‘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.

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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

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…

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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;

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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!

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‘When Tomorrow Hits’ by Mudhoney, covered by Spacemen 3 – Magnificent Cover Version No.22

Spacemen-3-Press-4  Mudhoney on stage

Ah, Spacemen 3; neo-psychedelic, proto-shoegazing, effects pedal-piling experimentalists from the beautiful British Midlands that Noisecrumbs calls home. And Mudhoney; Seattle’s favourite, shaggy-haired, hedonistic, hard-drinkin’, garage-grunge, party band. Spacemen 3 and Mudhoney might not seem to have a lot in common, other than an audible Stooges influence – what worthwhile band hasn’t go that? – but these are two of my all-time favourite bands. This is in the large part down to their respective guitar sounds.

For me, guitar sound is absolutely crucial – often more important than melody, lyrics or performance. A powerful, roaring, throaty, chord sequence can elevate an otherwise unremarkable song into something sublime. Over the years it’s been my only reason for listening to songs by Metallica and Pantera, it’s why Territorial Pissings is a personal highlight on Nevermind and it’s the main factor that’s sent me back repeatedly to play tunes by wonderful but forgotten bands like Bullet Lavolta, Lovecup, Starfish and Worms. In different ways, both Spacemen 3 and Mudhoney consistently sound like they’re joyously driving their Fenders and Marshalls to breaking point, and in Spacemen 3’s case, never more so than on their cover of Mudhoney’s When Tomorrow Hits.

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Mudhoney’s original When Tomorrow Hits comes limping out of the heat-haze like a sinister desert drifter, with a loose, bluesy drone. You can hardly discern the lyrics Mark Arms drawls until the chorus, which consists of nine words – the title repeated three times. It builds over the course of the second verse to a fairly noisy climax – like tomorrow hitting – then it’s done, having clearly made its point. It’s low-key, by peak Mudhoney standards, but it’s a great song and you can see why the simple construction and repetitive elements appealed to Jason and Sonic Boom.

The Spacemen 3 version keeps the same structure, starting quiet with a simple drum beat, two chords and an insistent slide guitar. The vocals are just as impenetrable as on the original, with wobbly, echo effects obscuring the lyrics and, as with the original, there’s a foreshadowing of the climax in the chorus, before the crescendo, heralded by a squall of feedback at the end of verse two. This is where the song explodes. It erupts in a molten cacophony of shrieking feedback, wah-wah and pummelling overdrive, layered into a sound that’s absolutely gigantic. So much so, that the band struggle to bring the racket back under control and the cover runs nearly twice as long as the original while they tackle the chaos. When tomorrow hits in Jason and Sonic’s world, it hits on a fucking spectacular scale.

Recurring

Spacemen 3’s cover of When Tomorrow Hits was meant to be half of a split single for Sub Pop, with the other side being Mudhoney’s cover of Spacemen 3’s Revolution. The project never happened though, because Sonic was pissed off when he heard Mudhoney’s cover and discovered that they’d changed the lyrics. So the collaboration was cancelled and Revolution came out on various bootlegs and the March To Fuzz retrospective, while When Tomorrow Hits became an album track and stunning highlight on Spacemen 3’s final studio album, Recurring.

Spacemen 3 had effectively dissolved before Recurring was even released, with Sonic and Jason unable to resolve the acrimony that had long existed between them, even with the prospect of a lucrative record deal and American tour to tempt them. They kept the split quiet until after the release then officially went their separate ways, with Jason going on to form Spiritualized and Sonic Boom going solo and recording and performing as Spectrum and E.A.R.

Sonic and Jason had always been incredibly productive – particularly for such dedicated stoners – working on side-projects during their Spacemen 3 days and getting their new ventures off the ground without a pause following that band’s sad demise. They’re both still active today and have released some fantastic music in the intervening years. But despite the acrimony that apparently existed between the two creative forces for much of the time that they collaborated, the material they produced as the seminal, psychedelic, Spacemen 3 remains their best work. It’s not all down to their guitar sound, but shit, as this cover demonstrates, they could really make some noise when they wanted to.

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

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

The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ covered by Dinosaur Jr – Magnificent Cover Version No. 10

Action Time Vision – UK Independent Punk 1976 – 1979

Punk was a watershed moment for UK music, one which shook the mainstream, enlivened the underground and influenced everything that followed. Everyone’s aware of this but if you weren’t there at the time, how much do you know about the scene beyond its epochal acts – punk’s acceptable face, The Buzzcocks, its unacceptable face, The Sex Pistols and its conscience, The Clash? Maybe The Damned, X-Ray Spex, Stiff Little Fingers and a few others have entered your consciousness but even then the musical legacy doesn’t seem to match the cultural legacy. Action Time Vision is a just-released, four-CD set featuring punk records released on a variety of independent labels in the late-’70s which helps give an idea of the breadth of the scene beyond the main players.

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Cherry Red Records have developed a formula for this sort of thing – taking an underground musical subgenre, collecting together the best examples of tracks from that scene and sticking them on CD compilations, lovingly packaged with illustrations, photos and writings from journalists who covered the scene at its height. Just this year the label has released collections covering the early-’90s shoegaze scene, 1980s neo-psychedelia, early British electronica and the developing C86/indie scene. These collections provide a nostalgia trip for those who were part of these scenes and a rare insight for those who weren’t. Cherry Red’s punk collection, covering a scene that everyone’s aware of but not so many really know, is probably overdue.

In the case of Action Time Vision, the foreword is written by Kris Needs, editor of Zigzag magazine during the punk era. By his estimation, the songs collected here “wrench up the paving slabs to reveal what was really going on underneath street level during that seminal time”. And so it is that the collection starts off with The Damned’s debut single on Stiff Records, New Rose – which reached the dizzying heights of number 81 in the 1976 charts – before unearthing lost treasures that never got that close to rubbing shoulders with ABBA, like Lockjaw’s Radio Call Sign, New Religion by Some Chicken and the Poison Girls’ Under The Doctor.

There are 111 songs on the four discs of Action Time Vision, ranging from really great stuff, like Stiff Little Fingers’s classic Suspect Device, Little Miss Perfect by Demon Preacher, Blank Generation by Xtraverts and Teenage Treats by The Wasps, to energetic triers like Steroid Kiddies, whose 1979 effort Dumb Dumb,  sounds a lot like something by Bad News. There are also rarities like the previously unreleased I Hate The Whole Human Race by Newcastle band Big G and curios like a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Were Made For Walking, released on the UK label Golden Sphinx by Philadelphia’s Pure Hell.

Early incarnations of The Fall (with Psycho Mafia), Joy Division (Failures) and a pre-nose-plaster Adam and The Ants (Zerox), are all featured and sounding great along with a whole load of other musicians who really made their mark in the next decade. Kevin Rowland of The Killjoys became the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners, Shane McGowan, Billy Bragg and Gary Numan started their singing careers with The Nipple Erectors, Riff Raff and Tuebeway army respectively, while Johnny & The Self Abusers had the audacity to evolve into Simple Minds.

Action Time Vision gives a real sense of what UK punk was about, showcasing dozens of bands who bought into its DIY ethos and helped give the scene weight. Listening to it is like being handed a crate full of obscure punk 7″s collected by a fan – and who wouldn’t want that? – it’s a compilation to live inside for a long time and really absorb. Everything included was released by independent record labels, and whether the bands featured went on to greater successes or disappeared after one single, they all got their opportunities and audiences from the same musical revolution.

 

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

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I had never seen this record sleeve before. Isn’t it horrible? It’s the mighty Big Black imitating Kraftwerk. Left to right, Steve Albini, Santiago Durango, Dave Riley.

In 1987 Big Black released their cover of The Model as a B-Side to another cover, this one of He’s A Whore by Cheap Trick (they imitated Cheap Trick on the front cvover). It was their last single. Both songs also appeared on the CD version of Big Black’s final album, Songs About Fucking, but only The Model made it onto the vinyl release, and that’s where I know this song from.

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Big Black were an amazing band – powerful, shocking, thought-provoking and funny. They’d finished by the time I discovered them but I was a big fan before Steve Albini started really making his name by recording The Breeders and Nirvana. I bought Atomizer – the earlier, better album –  Millhouse bought Songs About Fucking and we each taped our copy for the other.

As a child, Albini was compelled to move from town to town by his father’s work – Albini senior was apparently a rocket scientist. Skinny, sarcastic and smart-arsed, the young Albini seldom made a good impression at new schools and he had few friends. He credits bands like the Ramones, Stooges, Suicide and Television for getting him through high school. While recovering from a broken leg sustained in a motorcycle accident at the age of 19 he taught himself to play the bass.

On enrolling at college in Chicago in 1980, Albini immersed himself in the city’s active punk scene, becoming a devoted fan of local heroes Naked Raygun and attending their gigs religiously. He began broadcasting on college radio and writing a monthly column entitled Tired of Ugly Fat? for a Chicago fanzine. Through these media he began to gain notoriety for the witty but venomous broadsides he’d aim at characters in the scene – this reputation would only build over the years. Here are some of his words of wisdom:

  • Albini on the Pixies – “a band who at their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rock.”
  • Albini on Mudhoney – “it’s silly how great they think they are. It’s almost offensive to me.”
  • Albini on Courtney Love – “psycho hose beast.”
  • Albini on Al Jourgensen – “I’ll cut your balls off and sew them shut in your mouth.”

His column and radio work split opinion and gave him a profile in the music scene, but what he really wanted was to make his own music. After unsuccessfully attempting to get the sound he wanted with a couple of short-lived groups, self-sufficient Albini bought himself a drum machine and a guitar and borrowed a four-track for a week.

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The result of this endeavour would become Big Black’s debut EP Lungs. These days Albini apparently hates the Lungs EP – “It just makes my flesh crawl. I can’t listen to that record anymore” – but it sounds fucking good to me, particularly the opener Steelworker (“I’m a steelworker, I kill what I eat. Great big thing crawling all over me”). It lacks the ferocious power of Big Black’s later output, but it’s fantastically unsettling and possesses a video nasty-era sense of impending violence. It later formed the first side of The Hammer Party album, which you should definitely own.

In 1982, at the point that 1,500 copies of Lungs were released on Ruthless Records, Big Black still consisted of Albini and his drum machine – Roland. The release of Lungs helped Albini to entice guitarist Santiago Durango and bass player Jeff Pezzati of his beloved Naked Raygun to join him and Roland, turning Big Black into an actual band.

The new line-up’s first studio output was the Bulldozer EP, which took the template established in Lungs – exploring dark, sordid themes to an accompaniment of drum machine beats and jagged, unconventional guitar sounds – and turned it up several notches. Cables was about bored kids sneaking into a slaughterhouse to watch the action; Pigeon Kill was about a town-wide pigeon cull utilising poisoned corn, while the opening sample on Seth is an horrific rant from a white supremacist. Overall the sound, the ideas and the riffs on Bulldozer set it apart from its predecessor – Texas is a highlight – and it represents a big leap forward for Big Black. Bulldozer would become the second side of The Hammer Party.

The Racer X EP followed – featuring the excellent Deep Six – but it was after that, when Dave Riley replaced Jeff Pezzati on bass that Big Black really took shape. Riley had previously worked at a recording studio in Detroit that had been frequented by Sly Stone and George Clinton and he brought an element of funk to the group that complemented it, against all logic, and helped to define its later output, the high watermark of which was their 1986 debut album Atomizer.

big-black-atomizer

Atomizer sees Big Black trawling up pulp legends from the darkest depths of small town America and setting them to music that’s sometimes so abrasive it hurts. Bazooka Joe is an upbeat ditty about a desensitised Vietnam veteran putting his numbness to violence to profitable use, Bad Houses is about an individual’s compulsion to do “bad things…even when the thrill is seldom worth the degradation”. Jordan, Minnesota is a deeply unsettling tune about child abuse while Kerosene opens with a guitar riff reminiscent of grotesquely warped church bell chimes and famously references a small town resident who combines his twin loves of sex and arson.

Albini enjoys himself in the sleeve notes, enigmatically describing each little horror story masquerading as a song and crediting the band as “Dave Riley: bass, flyswatters”, Santiago Durango: “train guitar”, Steve Albini: “rocket guitar”, Roland: “Roland”. The combination of macabre subject matter, dark humour, relentlessness and sheer power tapped a vein in underground circles, sparking myriad bad imitations and elevating them to new levels of popularity.

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By the time Big Black recorded their next LP, Songs About Fucking in 1987, they’d already announced their intention to split. The stated reason was that they didn’t want to outstay their welcome, but Durango’s decision to start law school may have been a catalyst. Songs About Fucking – the name derived from Albini’s often stated bemusement that love is seen as music’s default subject matter – sees Big Black treading similar territory to Atomizer, and it’s another fine album. Kasimir S. Pulaski Day and Bad Penny are among the best things that they ever recorded, but the cover of Kraftwerk’s The Model is the standout track for me. The band take the kitsch euro-pop of the original and explode every aspect of it. Dave Riley turns the bassline into a monster, backed in the rhythm section by the ever hard-thumping Roland. Santiago Durango’s guitar is shrill and piercing, like a dentist’s drill, while the lyrics,in Albini’s distorted voice, suddenly seem threatening – Kraftwerk singing ‘I’d like to take her home with me, it’s understood’ sounds sophisticated and sexually confident; Albini makes it sound downright sinister. Big Black make the song completely theirs and wipe the (blood-stained) floor with the original.

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So in 1987, after their final show at The Georgetown Steam Plant in Seattle, Big Black did indeed break up. Dave Riley and Santiago Durango pretty much retired from the music scene there and then, though one of Durango’s first cases as a lawyer saw him helping to recover Cynthia Plaster Caster’s bronze casts of rock star genitalia. Albini of course became a world renowned producer with Nirvana, The Breeders, The Wedding Present and many, many others. He also kept performing, first briefly with Rapeman, and then, to this day, with Shellac. Steve Albini remains a wildly unique musical talent, a punk rock trailblazer and a loud and uncompromising voice on the industry he loves but the work he did with his colleagues in his first band still stands out as his best.

 

Magnificent Cover Version No.8, ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan covered by Butthole Surfers

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

‘Love Buzz’ by Shocking Blue covered by Nirvana

Love Buzz

This almost feels like cheating. The cover is MILES better known than the original. And it’s Nirvana. It’s Nirvana’s first single, whereas it was just an album track for Dutch hippies Shocking Blue.

Look how young Kurt looks in this picture. He was calling himself Kurdt at the time. Kurdt Kobain. Despite looking like a 14 year-old he had the scream already; ‘can you feel my love BUUUUUUUUUUUZZZZ!!!’

I’ve often wondered if the choice of ‘Love Buzz’ as a song had anything to do with Kurt’s friend and punk mentor, Buzz Osborne of the mighty Melvins (‘can you, Buzz? Can you feel my love, Buzz’). It was Krist’s idea to cover this though, so maybe not.

Love Buzz 2

Someone once described Nirvana as bolting pop songs onto a grunge engine and that seems like a pretty good summary to me. Kurt was an incredible songwriter. He hadn’t fully honed his talent in 1988 when this came out, but even so, it’s surprising that their first single was a cover. It was a limited run of 1000 as part of Sub Pop’s Singles Club. If you want to buy an original copy any time soon it’ll cost you about $3000 US.

Nirvana’s take on ‘Love Buzz’ is everything a cover version should be; hijacking a song by somebody else – an obscure and peculiar song, at that – and turning it into something greater than it was to begin with. It’s faster, it’s heavier, it drops the stop/start dynamic of the original and settles for repeating the first verse rather than fucking around with a whole new second verse. It uses a lot of the tricks that would become Nirvana trademarks – quiet verse/loud chorus, lots of distortion, Kurt’s guttural holler –  but it still stands out on Bleach with the distinctive eastern motif that Shocking Blue take credit for. The single version also included an introductory clip from one of Kurt’s sound collages, entitled ‘Montage Of Heck’ and it’s a shame this wasn’t retained for the album. It gives it another dimension. We know that now, without having to spend $3000, thanks to the wonders of the internet.

Shocking Blue were formed in The Hague in 1967. The Hague is a lovely city, full of healthy, pleasant Dutch people and a museum devoted to MC Escher, but it doesn’t really have the feel of a rock and roll mecca. Nevertheless, the band produced some really nice Jefferson Airplane-esque psychedelia, especially on their debut album ‘At Home’.

Their original ‘Love Buzz’  may have been superseded by Nirvana’s, but another high-profile cover of one of their songs shows how things can go entirely the other way. Shocking Blue’s ‘Venus’ is a brilliant, bold, sexy, joyous hippie romp, featuring the powerful vocals of Mariska Veres. Bananarama’s 80s cover is horrible (I refuse to link to it).

The beautiful Mariska Veres died in 2006, aged 59.

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Magnificent Cover Version No. 10 – The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ covered by Dinosaur Jr

The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ covered by Dinosaur Jr

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The Cover

Dinosaur Jr cover The Cure. It’s J. Mascis, legendarily bone-idle grunge idol taking on a classic love song from anemone-haired, godfather of goth Robert Smith. Two true, indie-rock big guns here.

The Cure were the first band I ever saw live. I was 14 and I had to wear a Joe Bloggs t-shirt because it was the only black garment I owned.  Obviously, I blended right in.

The Cure

Dinosaur Jr increased the pace, beefed up the rhythm section, got rid of the synthesiser and grunged it all up. There’s only two years (’87 and ’89) between these two versions but those years make a huge difference. The drums, synthesiser and general jangle all place The Cure’s original firmly in the 80s (which is no bad thing), while the while the fuzzed-up bass, drawled vocals and overdriven guitars place Dinosaur’s version firmly in the grunge canon, making it seem more like a 90s track (also fine, obviously).

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The Cure had some truly fantastic songs before it all started going wrong with Friday I’m In Love. Just Like Heaven isn’t one of Bob’s best, but it’s a nice enough example of one of his bittersweet love songs. Dinosaur Jr’s punked-up version adds power and irony to the pop melodies – as well as a blast of Mascis’s trademark guitar heroics – elevating the cover past the original, for Noisecrumbs.

The video for the cover version is great too – they enlisted puppets to provide the visual energy that J., Lou and Murph resolutely refused to deliver. Gotta love those lazy-arse Generation X-ers!

 

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

Blue Cheer covering Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran

Blue Cheer Summertime Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Cheer 3

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

Butthole Surfers covering ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Minor Threat In My Eyes EP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minor Theat

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

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

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

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