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

1000 Homo DJs was one of Al Jourgensen’s many short-lived side projects, which amounted to two 12″ releases in total – Apathy in 1988 and Supernaut in 1990. The latter saw Jourgensen and other members of Ministry collaborating with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to cover the 1972 Black Sabbath delight Supernaut.

Al Jourgensen has been synonymous with industrial metal for so long now that it’s hard to believe Ministry started off doing a kind of OMD-style synth-pop in early-’80s Chicago. Steve Albini – who was developing both Big Black and his witty sourpuss persona in Chicago at that time – was so outraged at the suggestion that Ministry might produce a band he did appreciate that he came out with this famous barb:

“If you do, and you make them one-tenth as wimpy as Ministry, I’ll cut your balls off and sew them shut in your mouth.”

Nice!

By 1990 Ministry were fully converted to high-tempo, drum machine-driven, sample-heavy, thrashy metal and Jourgensen was collaborating with Jello Biafra (in Lard), Ian MacKaye (in Pailhead) and Richard 23 (in Revolting Cocks). The most lucrative link-up would come in 1991 when Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes provided gibberish guest vocals on Jesus Built My Hotrod, leading to heavy airplay on MTV and platinum sales figures. But Supernaut is pretty great too. Of course it is – it’s by Black Sabbath.

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Not just Black Sabbath, but early, original line-up Black Sabbath – Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill. Peak Sabbath.

Name a four-album run better than Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Masters of Reality and Volume 4 – you can’t, can you?

It was Millhouse who introduced me to Sabbath. Growing up in the Midlands in the ’80s I would see loads of old rockers with long, stringy hair, in Black Sabbath leather jackets, stinking of patchouli oil and I wasn’t impressed with them or their metal aesthetic. Plus, metal at that time, to me meant hair metal – Poison, Motely Crue and the like – and that repelled me even more.

So when my music taste was developing as a ’90s teenager, I took some persuading that that wasn’t what Sabbath were about. It helped when Melody Maker referred to them as part of the unholy trinity of punk touchstones – Black Sabbath, Black Flag, Big Black.

So, starting with Masters of Reality, I got my Sabbath on and never looked back. Genius songs, an incomparable rhythm section and the insane charisma of Ozzy are all big factors in their enduring appeal. But it’s Tony Iommi’s riffs that define them isn’t it? On Sweet Leaf, War Pigs, Paranoid, Children of the Grave and Sabbra Caddabra; lip-curling, head-banging, ear-thumping riffs. Supernaut is one of their best. Apparently it’s also a favourite of Beck’s and John Bonham and Frank Zappa were fans too.

So for their cover, Al Jourgensen and Trent Reznor wisely decided not to change much when playing Supernaut as 1000 Homo DJs. Because this was the ’90s, there’s a fun, paranoid sample before it starts:

Practically every one of the top 40 records being played on every radio station in the United States is a communication to the children to take a trip, to cop out, to groove. The psychedelic jackets on the record albums have their own hidden symbols and messages as well as all the lyrics of all the top rock songs, and they all sing the same refrain, ‘it’s fun to take a trip, put acid in your veins’.

But from then on it’s a straight ahead, appropriately respectful cover. The only real differences are the driving, industrial drum beat and the distortion on Reznor’s voice, apparently added to disguise the fact that he’d done them at all, since his record label had denied permission for him to appear.

So Jourgensen and Reznor’s Supernaut is highly enjoyable without adding anything much to the original. Maybe it did help introduce a new generation to the mighty Black Sabbath and to the brilliance of Tony Iommi’s riffery and it was guaranteed to fill the dance floor at indie clubs for a time. Plus, it got me writing this; which isn’t saying much in itself but has led directly to me learning that Ozzy’s first name is actually John and Geezer’s is Terrence, which is, y’know, vaguely interesting.

1000 Homo DJs

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

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

 

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‘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.

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