Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cover Your Tracks: "Pop Life" by Dump

A bad cover song makes you miss the original; a terrible cover can make you wish the original had never been written (Michael Bolton, hang your head in shame). The best covers always seem to end up sounding like originals, forcing you to choose between the old and the new. A truly great cover is a usurper, eclipsing the original version altogether, as Hendrix did with Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower". But regardless of how drastically a cover reinvents an original, the one thing that makes good covers work is the artist's ability to take up ownership of the song, if only for a few fleeting moments. And if you can wrest a great song from a great artist, there's a cubbyhole in Valhalla with your name on it.

Imagine, then, trying to steal a song from Prince. Prince owned the 80s. Madonna and Michael were more iconic, but Prince had the songs, hit songs, so many he could even give some away (and even his castaways became hits). Forget that he can sing, play two bands' worth of instruments, or perform circles around everyone: just look at his 80s songbook—even his B-sides glow in the dark. Rock, catchy pop, steamy ballads, hard dance funk, whatever weirdo genre "If I Was Your Girlfriend" happens to be: he could do it all. Oddly, there aren't that many great Prince covers out there. Maybe it's that Prince and his persona are so impossible to inhabit that covering his songs is as hard as trying to pronounce his old name, O(+>.

This cover, by Dump (a.k.a. the side project of James McNew of Yo La Tengo), was originally on That Skinny Motherfucker With The High Voice?, a 1998 cassette-only collection of Prince covers. Dump transforms the downtempo groove of this minor Prince hit into a sad, beautiful, lo-fi meditation on life and pop.

Dump covers Prince's "Pop Life":


  1. you're right - there really aren't many prince covers (besides the obvious sinead o'connor) - do you think it's the falsetto that dissuades them?

  2. The falsetto, the assless pants, most of Purple Rain the film (not to mention the other movies), the whole Camille thing, the "Slave" thing, the Jehovah's Witness thing...I think most people know it's best to let Prince be Prince.