‘(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.

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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

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

There’s a certain symmetry to this cover – a tribute to the premier, righteously angry, White Panther-affiliated, garage punk band of the ’60s by the premier, righteously angry, ‘political action through music’, alt-rock/rap band of the ’90s.

MC5’s brazenly confrontational Kick Out The Jams was first released on their debut LP of the same name in 1969. The album was recorded live in October 1968 over the course of two shows at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom where MC5 had been the house band since its reopening as a psychedelic venue in 1966. MC5 were the default support act for visiting bands and when their local fans felt that the evening’s main attractions were underperforming they would demand that they ‘Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!’.  MC5 appropriated the phrase for their most famous song.

Bassist Michael Davis had mixed feelings about the impact of their debut album. “The night we recorded Kick Out The Jams was actually the end of the band for me. Before that night, the MC5 was totally experimental. Every time we went up onstage, it was like we were making the sound up for the time. After October 31, 1968, the MC5 would forever be moulded that way because now we knew what we were supposed to sound like. We were like Play-Doh before that, and then we were an actual form after it, and we were expected to be like that from then on.”

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As well as setting the template for the band’s sound, Kick Out The Jams, and specifically the use of the word ‘motherfucker’ increased MC5’s notoriety massively. Though it was a big hit they were dropped from their record label, record stores were banned from selling the album and the band was constantly hassled by police at shows. As a way of introducing the world to a resolutely anti-establishment band, it was a big success.

The way Rage Against The Machine announced themselves to the UK on the (notorious mess of a) TV show that was The Word in the early-’90s was similarly effective. Channel 4’s The Word is remembered for a few musical moments, most famously Kurt declaring Courtney to be ‘the best fuck in the world’ before launching into Teen Spirit and Donita from L7 dropping her jeans during Pretend We’re Dead. Both of these events are regularly dredged up and labelled as shocking, when they really weren’t. Nirvana and L7 were well-known before these appearances and their unpredictability was pretty, er, predictable. RATM meanwhile were virtually unknown when they took to that stage and the power of their heavy riffs, tight rhythms, hip hop beats, intense, lucid anger and repeated ‘fuck yous’ was totally unexpected and truly exhilarating. The performance ended in suspiciously unspontaneous looking chaos – under the watchful eye of super-middleweight world champion, Chris Eubank – but they’d made their impression by then.

Rage Against The Machine’s cover of Kick Out The Jams appeared on their final album, Renegades (2000). Their blistering, self-titled 1992 debut album had shot them to alternative rock royalty but their follow up, Evil Empire wasn’t released until 1996 and was a disappointment. 1999’s Battle Of Los Angeles was a slight return to form but by the time Renegades was released the band was fizzling out. Renegades features a number of cover versions of songs by artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Cypress Hill, Minor Threat, The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, Bob Dylan, Afrika Bambaata and Devo. Kick Out The Jams was the best of these. It doesn’t capture the sweaty, spontaneous energy of the original but it does fill it with the intense, tightly-harnessed power that Rage Against The Machine always did so well.

Though Kick Out The Jams had been covered lots of times before – by Jeff Buckley, Bad Brains and The Mono Men, among many, many others – you could argue that it should’ve been left alone. MC5’s will always be the definitive version – there’s no way to improve it – and it defines the band, in the same way that Killing In The Name Of defines Rage Against The Machine. But RATM’s cover is a bold attempt to do it justice and it’s a high point on Renegades. Maybe it’s also helped to keep MC5’s legacy alive, meaning sights like this can become more common:

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Remember that? I don’t know how to feel about Rachel from Friends wearing an MC5 t-shirt. Maybe this fictional character was a fan? Why shouldn’t she be? But it doesn’t feel right, somehow. Who knows, maybe it doesn’t even matter. But I bet Rage Against The Machine wouldn’t be happy about it.

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

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

‘Love Or Confusion’ by Jimi Hendrix, covered by Screaming Trees – Magnificent Cover Version No.15

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nin-hurt

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Kinks Lola.png

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

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

cud-lola

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

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

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

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

Shit video though.

Cud colour

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

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

 

 

 

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

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 on the sleeve photo. 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!!!’

Love Buzz 2

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.

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

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

 

 

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.

Blue Cheer.jpg

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

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

Minor Threat doing (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone – Oh yes! Every version of this song is fucking great! You just can’t go wrong with that E, G, A, C chord progression.

 

 

 

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.

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 Magnificent Cover Version. The original was wonderful and the cover is even better. 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.


Sex Pistols also did a very solid take on it:

 

and The Farm’s 1990 baggy reimagining is well worth a listen too:

 

 

Minor Threat’s version is the best though.

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

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

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

Jilted John (Gordon Is A Moron)’ by Jilted John would be the perfect choice of cover version for The Wedding Present, with its themes of love, loss and jilting, but failing that, this’ll do.

Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) was The Wedding Present’s contribution to the Alvin Lives In Leeds, anti-Poll Tax compilation – a rich source of covers, but they’re mainly a bit shit. I first heard it as a B-side.

I got the 3 Songs EP that includes this cover on cassette from Woolworths or Our Price as a kid (it’s written about here, just below the L7 piece). I remember playing the tape to my mate Millhouse and him saying, “Woah, that’s grunge!” It wasn’t grunge of course, but it had a harsher, heavier sound, which complemented rather than overwhelmed the songs. This sound was largely due to the production of Steve Albini.

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The Wedding Present recorded two EPs (including 3 Songs) and the Seamonsters album with Steve Albini. These recordings are, to me, the strongest work that The Wedding Present have produced. Seamonsters has the same brooding, claustrophobic feel as The Breeders’ Pod (also produced by Albini and discussed in Magnificent Cover Version No.2). Like Pod, it also has brilliant songs.

Around this time, I remember reading an interview with Steve Albini in which he complained about love being the default subject matter for songs. He couldn’t understand why this was the case since love, to him, boiled down to the act of rubbing genitals together; the old romantic. Makes you wonder what he made of David Gedge’s lovelorn lyrics.

Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) was a cover of a Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel song and it was perfectly suited to The Wedding Present. They speeded it up and stripped it down from the sleazy, sub-Bowie original, turning it into an edgy, angst-filled indie-rock classic.

steve-harley-and-cockney-rebel-make-me-smile-come-up-and-see-me-emi-5

I’d never heard of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel before hearing this cover but I discovered two things about them afterwards. 1) Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel are a band, not a duo. 2) Steve Harley’s cousin lived in the house that backed onto mine when I was growing up. I don’t know if he ever visited but I wouldn’t have recognised him if he had.

The sister of Bob Catley, the lead singer of Magnum, lived a couple of doors down from us too. I saw him a few times – my dog once took exception to his leather trousers and ran up to him barking furiously. It was the most upset I ever saw her. She was absolutely livid about those trousers. She didn’t bite him or anything and I dragged her away pretty quickly. During the incident Bob Catley looked a bit alarmed but he didn’t run away. He just said, “Hey, cool it dawg”, in an American accent, like he was from Venice Beach rather than Aldershot. Nice fella.

 

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

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

 

 

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

This really is a great cover version. Superchunk took the raw materials of Devo’s original Girl U Want, added needle sharp guitars and gallons of adrenaline and produced something which not only didn’t sound like Devo, but didn’t sound much like Superchunk either. I like Superchunk. They’ve got some great songs, but as far as I’m aware, this is by a distance the best thing they’ve ever done. It’s just so precise and exhilarating.

Superchunk’s cover appeared on a 1992 compilation of new-wave hits covered by ’90s bands. When it came out it was one of my first CD purchases – snapped up from the little ‘Various Artists’ part of the fledgling CD section of my local Our Price. This collection was titled Freedom Of Choice, taking its name from the third Devo album, on which both Girl U Want and Whip It appeared in 1980.

That compilation also featured Mudhoney, covering Pump It Up by Elvis Costello and Yo La Tengo tackling Dreaming by Blondie. Sonic Youth provide another highlight with their chaotic take on Plastic Bertrand’s already fairly hectic Ca Plane Pour Moi.

It’s a really enjoyable collection, but in retrospect the rest of the participants are pretty obscure; Erectus Monotone, Polvo, Hypnolovehweel, Chia Pet, Tiny Lights – who the fuck are these bands? Doesn’t matter, they all do a decent enough job but Superchunk’s contribution towers over the rest.

Credit where it’s due, Superchunk had brilliant source material to work from. Girl U Want proves that Devo could write a truly genius pop song. It’s often overlooked because the follow up single was the band-defining classic, Whip It, with it’s ever-popular ironic ‘Dude Ranch’ video (apparently based on a genuine resort where a hostess having her clothes removed with a bullwhip was a regular event and popular attraction). For me though, Girl U Want is the better song.

The synthesizer/guitar hooks on Girl U Want are widely believed to have been inspired by the jagged riffs on The Knack’s My Sharona, though co-writer Gerald Casale has denied this. Coincidental or not, it’s easy to hear the similarity.

What’s more important than where the tune came from is what it does, which is to convey that overpowering feeling of being young and in love with someone, but too chickenshit to tell them.

And then there’s the lyrics:

She sings from somewhere you can’t see
She sits in the top of the greenest tree
She sends out an aroma of undefined love
It drips on down in a mist from above

She’s just the girl, she’s just the girl
The girl you want

You hear her calling everywhere you turn
You know you’re headed for the pleasure burn
But the words get stuck on the tip of your tongue
She’s the real thing but you knew it all along

She’s just the girl, she’s just the girl
The girl you want

That’s just poetry. In combination with the tune, these words saw Devo delivering an original twist on a well-worn theme and a classic piece of art-pop. And you have to say the lyrics on Girl U Want have held up a whole lot better than those on My Sharona – remember “I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind”? Can’t hear that today without wincing.

So, with a song as great as Girl U Want to work with, you might think Superchunk couldn’t go wrong. But then you come across the sluggish version Soundgarden put on the B-Side of Rusty Cage and realise that’s not necessarily so. Then you also come across the rendition Robert Palmer put out as a single in 1994 and you understand how very wrong it could have gone. So Kudos to Devo and Superchunk for creating the two essential versions of a truly magnificent song.

 

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

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

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