Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Remake Remodel - Cover Versions Rule!

As a certified music addict, the next best thing to a fabulous new band or musical discovery is a great cover version, especially if it's a track you've known and grown to love already.
I'm not completely sure of the magic 'X-factor' that makes a great cover version, it can vary from track to track, but for me, some of the best ones take the original recording, and re-work or re-imagine it into a whole new form that had never occurred to you or the original performer. Others could be musically or vocally similar whilst subtly adding a little dose of  the 'essence' of the band that's taken on the task. It could be that the music is altered beyond recognition, or even the genre, though sometimes it's a simple as someone giving an amazingly different vocal delivery or changing the lyrical accent to the song.
Having said all that, songs like the Bauhaus cover of 'Ziggy Stardust' or  Billy Chilldish' cover of The Who's 'Ivor, which are pretty much carbon copies of the originals still give me a massive vicarious thrill, so maybe I ain't as fickle as I like to think.

Here's a CD length compilation of some of my favourites, with  a few comments about each.

01. Intro - The Curse of the Crimson Altar

In my day, all good compilations started with a daft introduction to set the tone, so why change the habit of a lifetime.

02. The Jesus and Mary Chain - Ambition (Subway Sect)

Ambition was one of the B-sides of J&MC's great second single 'Never Understand'. A track so brim full of swagger that it positively wobbled on the record player. Huge slabs of screaming feedback, killer Glen Matlock/Sex Pistols style bass riffage and a slammin' 'Mo Tucker' bass/snare drum combo (played by Bobby Gillespie no less pop pickers) all elevate this track to epic status in my book.
I still prefer the cover version to the Subway Sect's original cult classic, and it was a stalwart of cassette compilations I made in the late 80's, so here it is for your delectation.

03. Cabaret Voltaire - No Escape (The Seeds)

This takes the original Seeds song and, whilst not quite turning it on it's head, adds a brave new and vaguely sinister 'electronic' sheen to the proceedings as only the Cab's can.

04. Rapeman - Just Got Paid (ZZ Top)

Whilst possibly having one of the most unsavoury band names of the last few decades (allegedly named after some Japanese 'anti hero' comic character) I'm go to gloss over that and mention that this is a great version of an already funky 'ZZ Top' track (on Three Hombre's if your interested in hearing the original). This was a Friday night fav' blasted out LOUD. For me it contains the essence of that great 'bonhomie' build up of a  night on the town in 3minutes 34 seconds of pure guitar attitude. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be 'Loose'.
Much of the Rapeman sound has spilled over into Albini's later band 'Shellac', though for me, after the first 3 albums they are an act of diminishing returns.

05. Devo - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. (Rolling Stones)

I love the factory floor machinations at the root of the songs rhythm and structure, plus the delivery sounds kinda daft, but that's why I like it. Who said a cover's gotta be serious or heartfelt. Alongside 'Mongoloid' this is Devo's finest hour for me.

06. Bauhaus - Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores [Live] (John Cale)

This is one of my fav' live tracks by any band ever. The maximum with the minimum guitar histrionics, the plodding bass riff, the strange 'syndrum' pulse and Murphy's laconic/madman vocal delivery just about send me to seventh heaven. Bauhaus were one of the first 'alternative' bands I got into as a young teen, and have remained firm favourites ever since. Much maligned by the music press of the time and haunted by the twin millstones of  'pretentious' and 'goth', I've always thought there were so more to them than this lazy critical put downs. From the outer realms of Northampton, and part of the whole 'DIY/post punk' mixing pot, they made the most out of their limited playing abilities, injecting elements of dub, funk and drama into their sometimes outlandish musical performances, and for my money, Daniel Ash is still one of the greatest unsung guitar hero's or our time. I wasn't even aware that 'Rosegarden...' was a cover version till many years after Bauhaus had bit the (ahem) dust.

07. The Mock Turtles - The Willow Song (Wicker Man OST)

Among the 1990 sway of 'baggy' bands tipped as the next big things, 'The Mock Turtles' somehow fell into the scene via the minor indie hit 'Can You Dig It?' and then sadly fell by the wayside rather quickly.
Lead singer/guitarist Martin Coogan (older brother of comedian/actor Steve pop pickers) wove a heady brew of 60's style folk pop and whimsy of which 'Wicker Man' is for me, the highlight. A delicately beautiful track taken almost lock & stock from the movies soundtrack, the only real difference being that Martin sings it instead of Britt.
The album 'Turtle Soup' with tracks like 'Kathy Come Home' is well worth seeking out if 60's tinged pop melancholy is your bag, with a similar vibe to bands like 'Shack', 'Top' and 'The Lilac Time'.

 08. Devandra Banhart and the Grogs - The Overachievers (Liars)

I feel I need to put my cards on the table Re: Devandra. I'm not a acolyte, I don't really rate him, and I feel he's over hyped and praised without much warrant, but, in the instance of the Overachievers cover version, I'm willing to eat humble pie, as this track is just an outstanding alt.folk re-imagining of the Liars bombastic ode to lazing about.

09. Paper Cranes - Blue Jean (David Bowie)

Taken from the outstanding double CD and charity covers tribute to Bowie'  'We Were So Turned On', Papercranes folk psyche version of the Bowie  pop smasher 'Blue Jean' is nothing short of amazing. Taking the pop pomp and froth away from the original and stripping it back to essentially guitar and voice has made for a rare cover version. Sung by a female in this instance, the vocal inflection and emphasis has been changed massively to make this essentially, a totally different beast than David had imagined on the terrible 1983 album 'Tonight'. In fact the emphasis has changed so much vocally as to make the actual song meaning different too. This is one of the best covers I've heard in, well ages, but I gotta say, ALL the versions on the Bowie trib' are interesting and rewarding reworkings.

10. Ministry - Roadhouse Blues (The Doors)

If your familiar with Ministry then you pretty much know what your getting with this one. Industrial strength beats at breakneck speeds with lashings of thrash guitar all topped off with Al's screaming tonsils. This is big, dumb and fun as hell. The whole album is TBH, so switch off your brain and enjoy (great to drive to by the way, though preferably you'll be on the motorway at the time). Pedal to the metal!

11. The Fall - Mr Pharmacist [Live] (The Other Half)

One of a slew of Fall 'garage rock' covers, which include 'Strychnine and 'Shut Up' to name a few. This is a live version taken from an odd Fall compilation album 'Northern Attitude', which, bizarrely, is one of my fav' Fall albums.

 12. NY Loose - Lust For Life (Iggy Pop)

This is just a great 'balls to the wall' cover of Iggy's uplifting ode to being clean.

13. Goldfrapp - Boys Will Be Boys (The Ordinary Boys)

This has a great vaudeville 'Wehrmacht disco' vibe to it that the original blandathon recorded by 'The Ordinary Boys' (never were a band so aptly named) could never have imagined. I just love the swanky horns and big band boosh, a futurist Goldfrapp re-imagining of  'Cabaret'.

14. Primal Scream - Know Your Rights (The Clash)

On 'Vanishing Point' Primal Scream found their mojo again for a short while. The single Kowalski was a great electro rock stormer that gave way to a few great covers. The first was a version of '? and the Mysterions' 96 Tears as if done by Suicide, and the other was a brave Happy Mondays/ Mungo Jerry funk stomper called 'Know Your Rights'. This version elevates the frankly banal Clash track from the over-rated 'Combat Rock' album into another arena. Another where I prefer the 'version' to the original.

15. The Rogers Sisters - Object (The Cure)

Arriving from the early 2000's 'post punk' infatuated underground, The Rogers Sisters changed the inference of the Cure's debut album track by having a woman sing it. It doesn't change the original massively, the guitars are still taught and sinewy, and the drums are still, er, drummy, but It's a track I like a lot nontheless.

16. Mudhoney - Urban Guerrilla (Hawkwind)

Hawkwind's 'Urban Guerrilla single was released at the height of their success in 1973, the band unfortunately released the song just before an IRA bombing campaign in London, so the BBC refused to play it and the band's management reluctantly decided to withdraw it fearing accusations of opportunism, despite the disc having already climbed to number 39 in the UK chart. Still, this is a killer version from grunges great lost hero's.

17. The Cramps - Primitive (The Groupies)

The Cramps recorded so many great homages to their hero's, it's hard just to pick just one, but this track from the outstanding debut LP 'Psychedelic Jungle' has a hint of vulnerability that Lux, Ivy ,Brian and Nick didn't often display.
It's a song about doing things 'your way', by the band 'The Groupies' who only released one single (which you can hear on the outstanding box set collections of 60's garage punk, Nuggets and Pebbles).

18. The Sonics - Louie Louie [Live] (The Kingsmen)

Louie Louie must be THE record with the most 'versions' recorded by other bands that I can think of, but 'The Sonics' live version is by far the best. For one it's LOUD, with great sounding overdriven guitars, and a pure animalistic vocal delivery by one of THE most legendary sets of lungs in the garage rock pantheon Gerry Roslie . There's nothing not to like about this song, hell it's so good it should be the national anthem.

19.Two Lone Swordsmen - Sex Beat (The Gun Club)

DJ and performer Andy Weatherall was best know for his storming DJ sets and trips into the outer realms of electronica until the release of 'Double Gone Chapel' when he re examined his rock n roll roots and added a nice electro twist to the precedings. If I'm honest, this is a workaday but enjoyable version of a great Gun Club track from their debut psychobilly classic 'Fire Of Love'.

20. The Teardrop Explodes -Read It In Books (Echo & The Bunnymen)

This is not strictly a cover version, as both Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch both wrote this song together and recorded versions around the same time. But for me, The Teardrop Explodes version has the edge over the Bunnymen's. Maybe it's it's bombastic horn section, or just the that it's a little more focused and driven than Mac's, but it's deffo' one of my favourite 'Teardrops' tracks, taken from their outstanding 1980 classic pop album 'Kilimanjaro'. 

21. Thin White Rope - Yoo do Right (Can)

Thin White Rope did a few covers in their time, of which probably my favourite is a hauntingly psychotic recording of the Lee Hazelwood/ Nancy Sinatra track 'Some Velvet Morning'. They also did a fair rendition of Can's 'Yoo Do Right'. Maybe not as hypnotically grooved as the original, but there's a certain rawness to the proceedings that I kind like.

If you choose to listen, here's hoping you find something to enjoy too.


  1. When I initially read this I thought I didn't listen to any cover versions.
    Then I remembered I listened to this just yesterday:
    I really like it but could imagine most people thinking it's shit, especially obsessive Smiths fans.
    I will check out your selection I haven't played any Ministry/Cabaret Voltaire/Devo stuff for a long time. It almost feels like a betrayal when I do because I used to listen with my childhood sweetheart (but I always liked them more than him anyway - he was into RHCP, Nine inch Nails,and Slayer).

    Is there any music you can't/don't listen to because of memories?

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4UMpEHa_Ns

    That link should work!

  3. Oooh, I love that Schneider TM track, sod what the Smiths fans think, they were a massively over-rated band anyhow.
    Think I have it on some old Rough Trade Shops yearly roundup compilation CD called 'Counter Culture' or something. Actually, most of the Rough Trade comp's since 2001 are worth a listen, and whilst I can't claim to like everything on them, they introduced me to loads of cool stuff.

    I gotta admit, I don't really listen to much Ministry, NIN etc anymore, seems to be more of a teen angst thing with those bands. My eldest turned 16 a while ago and loves em' all, so I guess that bears out what I'm saying (still listen to 'Reign In Blood' by Slayer though from time to time, it's just such a genre defining record).

    Hmm, stuff I don't listen to cos' of memories/associations? Tough call.

    Don't laugh, but Prince did an album called 'Parade' back in the 80's which I associate with a particularly hard break up with my first 'true love'. The final song is a pure cheese fest called 'Sometimes It Snows In April', I still get a lump in my throat when I hear that tune, it still hurts a little, even after all these years.

    Bowie's 'Heroes' gets me too, but that was for a different girl (who went on to be some kind of kids programme promotions manager at Nickleodeon, hell, I knew she was kinda driven but not to that degree).

    Several years ago my wife mis-carried four months into a pregnancy which was difficult and totally creased me a few months later after it had sunk in.
    I got immersed in an album by the Incredible String Band called 'Hangman's Beautiful Daughter' which I found really soothed my soul. I'm not a massive 'folk' fan, but I do still listen to it occasionally. It's a kind of Autumnal record for me, one for when the world gets on top of me. I'll happily (if that's the right word) retreat into it for a week or two. There's a huge amount of melancholy associated with it, but I also find it's a massively uplifting record as well.
    Most of my friends think it's plain odd (or terrible), but they also realise that when I get it out, it's cos' things are getting a bit much (head-wise) and I'm getting a little introspective (hope that's not too revealing).

  4. Not too revealing; I think when music means so much to you there will always be a lot emotional attachment. On days when it rains heavily and I feel a bit lost I often try to listen to Selected Ambient Works. I usually don't get far because it reminds me of my friend who died. I can't remember her without sadness because she was always unhappy. We'd sit in her bedroom making giant collages and drink pots of tea - I'll never have another friend like her. Heartbreak can be wonderfully self-indulgent at times.