One thing your Uncle LD hates more than life itself is the attitude some people have about covers of well-known. Sure, singing a song because you lovelovelove it is a valid reason to sing that song, but why bother to make a recording of it if you’re just going to make a lame musical Xerox. Admit it: You’re not a Beatle (remember the hideous soundtrack to the movie about a “challenged” young man played by Sean Penn?), you’re not the Supremes (a big Bronx cheer for Mr Phil Collins!) or the Smiths, though Love Spit Love’s cover of “How Soon Is Now” had its moments . . . And probably no one cares that your love for some song is so deep that you feel compelled to share it with the world. Mostly, covers of famous songs are made by losers for losers. Obviously this doesn’t necessarily apply to great singers singing great songs—the pop pantheon is full of vocalists who can wrap a song around their vocal chords in such a way that it’s theirs regardless of who wrote it or sang it first. Heck, I actually prefer the Beatles’ version of “Chains” to the Cookies’ original, for a variety of largely sick reasons.
On the other hand, an innovative take on an obscure song—or one that takes the piss out of a too-revered iconic tune—is always welcome here at the Threehouse. This week and next, that’s exactly what we’ll be playing for your delectation.
Next week: The Great Cover-Up, Part 2
“Jailhouse Rock” by the Residents, from RALPH BEFORE ’84 (Ralph, 1984)
Made famous by the King himself, Mr Elvis Presley. Written by pop gods Leiber-Stoller, this was ol’ Elvis’ first hit way back in 1957. This song has also been named on of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.” The eyeball guys from San Francisco released their version on a rare compilation, but it lurks hither and yon . . . They also have lots of free downloads at their funny website, including a fab cover of the Beatles’ “Flying.”
“Hammond Song” by the Colourfield, from VIRGINS & PHILISTINES (EMI,1985) Made semi-famous by: the Roches, from their 1979 album THE ROCHES. The Colourfield is Terry Hall post-Fun Boy Three, and before his solo years. Mr Hall is an underrated genius of tender, smartypants pop, and his exquisite cover of this fairly obscure tune from a fairly obscure American folkie sister act is a smashing showcase for his amazingly poignant voice. CDs of their first album, form which this song was taken, sell for a small fortune on Amazon and gemm.com. And no, your uncle LD will not burn you a copy.
“Summertime Blues” by the Flying Lizards, from THE FLYING LIZARDS (Virgin,1979) Made famous by Eddie Cochran in 1958. Here, Deborah warbles, David plonks and plinks, and the world is a better place for about three minutes.
“Heroes” by Nico, from DRAMA OF EXILE (1981; rereleased on Cleopatra, 1993) Made famous by David Bowie, made really sexy and nihilistic here. Who knew the Berlin wall was so much fun? But actually this is not a love song.
“Layla (Derek Sings Derek)” by Fortran 5, from BAD HEAD PARK (Elektra/Asylum,1993) Made famous by Eric Clapton (as Derek and the Dominos) in 1970 and made much more palatable here by a bunch of Canadian geezers. Their second album is loads of fun in a Persian Gulf crisis dub/cut-up sort of way.
“Close to You” by Ethyl Meatplow, from HAPPY DAYS, SWEETHEART (Dali Records 1993) Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote it, the Carpenters had a massive hit with it. And then Meatplow turned it into a terrific stalker ballad. Oh, Carla . . . We are such fools for you. Call us!
“Let My People Go” by Diamanda Galas, from MUTE: TONAL EVIDENCE (Mute USA, 1991) The Mahalia Jackson version is the one we know best, but I suspect there’re many lovely versions of this classic gospel number. More about Miss Diamanda soon when she appears on HB, talking about her upcoming shows and titillating us with the inner life of a real diva.
“Disorder” by Bedhead, from FOUR SONG EP (Trance Syndicate, 1997) Made famous by Joy Division from their 1979 debut on Factory. We love how Matt sings “Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of ANOTHER man,” though of course the real lyric is “a normal man.” He is such a tease.
“Both Sides Now” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Maybelle Carter, from WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN (Capital,1972) Written by Joni Mitchell, and beautifully performed her, and then covered by Judy Collins, too. Somehow, this version somehow manages to be even more ethereal and sublime. Though Hole’s version is pretty dang fabulous, too.
“Little Black Egg” by Tarnation, from MIRADOR (Rhino, 2005) Made famous by the Nighcrawlers, a 60s folk-rock band from Florida. This weird-ass tune is one of the real treasures of the venerable NUGGETS box set, and has been covered by many folks (BeBe Buell—backed by the Cars!—also does a great slithery job) but we like this one best. And the various remakes like “We All Love Peanut Butter.” In our dreams we’ve always imagined Nancy Sinatra doing it, because she could sing the extremely bizarre lyric with utter conviction . . . like she did with Uncle Lee’s divine “Sugartown.” Here Paula gives it a whopping riff and her own special intensity. Also, list for the creepy organ!