Shonen Knife’s version of The Carpenters’ standard retains the blissed-out positivity of the original On Top Of The World, ditches the country and western elements and gives it a welcome upbeat, pop-punk twist.
On Top Of The World was released as part of one of those tribute albums that always look they’re going to be a really good idea but ultimately don’t add up to the sum of their parts.
For someone like me, who regularly writes blog posts about cover versions – for reasons that I can’t quite remember or adequately explain – tribute albums aren’t the rich source of inspirational material that they could be.
The idea is to take a seminal act like The Smiths, The Clash, or the Pixies, get a load of contemporary bands to cover their best known songs and package them up together in a collection. This ought to work more often than it does – songs you know covered by acts you like – but they tend to disappoint for some reason.
If I Were A Carpenter, released in 1994, is one of those disappointing compilations. It saw some of The Carpenters’ best known songs – We’ve Only Just Begun, (They Long To Be) Close To You, Yesterday Once More – covered by amazing bands like Redd Kross, Babes In Toyland and Sonic Youth but none of them really hit the spot, except for Shonen Knife’s Top Of The World. Unlike other songs on the album, SK get the balance just right between showing due respect for the original and putting their own stamp on the song, so it feels simultaneously familiar and new. I don’t see how even a fan of the Carpenters would fail to enjoy this as much as a punk fan.
Shonen Knife have been around since 1981 and in 1989 they got the disappointing tribute album treatment themselves. Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them features L7, Sonic Youth, Blue Oyster Cult, Lunachicks and a load of ’80s bands that have since slipped into obscurity, but whom no doubt somebody still loves.
Shonen Knife continue their cartoon punk odyssey to this day, recording and touring the world with lead singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano the only consistent member for their 36-year and counting career. They’ve got about 25 studio albums in their discography, the latest being Adventure from 2016, and they’ll probably be playing near you soon.
The Sex Pistols’ take on the classic single by The Who was recorded in 1976 but not formally released until it appeared on the soundtrack to The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle in 1979. It’s an exuberant cover that captures the power-pop of the original, roughs it up and puts a rocket up its arse.
Pete Townshend was inspired to write Substitute by the line ‘although she may be cute she’s just a substitute’ in Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ Tracks Of My Tears. Approaching it from the substitute’s point of view – a man who knows he’s not as good as his girl thinks – the lyrics are a mix of cleverly self-deprecating – ‘I look pretty tall but my heels are high’ – jokes – ‘at least I’ll get my washing done’ – and sub-Dr Seuss, cryptic bollocks – ‘The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south’. There’s an element of class-consciousness about it too – ‘I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth’ – which would’ve appealed to the Pistols.
You can hear the great Keith Moon screaming as he plays the drum fill about two minutes in. Supposedly he was so wasted and paranoid at the time that he forgot playing on the recording and accused the rest of the band, ironically, of using a substitute drummer and plotting to replace him. They had to point out the scream to convince him otherwise. Townshend was originally meant to play the solo on guitar but John Entwistle ended up performing it on bass. Roger Daltrey sings it pop idol sweetness and it all fits together perfectly for one of The Who’s best singles.
As with it is with most of the Sex Pistols’ legend the story that original bassist Glenn Matlock was sacked because he admitted to liking The Beatles is probably bullshit. Still, by the Sex Pistols’ time The Who were flirting with progressive rock and very much part of the establishment that the Pistols were anti, so it’s odd that they would cover them. Obviously the guitar smashing, volume and confrontational attitude of early Who made a lasting impression on Johnny Rotten and the boys and they were able to get over the rock opera shenanigans and long hair that would come later. You can hear how much they’re enjoying themselves playing Substitute too – it’s a really energetic performance.
Given how high-spirited the performance of Substitute is it’s ironic that it was released in conjunction with The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle – Malcolm McLaren’s interesting but deeply flawed vanity film project, made around the collapse of the Sex Pistols. The film was cobbled together at a time when the band members and management detested the sight of one another and Johnny Rotten quit just after production began. Legendary sexploitation, B-movie maker Russ Meyer was the original director, but only lasted four days before the mutual hatred got to him and Julien Temple, whose main qualification was that he’d been to a lot of Sex Pistols gigs, took over. Temple made something surprisingly watchable considering what he was up against, but it’s the soundtrack that really saves it – not all of it, there’s a LOT of filler. Some of it though captures the energy and adrenaline of the band at the peak of their powers, with Substitute being a prime example of this.
The Pistols’ supercharged version of Substitute is pretty faithful, if not exactly reverent. Steve Jones thrashes out a really filthy guitar sound and he reclaims the solo from Glenn Matlock, whose brilliant walking bassline has a real upbeat feel about it. Paul Cook can’t quite compete with Moon’s unique skills but he puts in a powerful, machine gun performance on drums. The biggest change is in the vocals. While Daltrey’s original was sweetly sincere, Rotten’s delivers his in his best, sneeringly sarcastic, North London guttersnipe snarl. It’s all dropped aitches and glottal stops – ‘You fink my shoes are made of levvah’. The first time he sings ‘plastic mac’ it becomes ‘wanker’s mac’ and there’s a general, healthy disregard for the order of the lines. There’s a joyous spontaneity about the whole song.
The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle soundtrack feature a few covers and they’re all pretty good, but Substitute is easily the best. It’s the Sex Pistols at their loud, obnoxious best, before Sid Vicious came and went and Bambi got killed.
Twenty four cover versions so far in this list and this is the third Beatles cover, this time I Saw Her Standing There, the first track on their first album Please Please Me and the song from that LP that’s stood the test of time best. I could’ve gone for Daniel Johnston’s lo-fi, outsider, piano version, which is touching and charming right from the false start, but went for psychedelic proto-punks The Pink Fairies’ stoner-rock take on it instead.
The Pink Fairies started up in 1970 in Ladbroke Grove, London. They were drug-advocating hippies and contemporaries of Hawkwind with a fluid line-up that often included two drummers, which is always a good thing. They were another band I was introduced to through Millhouse‘s parents’ record collection. I saw Her Standing There was The Pink Fairies’ second single; a hard-edged, hippie-rock take on a rock ‘n’ roll classic, reminiscent of Steppenwolf or MC5.
Punking up a Beatles song fitted in perfectly with The Pink Fairies’ outsider stance. They prided themselves on being anti-rock establishment. The band’s drummer/vocalist Twink explained, “[In] the era of rock gods, inflated ticket prices, and total inaccessibility for fans, we wanted to tear it all down. We waved two fingers at corporate rock by setting up and playing OUTSIDE corporate rock events. We played only for free, after all money was the root of all evil, right?” Very hippie. Very punk rock.
The Cramps were playing Surfin’ Bird live before The Ramones. Johnny admitted, “We heard them doing it, so we started playing it”. The unhinged bubble-gum pop of Surfin’ Bird was perfect for The Ramones anyway. It was fast, retro rock ‘n’ roll, comprising three chords and a bunch of lyrical hooks. That IS The Ramones.
It also fitted in with the band’s self-deprecating way of answering the mainstream’s misconceptions about their mental functionality. One time Marky remembered when the band were on tour and stopped at a restaurant. When their tour manager Monte Melnick left the band alone inside to go out to the van a concerned woman approached him and asked, “Are you taking care of those retarded men”. “She thought we were retarded guys in a van, being nursed by Monte. She meant it.”
Whether it was because of their appearance, playing style or the blunt subject matter of their songs, they were often dismissed as stupid or crazy and songs like Pinhead, Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment, Teenage Lobotomy and Surfin’ Bird were their way of hitting back.
It’s plain to see that The Ramones were in fact geniuses. They wrote brilliant songs and developed a playing style and complete street gang aesthetic – encompassing the clothes, the shared surnames, the logo that launched ten million t-shirts and the stripped back attack of their live performance – that no band before or since has ever matched.
The Trashmen’s original Surfin’ Bird was essentially a cover itself; a surf-rock reimagining of the choruses from two separate songs by the brilliant ’60s doo-wop group The Rivingtons – The Bird Is The Word and Papa Oom Mow Mow. It became a novelty hit for The Trashmen and was famously featured on a January 1964 edition of American Bandstand in which their singer/drummer Steve Wahrer lip-synched solo while doing a chicken dance. He performed solo because the band’s record company had refused to fly the rest of the band to the show’s recording.
The Trashmen carried on performing until 1967 but never managed another hit. It isn’t as easy to make a lasting career out of fast, three-chord, bubble-gum pop as The Ramones made it look.
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.
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.
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, He’s A Whore by Cheap Trick (they imitated Cheap Trick on the front cover). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – its ironic title derived from Albini’s often-stated bemusement at love and romance having become music’s default subject matter – sees Big Black treading similar territory to Atomizer, and it’s another fine album. Kasimir S. Pulaski Dayand Bad Pennyare 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.
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.
In many ways the early-nineties was a simpler time – when it came to finding new music, it was much more complicated. There was an abundance of ridiculously good material just waiting to be discovered, but pre-internet, navigating the musical underground was hard. To hear music that didn’t get played on the radio you had to be in the same room as the record or the band themselves. These days you can check out a Tokyo djent band on your fucking phone. Having a friend who knew stuff already helped a lot. Enter Millhouse* – indie music Sherpa; human Google; sonic oracle.
Me and Millhouse were in the same school year but we moved in different circles. He was an academic high flyer with a serious appearance – he didn’t seem like a lot of fun. It was only in the last couple of years at school, when I started playing football with Sean, a kid from another school who’d known Millhouse for years, that we started talking. We had a mutual friend and our lunch breaks coincided so we started eating our sandwiches together.
Despite his studious appearance, he turned out to be alright – interesting, well-informed and pretty funny. This was in the heyday of the pre-YouTube home movie show You’ve Been Framed, when Jeremy Beadle hosted it in front of a studio audience, and we bonded over our shared enjoyment of that show. But Millhouse’s main thing was music – he could talk about it endlessly. I was vaguely interested in The Happy Mondays and Stone Roses, having seen them on Top Of The Pops, but he’d already delved well beyond that and he became a kind of indie music mentor.
Millhouse introduced me to a lot of bands that I still love. The first mix tape he gave me had The Wedding Present, Primal Scream, Spacemen 3 and the Pixies on it. I heard Nirvana for the first time at his house (the Sliver 12″) and Butthole Surfers (Hurdy Gurdy Man) and Sonic Youth (Kool Thing). He pointed me in the direction of John Peel and showed me where to find Birmingham’s independent record stores – Frank’s Wild Records, Tempest, Plastic Factory and Swordfish.
He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of all types of music, partly thanks to his parents’ vinyl collection, which spanned Neil Young, The Beatles, Stones, James Brown, Bowie and The Doors. My parents were much more sociable and fun than his, but their LP collection stretched to Barry Manilow, Nana Maskouri and the Grease soundtrack. It’s fair to say that Millhouse had a head start on me.
With a lot of effort, I got my knowledge up near his level. I’d listen to Peel nightly with a C90 cassette primed and ready to go, read Melody Maker from cover to cover every week and send away for fanzines – preferably ones with demo tapes included. Any earnings from my weekend job that I didn’t spend on booze I spent on vinyl. Millhouse, being too studious to have a weekend job, envied my disposable income and the boost it gave to my record collection.
It wasn’t just indie; this was a phenomenal time for many genres – electronic music was getting more diverse, sophisticated and interesting, hip-hop was in its golden age, and even metal was beginning to pull itself out of its eighties, poodle-haired nadir. We explored all of that and the psychedelia, punk, metal and funk of previous decades. The weirder and more obscure it was, the better.
We went to dozens of gigs. We saw Nirvana, The Fall, Mudhoney, Carter USM, Iggy Pop, Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth, along with loads more great bands who were never quite destined to make it, like Bleach, Silverfish, Senseless Things and Jacob’s Mouse. We’d also check out local bands whose only realistic ambition was to release a demo tape. It didn’t matter that these bands were usually shit because we got to exploit the confusion that existed between the venue’s door staff and bar staff about who should be checking gig-goers’ ages before serving them alcoholic beverages. Sometimes other people would come along to these gigs with us – sometimes even girls! – but I would guess that it’s only recently that my wife has overtaken Millhouse as the person I’ve been to most gigs with.
We didn’t get on great all the time, Millhouse and me. He could be really irritating. When playing you something new from his record collection he would stare at you intently throughout and elicit a considered response the second the song finished. He was mean too – I never saw him happier than when he came away from a bar with change for a £20 when he’d only handed over a fiver for his drink. He had a habit of bullshitting shamelessly, making up stories to make him appear more interesting, even if it made me look worse. But kids that age can be arseholes – like when Millhouse passed out drunk at a party and I tried to make him piss himself by putting his hand in a bowl of cold water. Didn’t work; he just woke up. Should’ve used warm water.
Me and Millhouse lost touch around the age of 20. After we went to university we’d meet up occasionally but we were heading down different paths. In the end he cut his hair short in anticipation of monetising his abilities, qualifications, personal motivation and ruthless bullshitting ability. Meanwhile I dropped out of my course in order to remain committed to a grunge/slacker aesthetic and following the path of least resistance. I think Millhouse ended up doing really well for himself and I don’t begrudge him that at all. I wouldn’t have discovered half as much great music or seen as many amazing bands without his guidance. We were always quite different characters but we had a blast discovering, no DEVOURING the music that I’ve enjoyed ever since. Cheers, Millhouse.
*Millhouse isn’t his real name. I doubt he’ll ever read this blog, but you know, I get a pseudonym so it’s only fair that he should too. This is despite the fact that his real name is perfect for him – slightly nerdy and comical without being ridiculous. It took a while to think of a suitable alternative. Millhouse suits him.
A short list of stuff you might not know about psychedelic, scatological, avant-garde, Texan, punk rock reprobates and legends, Butthole Surfers….
Gibby Haynes graduated from Trinity University, San Antonio with an economics degree and having been named ‘Accountant of the Year’.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The sleeve for the album Locust Abortion Technician was designed by Arthur Sarnoff, the artist most famous for his paintings of dogs playing pool.
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.
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.
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: