Cover Songs vs. Interpretations: What’s the Difference?

In the music world, covers and interpretations are frequently mixed up. Most often, interpretations are mistakenly referred to as covers, ouch! Here, I’ll take you on a brief music etymology diatribe, so you’ll be ready for your next open-mic night.

A “cover” is when I learned how to play a Maroon 5 song when I began to play guitar and sing. A cover is yet another performance of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” at your nearest open-mic night. A cover is the “Tribute to the Beatles” cover band playing in Reno this weekend. A cover is often a tribute to the original song, group, or artist. A cover is when an aspiring musician performs a song in close likeness to the original. Vocal inflections, tone, time and feel all attempt to honor the most well-known recording of a particular song. Most musicians begin their musical careers with cover songs. Learn the chords for Nirvana, James Taylor, Taylor Swift or Adelle songs, and you’ve got a friendly list of covers to perform at the local bar on Tuesday nights.

gsk2oAn “interpretation” is when a musician creates a new song out of an old song. An “interpretation” is inspired when an artist believes they can make new art with another artist’s canvas. Musicians even compose and perform interpretations by their peers. An artist may love the original song, but she hears another version stirring within her, and the interpretation becomes her own. A well-known example of interpretation is Jimi Hendrix’ “All Along the Watchtower,” which was originally composed and performed by Bob Dylan. Interpretations have immense artistic quality, and the new music stands alone. Some pieces of music have historically had many successive interpretations. Even songwriters who perform their compositions are interpreting their own work! One music composition need never be performed the same way twice.

Next time you’re jamming with friends or enjoying open-mic night, knowing the right lingo can go a long way towards not sounding like a boob. If you’ve been working on a Mumford & Sons cover, say so. If someone just performed a soulful, acoustic interpretation of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” say “Hey guy, I like your interpretation…”

Singer-songwriter Joan Baez is the queen of musical interpretations, whether she’s interpreting her own works or the works of others. In 1964, Baez made Phil Ochs’ “There But For Fortune” a chart hit. I like this interpretation…

For more musical interpretations (and originals), visit my own music page!

The Prayer Flag Thief

Two years ago, shortly after settling into my new mountain home where I knew not a soul, I decided to hang some Tibetan prayer flags.    I’ve been captivated by the brightly colored flags ever since an old friend once gave me a used string of prayer flags for helping clean out his garage.  The rental property I moved into has a large yard, open to the street where school children of all ages walk past.  Many mature Ponderosa pine trees adorn the property and tower over this old house.  Perhaps hanging Tibetan prayer flags would kindle my invocations and the flags would carry them into the mountain breeze, where Mother Nature would listen.  Or maybe the air in my new yard would be purified and sanctified.  If anything, these flags were a symbol of peace, and the colors dancing in the wintry environment would remind me to breathe.  For me, the Tibetan prayer flags were a symbol of new beginnings.

A few days after hanging a string of flags between two trees, I found the flags torn down, hanging in a long line along one of the tree trunks.  I wasn’t dismayed and strung the flags up once again.  The next day, I found the string ripped and the flags nearly on the ground, cascading down the tree trunk.  At this point, I realized someone was intentionally tearing my flags down.  I decided not let this stop me and, using a ladder, I strung the prayer flags higher, out of reach of those pestilent school children!  I moved my indoor workspace near the second story window, where I had a bird’s eye view of my yard.  I was going to catch this prayer flag thief!

Much to my surprise and armed with a camera, I finally caught the destroyer on film.  Hanging the flags higher had not deterred my visitor. I caught her ravenously stuffing the flags into her cheeks and then scurrying up the tree to store them away.  She repeated these visits for several days until no trace of the colored flags were left.  I decided that somewhere up in the canopy was a home that needed blankets.  I imagined a warm and colorful abode decorated in anticipation for a litter of tiny newborn Western gray squirrels.  These days, miniature handmade prayer flags made from scraps of material hang from twine between trees.  But no one has touched these squirrel-sized flags in over a year.  A home has served a purpose, a necessity fulfilled.  Time has passed, and somewhere mangled in a tree top, colors fade and wither.


Stop it squirrel!

Leave those

prayer flags alone






Squirrel babies

in a nest

of prayer flags


© 2012 C.L. Quigley