But that's my song!

Sometimes you can hear a cover and have no idea that it is not the original work. This is especially easy in the case of a song originally performed by a relatively obscure band and then reproduced by a big name. It happens more often than you may think. Remember Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn"? It seemed difficult to turn on VH1, MTV, or the radio and not hear the song back in the end of 1997 through 1998. But unbeknown to most listeners, this song was actually a cover of "Torn" by Ednaswap. "Torn" was Natalie Imbruglia's most famous song, as she was, in the music world, what many may refer to as a one hit wonder.

However, what many would consider the most popular song of a number of artists are covers. Aretha Franklin's "Respect", Whitney Houston's "I will always love you", Soft Cell's "Tainted Love", Quiet Riot's "Come on Feel the Noise", Joan Jett's "I love rock and roll", Cyndi Lauper's "Girls just want to have fun", UB40's "Red, red wine", and many other songs that often remain an artist's most famous work are covers.

Many have heard Johnny Cash's last song he recorded in studio, titled "Hurt". In case you haven't, here is the video:

This song, while not the most famous Johnny Cash song, was seen as his last legacy. It was his last song and somewhat of a musical goodbye to the world. However, it too, was a cover. The original version was written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. In an interview, Reznor described his reaction upon seeing the video:

"I was flattered...[but] it didn't sound right to me. You know, that was my song. And it didn't sound bad, it just sounded...alien...it really then wasn't my song anymore...[It is] an unbelievably powerful piece of work."
Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails

When covers become famous or seem to stand for something significant, sometimes the fact that the song is not an original work of that artist can be forgotten. It is an interesting phenomenon, and one that will likely continue.

Here is the original version of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails:


  1. I disagree with Trent Reznor's quote "it really...wasn't my song anymore".
    When people write songs they write them essentially to fuel themselves creatively as well as to express their emotions. However, when artists perform songs, they are channeling an energy that is given to the public, a feeling or emotion that people can relate to in some way - that's what makes songs popular. They're for everyone. Anyone can sing along to them. So when someone world class like Johnny Cash relates to a song by Reznor, and performs it for the public eye, it's not only a compliment to Reznor, but a testimony to how much every song out there is for anyone who listens to it.

  2. I agree popular covers will continue to overshadow their original counterparts. I do however think that the discussion of "ownership" of a song, which Reznor's hints at above, becomes more clouded when the original recording was written by a songwriter different from the artist who recorded it first. In this case, the recording itself can be an interpretation of the written lyrics and music, almost a cover of the score.

  3. I totally agree with Mary and Katherine, it is somewhat unfortunate if you are unsuccessful with your original work and then someone else is, but I can't really emphasize with Trent Reznor, because having someone like Johnny Cash cover the song is a great honor not only because he is famous for his original work too. Johnny Cash is also a musician and he covered "Hurt" in a very virtuous way that in my opinion was even more musical and natural than the Nine Inch Nails version. I'm sure it was harder for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to hear Britney Spears' rendition of "I Can't Get No Satisfaction".

  4. I would like to agree with Reznor in that it was no longer his song, to the extent that the meaning is different in Cash's cover. The song is very personal as it deals with one's struggles, and Reznor and Cash are from entirely different genres and eras. Reznor's original exudes despair and uncertainty, while Cash's version is reminiscent and nostalgic of the trials he has been through along the path of fame. Their interpretation goes along with their age- Reznor is young, and facing the unknown of his future, while Cash looks back to see what his life has come to.

  5. I think that I would agree with Reznor, in the sense that his message was no longer what was heard in the song. You could say that Cash took it and made it his own, and the message that we hear in the song belongs, to and comes from, Cash, not Reznor. Admittedly this does not always happen with cover songs, since some are just artists copying the sound of the original. In fact, I would say that instead of taking the song and changing it to make it his own, Cash sung it in such a way as to uncover additional or hidden meaning that, while not heard in the original, and maybe not even imagined by the original artist, still existed as potential within the song.
    Yes, you could argue that music comes from the artist alone, so how can there be 'hidden' meaning that the artist never saw? Consider the way we analyze literature, and you have your answer.

  6. I love the song torn! Check out this cover? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0Kwxgjcpxw