Cover (noun): A recording of a song that was previously recorded or made popular by another. Also called cover version or cover song; (verb) to record a cover.
From rock and rolls earliest days, cover songs
have played an integral role in its history and development. The story
of covers is in some way as vital a part of rock history as the story
of songwriting itself from Pat Boone's sanitized versions of Little Richards
race hits, to the Kingsmens infamous version of Richard
Berrys Louie Louie, to the Beatles show-stopping
remake of the Isley Brothers Twist And Shout, up to
the recent furor over Madonnas remake of American Pie.
The Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and the Who, for instance,
all started their careers covering American blues and R&B sides. The
Stones didnt really come into their own as songwriters until they
had been releasing records for two years, and as late as their fourth
LP, the Beatles were still recording almost as many covers as originals.
Conversely, many of Bob Dylan's early songs were made popular by other
artists before his own versions gained acclaim. Some songs have been covered
so much, its hard to remember whom the originals were done by. And
of course, any bar band worth its margarita salt can do a version of Wild
Thing and Gloria.
Tater Totz was a loose-knit band featuring the McDonald brothers from Redd Kross. Their two studio LPs are largely covers of 60s and 70s songs, ranging from Rock On by David Essex, to Lets Get Together (originally performed by Hayley Mills in the film The Parent Trap), to Bat Macumba by Os Mutantes. Their most audacious selection was a version of Yoko Onos Who Has Seen The Wind performed to the music of Queens Bohemian Rhapsody. Its a striking piece, and calls into question the place of art, artifice, and irony in pop music.
In 1993, They Might Be Giants Hello Recording
Club released an EP by Kurt Hoffmans Band Of Weeds. Hoffman, besides
being a member of TMBGs touring band, was a former member of the
Ordinaires. The EP featured four songs arranged for horns, accordion,
banjo, cello and drums, but its weirder than it sounds, especially
when the Band of Weeds tackles an instrumental version of Led Zeppelins
The Ocean. At times unrecognizable and at other times so perfect
youll want to never hear the original again, this isnt just
oddness for its own sake.
Their most audacious selection was a version of Yoko Onos Who Has Seen The Wind performed to the music of Queens Bohemian Rhapsody.
In 1986, a punk band from DC called Gray Matter released, on their Food For Thought LP, a version of the Beatles I Am The Walrus that comes as close as any Beatles cover ever to beating the Fabs at their own game. Over a minimalist bass/drums/guitar arrangement, taken at breakneck speed, the singer intones Lennons surrealist lyrics in such an accusatory way as to make you feel that, not only IS he the walrus, but that its a terrible thing and somethings gotta be done about it. The fade takes the contrasting ascending/descending lines of the original to new extremes, and is gradually devoured by screams, curses and invocations that leave the original sounding like a tea party.
Famed bluesman Willie Dixon won several lawsuits against Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement, notably for Whole Lotta Love, which borrowed liberally from his tune You Need Love. The Small Faces recorded Dixons tune (though, perhaps not surprisingly, credited it to Marriott/Lane) and anyone who thinks the Zep sound was born full-blown from the brow of Jimmy Page should give it a listen. The guitar breaks, drum patterns and even the vocal are stunningly familiar, all the more so for having been recorded three years before Zeppelins first LP came out. Apparently Page and Plant were Equal Opportunity Rip-off Artists.
In 1995, the Replicants, a side project by members of Failure, Tool and Zaum, released a whole CD of warped covers. Among versions of Missing Persons, Steely Dan, Bowie, Gary Numan, Syd Barrett and Cars tunes, their version of Wings Silly Love Songs is the standout. Seven and a half minutes long, it so radically re-defines the song that you may even like it. The choruses are hammering and violent, featuring the words I love you, screamed by a man who sounds like he would rather do nothing more than gouge his beloveds eyes out. Metal/punk/pop genius.
1984, the Minutemen's landmark Double Nickels
On The Dime double LP featured a handful of covers, and one of
them, Van Halens Aint Talkin Bout Love,
was tossed off seemingly as a joke, especially since it only lasted forty-seven
seconds (pretty swift, even for them). But two years later, the guys revealed
that they evidently cared more than a little for the song, because an
SST Records sampler, The Blasting Concept
II, included another, extended (padded out to a full
1:15!) version of it. It had the same backing track, but featured, in
place of the line Aint got no time to mess around, the
same line with a couple of fervently uttered f-word type profanities.
OK, it was still a joke, but at least they knew the punch line.
Laibach, a Slovenian band, has trafficked in political commentary in their music through most of their career and has had a particularly dark outlook and sound on many of their sides. Never was this more apparent than on their version of the Rolling Stones Sympathy For The Devil. This track and its accompanying video, from 1987, seemed to emanate from the dark lord himself. A growling guttural vocal over a bleak, martial backing track, was about the scariest thing Id ever heard when I first saw it on MTV. The video, filled with German police dogs with red glowing eyes, goats heads, and fiery pits, was about the most evil thing I could (and still can) imagine. Their music, imagery and rhetoric invoked totalitarianism in order to subvert it, but the line looks pretty thin sometimes.
In 1987, Camper Van Beethoven convened to record their third LP, only to find that their drummer had broken his leg. So they did the only logical thing: they bought a drum machine and recorded Fleetwood Macs Tusk. Not just the song, the entire double album. Its all pretty warped stuff, but the title track is truly messed up. I cant do it justice, but suffice to say that the part where the drums go crazy in the original version for 10 seconds lasts about 10 minutes here. It takes you all around the world in a vehicle that only exists in the imagination of those doing heavy hallucinogens. Simultaneously reverent and parodic, this cover sums up what is so great about all the selections Ive listed for you. For fans of rock and roll music and all its offshoots, theres nothing more fun than a great cover.