Opinion: What makes a good cover song?

Monthly posts from the man who sorts the tabs

TG204 (on sale now) features the full tab for Santana's iconic Fleetwood Mac cover 'Black Magic Woman'. Here TG's Music Editor, Chris Bird, sets out his ideas on the formula behind successful covers.

Check out the Chris' favourite cover songs YouTube playlist

I love playing cover versions. Whether you're performing in bands or jamming at home there's satisfaction in mastering a piece of music you love.

TG204 cover star Eddie Van Halen covered The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' on Van Halen's debut album. A couple of issues back we transcribed the supremely awesome Cancer Bats' cover of Beastie Boys' 'Sabotage'. It seems to me a lot of bands do pretty well out of cover versions.

"So what are the ingredients of a decent cover? Is there a set of rules or can you just rip the hell out of any old song?"

So what are the ingredients of a decent cover? Is there a set of rules or can you just rip the hell out of any old song? What makes Hendrix's version of 'All Along The Watchtower' a classic? Ditto Jeff Buckley's 'Hallelujah'? And why do some covers fail to make a lasting impression on the public consciousness? Van Halen's 'Dancing In The Street' and Korn's 'Another Brick In The Wall' are big songs by huge bands, but probably not in most people's lists of top covers.

"The most iconic cover versions tend to be complete re-workings of the originals."

The most iconic cover versions tend to be complete re-workings of the originals. Muse's cover of 'Feeling Good' doesn't bear much resemblance to the original version - it's a re-working. Harmonically, California Guitar Trio's version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is extremely similar to Queen's original, but played on three acoustic guitars it acquires a new life of its own.

Sometimes people say that certain songs shouldn't be covered. Possibly true - I've yet to hear a cover of 'Stairway To Heaven' that stands up to the original. Blues however seems to thrive on cover versions. Santana covered Fleetwood Mac's 'Black Magic Woman' (we've transcribed Santana's cover in TG204) and each version is as iconic as the other.

Check out the Chris' favourite cover songs YouTube playlist

Total Guitar issue 204 (on sale now) features the full tab for Santana's iconic Fleetwood Mac cover 'Black Magic Woman' and part one (of three) of the tab for Van Halen's 'Eruption'.

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