Blue Cheer covering Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran – Magnificent Cover Version No.9

Blue Cheer covering Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran

Blue Cheer Summertime Blues

A 1968 hard rock version of a 1958 rock & roll classic.

This was the first track and lead single from Blue Cheer’s first album Vincebus Eruptum and is one of those songs (along with Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild and The Beatles’ Helter Skelter, among many others) that sometimes gets credited with being the first heavy metal song.

They’re also often cited as big influences on grunge and stoner metal, and if you find yourself doubting that, check out the video – in particular Paul Whaley on drums – and ask yourself what grunge/stoner band wouldn’t want him behind them!

Blue Cheer came out of hippie-era San Francisco and were regulars at the Whiskey a Go Go at the same time as The Doors, but had much more in common with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. They were named after a type of LSD peddled by The Grateful Dead’s entourage and in their early days they played dirgey, atonal heavy blues-rock – this cover version being a prime example.

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Sub Pop’s producer, Jack Endino drew parallels between Bleach-era Nirvana and early Blue Cheer when he first recorded the band (at a time when they were called Ted Ed Fred). It’s easy to see where he’s coming from; they’re both dealing in down-tuned, fuzzed-up riffs and snare-denting drums.

This is what makes their Summertime Blues cover appealing. Eddie Cochran’s original is a (brilliant) sparse, acoustic guitar and handclaps, Buddy Holly-style number about a clean-cut teenager, bemoaning the adults curtailing his innocent summer fun. Ten years later, three acid-fuelled maniacs at the heart of the Haight-Ashbury revolution are mocking this image of frustrated rebellion with free love, feedback and waist-length hair.

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Some stuff you may not know about the Butthole Surfers

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A short list of stuff you might not know about psychedelic, scatological, avant-garde, Texan, punk rock reprobates and legends, Butthole Surfers….

  1. Gibby Haynes graduated from Trinity University, San Antonio with an economics degree and having been named ‘Accountant of the Year’.
  2. After graduating, Gibby and his friend Paul Leary published a fanzine called Strange V.D. which featured gruesome photographs of medical conditions captioned with fictitious diseases, like ‘taco leg’.
  3. Gibby printed Strange V.D. at work in his graduate job at a prestigious accountancy firm. He left this job shortly after inadvertently leaving a photo of some infected genitalia to be found on a photocopier.
  4. Haynes and Leary’s next move was to Venice, Southern California where they attempted to make a living producing and selling Lee Harvey Oswald T-shirts. When this venture, surprisingly, didn’t work out, they decided to start a band.
  5. They originally changed the band’s name for every performance before Butthole Surfers stuck. Other names they used included Nine Inch Worm Makes Own Food, Vodka Family Winstons, Ahstray Babyheads and the Inalienable Right To Eat Fred Astaire’s Asshole.bhs 2
  6. In their heyday, the band toured with their pet pit bull who was named after Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad. She was called Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad.
  7. The backwards fiddle on Creep In The Cellar is an accident. When recording their second album, Rembrandt Pussyhorse, the studio used an old tape which had previously been used by a country band and hadn’t been wiped. When the Surfers heard it, they decided to keep it that way.
  8. In The Simpsons episode Hurricane Neddy, Ned Flanders’s son Todd wears a Butthole Surfers T-shirt donated to the family when they lose all their possessions.todd flanders
  9. The band also featured on Beavis & Butthead twice, with the videos for Who Was In My Room Last Night and Dust Devil, both from the album Independent Worm Saloon. The boys are big fans.
  10. The band’s stage shows were infamous, featuring, flaming cymbals, nudity, multiple strobes, fake blood, a ‘piss wand’ and video projections. The most famous film they used featured a man undergoing penile reconstruction surgery following a farm accident. They would sometimes play this backwards.
  11. The sleeve for the album Locust Abortion Technician was designed by Arthur Sarnoff, the artist most famous for his paintings of dogs playing pool.
  12. Drummer Teresa Nervosa appeared in the 1991 Richard Linklater film Slacker. She’s the character on the street trying to sell Madonna’s pap smear.

 

Magnificent Cover Version No.8 – Butthole Surfers covering ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan

Magnificent Cover Version No.17, ‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk covered by Big Black

 

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Magnificent Cover Version No. 8 – Butthole Surfers covering ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan

Butthole Surfers covering ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan

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Legendary scatological, psychedelic, avant-garde, Texas punk reprobates, Butthole Surfers taking on Hurdy Gurdy Man, a 60s, British, hippie/folk  tune.

This was released as a single in 1990 and was included on the Surfers’ 1991 album ‘Pioughd’ – at that time their most accessible yet, by a distance. It builds from a finger-picked acoustic guitar line into a soaring, uplifting rock song that verges closer to straight up pop music than the band ever had before. It’s the bizarre vocal delivery that sets it apart though. It’s hard to tell if Gibby is using effects or his own unique skills, but it comes across like a trippy, vocal wah-wah – a typical, playful Butthole Surfers touch.

And yet, it’s NOT a Butthole Surfers touch; Donovan use the exact same vocal style in the original, which I’ve only just learnt. In fact the original is practically the same as the cover, meaning that once again I’ve broken Magnificent Cover Versions rule number two – the cover must be better than the original. Ah well! Reports vary, but Jimmy Page and John Bonham may have been session musicians on the track too – which might explain why it’s not as lightweight as I’d always assumed.

Eartha Kitt covered ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ too, without doing the weird vocal trick. It’s not that good.

Butthole Surfers’ version of ‘Sweet Leaf by Black Sabbath nearly made it on to the list, but it’s not really a cover, more a reimagining, retitled ‘Sweat Loaf’ to make that clear. It’s not as good as the original either, but it’s still great.

 

 

Magnificent Cover Version No.7 – Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine covering ‘Rent’ by The Pet Shop Boys

Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine covering Rent’ by The Pet Shop Boys

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For the first time in Magnificent Cover Versions, I didn’t like the original song. The Pet Shop Boys were OK – West End Girls and Suburbia were good tunes – but Rent, the original, was dull.

Carter USM did a lot of cover versions – most 12″s they released came with at least one, and loads of them were really good too. Highlights include Everybody’s Happy Nowadays by The Buzzcocks, Bedsitter by Soft Cell, Down In The Tube Station At Midnight by The Jam and This Is How It Feels by Inspiral Carpets. Their version of Alternate Title by The Monkees was a personal favourite, but having two Monkees songs in Magnificent Cover Versions isn’t allowed and besides, Rent, the B-side to the 1990 single Rubbish, is Carter’s classic cover version.

At one time one of Carter’s t-shirts had a photo of The Pet Shop Boys on it with the words ‘But Harder’ underneath it, acknowledging the other band’s influence. The original song is a lightweight, synth-pop affair. Carter’s take on it speeds it up, piles on the guitars and samples and brings it roaring to life, releasing the song’s potential and ramping up the drama of the subject matter. They even play with the lyrics to suit their style; the ‘restaurant on Broadway’ becomes, ‘the restaurant on Fulham Broadway’ – altering the one aspect of the song that doesn’t seem like it’s written for them. It’s an absolutely inspired cover.

I loved Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine from the first time I heard them, playing live at a tiny venue in my home town when I was 15. I’d just recently started going to gigs, and this was the first one by a band that weren’t local and the first one in a proper club. Their name rang a bell from the gig guide in Melody Maker, but this was well before they were getting any sort of coverage and I took a chance, having no idea what to expect.

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When they came onto the tiny stage, there were only two of them and they were weird looking – one of them was tall and bony with a ponytail at the front of his head. They played to a backing track, starting with a hymn interrupted by machine-gun fire before the two band members kicked in with thrashing punk guitars. The guitars paused and front-ponytail man began singing about suicide before the guitars fired up again and built to a crescendo. I was 15 years old, in a real club, hearing music like I’d never heard before at close quarters and it was thrilling.

They had loads of these great punk-pop songs, all beefed-up and enhanced by drum machines and samples. They also had an incredible stage presence. They would come to the front of the foot-high stage to sing, then surge backwards in unison, bent-double, slashing away at their sticker-covered guitars. It was a small club, nowhere near full and nobody seemed to know the band, but they really went for it, with total conviction from start to finish and put on a brilliant show. It was exhilarating and it hooked me straight away.

Carter USM became my new favourite band and remained it for at least a couple of years. I saw them a lot of times after that – at clubs around the country, high on the bill at festivals and at their spiritual home, The Brixton Academy. And whenever I saw them, these two weird looking guys with their backing track, they always gave a great show and they deserved all the success that came their way, because they’d performed like that from the start.

 

 

 

 

Magnificent Cover Version No.6 – (I’m Not Your) ‘Steppin’ Stone’ by The Monkees, covered by Minor Threat

(I’m Not Your) ‘Steppin’ Stone’ by The Monkees, covered by Minor Threat

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Minor Threat doing (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ StoneOh yes! Every version of this song is fucking great! You just can’t go wrong with that E, G, A, C chord progression. Sex Pistols did a very solid take on it and The Farm’s baggy reimagining is well worth a listen too. Minor Threat’s version is the best though.

It turns out it’s not a Monkees’ song after all – who knew? They made it famous but it was originally by Paul Revere & The Raiders.

From this point I’ve decided that another rule for the Magnificent Cover Versions list would be that the original version is properly credited to the original performer – not to someone who’d performed another cover version. It’s important to have arbitrary standards that will become a pain in the arse before long.

I like The Monkees (not as much as Marge Simpson likes them, maybe), but I do like them a lot and I’m not afraid to admit it. Whether they wrote them and/or played them or not, they had some great songs, their TV show was awesome and I particularly love the fact that Mike Nesmith’s mum invented Liquid Paper/Tipp-Ex.

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The Monkees’ version of Steppin’ Stone is a typical slice of their acceptably psychedelic bubble-gum pop, with Hammond organs, hand-claps, harmonies, tambourines and an uncharacteristically bitter sounding vocal from Micky Dolenz. Like most of The Monkees’ output, it’s bouncy, hippie-ish fun.

I like Minor Threat too – the definitive hardcore band and the polar opposite of The Monkees, in many ways.

Hardcore punk appeared in the late-70s, when the original punk rock scene was beginning to wane. Hardcore took the volume, aggression and speed of punk and refined it, making it louder, heavier and, above all, faster.

Black Flag were the single biggest drivers of this resolutely underground movement; touring relentlessly across the US with local bands from unfashionable cities, away from the cultural epicentres of LA and New York, in support. Washington DC was one of the least fashionable cities at the time, but its punk scene in particular thrived. This was ‘harDCore’ and Minor Threat were its star players.

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Formed by Ian McKaye with school friends, their name came from the fact that despite their aggression, they were all minors (and small ones at that). For a lot of hardcore bands, speed was everything and while Minor Threat delivered that, they did it without compromising the power and heft of their music. They also reacted against the self-destructive overtones of punk, advocating a virtuous, straight-edge manifesto – no drink, no drugs, no promiscuous sex.

Minor Threat’s songs were ordinarily furious rants against social injustice, religion, violence or the normalisation of mind-altering substance use, so a Monkees’ cover (sorry, Paul Revere & The Raiders cover) seems quite unlikely. And that’s one of the things that makes a good cover version; when a band takes a song from a different genre, outside its comfort zone and gives it its own twist.

Minor Threat’s cover is a straight-edge, hardcore blast that starts fast and gets faster – though, in truth it lags behind a lot of their output in terms of tempo. The guitars and drums are thrashed out, McKaye barks out the ‘I, I, I’ part and there are certainly no Hammond organs or harmonies. There are though a few production tricks in there – the first part of the track is compressed before it opens up after a minute or so and there’s a reprise of the chorus vocals at the end. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s still unusual for MT to mess around like this and it all works great.

I love this entry in Magnificent Cover Versions. It’s got a wonderful original and an even better cover version and I love the fact that The Monkees are a glossy, 60s, manufactured, Technicolor, idealistic, mainstream hippie pop band while Minor Threat are a no frills, 80s, back to basics, self-started, black and white, furious, underground, hardcore punk band. Two polar-opposite bands playing the same song and each coming up with something unique.