Friday, April 15, 2016

Original Versus Cover - Personal Jesus

In 1990, Depeche Mode was at the height of its creative powers and playing stadiums around the world. During their most creative period, Depeche Mode released a song called "Personal Jesus" that I instantly added to the list of songs that I would never turn off if they ever came onto the radio. I love the bouncy beat of the song, the sound of it, and the eerie aura of it. I became a Depeche Mode fan in college, and it is one of those things that never left me. To me, Depeche Mode is the only synth band that is able to add emotion to their music in a way that almost makes synth music sound real.

Then in 2002, Johnny Cash released an album of covers that was one of the rawest, down to earth, most wonderful things I had ever heard in my life. I am sure that I will get people who disagree with me, but Johnny Cash's voice always had something special in it, even when it was weak and shaky towards the end of his life. His ability to reach into even the most unemotional song and pull emotion out of it is what drew millions to him throughout his career. So it was no surprise that Johnny Cash was able to take an emotional song and make it even more dripping with emotion.

Let's first listen to the original Depeche Mode version to get a frame of reference on what this song can sound like in the hands of electronic geniuses:

I'm going to go on record saying that I really hate this video because I don't like videos that have no purpose. Videos that are just mish-mashes of scenes irritate me, and I think Depeche Mode is more creative than that. But the song grabbed me from the moment I first heard it and has not let go. Depeche Mode goes out of its way to add an element of scary to the idea that people idolize celebrities way too much. As I said before, Depeche Mode was the only synth band that had heart and this song is full of anger, cynicism, and fear.

Now let's take a listen to the Johnny Cash version:

Johnny Cash puts a strong sense of foreboding into this song that it deserves. It almost sounds like Cash has just given up on the public and accepts the celebrity worship America is known for as a way of life. Where Depeche Mode was more tongue in cheek with their presentation, Johnny Cash sounds like a tired old man who is done trying to tell people to stop worshiping him because he is famous. 

Johnny Cash took a song he did not write and turned it into his own, which is strange for a man who is famous for writing his own songs. What Cash gives us is an example of what people mean when they say that experience can often overcome talent. While Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan gives a powerful performance in the original recording, Johnny Cash gives an interpretation of the song that makes more sense to me and a lot of other people.

Verdict: The Man in Black

George N Root III is a music junkie who thinks that Johnny Cash was a brilliant artist. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a  message at