You know how Pitbull is sampling a-ha’s “Take On Me” for his depressingly soulless collaboration with Christina Aguilera? Or how Christina, Pink, Lil’ Kim, and that one you forgot had a huge hit remaking “Lady Marmalade?” Or how everybody under the sun (and I mean everybody) has covered a song from Thriller?
Well, that got me thinking… why don’t more artists cover hits from the nineties? 1990 was twenty-three years ago, for god’s sake, and it’s even been a quick minute since 1999. These songs are ripe to be rediscovered and reinterpreted, and yet artists haven’t really been doing it.
I mean, yes: Rascal Flatts remade “Life is a Highway” for the soundtrack to Cars, and Sugarland does a wicked live version of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man.” And American Idol contestants have done some good stuff with our flannel-era favorites. However, no one has released a truly urgent, necessary cover of a 90s song that has also impacted the charts.
And that’s a shame, because the 90s produced a lot of great music. So for your consideration, here are five 90s hits that need remakes… and my thoughts on the artists who should remake them. If you can think of others, please let me know!
(1) “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin
Why this song? Because underneath the alt-country melody and soaring chorus, there’s a story about a woman who burns her house down. We never even learn why. That blend of beautiful music and haunting narrative makes “Sunny Came Home” one of the most sophisticated, surprising hits of the 90s. (It even won the Grammy for both Record and Song of the Year, and that’s when Ol Dirty Bastard crashed the stage to tell us that Wu-Tang is for the children.)
Who should remake it? I’m tempted to say Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert or Kacey Musgraves… some contemporary country woman who’s not afraid of a death and despair. But I think it would be even exciting to hear what Adele could do with “Sunny Came Home.” Her covers of the Cure’s “Lovesong” and Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” are both fantastic, so she clearly knows how to make other people’s music feel like her own. Plus, since all of her songs to this point have been in the first person, I’d like to hear her tell a story about another character. She’s got the voice and the skill to make another person’s journey as exciting as her own.
(2) “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J
Why this song? For one thing, because no one’s ever had a hit by straight-up covering a rap song. (At least not that I can recall. If I’m wrong, then please correct me in the comments.) And I don’t mean sampling. I mean I’d like to hear someone remake a rap classic. That may violate a hundred rules of hip-hop authenticity, but by now, rap has enough history to boast a real songbook. There’s a canon of rap songs that are strong enough to be revisited by new artists, and the right recording could teach us something new about an old hit.
A song like “Mama Said Knock You Out” could be the ideal candidate. It’s not explicitly about one rapper’s journey, nor is it obsessed with brands that have gone out of style. It’s just a driving, heart-pounding ode to being a badass, and that’s something any generation can relate to.
Who should remake it? As much as I love what Tori Amos did with that Eminem song, I want to hear what a true hip-hop artist could do with LL’s classic. In fact, I’d like to hear Lupe Fiasco take it on. How would his cerebral, laid-back style jibe with all this aggression? I’m sure it would be worth hearing.
(3) “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks
Why this song? Because we live in a world where female pop stars can proudly declare what contradictory assholes they can be. And besides, it’s time for a new generation of high schoolers to get a thrill from shouting this chorus just quietly enough so their parents can’t hear.
Who should remake it? To me, this sounds like a perfect fit for Katy Perry. She should cover it for the soundtrack to a romcom starring Emma Watson as a chemist who has the hots for a tattoo artist. The movie could be called Dangerous Chemistry, and “Bitch” could be the song that plays when Emma finally works up the courage to get a tattoo. And then, obviously, the song would be number one for a month.
(4) “If I Ever Fall In Love” by Shai
Why this song? Because it is one of the sexiest damn songs you will ever hear. Even better, it’s built around complex vocal harmonies, so it’s musically interesting as well as seductive.
Who should remake it? I would kill to hear Rihanna do this, especially now that she’s gotten her voice into such good shape. And I want to hear Rihanna do it a cappella, just like Shai. Can you imagine hearing her harmonize with herself? Or maybe she could do it as an a cappella duet with Ne-Yo. That would also be amazing.
(5) “Today” by Smashing Pumpkins
Why this song? The chiming guitar line in the opening section is one of the best things to come from alternative rock, and the roof-blasting power of the final section, when the chorus repeats and the key changes, is just so viscerally satisfying that you practically have to form your own band to work out your feelings.
Who should remake it? I know this song is a staple of indie rock, but think what Gotye could do with it. He could give it a spine and give it energy, but I’ll bet he could also uncover even more sadness and rue.
Mark Blankenship hopes to remake all the hits of Cathy Dennis. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.