Dissertation Index

Author: Evan Ware

Title: Their Ways: Theorizing Reinterpretation in Popular Music

Institution: University of Michigan

Begun: January 2011

Completed: May 2015


In this dissertation, I put forward an analytical approach cover song analysis. Although song repurposing is a pervasive and an important practice in contemporary Euro-American popular music, it is the object of little scholarly literature. What scholarship there is, tends to be analyses of discreet original-cover pairs, leaving unaddressed the broader process of what it means to cover. “Cover song” has thus remained an undefined term that conceals many different interpretive subject positions.

I therefore propose to analyze the practice of covering as a series of decisions, made by the cover artist, to be similar to or different from a base song. Drawing from Michel de Certeau’s theories of creativity, I describe the base song as a “strategy,” an organizing force to which the cover artist responds with “tactics,” changes they make to repurpose the song for their particular expressive intentions. Depending on their number and extent, tactics either pull the new interpretation away from the original, or emulate it. These tendencies can be conceived of as continuum, stretching toward isomorphism (likeness) on one end, or metamorphism (dissimilarity). A third category arises when a song is repurposed by setting entirely new lyrics to an earlier song’s music. This is no longer a cover but a “derivative,” a new song that does not depend on the original for its meanings.

Using the above framework, I bring multiple analytical lenses from music theory, and related disciplines to bear on several case studies. I draw these from the family of songs related to Frank Sinatra’s hit “My Way,” including its French source, Claude François’s “Comme d’habitude,” Sid Vicious’s violent metamorphic cover, and Canadian lounge act, Johnny Vegas, isomorphic homage to both Sinatra and Elvis Presley to help both broaden and focus the scholarly conversation on this important musical practice.

Keywords: Cover songs, musical meaning, semiotics, creative practice, music analysis, ethnography, Frank Sinatra.


Chapter 1 – Cover and Repurposing as Cultural Practices:
Defining the Cover Song Continuum
Cover Songs: A Definition and an Illustration
Cover Song Scholarship
Ending Ambiguity: Toward a Workable Taxonomy of Covering
The Cover Song Continuum
A Semiotics of Strategies and Tactics

Chapter 2 – Derivatives: How “My Way” and “Comme d’habitude”
are Different Songs
A Semiotics of Strategies: A Theory of Music-Text Signification
Case Study 1: “Comme d’habitude” (1967) and “My Way” (1969)
Sound Structures
Trope 1 – “Sentimental” Sixths
Trope 2 – Bass Line of “Chromatic Loss”
Trope 3 – Appoggiatura Chain “Pathos”
Trope 4 – “Overcoming” Through Anacrusis Climaxes
Trope 5 – Bass Line of “Diatonic Consolation”

Chapter 3 – Metamorphic Covers: Notions of Inclusion and Exclusion
in Sid Vicious’s “My Way”
The Punk Movement, Inclusion, Exclusion, and Détournement
Case Study 2: Sid Vicious’s “My Way,” April 1978
Performance Context
Performance Act
Sound Structures
Discussion: Othering, Exclusion, Recuperation, Inclusion

Chapter 4 – Isomorphic Covers: A Canadian Lounge Singer Negotiates
Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra
Accessing the Esthesic: Ethnography and Music Analysis
Case Study 3: Johnny Vegas’s “My Way” at Lounge Nite
Musical Competence
Performance Context
Performance Act
Sound Structures

Chapter 5 – Expanding the Cover Song Continuum: Isomorphic and
Metamorphic Tactics, Strategy Chains, Evolving Contexts
The Present Project
Future Directions
Evolving Contexts
Final Word

Appendix: Sinatra and François song samples used for interobjective comparison in Chapter 2


Evan Ware
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theory and Composition
Madonna University

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