Sunday debate: Do cover versions kill a song?

‘Remixes are forgettable versions of stellar songs’

By Salim Merchant

I am happy when someone does a cover of one of my songs – it’s a way of appreciating my work. It also means that the song has worked for them – exactly what I hope to do with my music! My favourite has to be Jonita Gandhi’s cover of Yeh Hausla (Dor, 2006) years ago. I repost stories of singers who cover our songs. I can see that they are appreciating and not just using my music.

But a record label or a film or an established composer trying to redo an old song is a different ball game. Creative people like composers rehashing songs just does not make sense. We are a country of three billion people with so many composers, artists and lyricists who can make great original content. Enough of these remixes!

If a cover or remix makes a connection between movies, that’s fine. For example, Masakali (Delhi-6, 2009). If Delhi 7 were to be made and the story continued from where Abhishek Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja left things off, then reusing an old song would make sense. If Bappi Lahiri’s Tamma Tamma (Thanedaar, 1990) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania have a connection or even a character who looks like Bappi Lahiri, it would make sense to do Tamma Tamma Again.  

But otherwise, most covers aren’t done well; they are just forgettable versions of stellar songs.

Salim Merchant is a music composer who has co-composed songs for movies like Race 3 (2018), Ladies vs Ricky Bahl (2011), Band Baaja Baarat (2010) and Chak De! India (2007)

‘Covers pass on old songs to a brand new generation’

By Vishal Khurana

A well-made cover revives a song and gives it a chance to become part of the popular culture of a future generation. A fresh take on a familiar composition or lyrics can be a tribute to the original creators.

The first covers I remember listening to were Bombay Vikings’ Kya Surat Hai and Woh Chali when I was about nineyears old. They did not fiddle with the original melodies, which I think was the best way to do it.

But I have come across some distasteful and inexcusable versions of classics. The main hook of an old song is turned into a whole new song. This is a shallow attempt to ride on the popularity of the original version.

When we are building over someone else’s creativity, we must not destroy the very core of it. If we lose the soul of the original, the whole point of the cover is redundant.

We must respect the feelings of the creators and the listeners with whom the song struck a chord. So in Aarya, we retained the old Bollywood classics as is. I made fresh versions of four songs for a wedding sequence and the Duniya Mein Logon Ko track.

I don’t think there’s a stigma attached to cover artists anymore. Artists like Sanam are very successful. But singers who do covers must cultivate their own styles, expressions and potential if they aim to be playback artists themselves.

Vishal Khurana is a music director and singer who has composed songs for Neerja (2016), Jolly LLB 2 (2017), Well Done Abba! (2009)

From HT Brunch, October 18, 2020

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