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Most covered song ever?

Ben Souther
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For western culture, I'd put my money on Greensleeves.
(Yes, I'm counting the the Christmas carol version)

I'm wondering if there is an Asian or middle eastern folk song that has done as well or better?


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Mark Spritzler
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    6

What about Happy Birthday, definitely sung at least once a day.

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Ben Souther
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Originally posted by Mark Spritzler:
What about Happy Birthday, definitely sung at least once a day.

Mark


Hmm.. definitely a contender but, a relative new comer (hit the song books in 1924). Greesleeves was supposedly written in 1585.
Doug Slattery
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Being a musician, I'd have to say Stairway to Heaven

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Ernest Friedman-Hill
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  34

Wikipedia backs up my memory, which is that the Guiness Book of World Records gives this distinction to the Beatles' "Yesterday".


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Ben Souther
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Originally posted by Ernest Friedman-Hill:
Wikipedia backs up my memory, which is that the Guiness Book of World Records gives this distinction to the Beatles' "Yesterday".


That's the most recorded song ever.
Ernest Friedman-Hill
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  34

Hmm, OK. So we need to define our terms. Define "covered".
Cameron Wallace McKenzie
author and cow tipper
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    1

I cover up my Thriller album every time someone looks through my record collection. Does that count as 'covered?' ]

-Cameron McKenzie
Ben Souther
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Originally posted by Ernest Friedman-Hill:
Hmm, OK. So we need to define our terms. Define "covered".


To perform, record, or publish a written arrangement for.
Ben Souther
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Joined: Dec 11, 2004
Posts: 13410

Amazing Grace would probably be way up there for the 20th century.

I'm thinking that there must be a Hebrew or Greek standard that can be traced back for a millennium or more.
Gregg Bolinger
GenRocket Founder
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    6

Originally posted by Ben Souther:


To perform, record, or publish a written arrangement for.


Ok, you said record and "Yesterday" was recorded more than any other song. How is your "covered" different from EFH's "recorded"?


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Ben Souther
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Originally posted by Gregg Bolinger:


Ok, you said record and "Yesterday" was recorded more than any other song. How is your "covered" different from EFH's "recorded"?


Because record is only one of three.
You can cover a song without recording it.
"Cover bands" play popular songs all the time without recording them.

We've only been able to record sound since the late 1800s.
(I'm assuming that, when Guiness says 'record' they are referring to an audio recording).

Hmm..
It was possible to publish piano rolls, mechanical bell ringers, and music boxes before then. I wonder if Guiness counted those.
Mike Simmons
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  10
Originally posted by Ben Souther:


To perform, record, or publish a written arrangement for.


All the definitions listed at dictionary.com talk about recording a song. I think the best definition there is "a recording of a song that was first recorded or made popular by somebody else", from 1966. I don't think the word was used for song prior to the recording age. And I don't think we can know how many performances have been made of most songs anyway. (Does singing Happy Birthday in a group count as a performance?) Talking about recordings seems much more practical. I don't know if the Guinness record was counting jazz recordings separately though.

Another question: do jazz recordings count as separate covers? They are often published separately, often with different sidemen, and even if it's the exact same group of artists, each recording can be substantially different. I think each published recording should probably count as a separate cover. But I'm not sure. If so, jazz recordings may well dominate here, because they repeat the same standards so many different ways. Including Greensleeves and Yesterday, among many others. Classical pieces have also been recorded many times, but I think jazz probably does it more, because jazz emphasizes performing a piece differently each time.
[ March 07, 2008: Message edited by: Mike Simmons ]
Mike Simmons
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  10
Originally posted by Ben Souther:
You can cover a song without recording it.
"Cover bands" play popular songs all the time without recording them.


That's a good point, but I think it becomes impossible to count the performances then.
Gail Mikels
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Originally posted by Mike Simmons:


That's a good point, but I think it becomes impossible to count the performances then.


... not if you use "zillions, then bazillions, then gazillions"
[ March 07, 2008: Message edited by: Elaine Micheals ]

Gail Mikels
Gregg Bolinger
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    6

Originally posted by Ben Souther:


Because record is only one of three.
You can cover a song without recording it.
"Cover bands" play popular songs all the time without recording them.

We've only been able to record sound since the late 1800s.
(I'm assuming that, when Guiness says 'record' they are referring to an audio recording).

Hmm..
It was possible to publish piano rolls, mechanical bell ringers, and music boxes before then. I wonder if Guiness counted those.


But you said or implying that any of the 3 would count.
Jan Cumps
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Joined: Dec 20, 2006
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    8

Originally posted by Cameron Wallace McKenzie:
I cover up my Thriller album every time someone looks through my record collection.
I have lost mine that way. It must be in some secret location at my parent's home for 20 years now. Can't remember where I've hidden it.

By the way, Cameron, if I click on the Springfield link in your signature, I get an error of JavaRanch fame: Unsupported major.minor version 49.0
[ March 07, 2008: Message edited by: Jan Cumps ]

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Mike Simmons
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  10
Originally posted by Gregg Bolinger:


But you said or implying that any of the 3 would count.


Yes, and that's what's different about Ben's definition of cover. He counts performances and publications, and EFH's definition does not.

Ben: It's true that cover bands don't necessarily record the songs they cover. But does an orchestra do a cover of Beethoven's 5th symphony? I've never heard the term used that way. But I'm not sure where the distinction should be here. This problem exists even if we exclude performances and only consider recordings. No one refers to classical recordings as covers. Maybe we should just exclude classical music. Maybe jazz too. But then it's not really fair to start including nonwestern music - we're making an arbitrary list of genres at that point.
Gail Mikels
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Originally posted by Jan Cumps:
I have lost mine that way. It must be in some secret location at my parent's home for 20 years now. Can't remember where I've hidden it.

[ March 07, 2008: Message edited by: Jan Cumps ]

Am I the only one bothered by the thought of these secret, hidden away Michael Jackson albums? Eww!!

;-) Kidding, of course...
Jan Cumps
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    8

Originally posted by Elaine Micheals:
Am I the only one bothered by the thought of these secret, hidden away Michael Jackson albums?...
Life wasn't easy in the eighties.
Ben Souther
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Posts: 13410

Originally posted by Mike Simmons:


Yes, and that's what's different about Ben's definition of cover. He counts performances and publications, and EFH's definition does not.

Ben: It's true that cover bands don't necessarily record the songs they cover. But does an orchestra do a cover of Beethoven's 5th symphony? I've never heard the term used that way. But I'm not sure where the distinction should be here. This problem exists even if we exclude performances and only consider recordings. No one refers to classical recordings as covers. Maybe we should just exclude classical music. Maybe jazz too. But then it's not really fair to start including nonwestern music - we're making an arbitrary list of genres at that point.


For a symphony, which might be interpreted differently but not re-arranged, you might have a good point. For Jazz performances and recordings, however, each and every performance and or recording would count as a new arrangement and should, I think be counted.

There is certainly no way to know how many times a song has been covered, especially if we're counting things other than audio recordings that can be counted. I was just looking for speculation, idle chit chat, meaningless drivel.
[ March 07, 2008: Message edited by: Ben Souther ]
Mike Simmons
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  10
So what if a cover band tries to replicate the original songs exactly, using the same kinds of instruments, a singer with the same range, etc, and they can reproduce every note from the original? Would they no longer be performing a cover? I think they are. They might not get much respect from others, since they're not adding anything of their own. But they're still performing a cover, in my opinion. The word doesn't seem to require originality as part of its definition.
marc weber
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My understanding is the meaning of "covered" emerged in the early 20th century with the marketing of recorded music. An "original recording" generated market demand, and different labels/distributors "covered" that demand by issuing their own versions. Since then, the meaning has expanded to include performances of songs by anyone other than the "original" artist (although it's often not clear what exactly that means).


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Ernest Friedman-Hill
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Marshal

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  34

Originally posted by marc weber:
Since then, the meaning has expanded to include performances of songs by anyone other than the "original" artist (although it's often not clear what exactly that means).


Yeah, I think this is a slippery slope. If Jimi Hendrix records "All Along the Watchtower", that's inarguably a cover version. If a professional bar band plays it, OK, so that's a cover version too. What about a pickup wedding band? OK, now what about a couple guys who jam at the corner bar sometimes? What about two guys who play at their friend's backyard barbeque? What about the same two guys, in their basement? What about one of those guys, in the shower? Where do you draw the line?
marc weber
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I spent a lot of years playing in bands, performing both originals and covers. I think "cover bands" get an unfair rap, because there seems to be a perception that playing covers is somehow easier.

With an original, you need an audience that is receptive to music they aren't unfamiliar with, but the standard is simple: People either like it, or they don't. And because many audiences give "credit" for the music being original, they are often very forgiving of marginal performances.

But playing a cover is more complicated. It's not enough for people to like it. The performance must also compare favorably to the original, which has the advantage of being a polished studio recording. In fact, most people have already decided whether or not they like the song, and the challenge is in meeting their expectations for that song. This raises the dilemma of whether to "nail" a cover by trying to duplicate the original, or whether to interpret it by adding your own flavor. Either way, you're setting yourself up for criticism that wouldn't be applied to an original.
Mark Spritzler
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    6

"KABOOM!!!"

Wow I have never seen a thread just go and blow up like that.

If it was just recorded as the definition, I would have said "Yesterday", in terms of performance of anyone anywhere, I would say that
Happy Birthday" is played millions of times in just one day average.

"In February 2008, the world's population is believed to have reached over 6.70 billion"

6,700,000,000/365 = average almost 18 million people have a birthday each day and must average hearing Happy Birthday once per person. Because some will hear it multiple times sung to them, and I am sure some not once in the day.

So I think Happy Birthday could easily have caught up to Greensleeves. Except in elevators.

Mark
Mike Simmons
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  10
Is "Happy Birthday" that common in non-English-speaking countries? I wouldn't be too sure. Still, a lot of people sing it every day, that's true. I just wouldn't use the term "cover" for most of them.
Ben Souther
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Posts: 13410

Originally posted by Ernest Friedman-Hill:
Yeah, I think this is a slippery slope. ...


Hmm.
I thought I was going to sidestep any slippery slopes by using the word covered instead of 'popular'.

I wonder if there is another word that describes 'making a song one's own' in a sense that doesn't require an audio recording and wouldn't count the reflexive chanting of Happy Birthday whenever a cake with candles on it is dragged out.

Like with Yesterday, Autumn Leaves, Greensleeves, and All Along The Watch Tower (Hendrix's Little Wing would be a better example), certain songs have been popular enough that hundreds or thousands of people have a invested a lot of themselves in the process of interpreting that song for new audiences. They trample across genre's like a stampeding hippo goes through stick fences and sound, not only recognizable but good to most people's ear regardless of whether they're being played by Izak Stern, Sting, Willie Nelson, or the band playing in the corner pub.

Assuming there isn't a name for such a phenomenon, but the concept can be easily distinguished from 'covered', recorded, or whatever singing Happy Birthday is; is there a song that goes back further and/or surpasses Greensleeves in this respect? Maybe a Greek, Hebrew, or Asian song that an untraveled westerner like me wouldn't have heard? Is there one in western culture that that would beat out Greensleeves?
Alan Wanwierd
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I would suggest that a good place to draw the line in terms of what is 'covered' might be in terms of intended audience and whetehr or not the song has been 'performed'.

As was stated before Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" was a cover - it was played for an audience.

the wedding band playing a set of well known songs - again definately 'covers' - They are playing to an audience.

2 Guys at a friends BBQ - still playing to an audience - thats a cover..

2 guys in their own basement? Theres no audience - so arguably theres no performance as such and therefore the 'cover' has not occured.



If we want to consider the difference between the classical repertoire and popular culture then perhaps we need to look at performer vs writer.

Classical music generally speaking is not widely recognised by its performers - more by the writers. i.e. We recognise something as being Beethovens 5th Symphony - but only a very well trained expert would be able to identify a recording as being Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Karajan...

By contrast, in popular music (and jazz) we tend to notice the primarily the performer and not so much the writer (where 2 are not one and the same). So we are familiar with the 'work' of many performers whilst the writers and producers are known only to the more enthusiastic listener. It is the specific performance of the artist that we associate as 'being' the song, nto the intellectual property of the content.

Perhaps a 'cover' then, ocurs when an alternative "performance" is offered to the more recognised standard. Since the classical repertoire has no recognised (in the public pysche) 'point of origin' in terms of performances - then new performances cannot be considered to be 'covers' (This would also occur for traditional songs like 'happy birthday'). A 'cover' occurs when a work the public associate with a specific performance or artist is performed by a different artist.

For the record I agree with Marc Weber - I've played in a few originals and a few covers bands (and a gazillion different orchestras). And the challenges are very different.

With the originals band the problem is always finding an audience who want to listen (was easy in the uni environment but back in the real world MUCH tougher).

With the covers band the challenge is finding an audience who dont want just a 'flesh covered juke-box' and wont critice you every time you arent exactly like the original artist.

With an orchestra the challenge is to get enough audience through the doors to cover costs to bring down the cost of participation to a level where Orchestra members can afford to join. If audiences dont show up, then cost of orchestral membership climbs and members leave - effecting the viability of the orchestra and ultimately diminishing audience numbers further (amateur orchestras rely VERY heavily on member co-ersion to sell tickets - fewer members means fewer ticket sales!). Solving this problem means most amatuer orchestras get stuck playing the same popular classics (Beethoven 5, Mozart 40, Berlioz Fantasique etc etc) over and over again since the public only has a appetite for what it knows (much like the covers band)
Mike Simmons
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  10
Originally posted by Ben Souther:
Assuming there isn't a name for such a phenomenon, but the concept can be easily distinguished from 'covered', recorded, or whatever singing Happy Birthday is; is there a song that goes back further and/or surpasses Greensleeves in this respect? Maybe a Greek, Hebrew, or Asian song that an untraveled westerner like me wouldn't have heard? Is there one in western culture that that would beat out Greensleeves?


I don't know any good non-Western examples. But another borderline possibility that comes to mind is national anthems, often performed at sporting events etc. "God Save the Queen" (or King) has probably gotten a lot of play worldwide in Commonwealth countries, and even in the US as "My Country 'Tis of Thee". Probably most of these performances don't fit Ben's intent here, but they seem closer than "Happy Birthday" at least. And sometimes anthems can be played more as covers, as with Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner", or Ray Charles' "America". (Not really our anthem, but close enough for this discussion.)

Alan's suggestion about looking at whether we focus on the artist or writer is a good one. With anthems we usually don't focus on either, so it's still sort of borderline. And some classical performances will be more focused on the performer than usual, especially with some famous singers. And Karajan's first recording of Beethoven's 5th was pretty distinctive, especially when it first came out - I think there's more than a few people who could recognize it without being "a very well trained expert". But the rule is still a good one, and even if a few classical performances do fall a bit outside its bounds, probably not nearly enough to change the answer to Ben's original question. Whatever that answer really is, it's probably not any classical piece.
Pat Farrell
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    5

Originally posted by Alan Wanwierd:
By contrast, in popular music (and jazz) we tend to notice the primarily the performer and not so much the writer (where 2 are not one and the same).


But from a money/payment view, the performers on a pop record are minor, perhaps trivial. In the US, ASCAP and BMI get statutory payments whenever a record is played (on the radio, in a bar, etc.) which goes to the song writer, not the performer.

The performers get only whatever they were paid for the studio session, or concert or whatever. The composer/writer get money all the time. Michael Jackson, as an example, bought the composer/writer rights to all of the Beatles collection. So for every Beatles CD/LP/cassette sold in the past decade, MJ gets a cut, not Ringo and Sir Paul or the estates of George and John.

There are many legal battles over who owns the name of the group, with assorted sidemen touring in the oldies circuit. But this is just about the name of the band.

Any group of folks can start a band, play Beatles or Led Zepplin or any other group's songs, and as long as they pay the ASCAP/BMI fees, its all just fine.

OLGA was shut down because the money that used to come from books of printed music stopped when tabs were free on the net.
Frank Silbermann
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It's an ill-defined questions because it seeks the boundary of a fuzzily defined concept.

Until a few decades ago, song writing and song performing were loosely coupled activities. Song writers wrote songs; singers and musicians performed them. Occasionally a song writer would write with a particular performer in mind. A performer might perform or even record a song, but there was no notion of "covering" it.

Then, in the 1950s the politically-inspired folk music phenomenon saw political activists who were musically inclined encoding political messages into songs they then wrote and performed as a means of propaganda. This concept was adopted by rock music; writing ones own songs became a measure of a performer's "meaningfulness" and "authenticity." A performer who relied upon others to write his music and lyrics therefore tended to downplay this fact by using mainly songs that were writted for this specific performer or group, rather than performing songs that were already associated with some other performer.

Another factor that tended to more tightly associate songs to specific performers was the popularity of the blues, country, and other primative, rural musical forms. As the writers and performers were usually not trained musicians (this was another measure of "authenticity"), the melodies and chord progressions tended to be simple, repetitive and stereotyped -- certainly nothing that would justify widespread sales in the form of sheet music. Therefore, idiosyncracies of the performance were emphasized: the peculiarities of the singer's voice and intonation, the instruments used, the rhythm with which the guitar was strummed. Here, too, the songs became "owned" by specific performers.

However, musicians did love music for its own sake, and occasionally they would play a song that "belonged to" another performer as a way of honoring him. Doing so, the second performer was said to be called "covering" the song.

The trends I describe affected different musicians and writers to differing degrees, so there was a continuous variation in the degrees to which various songs were coupled to specific performers, and therefore, a variation in the degree to which the concept of "covering" was applicable. Obviously, the less associated a song was to a specific performer, the freer other performers felt to play or record it (assuming, of course, that they felt sufficiently confident in their autheticity and meaningfulness to play a song just for its own sake).

One might say that "Yesterday" was the most covered song in that it was perhaps the most performed among songs that are tightly associated with a specific original performance. Of course, lots of songs that were never as tightly associated with any specific original performance were more widely recorded or performed, and whether any of these count as "covered" depends upon where you draw the line on which songs are coverable (i.e. strongly associated with a single special specific performer or recording).

As one cannot define a sharp boundary between music that is, versus is not, coverable, the question as to which song was most covered becomes ill-defined.
Marc Peabody
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Originally posted by Ernest Friedman-Hill:
... What about one of those guys, in the shower? Where do you draw the line?

I think most people draw the line at one guy per shower.


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marc weber
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If anyone is really interested in the history of recorded music in terms of royalties and rights administration, I suggest the book, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton. I read it with an interest in contemporary mix and performance DJs, but the early history is fascinating.
 
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