The recent minor Twitter storm elicited by Miranda Lambert’s hurt feelings over singer-songwriter Patty Griffin saying in Entertainment Weekly that she thought the latter’s cover of her song ‘Getting Ready’ on 2007’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was “loud”, has led me to think about the question of whether what writers say in public about covers of their songs is generally what they truly think.
In the original interview, Griffin was asked for her opinion of several covers of her songs:
”It doesn’t have to be loud,” she says of Lambert’s raucous ”Getting Ready.” ”To me, it’s tongue-in-cheek. When you’re younger, forces inside of you are telling you to stand on a table and scream and tell people to look at you.”
This is actually a rather more fundamental criticism than the initial impression that volume was the problem. Rather, this sounds like the writer of a song who feels an artist misinterpreted it, in this case by taking the lyric too much on face value.
I have some sympathy for both parties here; it seems perfectly reasonable for Miranda Lambert to be disappointed that her effort did not meet with the approval of Ms. Griffin, who is (or was) obviously someone whose work she admires, and I have no doubt that she approached her cover of the song with a genuine sense of respect. Yet to me it seems naive, and perhaps even disingenuous of any artist to assume that they have done such a favor to a writer by covering their song that it must be met by nothing but grateful plaudits, which is the impression given by Miranda’s follow-up Tweet, “Sad when your hero’s [sic] let you down”.
I believe an artist should have the freedom to interpret a song as they choose, and not necessarily follow the style or feel of the original. But I also believe that the writer is entitled not to like the results, and to say so if they choose to do so. Professional songwriters whose living depends on getting cuts must feel they should keep a tactful silence should they dislike any particular version of one of their songs. I am sure that many more left-field singer-songwriters are also grateful for the money and the name recognition which comes when a successful chart act covers a song – but that doesn’t mean they should feel obliged to say they love the recording whenever they’re asked.
Dolly Parton, on the other hand, stands on the opposite side of the spectrum. She is a very generous songwriter who has been very open to wildly different takes on her songs, for instance Whitney Houston’s pop-R&B reimagining of her ‘I Will Always Love You’ and the stylistic variety of the covers on the tribute album Just Because I’m A Woman. But she is in a different position to some degree given her own status; these covers, whether successful or otherwise, cannot detract from the success Dolly herself originally had with the song. She rarely speaks negatively about anyone in any case. Similarly, Randy Travis, who made his name reclaiming traditional country from pop influences in the 80s, was politely complimentary about current pop-country singer Carrie Underwood’s version of his 1988 hit ‘I Told You So’, and was rewarded by a cameo on the single.
Do you think songwriters should take the money and shut up, or say only nice things about covers of their songs? Or should they be free to criticize a singer’s interpretation of their lyrics?