Run For Cover is a weekly music column comparing cover songs to the original version. Prepare for a major bending of rules as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, style, and intent. Whether they’re picking up another’s song out of respect or boredom, the results have impressed us.
Jimi Hendrix will never be dethroned from his chair as one of the most influential electric guitarists in history. Although his career only lasted for four years, his energy onstage and the wails of his strings are impossible to overlook. Hendrix made the wah-wah and distortion everyday words in music’s vocabulary. In a world of primarily white musicians, contributions of that scale were exceedingly influential, allowing Hendrix to serve as a role model for guitarists everywhere, especially those of color.
His voice, however, never got the same fame.
Even though it’s entirely recognizable on its own, Hendrix’s vocals were never praised the same way his guitar skills were, at least as time rolled on. His scratchy tone and deep enunciation come across like a friend talking to you from the back of the van, puffing an air of smoke from between his lips after each line. To help double his singing, Hendrix would often layering a guitar line of the same melody over the vocals during verses.
One of his biggest hits is 1966 single “Hey Joe”. Although Hendrix has the most popular early version of the song, the actual writing credits are heavily debated. Los Angeles garage band The Leaves have the first commercial recording of it (done in 1965), but his take in the year following saw it soar to new heights. The vivacious solos and soulful repetition outline the plot–a man on the run to Mexico after shooting his wife–in bold, red ink. It’s since gone on to become a rock standard, being performed by hundred of musicians in various styles.
Charlotte Gainsbourg is all about vocals. Forget the splitting guitar solos. Her sound relies heavily on her whispery drawl and cool-jazz style. At a mere 15 years old, Gainsbourg released her debut album, Charlotte for Ever, in 1986 and waited 20 years until releasing her next full-length, the critically acclaimed 5:55, in 2006. Both records saw her wielding an airy, romantic tone much akin to popular French music, which, in turn, explains her musical success in said country. When your father is Serge Gainsbourg, a music icon, it’s practically to be expected.
Gainsbourg was born in London and raised in Paris. With French as her first language and English as her second, Gainsbourg’s pronunciation of words makes her a sought-out star. Still, mother Jane Birkin did her best raising her to be a polite, if not recluse, talent. Her film debut came by playing a daughter in the 1984 film Paroles et Musique. About ten years later, she began being casted relatively regularly, and later became somewhat of a staple in Lars von Trier‘s films.
As such, the movie star contributed a cover to the final credits of last year’s Nymphomaniac. Lars Von Trier’s two part film saw Gainsbourg taking on the demanding role of the lead, Joe, a sex addict whose life is tracked from youth to middle age in visually striking but rigorous scenes. When the film comes to a beautiful close in its final chapter, the credits begin to roll to the incredibly fitting number “Hey Joe”. Having it sung by Joe herself makes the lines about gun use all the more apposite.
Gainsbourg’s cover replaces lengthy solos and instrumental prominence with demanding vocals, letting “Hey Joe” take a sensual turn. Everything becomes magical. Hendrix’s original guitar line gets replaced by sighing backing vocal, the bass line gets four times thicker, and the drums crash with jazzy ease, giving a major contrast between her whispering and the deep tones. If this is how one man’s groovy guitar lines will get redone, we need more of it. Gainsbourg makes magic out of classic rock, allowing us to believe, if just for a moment, that we can be fully aware of our dream state if we want to be.