‘Helter Skelter’ by The Beatles, covered by Siouxsie & The Banshees – Magnificent Cover Version No.20

Helter Skelter is obviously not The Banshees’ most famous Beatles cover, but I’ve always preferred it to their version of Dear Prudence. Whereas the band’s Prudence, is quite a faithful rendition of the original, their Helter Skelter turns The Fab Four’s heaviest recording into something delightfully weird.

In Ian MacDonald’s wonderful book about The Beatles, Revolution in the Head, he utterly slams Helter Skelter. According to MacDonald, in attempting to emulate the heavy rock of The Who, Cream and Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, “comically overreach themselves”, “reproducing the requisite bulldozer design but on a Dinky Toy scale”. He calls the result “ridiculous” and “a literally drunken mess”. This is coming from a fan who has written extensively about their brilliance and cultural impact and who elsewhere in the book refers to them as “far and away the best-ever pop group”. I agree with most of what MacDonald writes in Revolution in the Head, but not his assessment of Helter Skelter; it’s thrilling and I love it.

Siouxsie and the Banshees’ are clearly also fans of Helter Skelter. Their version doesn’t attempt to replicate the frantic, metal of the original, instead instilling it with an unsettling, post-punk threat. While the original kicks off out of nowhere, like an ambush, the cover couldn’t start slower. Four, long-held bass notes are played before a sparse, atonal guitar chimes in and it’s nearly a minute before Siouxsie begins to sing – “As I get to the bottom” – and a drum beat, of sorts, starts up – “I go back to the top of the slide”. The tempo is almost painfully slow, until she sings “see you again”, and it accelerates and becomes recognisable.

Neither the singing nor the guitars closely follow the original melodies – Siouxsie stamps her own charisma on the vocals and the guitars seem to fuse Paul McCartney’s riff with The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog. The descending guitar part on the chorus is replaced by a vocal part, “Helter Skelter, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na,” and while the original has a false finish, this one cuts off with a cymbal crash midway through a line. For something so confrontational, from a band with such an unsmiling persona, there’s a lot humour in the song and it’s got an uplifting feel about it.

siouxsie_and_the_banshees_with_robert_smith

There’s a great 1983 live version of it here. This is from the time that Robert Smith was in the band, and the YouTube comments quickly descend – as YouTube comments do – into offensive stuff about him and The Cure. At least that’s better than the comments on the video to their Dear Prudence cover. Bob’s in that video too, arsing about, badly portraying vertigo in Venice with the rest of The Banshees, but 90% of the commenters are far more concerned with Siouxsie’s armpit hair. Sorry, I know I shouldn’t read the comments. Incidentally, Robert Smith and Banshees’ bassist Steven Severin, had a side-project at this time called The Glove, which is well worth checking out https://youtu.be/xJ9BNGl5yOs.

Siouxsie and the Banshees also released an excellent live cover of The Velvet Undergrounds’ All Tomorrow’s Parties, as a B-side to their 1994 single O Baby. I guess Dear Prudence will always be the cover version that defines them, but their Helter Skelter is the one that does it for me, especially when you consider the terrible things that have happened to that song since at the hands of Motley Crue, Oasis and U2 – I urge you NOT to click on any of these links!

 

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

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

Advertisements

Product 2378 – The soundtrack to my paper round

Product 2378 was a 1990 indie compilation on the abysmal (and now defunct) Telstar label – home of Black Lace, Engelbert Humperdinck and Des O’Connor. All the songs on it were from the previous decade and its cover image is a photograph of a kettle. Altogether it’s an unpromising looking little package, but this cassette was one of my first indie music purchases and it meant a lot to me. And just take a look at the track listing;

Side One

  1. The Wonder Stuff – Who Wants To Be The Disco King?
  2. New Order – Vanishing Point
  3. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Head On
  4. The Wedding Present – Kennedy
  5. Pop Will Eat Itself – Can U Dig It?
  6. Happy Mondays – Mad Cyril
  7. New Model Army – Brave New World
  8. The Weather Prophets – Almost Prayed

Side Two

  1. Morrissey – The Last Of The Famous International Playboys
  2. Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo
  3. Pixies – Monkey Gone To Heaven
  4. Inspiral Carpets – Joe
  5. Crazyhead – Baby Turpentine
  6. Throwing Muses – Dizzy
  7. All About Eve – December
  8. The Mission – Tower Of Strength

That’s a strong collection of songs, roughly covering a variety of contemporary UK scenes;

  • C86 – The Wedding Present and The Weather Prophets
  • Goth – Siouxsie & The Banshees, All About Eve, The Mission
  • Post-Punk – The Jesus & Mary Chain, New Model Army, Crazyhead
  • Manchester – Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, New Order
  • Stourbridge – The Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself

It also featured a couple of excellent American contributions (Pixies, Throwing Muses) and one from Morrissey, who was really beyond any sort of scene by then.

Looking back now, it’s a pretty good summary of the state of indie music at that time. If you dropped two or three of the lesser lights from the line-up (no need to embarrass them by naming them, we all know who they are) and added a My Bloody Valentine track and something off Sub Pop, it would be perfect.

For me Product 2378 will forever be associated with the paper round I had between the ages of 13 and 16. It wasn’t a hard core, get-up-before-dawn-every-single-day paper round, it was an evening one, delivering a free newspaper once a week. This sounds pathetically easy, but it meant delivering to every single house on an estate near mine – about 200 papers in all.

Every Tuesday the papers would be dropped off at to my house in two bundles by a nervous looking middle-aged bloke with a moustache. It wasn’t possible to carry all 200 papers at once, so I’d put one bundle in my canvas bag and trudge off into the night. 100 papers are heavy – the strap seams would cut me like a knife. Once these were safely delivered an hour or so later I’d go home, fetch the rest and trudge back out.

Sometimes, as I hauled my heavy burden around, I would think about the kid in the arcade game Paperboy, gliding down Easy Street on his bike, lobbing papers into or near post-boxes and I’d laugh to myself bitterly. Even if I could have balanced on a bike with a bag that weighed nearly as much as me, I had to deliver to an estate full of semi-detached houses, so there was nowhere to make use of one. And my customers expected their papers to go in their letterboxes, not on their doorstep.

It was hard work. The main thing that kept me going – apart from the prospect of earning up to £5, plus an extra quid if there was an advertising leaflet to be delivered as well – was wearing my Walkman.

In the early days De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising was a favourite tape for the ordeal (that album’s also indelibly linked with my paper round), later it was mix tapes either made by mates or by me from listening to John Peel. You know how that would go – let the man introduce the track, hit record and decide 20 seconds in whether it was wonderful or unlistenable. Either that or find out it was played at the wrong speed. But Product 2378 got more plays on that round than anything else.

Each song on the tape is associated with a section of the route, from The Wonder Stuff – helpfully upbeat for the opening few houses when the bag was at its heaviest – to The Mission for the walk home after a job well done.

I was listening to Mad Cyril when I saw a woman in a pink, quilted dressing gown let my best mate’s dad into her house, lead him upstairs, put the bedroom light on and shut the curtains. Obviously I told my mate about this the second I saw him at school the next day. The explanation he got from his dad was that he went round to play snooker with the woman’s husband in their spare bedroom. Yeah, right! “But best not mention it to your mum, she hates me playing snooker”.

I was listening to Joe by Inspiral Carpets when some fat old bastard threatened to kick my juvenile arse for walking across his grass. Each week I’d have a little wrestle with the Jack Russell that would snatch the paper from the other side of the letterbox to the sound of Can U Dig It? by Pop Will Eat Itself.

In three years of doing that round I received one, solitary tip – 50p from a friend of my mum’s one Christmas. Possibly satisfied customers were constantly calling me post-delivery waving fivers and I just couldn’t hear because I was singing along to Monkey Gone To Heaven. Probably not.

The nervous looking bloke who dropped the papers off at my house was understandably crushed when I quit my round at the age of 16. He asked me if I knew anyone who wanted to take it over. When I told him I didn’t his moustache trembled fearfully. Maybe whichever media baron ultimately owned that shitty periodical oversaw a regime in which undelivered papers were punished with broken limbs. It wouldn’t surprise me.

I was moving on to take up a Saturday job which was less badly paid, less physically demanding and more likely to allow my spine to develop as God intended. It would also allow me to save up for a record player, and once I had it, almost all my money from this job went on vinyl. The only trouble was it was paid monthly, like I was a regular employee. So I’d always spend every penny in one joyous record shopping trip every four weeks and be skint for the rest of the month. It was great though.

So as my career blossomed, so did my listening choices and Product 2378 got fewer and fewer plays. But to this day, whenever I hear the ‘yeah, yeah, yeahs’ fading out at the end of Head On I still expect to hear the 100mph opening bars of Kennedy immediately after, and Peek-A-Boo after The Last Of The Famous International Playboys and so on – it’s one of those albums. I know all the words to every song on it. And I actually like the cover image too. Kudos, Telstar. You have a lot to be ashamed of but Product 2378 was pretty cool.

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

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

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

The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr & Blur – ‘Rollercoaster’ 1992

 

 

 

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

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.

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).

The Cure

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 had some truly fantastic songs before it all started going wrong with Friday I’m In Love. I know Cure fans who consider Just Like Heaven to be one of Bob’s masterpieces. It’s a lovely example of one of Bob’s bittersweet love songs but if NoiseCrumbs was going to compile a Top 10 of Cure songs – and don’t put that past me – I’m not sure this would make the cut.

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 – changing the tone completely. 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!

dinosaur jr

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

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