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The song: re-sung

May 02, 2019
A song is a story. It could be a story revealing personal experiences, a more detached retelling of a moment in history, or simply a collection of sounds that allow us to attach our own meaning – but it’s always a narrative, and much like a novel, film or play, it appeals to a certain kind of audience. When these songs are covered or sampled by another artist, a retelling or reimagining of that original tale takes place. These songs are given new layers and more platforms to be discovered – and yet this experimental process still divides opinion all over the world.

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Retelling: the cover

While some argue that straying too far from a classic is a huge risk, the very process of covering a track has gifted us with some of the world’s most iconic songs. Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic take on Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’, Jeff Buckley’s emotional rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, and Johnny Cash’s haunting interpretation of ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails are masterpieces in their own right. You could even be forgiven for thinking each of them were the original artists.

This isn’t a debate for decades gone by either. Last year alone, countless up-and-coming musicians put their own spin on songs old and new. Inspired by ‘Moon River’, Frank Ocean retold Henry Mancini’s story with his smooth voice and a ‘bubbly synth line’. Bad Wolves brought a Cranberries classic to life with their cover of Zombie. And Morgan Saint stripped down Cardi B’s ‘Thru Your Phone’ to create a mesmerising version that proves, sometimes, retelling a song that’s still in the charts can be just as effective.

Reimagining: the sample

Musicians have been sampling the best hooks since the early 20th century, but when the first monophonic digital sampler was invented back in the 1980s, it changed how music would be made forever. This rise of technology revolutionised hip-hop music and has continued to influence artists across all genres. Today, many of the songs we recognise as originals are made up of snippets and licks of past tracks, taken and turned into something completely new. So just as a cover is a retelling of a story, sampling could be seen as a total reimagining.

Jay Z and Kanye West’s ‘Otis’ was named after the very soul singer they sampled. M I A’s ‘Paper Planes’ is accompanied by the ‘Straight to Hell’ melody by English rock band, The Clash. And the famous string backing to The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ was originally the work of The Andrew Oldham Orchestra - which was actually an orchestral cover of ‘The Last Time’ by Rolling Stones. Each of these tracks were a hit with their listeners for a second time, because they took a part of what made each of the originals great, and reimagined it in a way that refreshed it for a new genre and generation.

As a specialist in composing exclusive pieces for brands, PHMG knows what makes a great piece of music. Our job is to produce tracks that breathe new life into a business identity – translating established visuals, values and personality traits into something more relatable and accessible: music. So just as a cover or sample inspires new audiences to listen, our Brand-Sound-Tracks™ inspire the consumer through expert re-imagination.