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