One of the records that converted me to the cause of rock’n’roll back in ’87 was Metallica’s ‘The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited’. My sister had bought it and proceeded to play it so loudly and so often that after a while it became impossible not to like, battering my initially Thrash-sceptical eardrums into submission. Not being previously familiar with Metallica I wasn’t initially aware of the backstory of bassist Cliff Burton’s death and that the EP was his successor Jason ‘Newkid’ Newstead’s ‘trial by fire’ introduction into the Metalliverse. It was a time of reinvention and in this spirit, the band returned ‘to the garage’ to pay homage to a few of the songs that had made them rock fans in the first place. Three parts NWOBHM – Diamond Head, Holocaust and Budgie – one measure of dark, trippy Brit New Wave – Killing Joke – finished off with a generous dash of NJ Hardcore Punk – Misfits – this is a very different Metallica to the one who would break into the mainstream four years later with Metallica, let alone the one which baffled fans and critics alike with last year’s Lou Reed ‘Art Rock’ indulgence, Lulu. It’s probably my favourite Metallica recording, and certainly one of my favourite cover albums and there are two reasons I think it works really well: a) it gives you and I, the listeners a crafty little peek ‘Through the Keyhole’ into the band’s record collections (and what died-in-the-wool music fan can resist that?) and b) it sounds like Metallica, whilst retaining something of the spirit of the original music. Save note-perfect renditions for the tribute bands – and who’d ever heard of those back then? – the best way to show respect for your musical ancestry is to claim it for your own, or die trying. Paul Young may have quite spectacularly failed to own ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ but does anybody seriously dispute ‘Proud Mary’ as a Tina Turner song? Not John Fogerty. Likewise, Dylan was gracious enough to admit Hendrix had his All Along the Watchtower beat. Either option, however is surely more noble than X-Factor insipidity?
So here’s a small selection of the cover versions that do it for me: rock songs (mostly) taken in unexpected directions that stay true to the style of the covering artist whilst displaying their affection for their formative influences; mixed in some cases with a healthy dose of irreverence.
Primal Scream – Motorhead: this groovy rendition closer in spirit to the original Hawkwind than the better-known Motorhead recording – must be the drugs they were taking. PS bass player Mani presented their gold disc for it’s parent album Vanishing Point to Lemmy live on TV, which was cool. Perfect vid, too.
Tatu – How Soon Is Now?: like Comfortably Numb (below) this is clearly such an untouchable rock anthem that anything you do with it is liable to piss off the hardcore fans. Squeaky-voiced bubblegum pop! How very dare you?! Had real trouble finding either a watchable video or a correctly-translated lyric clip for this so settled for this Charmed montage (the song featured as the title music, apparently).
Dar Williams & Ani DiFranco – Comfortably Numb: you can’t top Dave Gilmour’s iconic solo so quite wisely you don’t bother trying. Absolutely love the vocals on this (though they need to work on the ‘aaaarrrh!’) and they really nail the mood. For an altogether contrasting take on the mighty Floyd, see below…
Scissor Sisters – Comfortably Numb: everybody knows this one, don’t they. It’s Marmite, but I love Marmite. I also kinda like the idea of po-faced PF fans screaming sacrelige (see also How Soon Is Now?) but Dave Gilmour liked this enough to invite Scissor Sister Jake Shears to sing it with him live in 2006 (although the collaboration never came to fruition in the end).
Tori Amos – Raining Blood: sorry about the belch. But of all the versions on YouTube this had the best video togo with the song. Thrash it ain’t, but it has a haunting darkness all its own. Amos was a bit of a rocker in her yoof, denouncing it after gaining mainstream popularity, so this cover is a bit of a surprise – apparently her then drummer Matt Chamberlain suggested it.
Apollo 440 – Don’t Fear The Reaper: It’s Blue Oyster Cult, and you can dance to it if you like. @440 tout themselves as a rock band in interviews, and they can certainly rock out on occasion, not averse to the odd bout of guitar hero posturing either (having crossed over into mainstream awareness with their Eddie Van Halen inspired 1997 single Ain’t Takin’ About Dub). To me they’re just a great pop band, whether they’re doing pumping House, Drum’n’Bass, cod Reggae, Glam Ballads, Space Rock or anywhere else their musical muse leads them. This for me accentuates what an oddly catchy pop number …Reaper is.
Ryan Adams – Wasted Years: if you arrived here via A Metal State of Mind you might want to skip past this; or you might not. It’s just a great song. Too many people hear heavy rock and can’t seem to get past the brashness and sheer volume to the music beneath. They say metal guys can’t write good songs. Well here’s the proof: catchy, melodic, witful pop with intelligent lyrics, written by Iron Maiden.
Mary Fahl – Time: The Dark Side of the Moon continues to resonate with listeners more than three decades after it’s release, performed in its entirety by artists as diverse as The Flaming Lips (with Henry Rollins and Peaches), Dream Theater and ex-October Project singer, Fahl, showcased here. Like William’s version (above) the dark, introspective mood is retained, but the voice, not the guitar provides the star turn.
Doves – M62 Song: This ‘adaptation’ of King Crimson‘s Moonchild by Salford’s arty indie rockers dispenses with the extended noodling of the original to focus on the gorgeous, haunting melody. It was recorded under a flyover bridge of the motorway of the title, and you can hear the traffic in the background. I don’t knowif Bob Fripp has heard this but as one of his generation’s true progressives I’d wager he’d approve of the liberty taken with the source material.
Locust – Master & Servant: When Depeche Mode named their 6th album Music For The Masses they intended irony, yet this was one of the pivotal records that made tinkly ’80s synth pop into the new stadium rock. Here, Locust (aka English electronic musician Mark Van Hoen) takes their quirky S&M dance hit back to the lounge. This song was released on the 1998 DM tribute album For The Masses, featuring artists as diverse as The Smashing Pumpkins, Rammstein, The Cure, Monster Magnet and Deftones paying homage to their influence.
Susanna and the Magical Orchestra – Subdivisions: probably the biggest ‘cult’ act in the world, Rush are known for their uncompromising songwriting, top drawer musical chops and hardcore fan following. The core line-up of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart has remained stable since 1974, during which time they’ve weathered personal tragedy and changing musical climes to sell 40 million albums and gain plaudits from – generally better known – fellow musicians as diverse as Metallica, The Smashing Pumpkins, Manic Street Preachers and Foo Fighters. But if you’re not a fan you probably only know The Spirit Of Radio, at a pinch. They’ve long since abandoned their ‘prog’ roots and Dungeons & Dragons approach to lyrics, but have always remained ‘progressive’ in the best way, taking note of developments in pop music and assimilating them without adhering to any particulat trend. Subdivisions comes from their ’80s period – my favourite – where their sound was synth-heavy and cribbed licks and accents from New Wave, Funk and Reggae. Bear that in mind when you hear this low-key, ethereal, lo-fi Scandi pop interpretation from Susanna Karolina Wallumrød and Morten Qvenild.
Thanks to Matt and the Metal State crew for inspiring this post. T.B.C.