Cover version

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In music, a cover version is the interpretation of a piece of music by someone other than the first performing musician. If another text has arisen for the same or a similar melody, one speaks of a counterfacture .

Definition of terms

The following are to be distinguished from the cover version:

  • the remake , a reinterpretation by the same artist
  • the medley and the potpourri , in which only several sequences of different compositions are arranged to form a new composition (for example in songs from the Dutch music project Stars on 45 )
  • the quote ( music quote ), which only takes up elements of another piece and refers to it in the context of an original, creative direction (for example in Beatle Bones and Smokin 'Stones by Captain Beefheart )
  • the adaptation, in which entire pieces of music or parts of it are transferred into another composition or parts of a piece of music are rearranged as a jingle for advertising purposes (for example the advertising music from the advertisement for the Gard hair shampoo at the end of the 1970s as an adaptation of the ABBA - song Move On ).
  • the paraphrase , which is an independent piece, but works through extensive references to an epoch, an artist or a piece from it
  • the plagiarism that mimics a piece of music without mentioning the author and thus the impression of originality brought (for example, My Sweet Lord by George Harrison , one - according to Harrison "unconscious" - plagiarism of He's So Fine the Chiffons ).
  • During a remix , the individual voices or soundtracks of an existing recording are remixed. As a rule, the already existing first recording remains, so that no new sound carrier and, accordingly, no further sound carrier manufacturer's right according to § 85 UrhG arise. With a remix, an original recording is usually underlaid with new tracks and is thus an editing of the original recording. The author (especially the composer, lyricist) or his / her music publisher's representative must therefore be asked for their consent. Since the original recording is used, the approval of the record company that published the original title is also required.
  • A mashup in which the instrumental or vocal track is usually illegally crossed with tracks by other artists, similar to a collage.
  • the instrumental piece in which another artist, another band or an orchestra plays the original piece exclusively as an instrumental version - i.e. without text and vocals.

Legal issues

Cover versions are subject to copyright law , which is codified in Germany in the Copyright Act (UrhG) . Legally, the cover version is always a "different redesign" in the sense of § 23 UrhG, even if it is reproduced true to the original. The Federal Court of Justice describes the new recording of an adaptation of an original work as a cover version, while the music industry sees the cover version as the renewed production and publication of a pre-existing and already published musical work. In the ideal case, a cover version is not an adaptation, but a faithful use of the original. The rights to exploit a cover version can be obtained from the collecting society of the original. Minor changes due to a different arrangement are covered by the purpose of use of Section 39 (2) UrhG . Significant changes, however, are editing or other redesign. A German song text for a foreign-language original is an adaptation.

From a copyright point of view, the question of whether the new version represents an almost complete correspondence with the original or whether it is an own creative achievement is important. In the latter case it is musically not a cover version , but an adaptation according to § 3 UrhG. If the version is finally reproduced in public or copied on a sound carrier , the author has a protected claim to remuneration. If the original was published and registered with a collecting society (in Germany: GEMA ), the consent of the author of the original is not required; the registration of the reproduced cover version with the collecting society is sufficient. The author's music publisher only has to approve if an adaptation was carried out with an independent creative part by changing the melodic-harmonic form and / or the text. The new version then has a creation height that requires approval. The BGH has adopted the customary use of the term cover version for the cases of a new recording of an adaptation of an original work and speaks of the mere interpretation of an original work, the substance of which remains unaffected in the context of the new recording, so that an adaptation in the copyright sense is not available. According to the constant jurisprudence of the BGH, a piece of music (only) enjoys copyright protection according to § 2 UrhG if it as such fulfills the protection requirements of the law, i.e. if it has the necessary individuality as a peculiar intellectual creation. If the chorus has an irregular melody as a result of a phase shift that is unusual in popular music and thus acquires an individual aesthetic expressiveness, then this is the creative peculiarity of musical works. This is also evident for the layman in the field of music in the fact that he perceives this melody as known when he hears it again and assigns it to the composer. In the case of musical works, the jurisprudence places lower demands on this level of creation according to the principle of the so-called “ little coin ”.

Cover versions must clearly refer to the underlying original by naming the author and music publisher. Violations of the right to be named are more likely to occur in areas where the dependence of the work on a specific pre-existing work is doubted. If the original source is not properly stated, there is unlawful plagiarism.

Problem of differentiation from the original

Conway Twitty - Lonely Blue Boy

The musical distinction between the original and the cover version is not always easy. The original is the first version of a composition that has not yet been produced and that was recorded as the first version. Strictly speaking, unlike in copyright law, the recording date of a composition and not its publication date decides musically whether an original or a cover version is available. This makes it theoretically possible that a song published earlier was recorded later than a later published version; however, the later published version is the original. Often the exact data is not available, so it has to be left open without further information which version is to be classified as the original.

An example of the difficult delimitation is provided by Conway Twitty with his hit Lonely Blue Boy (MGM # 12857), which was recorded on November 11, 1959 and released on December 21, 1959; the song reached a sixth place on the pop charts. This made him known to the public and attributed the original Conway Twitty as an interpreter. Composed by Fred Wise and Ben Wiseman, the song was recorded on January 23, 1958 by Elvis Presley as "Danny" and was only used in the film King Creole , which was released on July 2, 1958 in the USA. A recording of this was only made posthumously on December 1, 1978 on the LP A Legendary Performer Vol. 3 ("includes 8 previously unavailable performances"). The evidence that Elvis Presley sang the original is made more difficult by the different titles.

to form

Tried and tested original templates are often selected, and sometimes songs that have remained completely unknown and which only become successful in the cover version.


There are both cover versions that stick strictly to the original in terms of arrangement and sound, as well as versions that are barely recognizable.

The former includes Chubby Checker's version of The Twist , the original of which was composed by Hank Ballard and recorded on November 11, 1958. Checker's version, recorded in 1960, was so strikingly similar to the original that Hank Ballard thought it was his piece when listening to the radio. Checker's version was identical in pitch, rhythm, and vocals. While the original - especially the B-side - went under, Checker's cover version became a million seller .

Vanilla Fudge - You Keep Me Hangin 'On

You Keep Me Hanging On was originally from the Supremes , who recorded the fast-paced song with the typical Rimshot technique on June 30th and August 1st, 1966 and released it on October 12th, 1966 (Motown # 1101). The piece has all the characteristics of the Motown sound , with a playing time of 2 minutes 47 - like all Motown singles of the time - it is predestined for airplay and reached first place in the pop charts.

Vanilla Fudge brought out a completely opposite version on June 5, 1968, which had little in common with the original. The sound has psychedelic approaches, the rhythm is scaled down to the "traumatic slow-motion pace", garnished with "stretched guitar breaks" and alienated to the "limit of psychological endurance". The single (Atco # 6590) produced by George "Shadow" Morton had a playing time down to 2 minutes 50, while this track on the LP Vanilla Fudge, previously released in September 1967, had a duration of 7 minutes 20 (recorded in just one take ) . The single reached a sixth place on the pop hit parade.

Kim Wilde reached number one in the US charts in June 1987 with her version recorded and published the previous year, like the Supremes .

"Black" originals

Many compositions by Afro-American musicians ( blues , R&B , Doo Wop ) were covered by white interpreters - often with "adjusted" lyrics - in order to be successful in the pop hit parade. The success of the cover often enabled the original to get from the rhythm & blues charts into the pop hit parade.

Elvis Presley took over a blues song at the beginning of his career, the original of which was from Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton . This had Hound Dog incorporated on 13 August 1952. Peacock Records (# 1612) and reached after the first publication in January 1953 the first rank of the rhythm - & - blues charts. With 500,000 copies, the original did not sell badly; the version recorded by Presley on July 2, 1956, however, went over the counter six million times.

Two labels in particular, namely Dot Records with Pat Boone and Coral Records with the McGuire Sisters, had committed themselves to this strategy. This practice began, for example, with Sh-Boom , which was originally published by the Chords in June 1954, rose to second place on the R&B charts and sold almost 400,000 copies. The white Crew-Cuts were to participate in this success and in turn brought their version onto the market in June 1954, which took first place in the pop hit parade for seven weeks and sold 1.5 million copies. Pat Boone also succeeded in doing this with Ain't That a Shame . The original was recorded by Fats Domino on March 15, 1955 in Cosimo Matassa's studio and after its release in April 1955 had become a million seller. Dot Records followed suit and released the cover version in June 1955, of which over a million records were also sold. While Boone's version easily climbed to first place in the pop charts, Fats Domino had to be content with tenth place.

German hits as a cover version

German-language hits often used Anglo-American titles or originals from other European countries in order to open up the domestic market with a German text. This strategy has been in use since the German record industry was founded and came to fruition with the Comedian Harmonists on the weekend and in the sunshine . Recorded by the Harmonists on August 22, 1930, it was a version of Happy Days Are Here Again , recorded on November 20, 1929 by Leo Reisman's orchestra.

There was another high point of these takeovers in the 1960s and 1970s, but was neither limited to this period nor to the classic "Schlager" genre. In 1987, for example, Die Ärzte also had a hit from The Bangles zu Geh'n Like an Egyptian . The most commercially successful time for German cover versions in (West) Germany, however, was clearly the 1970s, for example pieces like raspberry ice cream for breakfast by Hoffmann & Hoffmann and Ein Bett im Kornfeld by Jürgen Drews . This strategy of presenting English-language originals as a German version was intensified from 1956 onwards. A first success was granted to Freddy Quinn , who, homesick after publication in May 1956, had two million records, surpassing Memories Are Made of This by Dean Martin , who sold over a million records in November 1955. Fred Bertelmann was also successful with this strategy, because after its publication in February 1957 , his Lachender Vagabund sold 3.5 million copies, more records than the original by Jim Lowe , which had appeared in April 1953.

In terms of content, the German texts of many pieces are in no way related to the original English-language originals. There are often strange versions of this: for example Cindy & Bert's The Hound of Baskerville was based on Black Sabbath's Paranoid . This sometimes happened even when the original performer took over the German version himself - often without even knowing what he was singing - like Sandie Shaw , who sang her Puppet on a String in German as Wie ein Hoopoe in May . Under the series title 1,000 needle stitches (named after the German version of Needles and Pins by Jackie DeShannon , later covered by the Searchers and Smokie , among others ), there is a CD collection and a detailed accompanying book ( Bear Family Records ) that describes the phenomenon of German versions documented by the original artist.

International cover versions of German songs

English-language versions of successful German songs are much rarer. Some artists have published English versions of their German titles themselves, which therefore cannot be considered cover versions in the strict sense: For example Peter Maffay ( You ( Du )), Falco ( Der Kommissar , Rock Me Amadeus ), Herbert Grönemeyer , Nena , ( 99 Luftballons , Somehow, somewhere, sometime ), Nicole ( A little peace ), Peter Schilling ( Major Tom ), Trio ( Da da da ) as well as the Münchener Freiheit ( Everytime ( Without you (I won't fall asleep tonight) ) or All I Can Thu (a thousand times you )).

Reinhard Mey's ballad Over the Clouds was translated into English by Texas Lightning under the title Over the Mountains . In 2011, Chris de Burgh published Seven Bridges of the carat hit Over seven bridges you must go, an international version. Also at the age of 66 by Udo Jürgens , Chris de Burgh converted it into an English version. There is also a Norwegian version sung by Wencke Myhre . Juergens' song Der Teufel hat das Schnaps made was also interpreted in an English version by Santiano . In 2000 the punk band Goldfinger covered 99 Luftballons for their album Stomping Ground Nenas in the English version, but with a German verse.

Italian, French or Spanish originals

German or English-language cover versions were created time and again from Italian or French originals. André Claveau brought out his chanson Cerisier Rose et Pommier Blanc in 1950 (for the lyricist Jacques Larue [music by Luis Guglielmi] cherry blossoms were pink and apple blossoms white), the title of which was Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White on 23 August 1954 recorded version of the mambo orchestra Pérez Prado held, in March 1955 for ten weeks at first place and developed into a million seller.

The translation was not always as close to the original as with this piece. Anna Identici presented the original title of Quando m'innamoro (music: Roberto Livraghi, text: Mario Panzeri, Daniele Pace) at the Sanremo Festival in February 1968 (Ariston # AR0242) , where she took sixth place. On March 10, 1968 Engelbert Humperdinck recorded the song with the title A Man Without Love with an English text by Barry Mason . The title, published in April 1968, reached a second place in the British charts.

The Spanish number one hit El chico de la armónica by Micky from March 1972 was titled The Boy with the Harmonica , which Bernd Clüver also led to German number one after publication in February 1973 and sold two million times.

Beat music

Especially during the early stages of beat music, it was not uncommon for bands to begin their careers with covers of their role models. The best examples are the groups The Beatles and The Rolling Stones , both of which had numerous pieces by Chuck Berry and by blues composers in their repertoire. Cover versions were also often launched in a targeted manner in order to help their original interpreters and authors gain greater popularity. So the song was about Blowin 'in the Wind by Bob Dylan first in the version of Peter, Paul and Mary a hit before its author's breakthrough. In the 1960s it was also common for British performers to cover for the British market pieces that had previously been brought to the US market by American artists. An example of this is Bend Me, Shape Me by the American Breed , which was published in its British version of Amen Corner only six months later in June 1968. While the million seller of the American Breed of the British Amen Corner could not remain hidden, this was the case with Wild Thing from the American group Wild Ones. When the original was published on November 1, 1965, it had no hit parade and was forgotten. It wasn't until the British band The Troggs picked up this early punk production in February 1966 that it became a million seller.

More successful than the original

In some cases, cover versions were even more successful than the original recordings, such as All Along the Watchtower , which was originally written by Bob Dylan but who arranged the cover version by Jimi Hendrix for later live versions , or I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston , which originally comes from Dolly Parton ; also Without You by Mariah Carey , originally from the Badfinger group . Another example is Black Magic Woman , originally by Fleetwood Mac , but the much better known version of the song comes from Santana . I Love Rock 'n' Roll by Joan Jett was originally the B-side of a single by the band Arrows . The most commercially successful song in Germany, Fernando, by the Swedish pop group ABBA, was originally written for Anni-Frid Lyngstad's solo album Frida ensam . For Germany, you have to go over seven bridges here , which Peter Maffay covered in 1980 from the GDR band Karat .

Some pieces and composers are covered again and again, such as the Cat Stevens songs The First Cut Is the Deepest (for example by Rod Stewart or Sheryl Crow ) and Father and Son (cover version by Ronan Keating, for example ). Some of these versions are better known than the original, such as Sinéad O'Connor's version of Prince ' Nothing Compares 2 U , Leona Lewis ' version of Run , which comes from Snow Patrol , or Janis Joplin's version of Kris Kristofferson's title Me and Bobby McGee . Sometimes this goes so far that the cover version is mistaken for the original. So is z. B. largely unknown that Sailing , one of Rod Stewart's greatest hits, is also a cover version in its version. The original by Sutherland Brothers & Quiver is virtually unknown. At times, Joe Cocker's version of With a Little Help from My Friends was at least as popular as the Beatles' original.

Cover versions as humorous songs

From the mid-1970s, cover versions of successful compositions with humorous German-language song lyrics were published regularly, some of which achieved notable chart successes:

In 1975, for example, the Dutch show master Rudi Carrell published the song When is it getting summer again? To the melody of the song City of New Orleans by American folk singer Steve Goodman from 1971 . in a hit version. Three years later, Carrell even reached ninth place in the German charts with the title Goethe was good . The song was originally written in the 1920s under the title Sweet Violets by Bernie Schultz & His Crescent Orchestra and was best known under the same title in 1951 through the successful American singer Dinah Shore .

In 1976 the song Ein Bett im Kornfeld by Jürgen Drews became the stupid version Ein Korn im Feldbett by Fips Asmussen and in 1978 the song You're the One That I Want by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from the film Grease became the version Du , The tub is full , which Dieter Hallervorden interpreted in a duet with Helga Feddersen . In 1978 Wolfgang Petry covered the song Gianna by the Italian singer-songwriter Rino Gaetano with Gianna (Liebe im Auto) . For Petry, the song was one of his first major hits with number 17 in the German single charts. The most successful track of the US-American band Village People Y.MCA from 1978 was covered several times as a parody after its release. One of the best-known versions is the song LMAA from 1979 by Günter Willumeit . In 1980 Dieter Hallervorden published a cover version of the song Santa Maria with Punker Maria . The following year, Mike Krüger also recorded a stupid version of the song under the title Sand da Maria . Krüger produced another well-known cover version in 1984 with Jenseits vom Tresen , based on the hit Jenseits von Eden , which Nino de Angelo had very successfully placed in the charts shortly before as the cover version of the song Guardian Angel . Frank Zander also had great chart successes in 1981 as "Fred Sonnenschein und seine Freunde" with the title Yes, if we were all angels (Original: Dance Little Bird ("Ententanz") by Electronica's ) and a year later solo with the song Da da because I know, you know what a cover version of the globally successful song Da Da Da ... of the NDW band Trio is. The parody of the song Pump Up the Jam by Raymund Thielcke alias Werner Wicht Pump ab das Bier from 1989 was even more successful in the German charts than the original. In 2002, The Ketchup Song by the Spanish girl group Las Ketchup was released in the cover version of Der Steuersong by the radio comedy Die Gerd Show . Original and parody stayed in first place in the German charts for seven weeks in quick succession.

Cover versions by sampling since the 1990s

In the 1990s, sampling resulted in new forms of the cover version that used particularly familiar pop music of the 1970s and 1980s with a high recognition value. From a musical point of view, sampling can still be viewed as a cover version, but legally it is mostly a processing. While the samples in Europe were often accompanied by dance beats, American hip-hop producers combined prominent samples with new rap lyrics. An example of this is the song He Got Game by the group Public Enemy (1998), whose music comes from the Buffalo Springfield song For What It's Worth (1967), with Stephen Stills , the author of the original, performing the distinctive guitar parts for the New cover version recorded.

The intention shifted from a purely artistic to a purely commercial matter. In many cases, the well-known, catchy old melodies were underlaid with a bass track and monotonous vocals, often alienated with the computer. Especially in the dance and hands-up area, many performers limit themselves to merely re-issuing old titles from different performers and decades. Examples of this are Novaspace , Groove Coverage or Jan Wayne . Often these cover versions have little in common with the originals, for example Poison, which was originally sung by Alice Cooper and later covered by Groove Coverage .

A particularly important motivation for cover versions is economic interest. Not only the interpreter, producer and music label↔ of the new version earn from cover versions , but also the authors and the music publisher of the covered work. The commercial idea of ​​cover versions has always played a role, but since the late 1990s in particular, the "cannibalizing" of the originals can be observed more and more. Above all, the number of covered titles compared to new songs increased again. While individual cover versions of older titles were in the charts every now and then in the 1980s (for example You Keep Me Hangin 'On by Kim Wilde), a certain number of cover versions in the charts became a regular feature, especially at the beginning of the 21st century . On September 3, 2001, for example, seven of the songs in the top 10 of the German single charts were cover versions.

Unusual cover versions

Since the beginning of punk and post-punk music, bands have covered, deconstructed and reinterpreted classic rock and pop songs in their own way. One example is (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction , originally by the Rolling Stones , in the version by Devo . The newly arranged pieces often sound louder (more voluminous), faster and harder than the originals. Many punk covers contain small ska / reggae parts . In the 1980s, successful bands such as Heaven 17 , Siouxsie and the Banshees and others released albums that only contained cover versions. Die Toten Hosen covered or arranged numerous pieces of music .

Since the beginning of the 21st century it has become popular to transfer well-known hits into a different musical genre . So there are a number bands such as the Berlin BossHoss or Texas Lightning , the pop hits in country music playing style, heavy metal classics by the Swedes Hellsongs in easy listening and pop style, the Italians Driving Mrs.Satan interpreted in indie rock style, the French band Nouvelle Vague transmits new wave songs to Bossa Nova , the American singer Richard Cheese plays pop , hip-hop and metal as swing or lounge music , The British Ten Masked Men transform pop songs into death metal and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes songs of various kinds into punk music. As early as 1996, The Mike Flowers Pops caused a sensation with easy-listening versions of rock songs such as Wonderwall by Oasis and Light My Fire by The Doors . Further examples are the punk rock version of the chanson Comme d'habitude by Sid Vicious and the blues rock version of the US national anthem Star-Spangled Banner by Jimi Hendrix.


According to the Guinness Book of Records , Yesterday by the Beatles is the most frequently covered song on recordings with over 1,600 versions between 1965 and 1985. The BMI assumes that the song has been performed over seven million times worldwide. There is also broad agreement among experts that Summertime by George Gershwin, with around 2,600 versions, is also one of the most covered songs in pop music. Checking such records is difficult because the collecting society is the only source available. However , the British Performing Right Society (PRS) responsible for Yesterday is not transparent in this regard.


Web links

Wiktionary: Cover version  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • database with cover versions and music quotes

Individual evidence

  1. a b c BGH, judgment of December 11, 1997 , Az. I ZR 170/95, full text, NJW 1998, 1393
  2. Hertin: Fundamentals of music copyright . In: Moser, Scheuermann: Handbuch der Musikwirtschaft . 2nd Edition. Pp. 753, 765
  3. In the case of a ringtone for cell phones, the BGH had confirmed that normally no additional consent from the author is required to convert a piece of music into a ringtone ( BGH, judgment of December 18, 2008 , Az. I ZR 23/06, full text) .
  4. Hansjürgen Homann: Praxishandbuch Musikrecht: A guide for music and media professionals . 2006, p. 8
  5. Twitty replaces "Danny" of the original in its cover version with "Lonely Blue Boy"
  6. ^ Fred Bronson: The Billboard Book of Number One Hits , 1985, p. 74.
  7. Barry Graves , Siegfried Schmidt-Joos: The new rock lexicon . Volume 2. 1990, p. 832.
  8. ^ Arnold Shaw: Dictionary Of American Pop / Rock . 1982, p. 96.
  9. ^ Joseph Murrells: Million Selling Records , 1985, p. 100.
  10. Sh-Boom Boys in Shampoo . In: The Ottawa Citizen , July 5, 1955
  11. Salvatore John LaGumina: The Italian American Experience , 2000, p 360th
  12. ^ Goldfinger: Stomping Ground . Mojo Records 2000.
  13. Hans-Jürgen Finger: The boy with the golden harmonica., April 4, 2018, accessed on January 31, 2019 .
  14. German single charts from September 3, 2001 .
  15. ^ Guinness World Records ( Memento of September 10, 2006 in the Internet Archive ).
  16. On March 27, 2008 the "Summertime Connection", an international collectors' association, reported that Summertime had at least 22,350 public performances, of which 15,801 would have been recorded.