A cover version of a pop song is a rerecording of that song by a different artist (compare with remake).
From early in the 20th century it was common practice among phonograph record labels that if any company had a record that was a significant commercial success, other record companies would have singers or musicians "cover" the tune by recording a version for their own label in hopes of cashing in on the tune's success.
In the early days of rock and roll, many songs originally recorded by African American rock musicians were rerecorded by white artists, such as Pat Boone, in a more toned down style that lacked the hard edge of rock and roll. These cover versions were considered by some to be more palatable to parents, and white artists were more palatable to programmers at white radio stations.
Over the years, cover versions of many popular songs have been recorded, sometimes with a radically different style, and in other cases the cover version is virtually indistinguishable from the original. For example, Jose Feliciano's version of "Light My Fire" was utterly distinct from the original version by The Doors; but Carl Carlton's 1974 cover of Robert Knight's 1967 hit single song "Everlasting Love" sounds almost identical to the original. Cover versions can also be in different languages; for example, Falco's 1982 German-language hit "Der Kommissar" was covered in English by After the Fire later in the decade, although the German title was retained. The English version, which was not a direct translation of Falco's original but retained much of its spirit, reached the Top 5 on the US charts.
The subgenre of the cover version that existed from the early 1950's to the late 1970's in Louisiana was known as Swamp Pop. Contemporary and classic rock, R&B, and country songs were re-recorded with Cajun preferences in mind. Some lyrics were translated to French, and some were recorded with traditional Cajun instrumentation. Several Swamp Pop originals charted nationally, but it was mostly a regional niche market.
Punk music is known for deconstructing classic rock or pop songs by reinterpreting them in punk form. Bands like Me First & the Gimme Gimmes, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, NOFX and Goldfinger are especially known for doing so. In recent years, several jam bands and related groups have begun covering hip hop songs, most frequently only live in concert. Perhaps the most famous such-cover recorded in a studio and released commercially is a bluegrass version of "Gin and Juice" by Snoop Doggy Dogg, as performed by the Gourds. Other artists like Phish and Keller Williams have covered "Rappers Delight" (The Sugarhill Gang), "I Like Big Butts" (Sir Mix-A-Lot) and other hip hop songs.
Many popular bands have a tribute album, consisting entirely of covers of their songs performed by various other bands, often quite different from the original. The soundtrack to the film I Am Sam was a particularly popular example of this; it consisted of Beatles songs redone by various modern artists.
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