Are Covers a Good Idea?

After reading about Def Leppard’s upcoming covers CD (which looks quite interesting actually) the question always comes up when bands cover other material: Why? Why do they do it? In Blowing their covers (registration required) Charles Purcell declares the cover a “crime against culture” and sometimes you would have to agree with him as there have been some truly horrific covers thrust upon us (does anybody remember “Love is all around” by Wet Wet Wet which ironically was also done by R.E.M. to somewhat better effect). But on the other hand, when a band like Rush releases their 8 song EP “Feedback” that consists exclusively of covers of songs that influenced them when they first started out, the intention is to give a loving tribute and a tip of the hat to the great songs that encouraged them to pursue rock and roll in the first place and certainly you can’t fault the band for that. Whether the cover version is done well or not is always subject to debate but there can be no doubt that recording a cover version of a song is a two edged sword. It is either a heartfelt tribute to a great song or a crass commercial ploy to trade off on the good name of a classic recording. Whichever way you look at it, it would be best to tread that path with care.