‘(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

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‘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

‘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’

‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’ by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel covered by Silverfish – Magnificent Cover Version No. 33

You can’t fault charismatic London indie punks the Silverfish for their ambition in covering White Lines (Don’t Do It). They take Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s early hip-hop classic and give it an unhinged, noise rock spin. Nobody would seriously claim it improves on the original, but it’s good, raucous fun; like something belted out at the end of a drunken rehearsal, just to amuse the band.

The distinctive bassline is thoroughly distorted but still recognisable somewhere beneath the wailing feedback, rumbling drums and Fuzz Duprey’s squally, phased guitar gibberish. Lesley Rankine delivers the rap in her gruffly aggressive way and most of the lyrics seem to be there. I haven’t checked that, to be honest. That’s not part of the service I’m providing here, which can be summarised as drawing your attention to/reminding you of/making sarcastic comments about this particular cover version. Feel free to compare the two versions for yourself. Here’s the Silverfish.

Silverfish were active between 1988 to 1993 during which time they made quite an impression on anyone who heard them at their thrillingly chaotic live shows or via their various Peel Sessions. Their uncompromising attitude and warped sense of humour secured them plenty of music press coverage too, despite the overriding popularity of baggy, indie-dance and shoegaze bands at the time.

White Lines was one of the highlights on the Silverfish’s first full-length album, Fat Axl, released in 1991, the follow-up to the previous year’s brilliant, 1990 mini-album Cockeye. Like most good things, it was produced by Steve Albini, under the pseudonym of Ding Rollski.

Silverfish Fat Axl

Fat Axl was well-received by critics and fans alike but was too raw, uncompromising and resolutely uncommercial to ride the US grunge wave that was just starting to gather pace –  though they did make a memorable appearance in the early afternoon at Reading 1991, sandwiched between Babes In Toyland and Nirvana.

Of course these days the phrase Fat Axl is more closely associated with a series of memes taking the piss out of Axl Rose for being overweight. They’re not that funny – generally featuring painful puns that crowbar junk food items into Guns ‘n’ Roses lyrics – but Axl himself has stepped in to give the situation some humour by demanding that Google removes them from the internet, and seemingly expecting that to happen.

The Silverfish’s next, and last, album Organ Fan (1992) did slightly better commercially than its predecessors, despite a sludgy mix that diluted the band’s attack. It also spawned what may have proved to be their most lasting legacy; the feminist t-shirt slogan ‘Hips, Tits, Lips, Power’ – taken from the chorus of single Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal. This garment quickly became extraordinarily popular with badass indie girls.

That t-shirt and that slogan may have lived long in the mind, but the Silverfish deserve to also be remembered for the brash, witty, aggressive and downright life-affirming majesty of their music.


Whilst ‘researching’ this post I discovered that Duran Duran took a lead from Lesley, Fuzz and the boys and released their own cover version of White Lines in 1995. If you click this link you’ll be taken to the official video for the single. It features Simon Le Bon and whatever the rest of them were called, leaping around, like they’re McBusted or something, despite being immensely old by this time. Probably best if you don’t click the link.

Silverfish

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

Shellac – Live @ The Asylum, Birmingham

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

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

Never Mind The Bollocks is everything a ‘seminal’ album should be – powerful, influential, controversial, timeless. It’s an iconic, genre-defining masterpiece held up as an inspiration for most of the great bands that have followed in the decades since, as well as several of the shit ones.

Forty years on from its release, it’s always included in greatest albums lists for its cultural significance, its furious power and its fearlessly abrasive attitude. It’s also stacked with genuinely great songs. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, you can’t listen to it again without being affected by it one more time.

It goes without saying that Never Mind The Bollocks isn’t meant for everyone. The whole point of the Sex Pistols was to upset and antagonise and their only proper album encapsulates this. It polarised opinion in 1977 and it’s doing the same thing now.

Nowadays those who feel confused or offended by the Sex Pistols have the opportunity to get their opinions out via online reviews. And boy do they take that opportunity!

“TOTAL PISS…..god save my ears”

That’s the title of a review from one anonymous Amazon UK commenter. The review, that’s heavy on anger, but light on punctuation, gives Never Mind The Bollocks the minimum one star, stating:

“the sex pistols the worst band in the world a bunch of spotty bums “playing” instruments they haven’t got a clue how to play and just winging [sic] and making a dreadful sound.”

The review continues (unedited):

“the sex pistols surely did pull the wool over peoples eyes in the late 70’s when real music was happening i bet they thought lets make an album of bollocks say a swear word on television and then we will have huge success… and one other thing jonny rotten can’t sing”

Predictably, the ‘they couldn’t sing or play their instruments’ cliche is a recurring theme from the negative reviewers. JJW is among the most vehement in taking this line:

“I have never accepted “punk” as a form of music because it takes NO TALENT WHATSOEVER to play a generic pair/trio of chords. Just learn to play guitar for a few months and you’ll be able to “play” this garbage effortlessly.”

JJW may not be sure how many chords you’d need to master to play the Sex Pistols’ music, ‘effortlessly’, but he’s absolutely certain that it would take “NO TALENT WHATSOEVER”. Some people call that the democratising power of punk, obviously not JJW.

Over in America, HC isn’t a fan either:

“I hate the Sex Pistols. I bought the album and then sold it the next day.”

This might seem like HC hasn’t given Never Mind the Bollocks the chance to grow on him, but it’s understandable when he explains the peculiar effects it has on him:

“I can’t listen to that annoying whine without gritting my teeth and stabbing my ears.”

Nasty! Considering that, it sounds like getting rid of the album was the only sane course of action for HC. But not only is he unable to appreciate it, he’s unable to appreciate why anyone else would appreciate it:

“You Pistols fans think you’re any better than the 12 year old girl next door with the Sum 41 shirt? They’re a joke and so are you.”

Wait a minute – so is it the Sex Pistols, Sum 41 or the 12 year old girls next door with Sum 41 shirts who are a joke as well as us? And who dragged Sum 41 into this anway? We may never know.

There’s another confusing one-star review from Anonymous in the USA:

“Basically if you think you’re punk cuz you listen to this, well you’re nothing but a stupid trendy poseur who says all the punk things, listen to all the punk things, and conforms to all the punk things.”

Right, so if you listen to punk, speak like a punk and act like a punk, you’re not a punk, you’re a “stupid trendy poseur”. Got it, thanks.

NU is aggrieved that the Pistols released an album at all:

“This band never intended to release an album but sold out and the result is that loads of people were conned into buying an L.P. that had a load of dross plus the singles that they had already bought.”

Before making this shocking admission:

“In the iPod era this album would have died a speedy death as people would only want the three songs and if they flet [sic] the need to have the album for completeness they would just download it for free.”

Now what sort of a comment is this? NU seems to be advocating a sort of Darwinian attitude to musicians and their output, where only those who can muster more than three great singles per album should be allowed to survive. Harsh! And NU gives Never Mind the Bollocks the minimum one star rating as a result.

Other one star reviews come from AML, who adds, oxymoronically that he/she would rather have given it:

“at least minus 10 stars”

…from PV, who inexplicably felt that this insight was worth sharing:

“Deffo not a SP fan,was asked by a bride if I could play SPs at her wedding found this collection all the known numbers are on it.”

…and from TWG, who refuses to let his loose knowledge of the facts stop him from sharing his opinion on the band:

“Johnny Rotton [sic] is a fool of the highest order. He murdered his girlfriend and was always a pathetic washed up junkie.”

As well as getting this completely wrong, TWG also insists on making this dubious claim:

“try playing this in a crowd and everyone will go silent, in an embarressed [sic], awkward way (I have actually seen this happen, even when half of the crowd had an affiliation with punk music).

Really, TWG? Did that happen? Or did you just make it up?

Finally, we come to AKRAKR seems to be slightly obsessed with the Sex Pistols, having posted at least half-a-dozen reviews of them on the US Amazon. In one of his/her first reviews AKR acknowledges the band’s historical importance:

“Cheers to the band for pretty much starting the punk rock genre…”

But there’s a ‘but’ coming:

“but really at this early stage punk rock is really awful. The Sex Pistols have a really annoying singer, unmemorable songs, and a pretty stupid name too.”

In various later reviews AKR refers to them as “the $hit Pistols”, “the Linkin Park of the 70s”, “manufactured corporate trash”, a “cr@ppy piece of $hit band”, and “a blatent [sic] marketing scam dreamed up by a bunch of fat, balding, cigar smoking record company executives in suits and ties”.

AKR‘s exhaustively explains his/her objections to the band over several reviews. These include “a horribly irritating singer” with a voice that’s “literally painful to listen to”, “absolutely boring and rhthymically corrupt songs”, that they were “utterly hypocritical” and, just to hammer the point home, “IT’S NOT EVEN GOOD MUSIC, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!” With one exception:

“Don’t get the CD, but if possible get their decent hit “Anarchy in the U.K.” I do like that one.” 

And if you think that’s giving mixed messages, the last review I can find from AKR finishes with this advice:

“DON’T BUY THIS! If you really must buy it, destroy the CD right afterwards.”

Yeah, good idea AKR, that’ll show those cigar chomping record company execs!

 

The Sex Pistols covering ‘Substitute’ by The Who – Magnificent Cover Version No.29

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

Trashed! The Pixies

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.

DK live

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?

 

dk-logo

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

Shellac – Live @ The Asylum, Birmingham

Shellac have a casual attitude to playing live. This is from their page on the Touch & Go Website:

Band information: While there is no specific coordination between Shellac’s record releases and touring schedules, you can expect the band to tour at its usual sporadic and relaxed pace.

They’re busy men, but they’ll get together and play when they can, and when they do, they’ll enjoy it.

Seeing them live, it’s obvious just how much they enjoy it. The chemistry between Todd Trainer (drums), Bob Weston (bass/vocals) and Steve Albini (guitar/vocals/living legend) is stupefying. Each element is completely locked in to the others; each one equally important.

Of course they shouldn’t be equally important, because the fact is that’s Steve Albini over there on the left. Even if you’re the biggest Shellac fan in the world, chances are that you only started listening to them in the first place because you love something he’s been involved with previously – be that Big Black, Rapeman, Surfer RosaSeamonsters, PodIn Utero, or, or, or, take your pick; you’re spoilt for choice.

But after two songs it’s obvious that the Shellac machine has three cogs and each of them is vital. They blast through the intricate, angular, stop/start hardcore with total precision and power; split-second perfect on every weird time signature, start and restart. I assumed this was purely down to practise, but they play a different set every night so it can only be telepathy.

They blast through their set – Squirrel Song, Dude Incredible, A Minute, Prayer To God. People say he’s mellowed since his Big Black days, but even after all this time making punishing music, Steve continues to find new ways of wringing abrasive noise from an electric guitar, can still be incredibly intense and can still scream till his jugular bulges. Bob, on bass, takes turns on vocal duties too. Often they’ll take turns to play rhythm, while the other handles lead, regardless of the instrument. Todd occupies centre-stage – skinny and exhausted-looking – he almost looks like he’s there against his will, such is the strained look on his gaunt face as he holds everything together with his shamanic drumming.

They have an understanding and collective force that can only come from musicians who really care about and love what they’re doing and have been doing it for more than two decades.

They complement each other as personalities as well. Bob is approachable and funny and does most of the talking, fielding the regular Q&A questions from the audience, covering a variety of subjects – haircuts, trousers, Dinosaur Jr vs Sebadoh. Steve is happy to stay on the sidelines for this but chips in occasionally with a witty remark – insisting that no one should feel obliged to buy a t-shirt because ‘you’ve done enough’. Todd stays silent, but gets involved from time to time to give a comic shrug or to give a twirl when Bob confirms him as the ‘sexy one’ in the band.

They’re playful during the songs too. One (incredibly loud) bar into their opening song they stop and freeze, apart from Todd twirling a drumstick in slow motion, for close to a minute before resuming in unison as if nothing had happened. During the drum break on Steady As She Goes, Bob and Steve run and hide behind amps at the side of the stage, leaving Todd on his own. And as the last song – the awesome Spoke – closes, Steve and Bob dismantle Todd’s kit, piece by piece until he’s left just hitting a snare. Then they wave goodbye.

It’s great when you come away from seeing a band a bigger fan than you were before. They put on a tight, loud and intense show while giving a new dimension to familiar songs, having a blast themselves and being genuinely funny. Albini got the biggest laugh of the night, telling the Birmingham crowd, ‘You have a beautiful city’. But he went on to explain:

“Beauty is only skin-deep. Think what you’ve given to the world. I’m talking about Black Sabbath.”

That got an appreciative cheer. Most people there weren’t born when Sabbath were at their height, but still, it was heart-warming to hear one legend paying genuine respect to another. In fact that’s what the whole night was – heart-warming – which I wouldn’t have expected beforehand. So yeah, maybe Albini has mellowed.

Shellac band shot large

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

‘Eight Miles High’ by The Byrds, covered by Husker Du – Magnificent Cover Version No.21

Shonen Knife covering ‘Top Of The World’ by The Carpenters – Magnificent Cover Version No.30

Shonen Knife’s version of The Carpenters’ standard retains the blissed-out positivity of the original On Top Of The World, ditches the country and western elements and gives it a welcome upbeat, pop-punk twist.

On Top Of The World was released as part of one of those tribute albums that always look they’re going to be a really good idea but ultimately don’t add up to the sum of their parts.

For someone like me, who regularly writes blog posts about cover versions – for reasons that I can’t quite remember or adequately explain – tribute albums aren’t the rich source of inspirational material that they could be.

The idea is to take a seminal act like The Smiths, The Clash, or the Pixies, get a load of contemporary bands to cover their best known songs and package them up together in a collection. This ought to work more often than it does – songs you know covered by acts you like – but they tend to disappoint for some reason.

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If I Were A Carpenter, released in 1994, is one of those disappointing compilations. It saw some of The Carpenters’ best known songs – We’ve Only Just Begun, (They Long To Be) Close To You, Yesterday Once More – covered by amazing bands like Redd Kross, Babes In Toyland and Sonic Youth but none of them really hit the spot, except for Shonen Knife’s Top Of The World. Unlike other songs on the album, SK get the balance just right between showing due respect for the original and putting their own stamp on the song, so it feels simultaneously familiar and new. I don’t see how even a fan of the Carpenters would fail to enjoy this as much as a punk fan.

Shonen Knife have been around since 1981 and in 1989 they got the disappointing tribute album treatment themselves. Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them features L7, Sonic Youth, Blue Oyster Cult, Lunachicks and a load of ’80s bands that have since slipped into obscurity, but whom no doubt somebody still loves.

Shonen Knife continue their cartoon punk odyssey to this day, recording and touring the world with lead singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano the only consistent member for their 36-year and counting career. They’ve got about 25 studio albums in their discography, the latest being Adventure from 2016, and they’ll probably be playing near you soon.

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‘Surfin’ Bird’ by The Trashmen, covered by The Ramones – Magnificent Cover Version No.23

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

 

 

 

 

The Sex Pistols covering ‘Substitute’ by The Who – Magnificent Cover Version No.29

The Sex Pistols’ take on the classic single by The Who was recorded in 1976 but not formally released until it appeared on the soundtrack to The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle in 1979. It’s an exuberant cover that captures the power-pop of the original, roughs it up and puts a rocket up its arse.

Pete Townshend was inspired to write Substitute by the line ‘although she may be cute she’s just a substitute’ in Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ Tracks Of My Tears. Approaching it from the substitute’s point of view – a man who knows he’s not as good as his girl thinks – the lyrics are a mix of cleverly self-deprecating – ‘I look pretty tall but my heels are high’ – jokes – ‘at least I’ll get my washing done’ – and sub-Dr Seuss, cryptic bollocks – ‘The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south’. There’s an element of class-consciousness about it too – ‘I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth’ – which would’ve appealed to the Pistols.

You can hear the great Keith Moon screaming as he plays the drum fill about two minutes in. Supposedly he was so wasted and paranoid at the time that he forgot playing on the recording and accused the rest of the band, ironically, of using a substitute drummer and plotting to replace him. They had to point out the scream to convince him otherwise. Townshend was originally meant to play the solo on guitar but John Entwistle ended up performing it on bass. Roger Daltrey sings it pop idol sweetness and it all fits together perfectly for one of The Who’s best singles.

As with it is with most of the Sex Pistols’ legend the story that original bassist Glenn Matlock was sacked because he admitted to liking The Beatles is probably bullshit. Still, by the Sex Pistols’ time The Who were flirting with progressive rock and very much part of the establishment that the Pistols were anti, so it’s odd that they would cover them. Obviously the guitar smashing, volume and confrontational attitude of early Who made a lasting impression on Johnny Rotten and the boys and they were able to get over the rock opera shenanigans and long hair that would come later. You can hear how much they’re enjoying themselves playing Substitute too – it’s a really energetic performance.

Given how high-spirited the performance of Substitute is it’s ironic that it was released in conjunction with The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle – Malcolm McLaren’s interesting but deeply flawed vanity film project, made around the collapse of the Sex Pistols. The film was cobbled together at a time when the band members and management detested the sight of one another and Johnny Rotten quit just after production began. Legendary sexploitation, B-movie maker Russ Meyer was the original director, but only lasted four days before the mutual hatred got to him and Julien Temple, whose main qualification was that he’d been to a lot of Sex Pistols gigs, took over. Temple made something surprisingly watchable considering what he was up against, but it’s the soundtrack that really saves it – not all of it, there’s a LOT of filler. Some of it though captures the energy and adrenaline of the band at the peak of their powers, with Substitute being a prime example of this.

The Pistols’ supercharged version of Substitute is pretty faithful, if not exactly reverent. Steve Jones thrashes out a really filthy guitar sound and he reclaims the solo from Glenn Matlock, whose brilliant walking bassline has a real upbeat feel about it. Paul Cook can’t quite compete with Moon’s unique skills but he puts in a powerful, machine gun performance on drums. The biggest change is in the vocals. While Daltrey’s original was sweetly sincere, Rotten’s delivers his in his best, sneeringly sarcastic, North London guttersnipe snarl. It’s all dropped aitches and glottal stops – ‘You fink my shoes are made of levvah’. The first time he sings ‘plastic mac’ it becomes ‘wanker’s mac’ and there’s a general, healthy disregard for the order of the lines. There’s a joyous spontaneity about the whole song.

The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle soundtrack feature a few covers and they’re all pretty good, but Substitute is easily the best. It’s the Sex Pistols at their loud, obnoxious best, before Sid Vicious came and went and Bambi got killed.

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

‘Surfin’ Bird’ by The Trashmen, covered by The Ramones – Magnificent Cover Version No.23

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

“I’m shrouded in the lives of my heroes.” Patti Smith, Please Kill Me (Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain)

Patti Smith always felt a deep connection to the famous. She seemed to simultaneously crave the company of beautiful people and feel awkward in it – as if  she belonged there but wasn’t sure why. In the brilliant oral history of New York punk, Please Kill Me, Penny Arcade related a story about Patti hanging around with Eric Clapton not long after she’d arrived in the city. Eventually he said to her, “Do I know you?”. “Nah”, she replied. “I’m just one of the little people”.

Patti first began to make a name for herself in New York by performing poetry and impressing everyone who counted in the punk scene with her intensity and vulnerability. When she’d finished reading a poem she would scrunch up the paper it was written on into a ball and drop it to the floor. Sometimes she would throw chairs.

It was a concert by The Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden that turned Patti towards music. According to Patti, Mick Jagger was “fucked up” that night. “He was not a rock and roller that Tuesday night. He was closer to a poet than he ever has been, because he was so tired, he could hardly sing”.

Patti the poet could sing. Her combination of passion, powerful voice and vivid poetry cemented her status as a punk star, right from her 1975 debut album Horses. She’s been there ever since. As a survivor of the original New York scene, she’s now practically royalty.

In 2007 she released Twelve, an album of covers featuring versions of songs by artists as diverse as Hendrix, Nirvana, The Doors, Tears For Fears and Stevie Wonder. Patti’s low-key take on Teen Spirit is great, but it’s when she gets to grips with the work of her long-time heroes that her charisma takes things to another level. Gimme Shelter is something of a sacred cow for Stones fans, and it took balls to take it on. That’s something that Patti’s never lacked. Musically it’s pretty close to the original but the raw emotion in Patti’s voice in her cover version adds a new emotional authenticity to an enduring classic and adds yet more weight to her enduring legend. Even when she’s covering other artists, she’s a complete original.

Edit

I discovered Patti Smith through a cover version. Birmingham-based, Bleach-blond indie-rockers Birdland released a version of her Rock ‘n’Roll Nigger as a single in 1990 and the 7″ of this was one of my earliest vinyl purchases. This was at a time when I had no money and was rifling through bargain bins to boost my meagre record collection. It’s a pretty good cover; I certainly made a lot of worse purchases in those days.

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

 

Action Time Vision – UK Independent Punk 1976 – 1979