DJ Mineh Ishida

Swing Unplugged: Some Thoughts on Acoustic Covers


By DJ Marlin Jenkins

In the last couple years, there’s been a lot of discussion in the West Coast Swing community about dancing to acoustic songs. Specifically, acoustic covers have made their way into regular use for routines, comps, and in social dancing.

(Hip hop and music with dubstep elements have also exploded in the WCS community recently, but those are different topics.)

There are a lot of valid reasons to be concerned about how common acoustic songs have become in the community. First, they can be difficult to dance to, especially for newer dancers if there’s no prevalent “beat.” And even with more advanced dancers that can find the pulse in music without a steady beat, dancers dancing to slow, acoustic songs often tend to dance to the lyrics and the guitar, dancing “lyrically.” I don’t think anyone would argue strongly that dancing to the lyrics of a songs is bad in itself; however, it becomes problematic when dancers abandon dancing swing – triple steps, anchors, body-leading, timing, etc. – in favor of being completely “lyrical.” And in the current climate of the community, it’s becoming more and more important to hold to the roots and integrity of west coast swing.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t find a happy middle. As a supporter of acoustic music and acoustic covers, I’d like to offer some reasons why I enjoy them specifically in the context of swing:

1) Variety. Acoustic is a genre all it’s own, which allows for more variety in the dance. It’s another genre within which we can express west coast swing.

2) Re-interpretation. One of my favorite things about acoustic covers specifically is that they offer a new spin on something (usually) familiar. I think it’s problematic to think about a cover only in the context of comparison to the original song. Instead, acoustic covers offer a reinvention, allowing us also to reinvent the way we dance to a song even with the same lyrics – a new layer on top of what we’re used to hearing.

3) Emotional expression. Many acoustic songs are slower and have a particular emotional tone to them. They allow for a connection and emotional expression not found as commonly in other styles of music. Most good acoustic songs also have interesting subtleties that offer more to the energy to the song than it might seem at first.

4) Footwork. (or any other movement, really)to acoustic guitar (or piano) is simply a lot of fun.

5) Danceability. Sometimes, a cover or alternate version of a song is more danceable than the original.

Just as with any other genre, balance is important. In my experience, many dancers have a “hate-it-or-love-it” view of acoustic music in WCS – especially acoustic covers. Maybe we can learn to appreciate the other side of things a little more – learn to see why they’re valuable or why they are a problem if not in moderation, depending on where we currently stand. When I’m DJing, I will almost always play a couple acoustic covers, especially for late-night. But it’s a moderation thing. Just like I love blues but don’t want to dance to 10 blues songs in an hour, it’s the same for acoustic songs, too.

Our dance is no doubt evolving, and the expanding genres we dance to has played a major role in facilitating this evolution. But this evolution doesn’t have to mean abandoning the roots of the dance altogether. With acoustic music – or any genre – it’s important that DJs not only play that genre in moderation but also that they play music that works for WCS. If it’s painful to dance a basic push-break to a song, maybe that song doesn’t quite work for our dance. Conversely, dancing swing to newer styles such as acoustic covers is a positive step for expanding the dance and its range, providing we are still dancing something recognizable as west coast swing – something with lead-follow and attention to timing and technique.

To conclude, here are some of my favorite acoustic covers (or acoustic versions) to play/dance to:

Days Go By – Dirty Vegas (Dirty Vegas)
Let’s Stay Together – Obadiah Parker (Al Green)
Disease – Phillip Phillips (Matchbox 20)
Whatya Want From Me (Live) – Adam Lambert (Adam Lambert)
Human Nature – Trijntje Oosterhuis (Michael Jackson)
Sensual Seduction – Justin West (Snoop Dogg)
Bulletproof – Melanie Martinez (La Roux)
Seven Nation Army – Melanie Martinez (White Stripes)
Free Fallin’ (Live) – John Mayer (Tom Petty)
I Want you Back – Colbie Caillat (Jackson 5)
Little Red Corvette – Mark Zito (Prince)
Fast Car – Boyce Avenue ft. Kina Grannis (Tracy Chapman)

In the comments, feel free to post your thoughts on acoustic music/covers in WCS, and/or your favorite acoustic songs to dance to!

About the Author: Marlin M. Jenkins resides and dances in Saginaw, Michigan. He has been a part of Music ‘n Motion, Saginaw Valley State University’s west coast swing organization, since his freshman year. He is currently a student leader for the group and DJs at their weekly meetings. ..   ..
  • Christopher Wayne Sizelove

    It’s a very good article. It’s not long and over talkative; straight to the point, and non-condemning. I completely agree with the importance of this type of music and also that it does take away certain root elements of swing. Most people are not upper level dancers in the sense that they can not necessarily compartmentalize aspects of swing without loosing others. I myself struggle with habitual movements that belong in lyrical songs, but that I use in all the songs I dance to. It is very responsible of a person to manage all of the music played for various groups, while still giving them what they want. Just another reason why a DJ can not be automated with just clicking ‘play’ on a playlist. Good article.