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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnificent Cover Version No.13, part b

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

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

 

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

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

 

Some stuff you may not know about the Butthole Surfers

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A short list of stuff you might not know about psychedelic, scatological, avant-garde, Texan, punk rock reprobates and legends, Butthole Surfers….

  1. Gibby Haynes graduated from Trinity University, San Antonio with an economics degree and having been named ‘Accountant of the Year’.
  2. After graduating, Gibby and his friend Paul Leary published a fanzine called Strange V.D. which featured gruesome photographs of medical conditions captioned with fictitious diseases, like ‘taco leg’.
  3. Gibby printed Strange V.D. at work in his graduate job at a prestigious accountancy firm. He left this job shortly after inadvertently leaving a photo of some infected genitalia to be found on a photocopier.
  4. Haynes and Leary’s next move was to Venice, Southern California where they attempted to make a living producing and selling Lee Harvey Oswald T-shirts. When this venture, surprisingly, didn’t work out, they decided to start a band.
  5. They originally changed the band’s name for every performance before Butthole Surfers stuck. Other names they used included Nine Inch Worm Makes Own Food, Vodka Family Winstons, Ahstray Babyheads and the Inalienable Right To Eat Fred Astaire’s Asshole.bhs 2
  6. In their heyday, the band toured with their pet pit bull who was named after Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad. She was called Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad.
  7. The backwards fiddle on Creep In The Cellar is an accident. When recording their second album, Rembrandt Pussyhorse, the studio used an old tape which had previously been used by a country band and hadn’t been wiped. When the Surfers heard it, they decided to keep it that way.
  8. In The Simpsons episode Hurricane Neddy, Ned Flanders’s son Todd wears a Butthole Surfers T-shirt donated to the family when they lose all their possessions.todd flanders
  9. The band also featured on Beavis & Butthead twice, with the videos for Who Was In My Room Last Night and Dust Devil, both from the album Independent Worm Saloon. The boys are big fans.
  10. The band’s stage shows were infamous, featuring, flaming cymbals, nudity, multiple strobes, fake blood, a ‘piss wand’ and video projections. The most famous film they used featured a man undergoing penile reconstruction surgery following a farm accident. They would sometimes play this backwards.
  11. The sleeve for the album Locust Abortion Technician was designed by Arthur Sarnoff, the artist most famous for his paintings of dogs playing pool.
  12. Drummer Teresa Nervosa appeared in the 1991 Richard Linklater film Slacker. She’s the character on the street trying to sell Madonna’s pap smear.

 

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

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

 

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

Legendary Texan, scatological, psychedelic, avant-garde, punk-rock reprobates, Butthole Surfers taking on Hurdy Gurdy Man, a 60s, British, hippie/folk classic by Donovan of Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow fame.

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 used the exact same vocal style in the original.  In fact the original is practically the same as the cover, except with sitars and slightly unsettling tone. There’s a theory that Jimmy Page and John Bonham were session musicians on the but nobody seems to be able to say for sure either way.

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.