The singer and the song: Nick Cave and the archetypal function of the cover version

Nathan J B Wiseman-Trowse, John Baker (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


Throughout his career, from The Boys Next Door, through The Birthday Party, and with The Bad Seeds, Australian singer / songwriter Nick Cave has balanced his own set of creative voices alongside those of others through his choice of cover versions. Cave’s 1986 album with The Bad Seeds, ‘Kicking Against the Pricks’, is a collection of cover versions that spans American folk idioms (‘Black Betty’, ‘Hey Joe’, ‘The Singer’), Tin-Pan-Alley balladeering (‘Something’s Gotten Hold of my Heart’, ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’) and left-field alt-rock (‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, ‘The Hammer Song’). Cave’s first single as a solo artist beyond the confines of The Birthday Party was a cover of ‘In The Ghetto’, made famous by Elvis Presley, and the cover version has been a noticeable presence in Cave’s work both in his live and recorded output ever since. This chapter seeks to understand the uses of Cave’s choices of cover versions, both in terms of the idiosyncrasies of his own interpretations, and the context within which Cave places himself as part of a wider musical community. Cave’s relationship to a pantheon of elder statesmen figures (Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen for example) is understood as not only one of recognising influences, but also of placing Cave within a specific tradition or lineage. Equally, certain song forms such as the folk ballad or the blues lament are utilised to give shape and form to Cave’s wider concerns outside of the specific cover version. Cave’s reimagining of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Tupelo’, or Dylan’s ‘Wanted Man’ from The Firstborn is Dead (1985) provide clues to the uses of the cover to both articulate the individual interpreting the song, thus placing it within a personalised lexicon, and to connect the singer to traditions, or archetypes of performance that resonate in specific ways. Cave’s covers are never wholly reproductions, at times they are reworking's that might be seen to reconnect a song to a potential ‘lost truth’, at others they may be seen as parodies or homages that have more transparent aims. However at all times, the connections between Cave the singer and the latent archetypes inherent in the song provide provocative and loaded connections and values. This paper seeks to understand how Cave’s choices of cover versions, and his approaches to interpretation, shape not only the musical moment, but also our perceptions of Cave as an artist in a broader sense
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Art of Nick Cave: New Critical Essays
Place of PublicationBristol
Number of pages276
ISBN (Print)9781841506272
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2013


  • Nick Cave
  • Bad Seeds
  • popular music
  • cover version
  • archetype
  • archetypal
  • Carl Jung
  • Gilles Deleuze


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