tv on the radio - young liars ep sleeve

‘Mr Grieves’ by the Pixies covered by TV on the Radio – Magnificent Cover Version No.41

New York experimentalists TV on the Radio released their cover of the Pixies’ Mr Grieves as the fifth track of five on their 2003 debut EP, Young Liars. While the Pixies’ original begins as a sloppy reggae number before morphing into an aggressive, jittery, Latin-tinged indie rock number, TV on the Radio’s cover is this mesmerising, low tempo a cappella track.

TV on the Radio are well known for pushing boundaries and mixing up genres in their eclectic output, but assembling a male voice choir for a recording still seems like an odd move even for them. And in truth, they didn’t. Technically, this is a solo track from founder member Tunde Adebimpe. He painstakingly performed and recorded the vocal parts and finger clicks himself multiple times, multi-tracking them into a stunningly effective three-part harmony. Having gone to so much effort and achieved such a stunning result, the oddest thing of all is that the track is given so little prominence.

Mr Grieves of course contains the lyric which gave the Pixies album Doolittle its name:

Pray for a man in the middle
One that talks like Doolittle

I’m on record as saying Doolittle is the Pixies’ best album and, I don’t know, probably that’s true. But you could make an argument for any of their original output. Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa are the most obvious contenders but you could make an argument for any of their original output. I’ll always have a soft spot for Bossanova as the first vinyl album I ever bought and Trompe le Monde has some brilliant songs as well. So, as this is completely subjective anyway, I reserve the right to change this decision at will.

Pixies - Doolittle sleeve

TV on the Radio were chosen to support the Pixies for the eight consecutive gigs they performed at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York as part of the latter’s 2004 reunion tour. The Pixies played Mr Grieves at those shows, TVOTR, understandably, didn’t. Probably the younger band’s hipness was more of a factor for them being picked for this honour than their reimagining of Mr Grieves. But Black Francis has since described their haunting, a capella take on it as ‘awesome’. He’s right too.

 

‘Head On’ by The Jesus & Mary Chain covered by Pixies – Magnificent Cover Version No.16

Trashed! The Pixies

‘Transmission’ by Joy Division covered by Hot Chip – Magnificent Cover Version No. 35

 

 

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World of Twist - The Storm 12" sleeve

‘She’s A Rainbow’ by The Rolling Stones, covered by World of Twist – Magnificent Cover Version No.40

This cover of The Rolling Stones’ psychedelic pop masterpiece She’s A Rainbow was the B-side to The Storm, the tempestuous debut single of the much-missed World of Twist. It’s a slightly unusual cover version in that – aside from a beefed up rhythm section and a different vocalist – it’s virtually indistinguishable from the original. You can play them simultaneously if you like. I don’t care though, because it was one of the first records I ever bought. It was the 12″ with photos of kettles on the sleeve. I played it over and over too, flipping from side A, The Storm (12” Version) followed by She’s A Rainbow, to side B, She’s A Rainbow (12” Version) followed by The Storm. God it was great.

The Storm itself is an atmospheric and invigorating blast of acid-house/indie-glam with personality to spare and more hooks than a Philadelphia meat locker. Hippyish and ultra-danceable, The Storm is driven along by a hyperactive rhythm section and accented with psychedelic synthesizer sounds, squally guitar licks, thunder samples and Tony Ogden’s breathless vocals.

World of Twist was one of those bands that really should have been huge. They seemed to have everything they needed to go stellar; the talent, the tunes and a strong, distinctive image. Even their timing seemed to be perfect, arriving with their floor-filling sound in 1990, just as indie-dance and techno was invading the mainstream.

But it didn’t quite happen for them. So, rather than reaching their potential and entering a wider public consciousness, they had to settle for making a deep and lasting impression on a small number of people.

The story of World of Twist can be roughly divided into two halves – the first, when they did absolutely everything right and the second….not so much.

By the time they released The Storm, World of Twist had established an original and exhilarating sound, fusing progressive rock, indie-pop and acid house. They built a reputation for being great live and erudite, entertaining and quotable in person. Consequently, the music press loved them too. So much so that for a time one particular music paper pushed to introduce a new subgenre to define them – kitschedelia.

The kitsch part of this was down to the strong, art school aesthetic that World of Twist cultivated – a kind of enigmatic, Python-esque, very British, retro imagery that infused their record sleeves, promotional materials and band photos. There aren’t many snaps of World of Twist wearing jeans and trying to look surly in a dingy alley; not when they could be shot in full Victorian military regalia instead. (The fantastic World of Twist online library is highly recommended for more on the band’s aesthetics.)

World of Twist photo by Paul Morgan

World of Twist photo by Paul Morgan

The band got lots of airplay, TV slots and radio sessions – including an enduringly excellent one with John Peel – and released a couple more singles as good as The Storm, including Sons of the Stage, another psychedelic, indie-dance monster with a killer bassline at the bottom, a charismatic Tony Ogden vocal on the surface, and swirling depths of sound in between.

Their debut album was hotly anticipated and they’re reputed to have spent £250,000 of record company money recording it. They’d done everything right up to that point. If the album was up to the standard they’d set with their singles they were going to be huge.

World of Twist - Quality Street sleeve

Sadly, the release of their debut album marked the beginning of the end for World of Twist. The LP, Quality Street, was a huge disappointment; to critics, to fans – me included – and to the band themselves. Aside from the singles, the songs were a little lacklustre, but the big problem was the production – the hugely expensive production. It was awful. The intricate depths of instrumentation were buried and Tony Ogden’s vocal was pushed too high in the mix. Ogden wasn’t a strong singer in the traditional sense, but his enigmatic vocals were perfect as an equal component of a song. On Quality Street, his voice was up on a pedestal and expected to carry several cuts. The rhythm section that had provided the engine for singles like Sons of the Stage and The Storm sounded weedy and weak. In short, it just didn’t sound good.

In 2005, Tony Ogden gave his honest appraisal of the album experience:

“We had an amazing time. We wanted to make the greatest psychedelic dance rock album ever and there was a lot of coke and E in the studio. But the album came out at half normal volume. We’d spent £250,000 making an album with the smallest bollocks in pop history! The band just fell apart. We were smoking marijuana for breakfast and that led to communication problems. I didn’t wanna sing, the guitarist didn’t wanna play. When the company didn’t get a hit they threw us in the bin. I was devastated – I spent four years on smack watching Third Reich movies because the good guys always win. I’m really sorry for letting our fans down. But I’d ask anyone to play that World of Twist album 20 times with every dial on full. If it doesn’t rock, come and smash it over my head.”

Quality Street didn’t even make the Top 40 and World of Twist were swiftly dropped from their label. What happened next is hard to definitively say. It depends on which band member you believe, and sometimes, on which version of what that band member says in contradicting quotes. Either they were set to be picked up by Creation Records and either refused to sign or gambled on asking for an exorbitant advance, not caring whether they won or lost. Or World of Twist was only ever meant to be a temporary art project and the album was the pre-planned conclusion of this project. Or Tony Ogden suddenly lost all his confidence and tried to take a less prominent role in the band with either another band member or a new recruit taking over as frontman. Whatever the truth, Quality Street was their first and last album. World of Twist had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and were finished.

The Storm - World of Twist poster

A lot of love remained for the band, even as it became increasingly obvious that they weren’t ever coming back. After the split, Tony Ogden continued making music for his own pleasure and rebuilt his self-belief away from the spotlight. He’d been making tentative steps towards a return to the industry when he died suddenly in 2006, aged just 44.

World of Twist made some brilliant music but never achieved the level of success they deserved or attained the riches that so many less original bands did during the ‘90s. But like a brilliant young footballer who wows their home crowd for a couple of seasons before injuries and alcoholism derail the career everyone had anticipated for them, they made a deep and lasting impression on everyone they reached and their legend only grows as the years pass.

 

‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’ by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, covered by The Wedding Present – Magnificent Cover Version No.4

‘Gimme Shelter’ by The Rolling Stones covered by Patti Smith – Magnificent Cover Version No.26

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

Trashed! ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure

Pavement - Major Leagues EP cover

‘The Classical’ by The Fall covered by Pavement – Magnificent Cover Version No. 39

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Pavement ripped off The Fall for their sound. Okay, it may not be universally acknowledged, but plenty of people have commented on the similarities over the years, including the late, great Mark E. Smith himself. Here’s what he told Melody Maker in 1993:

“People were coming up to me saying ‘listen to this’, and playing me Pavement records on a Walkman, and I just asked, ‘What live tape is that of ours? Is that from Holland in 1987 or something? That’s a fucking drum riff I wrote. The cheek!'”

Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus has always been happy to confirm The Fall’s influence on his music, while always stopping short of admitting outright plagiarism. The point is, it’s hardly a surprise that Pavement eventually released a Fall cover. And when they did, they chose one of their most exuberant and bombastic tunes – The Classical.

The Fall’s 1982 original of The Classical opens their album Hex Enduction Hour and it’s a joyous six minutes of cacophonous glory from a line up featuring Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley and two drummers. It’s full of classic Smith lyrics including:

  • “Made with the highest British attention, to the wrong detail” 
  • “I have never felt better in my life”

and, of course:

  • “Hey there, fuckface”

There was always a lot of humour in The Fall’s music, but it seems like it was a more fundamental part of their appeal during the first half of their existence. There was a playfulness to them which was more prominent back then.

The Fall - Hex Enduction Hour cover

Pavement’s rendition of The Classical is reverentially faithful – albeit, they sensibly drop the ‘N’ word from the opening of the song. It’s the sort of loving treatment you’d expect from avowed fans.

Pavement’s cover was released on their 1999 Major Leagues EP but was originally recorded for a Peel Session. This is highly appropriate since John Peel, as The Fall’s most notable champion, is the man responsible for introducing them to most of the world, including me. Having found The Fall through Peel in the early-’90s and randomly dipped into their already extensive discography since then, it was only when listening to the 2004, career-spanning collection 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong, and playing 25 years worth of their material in chronological order that their influence became clear to me. l kept finding myself thinking things along the lines of, “Everyone sounded like this in 1991”, only to then see that the track in question to was from 1986. They were always well ahead of their time. So when MES said of Pavement after they first appeared on the scene:

“It’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.”

…he was being (characteristically) harsh. That was true of a lot of bands, it’s just that Malkmus and his buddies didn’t bother to hide it.

Following Smith’s death, Stephen Malkmus was asked explicitly about his influence by Pitchfork. He said:

“I wasn’t like the Fall fan compared to a lot of my friends, but I certainly thought Mark was cool, and one of our albums, Slanted and Enchanted, has three or four songs that totally mess with his way of doing stuff. I never denied it—I’ve never been one to deny ideas I’ve taken. They always come out through a prism of me.”

Seems fair enough. And Slanted and Enchanted is a very fine album too. Presumably, this is one of the ‘three or four songs’ referenced above:

This would be the first time someone had pointed out the similarity of Conduit for Sale! to A New Face In Hell.

Apparently, Malkmus never got to meet Mark E Smith. He had the opportunity once at a reunion gig but was too shy. It’s probably just as well. Chances are it wouldn’t have gone well. Here’s the hip priest’s reaction to being appreciated by Fall fans, Fat White Family backstage at Glastonbury, as told to The Guardian shortly before his death:

“They got a bit cheeky so they were taught a lesson, I don’t think they’re fans anymore. They came and sat next to us and thought they were it. Big mistake. I was giving a glass of champagne to the lads before we went on and one of them just walks up and I just threw it in his face. He was showing off and there was a bit of a standoff. I like the stuff of theirs I’ve heard though. It was a pretty weird day that, the Dalai Lama was there.”

Of course there are a million MES stories like this. The man was a true original. Maybe that’s why he found it so uncomfortable and lashed out if he felt he was being copied. Maybe his Fat White Family story tells us that he never lost his playfulness after all. Whatever it tells us, he’ll be missed.

 

‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’ by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, covered by The Wedding Present – Magnificent Cover Version No.4

‘Love Buzz’ by Shocking Blue covered by Nirvana – Magnificent Cover Version No.11

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

 

 

‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ by The Rolling Stones covered by Devo – Magnificent Cover Version No.38

In a 1995 interview, Devo founder Gerald Casale was asked to name the ultimate rock and roll song. Afer giving this due consideration for several moments he gave the perfect answer – Sympathy For The Devil by The Rolling Stones.

With this in mind, it’s worth reconsidering Devo’s quirky, ironic and iconoclastic take down of The Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. It may be a barely recognisable reconstruction of the original, but it’s not a piss-take. It’s not a rejection of a classic, it’s an update. They even had to play it for Mick Jagger in person before they could release it as a single. He loved it.

Devo leave out the song’s central component, Keith Richards’ legendary riff, and replace it with bent guitar strings, jerky rhythm, stop/start beat and that agitated bassline. The vocal line is close enough to hint at the original but other than that it’s a complete reimagining of Satisfaction for a new era.

Resolutely looking to the future was part of the Devo philosophy.  It was also part of part of what separated them from their punk contemporaries. Devo didn’t like to be associated with the punk scene which they saw as musically and aesthetically backward looking. Their refusal to adhere to these accepted norms sometimes led to conflict, notably with The Dead Boys who attacked them onstage at CBGB. Devo’s beliefs were absolutely central to them and dated back to the inception of Devo as an abstract concept, long before they began dabbling in music.

As a student in 1970, Casale had witnessed the Kent State shootings and subsequent media reaction first-hand. Profoundly affected, he changed overnight from a pot-smoking hippie into an angry, politicised individual. It wasn’t until seeing David Bowie on his 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour that things began to make sense again for him and Devo was the result. In partnership with Mark Mothersbaugh they founded the artistic movement with the plan of combining the high ideas of classical art and literature with the crassest and most absurd elements of popular culture. This was a comment on what they saw as the de-evolution of mankind – the species having peaked, some way short of perfection and now heading steadily backwards – with the exception of themselves of course.

Casale and Mothersbaugh developed the idea in their physical art, short films and what would now be termed performance art. All the time they would consciously tread a fine line between appearing smart and stupid. They termed this ‘Ironic Idiocy’.

Both Casale and Mothersbaugh played music as a hobby – blues and hard rock, respectively. Eventually they began to think about what Devo music would sound like. Continuing with their commitment to ‘Ironic Idiocy’, they took their influences from Bowie, early Roxy Music and ‘bad TV and movie soundtracks’. A line-up which eventually included each of their brothers began playing music in a basement and recording it on four-tracks. It was several years before they performed live, by which time they had a large repertoire of original songs down, as well as their cover of Satisfaction.

Devo Satisfaction sleeve

Eventually, one of their short films won a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which brought them to the attention of Bowie himself, who tipped off Brian Eno. While in New York, Eno took himself to Max’s Kansas City to see Devo performing their inimitable brand of high/low brow pop while dressed in matching janitor overalls, clear face masks and toy hard hats. Plans were made for Eno to produce their first album.

Devo flew to Cologne for the sessions with Eno. It was the first time they’d been recorded professionally. When they heard the tapes back they were appalled to hear themselves sounding like a real band, having spent so long trying to undermine real bands. Regardless, the result of this was their debut LP Q: Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!, a record which perfectly captures their obsessions and brought the band to the world’s attention.

For my money, the band peaked a couple of albums later with Freedom Of Choice, a masterpiece which featured the classic Whip It and the even more fantastic work of genius, Girl U WantBut Are We Not Men was a great LP in its own right and the cover of (I Cant’ Get No) Satisfaction became a minor hit single in the UK. In addition, Freedom Of Choice introduced their highly original sound and their unique viewpoint; knowingly merging the cerebral with the trivial and always looking forward. It took the astute and fertile minds of Casale and Mothersbaugh many years to fully develop this attitude and their idiosyncratic update of Satisfaction was a pretty good expression of it.

 

‘Girl U Want’ by Devo, covered by Superchunk – Magnificent Cover Version No.1

Trashed! The Velvet Underground & Nico

Deodato’s jazz/funk version of ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (2001) – Magnificent Cover Version No.28

‘Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah’ by Membranes covered by That Petrol Emotion – Magnificent Cover Version No.37

That Petrol Emotion’s cover of the Membranes’ Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah was released as a limited edition single as part of the Clawfist Records Singles Club in 1991. For the flip side, the Membranes reciprocated with a cover of That Petrol Emotion’s Big Decision (Slight Return). Clawfist Records was an offshoot of the Vinyl Solution label which in turn was a subsidiary of the independent London record shop of the same name (though now called Intoxica).

The Clawfist Singles Club ran for around five years from 1990 and also featured acts like Cud, The Family Cat, BMX Bandits, Bevis Frond and The Mekons.

This is all pretty exhaustingly obscure now, and probably the only reason I remember anything about any of it is that TPE’s cover of Everybody’s Going’… was on a tape I compiled while listening to John Peel back then. The recording included a little bit of Peel’s introduction which mentioned Clawfist and this stuck in my mind because I listened to that tape a lot. That’s mainly down to how great this song is.

After a suitably trippy sample from one of those earnest, vintage American documentaries about the dangers of drugs, Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah gives you a joyful, high-velocity, pop-punk blast through a catalogue of ways to alter your consciousness:

Alcohol and pills,
Sex, TV,
Coffee, dope,
Nicotine

It’s a gloriously naïve celebration of the good bits about getting fucked up – including using the ‘plastic skin on a garden hose’, which is a new one on me – building to the climactic chorus consisting of a few repetitions of the song’s brilliantly daft title.

I’d never heard anything by either That Petrol Emotion or the Membranes before Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah, but back in 1991, this song put both of them on to my ever growing mental list of bands to be looked into.

Strangely enough, that split single was the last release the Membranes would have for 26 years.

Membranes Big Decision

That Petrol Emotion were also on a downward trajectory by that time. The band had been formed by John and Damian O’Neill in the mid-’80s after their previous band, The Undertones had split up. They relocated from Derry to London and recruited American singer Steve Mack who added his charismatic vocals to their melodic sound. TPE built up a loyal following playing small venues around the capital and their debut album Manic Pop Thrill was excitedly reviewed by the music press and went to number one on the indie charts.

Major labels came in for the band and they signed for Polydor and later Virgin. With great songs that seemed bang inline with the zeitgeist, bags of personality, a healthy fan base and the guarantee of John Peel’s patronage thanks to their Undertones connections, it seemed inevitable that they’d become hugely successful. They even had a singer from Seattle.

In the end though, they fizzled out. The eclectic nature of their releases kept sales figures down and this, coupled with their tendency toward being politically outspoken on the subject of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’, meant that they were just too much trouble for their labels and they were dropped and split up for good in 1994. Despite all their promise, they’d  never got closer to cracking the Top 40 as they had in 1987 with Big Decision (Slight Return) – the one covered by the Membranes – which peaked at 42.

the-membranes-big-decision-slight-return-1991-4

The Membranes of course never got anywhere near as close to the pop charts as that. They were a resolutely underground band. After they split, frontman John Robb found far more fame as a music journalist and commentator than he ever had as a musician.

But in 2015, taking unlikely inspiration from the work of the CERN Project and the vaguely sinister Large Hadron Collider, he reformed the band to record a concept album about space and the universe. I was asked to review this for an online magazine, so finally got around to checking the Membranes out.

The resulting record, Dark Matter/Dark Energy is a superb album which surprised everyone by becoming their biggest-selling record to date. This in turn lead to an increased interest in the band and the release in 2017 of a 5-CD collection of everything they’d released last century. The title of this release?  Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah.

Membranes records had become hard to find by the early-’90s, so this collection was a treasure trove of rarities, including both the original Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah and the Membranes cover of Big Decision. 

The original Everybody’s Goin’… is rather less celebratory than That Petrol Emotion’s cover. It’s all queasily atonal guitar riffs and disorientating rhythms and vocals. It’s similarly adrenalized but there’s definitely a noticeable nod toward the downside of drugs in this version. You get the feeling it’s gone too far.

For the cover, TPE had sifted through the manic, hardcore punk and filtered out a thrilling little pop song that bares little resemblance to the original. There’s no naivety in the Membranes version. It’s out of control.

So then there’s their cover of That Petrol Emotion’s Big Decision. The original Big Decision was a gleefully jumpy indie-pop cracker that would’ve justifiably sailed into the Top 10 in the Britpop era had it been released a few years later. The Membranes cover isn’t like that at all. Robb and the band turn it into a driving, threateningly melancholy, psychedelic epic. Again, it’s nothing like the original but it’s highly listenable and strangely beautiful, actually quite like a track from Dark Matter/Dark Energy. It’s not on YouTube so you’ll have to take my word for it. Better still, buy the boxset.


See, this is the kind of thing John Peel did all the time. He brought life-enhancing music to everybody’s attention constantly. Fourteen years after his death, and 27 years after that particular broadcast, an obscure, limited edition record he played at fuck knows what time at night opened up a world of fascination that’s sustained to the present day and is still bringing artists to listeners’ attention. It’s easier than ever to access new music these days, but I’m not sure that sort of thing happens any more.

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

Trashed! ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’

Millhouse – Indie Music Mentor

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

Monster Magnet band shot 1995

‘I’m Five Years Ahead Of My Time’ by The Third Bardo covered by Monster Magnet – Magnificent Cover Version No. 36

Monster Magnet - Dopes to Infinity sleeve

Stoner rock legends Monster Magnet paying tribute to the trippy, hippy-era classic. Makes sense.

The Third Bardo were a psychedelic garage rock band from New York who were active in the late ‘60s and distinguished themselves from their contemporaries with their prominent Eastern influence. This infiltrated both the band’s name – a reference to Bardo Thodol; popularly known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead – and their sound. You can hear this influence in the mind-expanding minor chords of I’m Five Years Ahead Of My Time and in its searing, needle-sharp guitar solo.

During the couple of years that The Third Bardo were active they managed the sum total of one recording session. Out of this session came six tracks, including I’m Five Years Ahead Of My Time, and its B-side Rainbow Life, which is considerably further out there than Five Years… and no better for it. Apart from having a Spinal Tap Stonehenge vibe about it, it lacks the grit and vehemence of the main track. A lot of the harshness and attitude on the A-side came from the ultra-confident lyrics, vehement delivery and sandpaper vocal chords of singer Jeff Monn.

I’m living somewhere in a new dimension,
I’m leaving everyone so far behind
Don’t waste any time girl, step inside my mind
I’m five years ahead of my time
Look into my mind, look ahead, don’t look behind
I’m five years ahead of my time

The song stopped getting radio play when someone looked at these lyrics and leapt to the conclusion that they could be construed as drug-related.

This proved to be The Third Bardo’s one and only single release. Jeff Monn went on to release music as a solo artist, toning down the garage and psychedelia in favour of a more accessible, straightforward hippy sound, before re-emerging later with an album of entertaining blues rock under the stage name of Chris Moon with The Chris Moon Group.

The Third Bardo were in danger of being completely forgotten, but fortunately I’m Five Years Ahead Of My Time made it on to a 1979 Pebbles compilation of psych/garage rock and several such subsequent collections, which may or may not be where Monster Magnet got to hear it.

Monster Magnet – spaced out, Sabbath riffing

It’s a mystery to me why Monster Magnet never became huge in the ’90s. At that time their spaced-out, Sabbath riffing, supernatural and intergalactic obsessions and ‘shroom-inspired lyrics were instrumental in pioneering the stoner rock genre. They not only rocked, they were funny and clever at the same time. Seemingly they fell just the wrong side of fashion and the all-important arbiters of taste in the music press at the time with their retro leanings and image, despite a guitar sound that many Sub Pop bands would have killed for. Maybe it had something to do with Dave Wyndorf’s moustache?

For me, their 1995 third album Dopes To Infinity was their peak – it doesn’t have a weak track on it and is one to go back to again and again. The trippy title track is a prime example of the band’s psychedelic grunge, and the Monster Magnet cover of Five Years Ahead Of My Time was a B-side to the Dopes To Infinity single. Other than infusing the song with a crunching, precise, dials-up power, they didn’t change it a whole lot. There was no need to – it could easily have been a MM original and Dave Wyndorf and Jeff Monn sing from the same place. The cover is a worthy and fitting homage that helped to preserve the legend of a great, almost lost song through yet another decade.


Monster Magnet is still going with Dave Wyndorf as the only original member. He claims to no longer use psychedelics and, for reasons I don’t fully understand, that makes me feel slightly sad.

Dopes to Infinity

 

‘Transmission’ by Joy Division covered by Hot Chip – Magnificent Cover Version No. 35

Transmission comes as close to being archetypal Joy Division as any track in their incredibly strong but tragically brief discography. Released as a single between their two albums, Unknown Pleasures in 1979 and Closer in 1980, it’s intense, captivating, claustrophobic and with the palpable sense of threat that this unique band were capable of conjuring up at will.

Like all Joy Division songs, it’s haunted by the ghost of Ian Curtis. The depth of his lyrics is matched by the sincerity and desperation in his voice. He was just 22 when Transmission was recorded, but he sounds much older. Much wearier.

And we would go on as though nothing was wrong
And hide from these days we remained all alone
Staying in the same place, just staying out the time
Touching from a distance
Further all the time

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio

It’s affecting, unsettling, electrifying and beautiful. It’s perfection.

So why would anyone cover it? What would make an indie, electro-pop band like Hot Chip dip into Joy Division’s iconic legacy and tackle a cover version of Transmission? The answer is that Joy Division asked them to, as part of the 2009 compilation War Child Heroes

The concept behind this charity release was for music legends to pick one of their own songs and nominate a contemporary artist to cover it. Bob Dylan nominated Beck to do Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, Paul McCartney picked Duffy to play Live And Let Die and surviving members of Joy Division chose Transmission and Hot Chip.

Hot Chip had the good taste both to be reluctant to accept the invitation – “we didn’t want to piss off any die-hard fans” – and to make the cover their own. They took the eerie paranoia of the original and replaced it with a laid back, sleazy, ’80s cocktail lounge vibe.

The opening is reminiscent of Talk Talk’s It’s My Life the it fades out at the end rather than building to a climax like the original. In between it settles into a Kraftwerk-like rendition with scribbly guitar motifs, robotic voices and synthesized steel drum sounds. It’s definitely Transmission and it’s definitely Hot Chip too. Peter Hook felt able to endorse it, “They seem to be having fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously. I like that.”

Someone who does take himself too seriously is Billy Corgan. It would be interesting to hear Peter Hook’s opinion on Smashing Pumpkins’ overblown, 13 minute long 1998 cover of Transmission. I don’t know what Hooky’s opinion is but I can give you mine – it’s shit.

 

The Dead Kennedys covering ‘Viva Las Vegas’ by Elvis Presley – Magnificent Cover Version No.31

‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ by The Beatles, covered by The Breeders – Magnificent Cover Version No. 2

Trashed! ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’

‘Like A Virgin’ by Madonna covered by Teenage Fanclub – Magnificent Cover Version No.34

Teenage Fanclub’s goofy cover of Like A Virgin is a joy. The sunny pop of this classic from Madonna’s early-period fits in perfectly with TFC’s own brand of uplifting love songs. Naturally, they play it with a fuzzed-up, shambolic, jangle but otherwise it’s pretty faithful. Weirdly, this quintessential Madonna track could be mistaken for a Teenage Fanclub composition, if only there was anyone on the planet who hadn’t heard the original.

Like A Virgin is the clear highlight on Teenage Fanclub’s understandably maligned 1991 album The King. There were rumours that The King was a quick way for the band to  fulfil a contract obligation with the label Matador, but the truth is it was a youthful joke that got out of hand. Norman Blake remembers the band saying, “Let’s make a LP overnight. We’ll just improvise some songs and do some covers and cobble it all together”. Creation boss Alan McGee liked the idea and his label pressed 20,000 copies of it before deleting it the same day. Truthfully, it’s one for big Fannies fans only.

Of course one of the main reasons there are plenty of big Fannies fans around is their next album, Bandwagonesque, released later the same year. It was a great record and a huge hit for the band. It became one of the essential albums of 1991, a year that saw more than its fair share of essential albums, with Nevermind, Loveless and Screamadelica among the other timeless classics to come out.

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I have a confession. I didn’t buy Bandwagonesque until a few years after it came out. This is because I was still at school in 1991 and had a limited budget for record purchases. Consequently my record collection at that time was made up of a few, carefully selected full-price purchases, birthday/Christmas presents, occasional finds from second hand shops and stuff from out of sale bins in Woolworths, HMV and Our Price, supplemented with tapes recorded from friends. It was more a cobbled together mish-mash of gems and disappointments than a carefully curated expression of my musical self, but I loved it and cherished it. Much as I liked Teenage Fanclub, I had to wait to acquire their breakthrough album.

I waited a lot longer to acquire a Madonna album. I got The Immaculate Collection on CD around 2000 – looking over my shoulder furtively on the way to the checkout for fear of being spotted by anyone I knew. I bought it for reasons of nostalgia and also for having something I could stick on if my sister ever visited me. I quite like Into The Groove and Like A Prayer. Much prefer the Teenage Fanclub version of Like A Virgin though.


Teenage Fanclub have released quite a few other covers. These include versions of some of my favourite songs of all time; The Velvet Underground’s Who Loves The Sun, Pixies’ Here Comes Your Man, The Beatles’ The Ballad of John and Yoko and Nirvana’s About A Girl, which is particular excellent. The other cover on The King is Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive. It’s not great.

‘Love Buzz’ by Shocking Blue covered by Nirvana – Magnificent Cover Version No.11

‘Judgment Night’ Soundtrack – Rap Rock’s last stand

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

 

 

1000 Homo DJs covering ‘Supernaut’ by Black Sabbath – Magnificent Cover Version No.32

1000 Homo DJs was one of Al Jourgensen’s many short-lived side projects, which amounted to two 12″ releases in total – Apathy in 1988 and Supernaut in 1990. The latter saw Jourgensen and other members of Ministry collaborating with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to cover the 1972 Black Sabbath delight Supernaut.

Al Jourgensen has been synonymous with industrial metal for so long now that it’s hard to believe Ministry started off doing a kind of OMD-style synth-pop in early-’80s Chicago. Steve Albini – who was developing both Big Black and his witty sourpuss persona in Chicago at that time – was so outraged at the suggestion that Ministry might produce a band he did appreciate that he came out with this famous barb:

“If you do, and you make them one-tenth as wimpy as Ministry, I’ll cut your balls off and sew them shut in your mouth.”

Nice!

By 1990 Ministry were fully converted to high-tempo, drum machine-driven, sample-heavy, thrashy metal and Jourgensen was collaborating with Jello Biafra (in Lard), Ian MacKaye (in Pailhead) and Richard 23 (in Revolting Cocks). The most lucrative link-up would come in 1991 when Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes provided gibberish guest vocals on Jesus Built My Hotrod, leading to heavy airplay on MTV and platinum sales figures. But Supernaut is pretty great too. Of course it is – it’s by Black Sabbath.

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Not just Black Sabbath, but early, original line-up Black Sabbath – Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill. Peak Sabbath.

Name a four-album run better than Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Masters of Reality and Volume 4 – you can’t, can you?

It was Millhouse who introduced me to Sabbath. Growing up in the Midlands in the ’80s I would see loads of old rockers with long, stringy hair, in Black Sabbath leather jackets, stinking of patchouli oil and I wasn’t impressed with them or their metal aesthetic. Plus, metal at that time, to me meant hair metal – Poison, Motely Crue and the like – and that repelled me even more.

So when my music taste was developing as a ’90s teenager, I took some persuading that that wasn’t what Sabbath were about. It helped when Melody Maker referred to them as part of the unholy trinity of punk touchstones – Black Sabbath, Black Flag, Big Black.

So, starting with Masters of Reality, I got my Sabbath on and never looked back. Genius songs, an incomparable rhythm section and the insane charisma of Ozzy are all big factors in their enduring appeal. But it’s Tony Iommi’s riffs that define them isn’t it? On Sweet Leaf, War Pigs, Paranoid, Children of the Grave and Sabbra Caddabra; lip-curling, head-banging, ear-thumping riffs. Supernaut is one of their best. Apparently it’s also a favourite of Beck’s and John Bonham and Frank Zappa were fans too.

So for their cover, Al Jourgensen and Trent Reznor wisely decided not to change much when playing Supernaut as 1000 Homo DJs. Because this was the ’90s, there’s a fun, paranoid sample before it starts:

Practically every one of the top 40 records being played on every radio station in the United States is a communication to the children to take a trip, to cop out, to groove. The psychedelic jackets on the record albums have their own hidden symbols and messages as well as all the lyrics of all the top rock songs, and they all sing the same refrain, ‘it’s fun to take a trip, put acid in your veins’.

But from then on it’s a straight ahead, appropriately respectful cover. The only real differences are the driving, industrial drum beat and the distortion on Reznor’s voice, apparently added to disguise the fact that he’d done them at all, since his record label had denied permission for him to appear.

So Jourgensen and Reznor’s Supernaut is highly enjoyable without adding anything much to the original. Maybe it did help introduce a new generation to the mighty Black Sabbath and to the brilliance of Tony Iommi’s riffery and it was guaranteed to fill the dance floor at indie clubs for a time. Plus, it got me writing this; which isn’t saying much in itself but has led directly to me learning that Ozzy’s first name is actually John and Geezer’s is Terrence, which is, y’know, vaguely interesting.

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

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

 

The Dead Kennedys covering ‘Viva Las Vegas’ by Elvis Presley – Magnificent Cover Version No.31

Viva Las Vegas is one of the standout tracks from The Dead Kennedys’ 1980 debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

Given that the other standouts on this political, hardcore punk classic include Kill the Poor, California Uber Alles and Holiday in Cambodia, it’s slightly surprising to find an Elvis cover in there too. But they up the tempo – and the sarcasm – and deliver one of the great punk cover versions.

Elvis’s original, and the film of the same name, present a sanitised vision of Vegas, in which any chancer can rock up and roll their way to a life-changing fortune. In the film Elvis plays Lucky Jackson, a penniless racing driver who wins a fortune, loses it and pesters Ann-Margret for the unlikeliest date ever – featuring helicoptering, water-skiing, motorcycling and wild west gun slinging. He then – undeservedly – beats her in a talent contest to restore his fortune, wins the Grand Prix against his rival in racing and love, who is nearly killed in the process, then marries Ann-Margret, while staying on friendly terms with everyone and maintaining an extraordinary hairstyle. It’s the American Dream in movie form.

The Dead Kennedys were never big believers in the American Dream. According to Jello Biafra their infamous name was supposed to draw attention to its end. So their satirical cover of Viva Las Vegas could’ve been really scathing.

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In reality it’s pretty faithful, with Biafra’s campy vocals even taking on a slight Presley twang. The biggest difference is the subtle amendments to some of the lyrics so:

How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty-four hours in the day
’cause even if there were forty more
I wouldn’t sleep a minute away

becomes:

How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty-four hours in the day
Even if I ran out of speed
Boy, I wouldn’t sleep a minute away

and:

I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got
Lady luck please let the dice stay hot
Let me shout a seven with every shot

becomes:

Ooh, I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got
Lady Luck’s with me, the dice stay hot
Got coke up my nose to dry away the snot

Of course, messing with Elvis’s legacy is bound to attract criticism, no matter how subtle the barbs are. And in 1980, when this was released, just three years after the death of The King, it was even more provocative. But then, you don’t name a band The Dead Kennedys if you’re worried about a bit of anger from conservative commentators.

 

Jello Biafra is still active today, pointing out hypocrisy and injustice and rubbing people up the wrong way. Of course hypocrisy and injustice are really easy to find these days and a lot of people are pointing them out, but Jello does is really well. His anti-Trump rants on YouTube are awesomely entertaining. The best of these is the surreal one in which he shows off the pro-Trump colouring book he picked up from San Francisco airport, with each page depicting Donald in a different heroic scenario for your children to crayon – Superman Trump, Mount Rushmore Trump, Enola Gay Trump, etc.

Who said the America Dream was dead?

 

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

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