For long time I’ve wanted to start a new series where I take close look at three or more cover versions of a song and compare it with the original.
Today is the first time I’ll do this series, and I have decided to start with Girl Crush by American Country band Little Big Town. It was a track on their sixth studio album from 2014. The cover versions I look at is by Pete Wolf Band, Ali Brustofski and Harry Styles.
The first one I listened to was the original version by Little Big Town. It’s a good example of pop country ballads that have been very popular the past few years. The instrumentals are kept very low and in the background to keep the focus on Fairchild’s vocals and that way also on the message in the lyrics.
They follow a very common pop formula in the building of the song; A-B-A-B-C-A1, or Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge (or in this case, a short instrumental), then a coda, or an ending, which in this case takes up the beginning of the first verse. Although it is ver standard, it’s still effective. The lyrics carry a very powerful message about the narrator has a crush on a girl, but not for the obvious reasons.
I found this cover on Spotify. It’s by Pete Wolf Band, a band that I’ve never heard about before and when I Googled them, I found that the rest of the internet doesn’t know much about them either. They are a German rock band who released their first album last year, consisting only of covers.
Girl Crush is the first song on the album, and already from the get go you can hear that they take the song in a different direction than the original in terms of genre. The electric guitar picks a quick lick before the vocals come in, a little raspy, resembling famous old hard rock ballads.
In the chorus, they’ve kept the backing vocals from the original, only made them louder to blend more in with the soloist.
Although it sounds different, this cover is built just like the original. If anything, I would have liked to see Pete Wolf Band change this formula up a little bit. Perhaps extended the guitar solo, or played around with the ending. It’s important for a successful cover to differ from the original in as many ways as possible.
Ali Brustofski was also a completely new name to me. A little research told me that she got famous as a Youtuber covering well-known artists.
This versionof Girl Crush, from 2014, goes very much more in the pop music direction, beginning with synthesized strings pizzicato, or plucking on the strings. It’s followed by piano and synthesized drums. This cover doesn’t use acoustic instruments at all, which makes it very different from any of the other covers I’ve listened to today.
Upon hearing this cover for the first time, I found the beginning very strange. I didn’t see the point of the strings, when they’re cut off by the piano after a mere four bar intro. Then I heard it again and noticed that the strings come back in later on in the song. Despite this clear thought through element in the production, the song doesn’t come off as anything more than an average pop song. There’s nothing about this track that stands out in the mirage of every other pop ballad.
Brustofski has cut the instrumental bridge out and goes straight from the second chorus into the ending. While this makes the cover different from the original, it does nothing to benefit the song. It makes it shorter by several seconds, and gives proof to the fact that the production is not done by someone confident enough to let the instrumentals be heard without the soloist.
Last up is Harry Styles. He recorded this cover of Girl Crush in September as a Spotify single.
This cover stands out from the others in many ways. The first thing that hits me is that it’s much slower than the original. Styles, like Pete Wolf Band, has also decided to stay away from the guitar pick arpeggios that are featured in the original. Instead he goes for strumming the guitar in deliberate randomness. The cover also features nothing but Styles’ vocals and guitar.
This cover is stripped bare and stands alone with nothing but the message in the song. Styles’ slightly raw, unrefined vocals carries the lyrics very well, and the song comes off as vulnerable and aching.
Another way that makes Styles’ cover stand out from the others, is how he adds time to the instrumental bridge in his cover and goes straight from it to a faded out ending, skipping the repeat of the first verse. It gives a sense that he’s said all he needs to say, and doesn’t feel the need to repeat anything.
When she heard I was looking for covers for girl crush, my roommate recommended that I also checked out a version that Styles did for BBC music, which I found on Youtube. In that version, the setup is much more commercialised and crowd pleasing, but it works because unlike the Spotify version, the one for BBC is in front of an audience. The live version is done in a lower key than the Spotify version, which makes it possible for Styles to jump up an octave into the second verse. He’s added a whole band to the ensemble and has backing vocals on the second verse as well as the chorus.
The BBC version ends with a 16 bar instrumental, twice as long as the original, including a lovely blues guitar solo, before it goes into the ending from the original, repeating the first verse. It shows that Styles is willing to play around with the material he has, and won’t do the same thing every time. That seems promising for when I go to see him live in March.
Four very different versions, all of them interesting in their own ways. Personally I prefer Harry Styles’ version. Not only because I listen to him regularly (Although that probably is a contributing factor), but also because that is simply more my genre of music. Saying a cover is better than the original version is usually an unpopular opinion, but in this case I think it’s better than Little Big Town.
Have a listen to the four versions and let me know what you think in the comments down below.