Bad Cover Songs: Diamonds and Rust

Posted By Debbie on October 28, 2013

Today we step briefly away from UX to talk music. Why? I have a degree in music, I’m a musician, and sometimes, I like to talk about music. Join me!

I remember the Joan Baez song, “Diamonds and Rust,” from my childhood. Our family owned that album, and it was a great song. I think it more than inspired Sarah McLachlan’s, “Ice.”

What I don’t understand are the cover songs, which seem to fall into two categories. Heavy Metal covers of this hit folk-style song (whaaaaa?) and folk covers of it.

Neither should exist and here’s why.

Lots of songs make great cover songs… but not this one.

Lots of songs make great cover songs. All those general songs about love, loss, feelings, I gotta get you babe, etc… They are universal feelings and experiences, and they are written so generally that lots of people can identify. Songs by The Smiths made sense to me because I felt like that… even if I weren’t a British dude of ambiguous sexuality. Universal themes.

Diamonds and Rust is an incredibly specific song. It’s one person’s story about a very specific incident. It’s Joan Baez writing about the time her ex-boyfriend, Bob Dylan, called her and she ended up reminiscing somewhat bitterly about their years together. When Beyonce says you shouldn’t think you’re irreplaceable, and you can move out now, we can all say yeah, we’ve felt like that. But the story in Diamonds and Rust is detailed.

And EXTREMELY specific. Not that universal. I can’t identify with dating Bob Dylan. And before you think, “Well, couldn’t it just be a song about anybody being pissed off that an ex called them?” My answer is, not in this case. This song is really darn specific, which makes it less universal. She describes Bob Dylan in some detail. She walks through specific memories about him. It’s not written to be a general, “I dated this guy, it ended, and one day, he called me,” type of song.

Which is why hearing Rob Halford shout it is so odd

I am not sure why Judas Priest metal-fied this slow, acoustic guitar song. I don’t think Rob Halford dated Bob Dylan, and I don’t think Bob Dylan called Rob Halford one day to create bittersweet memories. Priest also took out the whole bridge where she walks through some good (and very specific) memories. Why?

This caused other metal acts to then cover the song. Double ugh. Has anybody read the words to this? Do you understand the story you’re telling? Based on my understanding of metal, this is not a metal song.

This song should be left in the original form. It’s perfect as one woman’s very specific set of feelings and memories about very specific real occurrences. It’s not the type of song people will hear and be like, “Yeah! I’ve felt that way,” unless they are thinking, “Yeah! I’ve felt that way… when the guy I dated was a famous disheveled-looking dude who thought I was a bad poet and bought me unmemorable gifts but I remember a time when snow was falling on us in New York City and I was so in love.”