A quick (unfunny) Devo joke

Every time I see a golf ball, I think of Devo’s first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!  True story…

are_we_not_men_we_are_devo

That wasn’t the joke, don’t worry, but it’s not much better than that, to be honest. Apologies in advance. Here goes.

This is my dog;

whippet-08.jpg

His name’s Devo, because he’s a whippet!

You know, because of their most famous song, Whip It? Yeah? Ah, if you have to explain it it’s never funny. Which I did warn you about.

Sorry.

Superchunk’s version of Devo’s awesome Girl U Want is the subject of this Noisecrumbs blog post. You should read one and listen to the other. It’s up to you which way round.

Whippet, ha!

 

 

 

Advertisements

‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails, covered by Johnny Cash – Magnificent Cover No.14

This is another of those obvious cover versions. Every internet wonk who’s ever done a list of the ‘best cover versions of all time’ has this at or near the top. With good reason.

The original was a melancholy, largely acoustic ending to Nine Inch Nails’ second album The Downward Spiral. Introspective and full of self-loathing, it comes across as a cry for help from that ‘very dark place’ of popular artistic cliché.

Trent Reznor was initially uncomfortable with the idea of Cash using the song, fearing that the idea was ‘gimmicky’, but eventually he approved its use. When he heard the cover he immediately knew that the song was no longer his. This was the definitive version.

Johnny Cash’s Hurt smooths out the (deliberate) atonality of Reznor’s composition, replaces the phrase ‘crown of shit’ with ‘crown of thorns’ and, most vitally, has Cash’s voice; diminished by the decades since his heyday, but all the more engaging for its audible frailty and still with its old authority.

Cash’s version of the song is simultaneously bleak and uplifting – perfectly suited to the contradictory Johnny Cash legend; the Christian rock and roll rebel, devoted husband, outlaw and sinner, forever mourning the death of his brother in childhood and anticipating a  reunion with him in heaven, while also fearing for his soul.

Lines like “If I could start again a million miles away” take on new gravitas when sung by a man – an icon – nearing the end of his life. It’s immensely touching and painfully raw. This song, and the powerful accompanying video, opened the music of Johnny Cash up to a new generation at the very tail end of his legendary career.

Cash’s cover only gained in poignancy when his beloved wife and collaborator, June died shortly after its release; “Everyone I know goes away, in the end”.

Of course The Man In Black himself died a couple of months after that. The song was a huge hit, and whether it was meant as a eulogy or not, there’s no denying it works perfectly in that capacity.

nin-hurt

 

‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath, covered by Alice Donut – Magnificent Cover Version No.13

OK, truth is Alice Donut’s rendition of War Pigs may not be an improvement on the original. It might not technically be a cover version at all; more a reimagining or a tribute – a bit like Butthole Surfers’ cover of another Black Sabbath classic, Sweet Leaf. It’s obscure, funny and endearingly daft though. Endearingly Daft Cover Version No.1.

The track is a highlight of their 1991 album Revenge Fantasies Of The Impotent which I acquired on a record buying trip decades ago for three reasons:

  1. Melody Maker had described Alice Donut as a “paranoid, darkly psychedelic hardcore band”, which sounded good to me.
  2. It was released on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label.
  3. It was called Revenge Fantasies Of The Impotent; a superb title.

I’d never heard anything by Alice Donut before buying this album, but sometimes in life, you just have to take a chance and speculate £8.99 of your Saturday job money on a record by a band you think you might like. Tellingly, I never bought anything else by Alice Donut. But, then again, this record survived the cull my record collection endured in the lean years when I first got my own place.

It seems like Revenge Fantasies… wasn’t the best place to start with Alice Donut. The Melody Maker article quoted above recommended 1992’s The Untidy Suicides Of Your Degenerate Children as Donut’s best album. Listening to some more of the band’s output now, they might have been right. Untidy Suicides from that album is particularly good, especially if you like to hear a cowbell used in a song, which I do. Their 1989 album Bucketfulls Of Sickness And Horror In An Otherwise Meaningless Life might also have been a better introduction to the band, judging by this excellent tune, My Life Is A Mediocre Piece Of Shit.

At this point we ought to pause and reflect on some of the outstanding song titles that Alice Donut have used. We’ve already had Untidy Suicides and My Life Is A Mediocre Piece Of Shit, but their repertoire also includes:

  • Testosterone Gone Wild
  • Cow’s Placenta To Armageddon
  • She Loves You She Wants You It’s Amazing How Much Head Wounds Bleed
  • My Best Friend’s Wife
  • The Son Of A Disgruntled X-Postal Worker Reflects On His Life While Getting Stoned In The Parking Lot Of A Winn Dixie Listening To Metallica
  • Madonna’s Bombing Sarajevo

Clearly, this is a band with a tremendous talent for naming songs.

Alice Donut band shot

Anyway, the War Pigs cover itself is an abbreviated, slightly stilted rendition of Black Sabbath’s best song (some people prefer Paranoid; they’re wrong) with the main difference being that the vocals have been replaced with brass instruments. Lines like ‘Evil minds that plot destruction’ are given powerful new resonance when farted out on a trombone, as you can imagine. While the original clocks in at nearly eight minutes, this one is all over in under three.

It turns out that Alice Donut had used this same formula since, with a live cover of The Beatles’ Helter Skelter, and they’ve used it since to cover the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind. Somehow, the AD version of the Pixies song, with trombones replacing vocals, works really well. In fact it’s quite a bit better than their version of War Pigs.

Of course what should happen now is that I should replace Alice Donut’s version of War Pigs as a Magnificent Cover Version with Where Is My Mind and rewrite all the stuff above. However, this is a blog not an academic paper, so instead I’m going to make this unprecedented move:

‘Where Is My Mind’ by Pixies, covered by Alice Donut –

Magnificent Cover Version No.13, part b

10 glorious animals.jpg

So, there you go – two cover versions for the price of one. Alice Donut’s War Pigs wasn’t as good as I remembered, but they’re a much better band than I thought, with a penchant for performing songs in a rare punk/brass fusion and a wide selection of evocative song titles.

Alice Donut’s website  is www.alicedonut.com. It’s still publicising a show in Paris in 2014 so it looks like they’re currently inactive. Their Twitter feed tells a similar story.

 

‘Kick Out The Jams’ by MC5 covered by Rage Against The Machine – Magnificent Cover Version No.25

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

 

‘Lola’ by The Kinks covered by Cud – Magnificent Cover Version No.12

The Kinks’ Lola is just a brilliant song isn’t it? Laid back, sleazy, sexy, funny, clever rock and roll.

In the opening bars, Ray Davies portrays the naïve kid at large in Soho; his voice shell-shocked and timid over an innocuous, finger-picked, folksy acoustic guitar line. But then we meet Lola – L-O-L-A, Lola. La, la, la, la Lola – and it takes off in a big way.

“I’m not the world’s most physical guy, but when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine.”

It’s full of killer lines, sleazy riffs and sloppy percussion. Lola sees The Kinks go barrelling into Rolling Stones territory and making themselves very comfortable.

The Kinks Lola.png

“Now, I’m not dumb but I don’t understand why she walks like a woman and talks like a man”. Well, mate, you say you’re not dumb but you’re not the sharpest shirt on Carnaby Street if you can’t work out what’s going on there. In fairness, this was released in 1970, but it was the mention of Coca Cola rather than the edgy subject matter that got the song banned by the BBC, forcing Ray to make a round trip across the Atlantic from a US tour just to re-record that part as ‘cherry cola’.

the-kinks

As the night wears on and the champagne flows, Ray loosens up, until by the end, he’s repeatedly hollering “Lola” in a besotted, throaty roar. This is the night that changes everything and you know that timid little voice that opened the song is never coming back.

cud-lola

Cud were my favourite band for about two weeks when I was a teenager. They were a Leeds indie band with a nice line in catchy pop tunes, cryptic lyrics and odd album covers. I don’t know why it didn’t last, but I moved on to other things and never went back.

They were never afraid to cover an iconic tune. They did a jokey version of You Sexy Thing for a Peel Session and even (shambolically) tackled Bohemian Rhapsody for the Alvin Lives In Leeds compilation a couple of years later. Their cover of Lola is actually pretty faithful – respectful even. It sounds like a band playing a song they love.

Other than a nice, new, prominent bassline, some minor rearrangements and a bit of  wah-wah added to the end of the main riff, the main thing distinguishing it from the original is Carl Puttnam’s powerful, distinctive voice. His voice was always Cud’s biggest selling point and he puts in one of his best recorded performances on Lola. It was the perfect song for him really – he was happier than most indie frontmen of that time (1989) to sing about sex and the way the song builds to a climax suited his vocal talents ideally.

Cud’s Lola is a magnificent cover version. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original song but without changing too much, the band make it their own.

Shit video though.

Cud colour

‘Different Drum’ by Linda Ronstadt, covered by The Lemonheads – Magnificent Cover Version No. 27

‘Hey, Hey Helen’ by ABBA, covered by Lush – Magnificent Cover Version No. 3