A while back I subscribed to the RSS feed for Ask MetaFilter, a kind of free version of Google Answers. People post questions on everything from pet ettiquette to Greek philosophy, and, for the part, people answer them. Today, somebody asked a question about the origin of the term ‘cover song’. In reply, someone posted an explanation of sorts by singer-songwriter Don McLean:
Back in the days of black radio stations and white radio stations (i.e. segregation), if a black act had a hot record the white kids would find out and want to hear it on ‘their’ radio station. This would prompt the record company to bring a white act into the recording studio and cut an exact, but white, version of the song to give to the white radio stations to play and thus keep the black act where it belonged, on black radio. A â€œcoverâ€ version of a song is a racist tool.
He finishes off the piece with “Madonna did not ‘cover’ American Pie, she just sang an old song, and made an old songwriter mighty happy.”