The cover phenomena started in the 1950s. It was an attempt by the record companies to reach out to more people by a way of reproducing original songs such that those are more appealing to a particular demography. Thus, it was commonplace for a group of White artists to "cover" a song by Black artists. The motivation behind this approach by record companies was that the White never showed enough interest in Black artists, so they were given appealing songs by fellow White artists. However, during the process of producing cover songs, the original creator(s) ( black artists ) of the song didn't receive proper acknowledgement, or any financial compensations for that matter. This was clearly racist, but the US was racially divided in the 1950s so such move wasn't against the law. But what's more telling was that the cover phenomena was an example of record companies showcasing their financial greed.
In comparison to the original song, cover song had some noticeable deviations.Most importantly, no solos were evident in cover songs. In the original song, the solo was usually accompanied with a saxophone along with some distorted notes. Well, this was seen as sexually suggestive by White artists, thus was eliminated. Furthermore, the use of drums and saxophone were completely left out as those instruments were associated with Black artists.
Nowadays, when you do a cover song, there are few rules in place that you have to abide by: first, you have to acknowledge the original artist. Secondly, if you make money from it, you'd have to send a certain amount to the artist. In fact, even if you use another person's song for, say background of movie credits, you'd still have to send some cash. CSI:NY used The Who's Baba O'Riley for opening credits, and The Who was given some cash. How much? I don't know, but in an interview with Howard Stern Roger Daltrey said he and Pete Townshend split the income. Finally, the last rule is you cannot modify the original lyrics of the song to alter the meaning. There's an exception applied to parody-artists. Best example is Weird Al. Whenever Weird Al has to do a parody, he HAS to get the consent of the artist. He was known for covering Micheal Jackson's Bad and Beat It, both of which were very successful. However he was denied of permission to cover MJ's Black or White.
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