Saturday, November 1, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Somebody That I Used to Know"

It's November 1st, time once again for the Battle of the Bands (BOTB), the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.

In my BOTB post from October 1st, I put together a battle based on The Last Time and Bitter Sweet Symphony -- a song that led to lawsuits over the use of samples and opened the question as to when is a new song really a cover, and "how much" of a sample is acceptable to use?  I also touched on some of the issues regarding sampling and copyrights regarding my use of samples from Lily Pons in my piece, "Bell Song" in my last post.

In this battle, I'm doing something a little different, but touching on some of those same issues. Today, I'm highlighting a "cover" that was re-done by the original artist, but not using any new or "original" sounds, but instead using samples of other covers of that artist's original song.

So let's get on with it:

Let the Battle Begin!

In July of 2011, the Australian (born in Belgium) musician Wouter Andre "Wally" De Backer released the song Somebody That I Used to Know under his commonly-known name of Gotye.  The song became an enormous hit -- it reached #1 in many, many countries and has been heard a gazillion times.  The 'official' video is below -- it has over 570 million views on You Tube. Yes, that's 570 MILLION -- it a  hugely popular song!

Give a listen:

It's an catchy song, isn't it? Simple, but with a clever arrangement, interesting instrumentation, and a universal sentiment that anyone who has loved and lost can relate to at some level. The song has nice dynamic range, a melody that really sticks in your brain, and a chorus that is easy and inviting to sing along with.

This video has also sparked a TON of covers -- thousands of them!  Most of them from "unknown" musicians.  This song became an internet phenomenon, infesting social media, flooding You Tube, and stoking the entirely modern  urge of people to make videos of themselves.

In the past, the "music mass producers" used to be a small number of sources distributing their limited 'product' to the masses, but as this sea of videos shows, it has now become commonplace for the masses to create their own music and to share it among themselves, even if it's often only parodies and cover material. I find this a thoroughly fascinating transition, although perhaps a little overwhelming -- there is now just SO MUCH music available out there that no human will ever be able to hear it all.

Someone could spend endless hours on You Tube listening to all the covers of Somebody That I Used to Know -- there are acapella versions, versions with 5 people on 1 guitar, metal-guitar versions, versions with 5 people on 1 bouzouki, choir versions, and untold thousands of others, both real and parody.

Goyte -- whose solo records have often featured musical samples saw some potential in this treasure trove of material, and put together his own "cover" video.  Here's what he said about it:

Reluctant as I am to add to the mountain of interpretations of Somebody That I Used To Know seemingly taking over their own area of the internet, I couldn't resist the massive remixability that such a large, varied yet connected bundle of source material offered.

Thank you to everyone who has responded to Somebody That I Used To Know via YouTube. It's truly amazing!

All audio and video in Somebodies is from the YouTube user videos featured, each of them a cover or parody of Somebody That I Used To Know. No extra sounds were added to the mix, but I used some EQ, filtering, pitch-shifting and time-stretching to make the music.

 I avoided using any existing remixes of the song, or any covers from tv talent shows.

Here's the sampled re-cover of the original covers of the original song, remixed and "created" by the original artist -- Sombodies: A YouTube Orchestra:

This is a lot of fun, huh?

But here's a question: Is this a "cover" or a "parody"?  Or a cover of parodies? Or a parody of covers?

Or is this really even Gotye's "song"?  Well, yes -- of course the source song itself was his, but in this video, Gotye does none of the performance and makes none of the sounds. It's all samples of other videos. So is it really even "his" work???

Does it even matter?

Probably not to many, but I find it interesting how it again touches on a lot of the same issues of ownership of songs, and "originality," and "inspiration" versus "sampling" that came up in the Oct 1st BOTB post with The Last Time versus Bitter Sweet Symphony, and in my "Forgotten Voices" sampled tunes.

Does making a YouTube of yourself covering a song violate the copyright? Maybe. Or does it depend on the intent? This is why that "parody" versus "cover" thing matters. Perhaps sharing something for free on YouTube versus charging for downloads probably helps determine the intent.

Perhaps.  But at any rate -- even if people suddenly felt some weird desire to make them -- I'm pretty certain that you'd never see this many homemade cover videos of The Last Time on YouTube.  I also strongly doubt that the owners of the copyright of that song would ever choose to make a fun remix video from those recorded covers. More likely there would be an army of lawyers rapidly dispatched and the cover videos pulled as soon as any sprouted on You Tube.

Your Vote

So now it's your turn to add your input: Which version do you like better?  The original by Gotye, or the sampled "cover of the covers," also "by" Gotye?  And what do you think about some of the issues I mentioned regarding originality and sampling and covers and all of that?

I invite you to listen to both version and give them each a chance. And while I usually tell you to focus on the music and not the video, here the videos are the core components, so today you should keep your eyes open to enjoy them!

After listening (and watching), please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above videos strike you, even if it's less than positive. Add in your thoughts about "sampling" versus "original" material versus "parodies" of songs on YouTube.

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.

And in the meantime -- feel free to drop by my blog often.  Don't let yourself just become somebody that I used to know!


  1. I'm not sure what I'd call that. A mash-up? Or maybe a novelty mix-up? It's pretty cool sounding, but this might get kind of old listening to these sorts of things too much. Not a cover as we would normally consider a cover to be.

    As long as I liked the song to begin with, this sort of recording would be pretty innocuous to have playing in the background sometimes. But overall I go with the original. I've heard the song a lot and it is indeed catchy. I can understand why so many people have been inspired to make their own versions.

    Bottom line: Gotye got my vote.

    Tossing It Out

    1. Hi Lee! Sorry I was AWOL for most of the weekend -- trying to get caught up now.

      It is a catchy song.And I like the term "mash-up" -- it works. Got you down for the original.

      -- Gotye (original) 1; Gotye (mash-up) 0

  2. GgC ~
    I'd never heard this song before (which goes to show you how well I keep up with current music). And I hope not to hear it again.

    This is what I would label as "PeePee" music - short for "Polyester 'n' Plastic". It's the sort of stuffs that drove me away from the Pop music of my day, in the 1980s, and fully into Blues and Jazz.

    I know this sounds bad - makes me seem like a violent guy when really I am NOT - but something about that dude in the first video, Gotye, just makes me want to punch him. He's got this stupid, smug mug that just makes my hands ball up into fists. Then you add to that all the "artsy-fartsyness" of his video and... ugh. That simplistic sound just couldn't end soon enough to suit me.

    The second "compilation" version was a bit better, only because there were more varied sonic textures (and I did kind of like that guy doing the "mouth-popping", or whatever you'd call it). But even so, 3:29 was all I could take of it and shut it off, already knowing I'd vote for the "cover" but not wishing to subject myself to any more of it.

    Interesting idea though, to take an original and put it up against a "composite cover" concocted by the original... uh... "artist" (to use that word pretty loosely).

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

    1. "PeePee" music. LOL!!!

      So, maybe I'm reading between the lines, but I think I'm picking up some subtle hints that this might not be your favorite song?

      Thanks for putting up with the PeePee enough to make a vote. I promise I''ll use something more to your taste for my next BOTB. ;)

      -- Gotye (original) 1; Gotye (mash-up) 1

  3. Oh, it's a sad day...I actually disagree with something STM said (and I do loves me some D-FensDogg). The upshot is that the term "PeePee" music is firmly planted in my brain for all time.

    When I firm heard this song, it wasn't Gotye who sang it. It was actually someone on some television program that was on when I walked through the room. I liked it and looked up the video on YouTube and saw the Gotye version. I like it (better than the covers).

    In the past, I got stuck on a genre and I was its biggest cheerleader. Rock, pop (heavens forbid), folk, jazz, blues, etc. Now, I take it song by song. If I'm feeling it - awesome.

    1. It's OK to disagree with Stevie Mac on inconsequential matters of personal taste. ;)

      What he finds "Plastic ' n' Polyester," you might find "Potent 'n' Powerful" -- it's all subjective, here. And another vote for the original:

      -- Gotye (original) 2; Gotye (mash-up) 1

  4. For a while, it seemed that every time I flipped past MTV, this video was playing, and there is no force IN THE UNIVERSE that will get me to listen to the song one more time.

    In my opinion, 570 million people can be wrong-this song actually hurts my ears.

    I listened to a few seconds of the cover, and while it was not quite as aurally offensive, I found it induced flashbacks, and had to stop.

    Before I call my therapist, I'll put in my vote for the cover version, but only because I think abstaining (which I would prefer to do) is a cop out.

    Just to go on record-please don't do a BOTB post pitting the Beatles originals against something from the Bee Gees/Frampton movie soundtrack. There is not enough Prozac in the world to bring me down off the ledge...


    1. Huh... I'm picking up some more subtle hints. Not your favorite song either?

      But I respect you for putting the sanctity of the BOTB process over your injured ears and personal trauma!

      -- Gotye (original) 3; Gotye (mash-up) 1

  5. The original doesn't do anything for me, but I like the way the orchestra covered it. Very unique.

    1. It was kind of a unique blend. I thought it was interesting to have a "cover" of covers where the covering artist is also the original artist, but doesn't actually play at all in the cover.

      -- Gotye (original) 3; Gotye (mash-up) 2

  6. They are both awesome. I loved all the different inputs on the song.

    However, I really loved Gotye's version. I've never heard the song, and was getting slightly bored with it (although knowing there was a potentially nude full body scan was a little distracting), but then the female rebuttal came in and I was intrigued all over again. My vote goes to Gotye.

    The mixer was a lot of fun though. I think copy right laws are different for songs than for books. As long as the writer of the original song is given credit, its not infringement to remake the song. Even in books, no "idea" is unique. Authors rewrite themes all the time.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Donna!

      -- Gotye (original) 4; Gotye (mash-up) 2

      But there are a LOT potential landmines when it comes to copyright law. Just giving credit is not enough -- suppose I take someone's original song and add just a four-beat "intro" and then use the entire rest of the song. Even if I give credit, there's obvious copyright infringement. But if I take just a 4-beat snippet of another song and only use it as a into for an entirely new song, that might be OK if I give credit.

      And there's the whole grey area in-between those extremes.

      Doing research on it, I've seen enough cases of lawsuits that indicate that attribution is NOT the same as permission, and if a copyright holder has an issue with you using "their" material, it can frequently go to court and be decided by juries of entirely subjective opinions.

      And even in books, an "idea" might not be unique, but wording, characters, settings, plot twists, etc, can ALL be considered unique and protected by copyright.

  7. Seems like I disagree with StMc ALL OF THE TIME... hahahaha. Believe it or not, this song was new to me. I really don't know how I've missed it. I liked it. I was listening/reading so I had to listen to the first one twice... because I FINALLY reached the place in the blog bit that indicated WATCHING was important. Ha. I really like the original, because I know this feeling that he is talking about. I could go on about how I met him, thought he was the one, we broke up, and now he's just someone I used to know... but Goyte already told you.

    I think that the ability to laugh at yourself by taking all of those covers and making that compilation song speaks well of Goyte. No lawsuits. Instead a video. Awesome!!!

    Now, I found the cover intriguing... and even recognized some of the performers covering it... but it isn't something I'd listen to on repeat. So, my vote goes to Goyte. But, I think I will detour over to YouTube so I can watch the Boyce Avenue cover. I bet putting them up against Pentatonix with this song would be FANTASTIC. Unfortunately, the AZ boys would light up my comments...

    Loved this BOTB bit!

    1. You know what -- there might even be a thing or two I disagree with StevieMac on. ;)

      Even musically -- our tastes DO overlap a LOT, but there are some areas where they do not. For example, our appreciation of Willie Nelson varies a bit in intensity, and while I wouldn't consider this BOTB song to be the greatest song ever, I do like it. It's catchy and I like the instrumentation and that little melody hook is cool.

      And I'm glad you like it, too. ;)

      -- Gotye (original) 5; Gotye (mash-up) 2

  8. Ok I have to pick the 2nd one because, even though he did all these mixes, he had to choose where to place all these different versions into the song to make it cohesive. I don't think he could make any money off of it because he would need so many agreements signed but I loved the mix he did and how it was all arranged. I enjoyed the choir in there and the mandolin. The first one I knew but never saw the full video which is very artsy. The music is great but I like the second. If the original artist chose my version to be played in his mix, I would consider it an honour:) Why not? To me it is not a parody but taking all the differences and making it one. I am now repeating myself:)

    1. Interesting thought -- would you need agreement to use material of other artists covering YOUR song? I bet that would keep the lawyers busy trying to decide,,, ;)

      And I get you on the "cover':

      -- Gotye (original) 5; Gotye (mash-up) 3

  9. I know this song and am not particularly fond of it. I don't feel as strongly as LC or STMc (although the term PeePee Song with forever be connected to it, from this moment on), but what really bugs me about it is, once it worms it's way into my brain, it just keeps playing over and over and over again; until I'm about to scream. Feels like I need at least two or three runs throughs of 'In a Gadda da Vida' to get it out of my head. YIKES!

    Anyway...I cast my vote for the second version here. It's clever and Goyte proves himself to be more clever (I know, I know - that's just me) that at first glance, cause he took an overplayed, under produced little ditty and instead of getting all huffy about all the wannabe covers - he capitalized on them (even if not for $$$). Kind of like the make fun of yourself before everyone else does. Anyway...just MO.

    As usual another interesting BATTLE, even if it's not going to drive me a little bit more crazy.

    1. I suppose it takes a certain amount of talent to come up with something so infectious that therapeutic, prescription-strength Iron Butterfly is needed to be able to remove it.

      I hope some rest and a long drum solo can help you recover your sanity! :)

      And another vote for the mash-up:

      -- Gotye (original) 5; Gotye (mash-up) 4

  10. I though I re-read that comment carefully, but I guess I'm still a little bit sleepy (pay no attention to the time stamp - I live in the Pacific TZ, it's still early here). That should read - 'Than at first glance'. And down in the last sentence 'even if it's going to drive me a little bit more crazy'.

    There now I hope that makes more better sense.

    1. You now what? I totally knew what you meant and had to go back to catch the mistyping, lol!

  11. I have to say that I like all of these! I'm usually not one to form opinions in terms of music, but I actually do enjoy all of these versions.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Gina. But I'll have to tally your vote as an abstention. :)

      -- Gotye (original) 5; Gotye (mash-up) 4

  12. GUITARgodCHRIS ~
    I just came from the Beer Boys' Blog (Bryan & Brandon) where the subject was math in the form of statistics. I acknowledged that math has always been my weak link 100% of the time that I do math, which is only 5% of the time. But, nevertheless, I fear I must disagree with your math here (too).

    You currently have the Gotye (original) with 5 votes and the Gotye (mash-up) with 4. But if you go back and recheck DiscConnected's vote, I believe you will find that you attributed his vote to the Gotye original when in fact he was voting for the cover (mash-up). I feel 100% confident that the vote at this point should be 50% to 50%. Uh... no... check that! I believe it should be 50% for the mash-up cover and only 40% for the original. (Don't ask me what happened to the missing 10%, because I already told you that math is my weak link 100% of the 5% of the time I engage in it.)

    If it weren't so damned important, I wouldn't have paid so much attention to the details, GgC.

    ~ D-FensDogg (aka StevieMac who is 50% right 100% of the time that he is)

    1. Thank you, good Sir! You are correct! I humbly apologize and gravely regret the error! The amended and correct score is indeed:

      --- Gotye (original) 4; Gotye (mash-up) 5.

      But see? this isn't really math -- it's just arithmetic. There is no trigonometry, geometry, algebraic expressions, matrix operations, or differential equations. It's just simple counting, and it's hard to count on my fingers and type at the same time. Statistically, only 3.7% of the population can do that, although I may be incorrect. After all, it's a proven fact that 86.9% of all statistic are purely made up in an attempt to prove a point.

      But I digress, which is better than dieing painfully...

      But thank you for the important correction! You were 100% right 100% of the time in your comment! Which -- however -- was only one of 23 comments, which makes it 4.34% of the total correctness of this particular BOTB comment thread (subject to change and governmental audits of correctness)

  13. I had NO clue this song was that hugely popular with 570M views of Goty's original. Goodness gracious is that a lot! The remix was just too confusing for my brain to enjoy. The original Goyte gets my vote.

    1. I just checked something -- When I first did this blog post, the number of views on "Somebody I Used to Know" was like 571 Million on the link I posted. Now it says 564 Million. Either I accidentally misread it, or something funny's happened in YouTube's tabulations...

      Either way, it's a LOT of views. But it also makes me curious enough to start paying a little more attention to these to see if I notice any other shifting tallies. ;) But like I said. I could have been wrong. Clearly -- as STMc caught -- I can't count to 5 without making a mistake.

      But I've got your vote down for the original:

      --- Gotye (original) 5; Gotye (mash-up) 5.

      ...and that ties it up! (Stephen D-Fense Dogg, can you double-check my counting?)

  14. The original gets my vote, the mash up was well done though. Liked the discussion on sampling.

    1. Thanks, Mike! I enjoyed the discussion, too -- it was as much my point with this BOTB as the song itself was. Perhaps even more. ;)

      --- Gotye (original) 6; Gotye (mash-up) 5.

  15. Hah! I love the mesh of covers. So cool. There are so many amazing creative minds out there--even if they are making covers. I find the "parody" more engaging, just because I seen/heard the original so much. Does that count?

    Unleashing the Dreamworld

    1. Of course that counts, Crystal. Opinions are subjective and you can arrive at them using whatever subjective criteria speaks to you.. ;)

      ...and we're tied again:

      --- Gotye (original) 6; Gotye (mash-up) 6.

  16. I really like the second version of this. The original didn't grab me at all.

    1. Thanks, John!

      ...and the tie is again broken:

      --- Gotye (original) 6; Gotye (mash-up) 7.


Don't be shy -- feel free to comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.