The Differences Between a Cover and a Remake in Music

A cover is when an artist duplicates or reinterprets an already existing song in their style. The arrangement is generally not changed much and is close to the original. A remake is almost like a complete redo of a song. The artist changes the style of the original and reworks it in their own way.

Cover vs. Remake – At a Glance

  • A cover of a song is either an exact duplicate of the original song, sung or played by other singers/bands or it’s a reinterpreted version of the song in the singer’s/artist’s style.
  • A remake of a song is generally reimagined by the artist in a whole new light and style.
  • A remake can also be a totally new version of the song from the original artist, with a new arrangement, a guest artist, and so on.
  • Popular covers include: ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ by Nirvana (originally by David Bowie), ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin (originally by Otis Redding), and ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston (originally by Dolly Parton).
  • Popular remakes include: ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper (originally by Robert Hazard), ‘Walk This Way’ by Aerosmith (remake with Run DMC), and ‘All Along The Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix (originally by Bob Dylan).

‘The Man Who Sold The World’ is often incorrectly attributed to Nirvana, who performed the song at their MTV Unplugged concert in 1993. But the original is by David Bowie and was released in 1970.

The two versions are different but if you notice, the chords and melody have not been tampered with. While Nirvana does an acoustic cover of the song, the opening riff, and almost all the other elements are the same. This is an example of a cover.  

Nirvana - The Man Who Sold The World (MTV Unplugged)Nirvana – The Man Who Sold The World (MTV Unplugged)
David Bowie - The Man Who Sold The World [2020 Mix] [Official Lyric Video]David Bowie – The Man Who Sold The World [2020 Mix] [Official Lyric Video]

A Cover Is A Close Duplicate Of The Original Song

A song is considered a cover when it is a close duplication of the original. While there may be a shift in the key it is performed in, everything else is identical to the original. The arrangement too has not changed.

Many professional musicians often play covers in their set to pay homage to a song or an artist they love. Bands also practice covers because replicating an already existing piece of music can greatly improve one’s musical abilities and skills. 

A Cover Is A Reinterpretation Of A Song

Going back to our example of Nirvana, they had many more covers in their discography. Molly’s Lips was originally written by The Vaselines, Love Buzz was by Shocking Blue, and Plateau and Lake Of Fire was originally written by The Meat Puppets.

Although the lyrics and the arrangement remain mostly the same, Nirvana did their own take on them to fit their sound best. Here is an example of the original and the cover:

The original by Shocking Blue:

Shocking Blue - Love BuzzShocking Blue – Love Buzz

Nirvana’s cover:

Nirvana - Love BuzzNirvana – Love Buzz

Although there are a few changes in the lyrics and the tempo has been sped up, this is still considered a cover because the essence of the song remains the same. There were no changes made to the main melodies. 

A Cover Is Anyone’s Version Of A Song Originally Written And Performed By Someone Else

Every time you sing or play Oasis’ Wonderwall, you are essentially playing a cover. Any performance or recording of a song by any artist in any genre is a cover. You do not have to be a professional musician to play or sing a cover.

A Remake Is An Existing Song Presented In A Radically Different Style

Every time we hear ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’, we automatically think of Cyndi Lauper’s hit from the 80s. The original, however, was written by Robert Hazard. Not only were some of the lyrics changed, but Lauper’s version relies heavily on a pop arrangement where the guitar is replaced with synth lines. This makes it sound like a completely new song. This is an example of a remake.

The original by Robert Hazard:

Robert Hazard - Girls Just Wanna Have FunRobert Hazard – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Cyndi Lauper’s remake:

Cyndi Lauper - Girls Just Want To Have Fun (Official Video)Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want To Have Fun (Official Video)

A Remake Is A New Treatment Of The Song

A remake can often be an update by the original artist. Sometimes artists like to revisit a song they had created and give it a completely new arrangement while keeping only certain elements from the original.

‘Walk This Way’ by Aerosmith was originally a song that was synonymous with their style and sound. But when they did a remake with Run DMC, it became a whole new fusion of two very different genres: rock and hip-hop.

While the remake has many elements from the original, it is considered a remake because it introduces many new things such as rap vocals and turntables, creating a whole new genre of music.

The original by Aerosmith:

Aerosmith - Walk This Way (Official Audio)Aerosmith – Walk This Way (Official Audio)

The remake with Run DMC:

RUN DMC - Walk This Way (Official HD Video) ft. AerosmithRUN DMC – Walk This Way (Official HD Video) ft. Aerosmith

While it is common practice for rappers these days to add their own verses to already existing songs, this was the first of its kind and paved the way for many artists. 

Examples Of A Cover:

Aretha Franklin- Respect

The original, by Otis Redding, was covered by Aretha Franklin and is now considered a major anthem for human rights by activists.

Aretha Franklin - Respect [1967] (Aretha's Original Version)Aretha Franklin – Respect [1967] (Aretha’s Original Version)

Whitney Houston- I Will Always Love You

Although the original was written by Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston’s cover of the song from the OST of ‘The Bodyguard’ will always be a classic.

Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You (Official 4K Video)Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You (Official 4K Video)

Johnny Cash-Hurt

Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt by The Nine Inch Nails is so incredible that it is considered one of the greatest covers of all time. While the original is angry and aggressive, Cash is able to bring in a kind of melancholy that makes the cover better than the original.

Johnny Cash - Hurt (Official Music Video)Johnny Cash – Hurt (Official Music Video)

Examples Of A Remake:

Jimi Hendrix- All Along The Watchtower (originally by Bob Dylan)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - All Along The Watchtower (Official Audio)The Jimi Hendrix Experience – All Along The Watchtower (Official Audio)

Nina Simone’s Version of ‘Baltimore’ by Randy Newman

Nina Simone - Baltimore (Official Audio)Nina Simone – Baltimore (Official Audio)

(Patti) Labelle’s ‘Lady Marmalade’ Remake by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink.

Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, Pink - Lady Marmalade (Official Music Video)Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink – Lady Marmalade (Official Music Video)

Summary

A good song is eternal. While some artists will choose to do a cover and replicate it right down to the last note, other artists might do a complete remake of it. Playing a cover is not only a great exercise, but it can also help uplift your mood. What is your favorite cover or remake?