Gregg Nunney: Cover versions – love or loathe?

Johnny Cash's version of Hurt is one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded, thinks Gregg
Johnny Cash's version of Hurt is one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded, thinks Gregg

Sometimes you ask a simple question and get a barrage of abuse in return.

All I asked, via the world of social networking, after I’d enjoyed Jose Gonzalez’ take on Kylie’s Hand on Your Heart was “what’s the best cover version of all time?”

It seems people don’t like the idea of cover versions.

They see them as unoriginal, uninspiring and, in one extreme, ripping off someone else’s hard work.

I happen to think that imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery and, actually, if you’re doing something new and unique with an idea that is already there then why should it not be celebrated?

Don’t get me wrong; note by note remakes are pointless.

There was no need for Girls Aloud to make I’ll Stand By You sound like a karaoke version of the Pretenders’ original, as much as Gus van Sant should have either re-imagined Psycho or left it alone completely.

Take the case of Hurt – a song by the American rock band Nine Inch Nails.

The original was covered by a close-to-death Johnny Cash in 2002, resulting in one of the most beautiful tracks ever to be recorded.

I know it’s not cool to admit it, but I think What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction is a pretty decent pop song, although the version by The 1975 that sounds like it’s from an atmospheric 1980s Brat Pack movie soundtrack is nothing short of remarkable.

Re-imagining is part of the arts. Take Shakespeare’s trend of twins discovering they’re twins and stick it on the forest moon of Endor and you have Star Wars.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses influences George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion which, in turn, becomes My Fair Lady.

There are some amazing re-imaginings, from Tori Amos’ cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit to the vocal version of Host’s epic Jupiter from The Planets – aka Rugby hymn World In Union.

Give one of them a chance – you may be surprised.