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One of the Best Cover Versions I Have Ever Heard. Period.

By Petr Knava | Videos | May 26, 2020 |

By Petr Knava | Videos | May 26, 2020 |


The best cover songs walk the fine line between staying true to the original version and transforming it into something almost entirely new. Whether it’s through a dramatic rearrangement or just subtle shifts of focus here and there, the recipe for a great cover is not set in stone. It’s a mad alchemy that results in lead far more often than gold, and the history of music is littered with cover versions that are Just Fine or worse. The rearrangement route is the bigger gamble, but it is also the one with the most potential payoff. The most celebrated covers in music—Jimi’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’, Johnny’s ‘Hurt’, and of course, Aretha’s ‘Respect’—all went big and bold, taking a song’s skeleton apart and putting it back together in previously unimaginable new configurations, all the while keeping the soul intact, albeit with their own essence indelibly stamped upon it.

That’s exactly the kind of cover I’m about to post here. It’s a version of System of a Down’s ‘B.Y.O.B.’ The original ‘B.Y.O.B’ is one of my absolute favourite songs by a band that remains a singularly unique presence in modern music history. Fusing contemporary metal with Armenian folk melodies and scales, and tethering that to a righteous gonzo rage, System consistently wrote some of the best protest music of the last few decades. ‘Protest music’ might be a bit of a reductive label at times, but it really is apt when it comes to System, whose first recorded song appeared on a collection dedicated to the recognition of the Armenian genocide, and for whom capitalism, imperialism, and war remained topics that they would return to again and again throughout their career. ‘B.Y.O.B’ (‘Bring your own bombs’) is one of the most powerful examples of this. Appearing on their 2005 album ‘Mezmerize’, ‘B.Y.O.B’ is a direct and scathing indictment of arguably the most heinous crime of the modern era: America’s illegal invasion and unimaginably cruel destruction of Iraq. It goes like this:

The lyrics are a bitterly ironic and heartbreakingly evocative indictment of capitalist hypocrisy and imperialist aggression:

‘Why do they always send the poor?

Barbarisms by Barbaras
With pointed heels
Victorious, victories kneel
For brand new spankin’ deals

Marching forward hypocritic
And hypnotic computers
You depend on our protection
Yet you feed us lies from the tablecloth

Everybody’s going to the party, have a real good time
Dancing in the desert, blowing up the sunshine

Kneeling roses disappearing
Into Moses’s dry mouth

Breaking into Fort Knox
Stealing our intentions
Hangers sitting dripped in oil
Crying freedom

Handed to obsoletion
Still you feed us lies from the tablecloth’

It ends with the repeated refrain:

‘Why don’t presidents fight the war?
Why do they always send the poor?’

‘B.Y.O.B’ is a perfect song. It’s just so fu**ing good. It addresses its subject matter with a mixture of rage and sorrow that only System could muster. I could never imagine anyone covering ‘B.Y.O.B’—or any System song really—without making a complete and utter fool out of themselves. How would you even do it? You’d have to rearrange heavily, surely, for to attempt to ape System’s unique sound would be madness. But even then—how the hell would you rearrange in a way that would keep System’s message intact? Two days ago I stumbled upon a cover that answers that question and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s by the YouTube channel ‘The Melodicka Bros’, two blokes who specialise in taking rock and metal tunes and performing folky arrangements of them. They’ve done a lot. Some work better than others, but they are undeniably good at it. Their version of ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ is fun. But they’ve surely just reached their peak now, because this arrangement of ‘B.Y.O.B.’ is just so inspired, so soul-wrenchingly perfect, that I’m now completely obsessed with it. It’s just the platonic ideal of what a good cover version does. They’ve taken this song that is a blazing tornado of rage and sorrow, and they’ve completely transformed it and made it their own, emphasising the sorrow of the subject matter while downplaying some of the rage without losing any of it at the same time. Here, listen:

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Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

Header Image Source: YouTube