing to Number 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles Chart. When compared to McKnight’s version one would expect stark differences. But to the contrary, the two sound eerily similar. Unfortunately, a unique country spin on such a great song was not delivered so the cover is nearly a carbon copy of the original. This case of coveting a hit was certainly a miss in terms of originality and creativity, no matter what the charts show.
However, that cannot be said of Rascal Flatts’ hit with their version of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway.” Originally recorded for the Pixar movie Cars, country radio stations began playing this cover as an album cut. Surprisingly, the song cracked the Top 10 on the US Hot 100 Chart despite never being released as an official single. Cochrane’s version is vocally less remarkable so Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox brings something extra, not only with his remarkable voice but with his wide vocal range and upbeat tempo. When Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney’s smooth voices chime in, the harmony of this award-winning group surpasses all others. Also noteworthy
"Cars"-the reason for recording
is the group’s original spin on instrumentation which was used for TV specials in 2007. In fact, this cover was such a success for the band that it was added as a bonus track for the release of their album, Me and My Gang, in addition to being included on their Greatest Hit Volume One compilation. Already a grossly successful country group, Rascal Flatts’ cover showed their penchant for upbeat, fun tempos with strong vocals and even stronger harmonies.
They say imitation is the greatast form of flattery. Whether you steal a fashion look or cover a song, it’s important to think about how you can make the original your own. While some of these country artists simply rehash the past with little spunk or creativity, others demonstrate true artistry in molding these existing masterpieces into something magical.