New takes on old songs give an old dance a new twist

Every so often, when someone tries to compare something, the phrase “it’s the same, but different” pops up.

Alex "Q" Bieler, assistant sports editor

I rarely like such a description. It doesn’t truly say anything about the subject matter. However, one notable exception exists: covers.

Cover songs fit “the same, but different” expression amazingly well. The song is the exact same in base nature, but the difference can range anywhere from merely the performing band to a certain set of lyrics to an entirely new experience.

For example, one time when I was preparing the playlist for my show, Catch 20-Q, on 90.5 WERG in the station’s jock lounge, I played some various covers for whatever members of the Prime Time Sports Guys when they were free, challenging them to guess the origin of the song.

About 80-some seconds into Paul Anka’s big band version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Everett Wensel’s eyes shot open à la Uma Thurman post-adrenaline shot in “Pulp Fiction.” He began flailing his arms until he could finally verbalize the title of the song, pumping his fist in glee when he recognized his success.

That’s part of the reason I love covers so much – they’re a new twist on an old dance. Even the extremely faithful takes on old songs, like 95 percent of all “Creep” covers, give an old song a breath of fresh air.

When a band takes a tune in an entirely new direction, well, that’s when something truly electric happens.

The same, but different. The Punch Brothers cover of Radiohead’s “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box”? Bluegrass meets electronic isolationism.

Owen Pallett’s take on Bloc Party’s “This Modern Love”? The same feel of the song, but with a looped violin and vocal patterns.

The Polyphonic Spree playing Nirvana’s “Lithium”? Well, who knew Nirvana could be so much fun?

Like the Spree cover, some takes are meant to be just that – fun. Others act as a tribute of sorts, often leading to full albums in honor of the original band.

Then there are the versions that put a whole new twist on a song, like Obadiah Parker’s take on Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” Wouldn’t have guessed that what was once such a bright, catchy song could make shaking Polaroid pictures sound so sad.

I find covers so captivating, I’ve decided to devote all three hours of Catch 20-Q this Thursday to them. I figure that if anyone asks about the upcoming episode, I can just say that it will be the same, but different.

I think that should about cover it.

ALEX BIELER

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