by Ryan Meehan
In the first two editions of the Ragged Records Playlist submissions over here at FOH, my submissions were very scattered for lack of a better term. I didn’t have any sort of theme or categorization for my playlists, effectively turning me into that guy who can’t wait to showcase his broad musical tastes. But as I stated in the last piece, I never want to be that guy and my discriminatory ear is probably more intolerant than that which belongs to anyone reading this piece. So for this month’s edition, I’ve decided to focus on a particular breed of recorded music: Cover songs. The musical landscape is full of performers who believe that their vision of an existing piece of music can enhance the whole experience of the initial idea, and the result can be a delightful display of beautiful melodies.
But not all covers are well-polished diamonds of the classic tunes we’ve come to know and love. In fact, a huge majority of them have eaten a dick to an unimaginable level of sadness that suggests they should never be audible to the human ear. This list of songs that make me want to utilize a loaded firearm as a tongue depressor includes but is not limited to the following cuts:
The Wallflowers = “Heroes” (Radio edit, David Bowie)
Madonna – “American Pie” (Don McLean)
Tori Amos – “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” (Eminem)
Metallica – “Turn the Page” (Bob Seger)
Annie Lennox – “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (Procol Horum)
Limp Bizkit – “Faith” (George Michael)
Slaughter – “Mad About You” (Paul Reiser & Helen Hunt)
Fuck you if you didn’t laugh at that last one
Counting Crows – “Big Yellow Taxi” (Joni Mitchell)
Tori Amos – “Raining Blood” (Slayer)
Celine Dion – “You Shook Me All Night Long” (AC/DC)
Sheryl Crow – “Sweet Child of Mine” (Guns N’ Roses)
Hollywood Undead – “Shout at the Devil” (Motley Crue)
Korn – “Word Up” (Cameo)
John Mayer – “Free Fallin'” (Tom Petty)
Pretty much any other song Tori Amos has ever covered
The Bangles – “Hazy Shade of Winter” (Simon & Garfunkel)
Rob Zombie – The Entire Ramones Tribute Album
Shinedown – “Simple Man” (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
I also want to take this space to mention a song that is such a repulsive silhouette of itself that it actually feels like a cover song. Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” is responsible for a majority of the drunken frat-boy sing-along bullshit that happens at bars fifteen minutes before last call, and usually results in a roaring sea of not-so playful date rape that follows shortly thereafter. While Billy is a legend and his greatest hits catalog reads like a how-to instructional booklet of how to write timeless music, this harmonica-driven pile of shit has been given a free pass for years and that gateway to mediocrity stops right here.
But this article isn’t about the bad covers, it’s about the great ones. These are the “Goddamn it, why didn’t I think of that?” updates that anyone of us who has ever picked up an instrument is pissed that they didn’t get to first, but at least we have these new takes on classic tunes that can brighten a bland moment on a depressing day. Or in some cases, add a little bit of realism to a day that is feeling like it’s too good to be true. And it’s always worth noting that if for some odd reason you can’t find any of these cover versions or originals at Ragged Records (418 East 2nd Street Davenport, IA 52801) I’m sure Ben can find them and order them for you. That’s just another reason why it’s the best record store in the Quad Cities and it’s not even close, and why myself and the rest of us here at First Order Historians are proud to present you with our third contribution to the record store’s playlist series. This is the FOH Ragged Records Playlist #3: Cover Songs Edition.
- Radiohead – “Nobody Does it Better” live (Carly Simon cover, originally released in 1977)
This song was originally penned for Carly Simon by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, and ended up being the theme song from the 1977 Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me”. Since this one possesses a lot of jazzy chord structures and rollercoaster vocals, it’s kind of a no-brainer for Radiohead to cover it. In one of the live versions, Thom Yorke declares this track “the sexiest song ever written” and given Carly Simon’s sultry voice he very well may be right. It’s interesting to hear Radiohead cover a pop tune when you consider how much electronic sound manipulation they’ve done over the years. A fitting start to what promises to be a fantastic list, Abingdon’s finest sons have done it once again with seemingly minimal effort and the heart to match. And if we’re taking sides with Carly Simon covers this song is a musical masterpiece when paired against Janet Jackson’s version of “You’re So Vain”, a remake that was so bad it very well might be directly responsible for every single bit of anti-American sentiment present in the Middle East today.
- Jawbox – “Cornflake Girl” (Tori Amos cover, originally released in 1994)
In the early 1990s I would have banged Tori Amos so hard that her nostrils would have geeshed gallons of my seed until well after I graduated from college. A majority of her recorded work is too much for me because the high end of her vocals are kind of all over the place, but during the aforementioned era she did an incredible job of producing radio singles that were much better than her cover songs I cited in the first paragraph of this piece. One of those tracks was “Cornflake Girl” off of her 1994 album “Under the Pink”, a place I would love to have been inside of her bedroom at that point in her career. This song was covered years later by Washington D.C. post-punk band Jawbox, who released it as a hidden track on their 1996 self-titled album. I’m always blown away by male singers who are able to pull of covers of songs originally performed by female artists, but in this instance it is all the more impressive considering that Amos’ falsetto vocal range is unreachable by about 95% of male rock singers. Jawbox eventually disbanded a year later but I still occasionally rub one out to JPEGs of Tori between the hours of two and four in the morning, and no matter how many times I delete my browsing history nothing can erase the fact that this one is a cover tune of the highest order.
- The Postal Service – “Against All Odds” (Phil Collins cover, originally released in 1984)
There are very few artists that I would trust with the task of covering the pride of Middlesex, England. If you don’t believe me, try to listen to The Disturbed’s version of the Genesis classic “Land of Confusion” and see how many seconds you can go without picking up your phone and asking Siri for directions to the nearest crackhouse where you can purchase a loaded gun. Thankfully the electronic Death Cab for Cutie/Rilo Kiley side project The Postal Service recorded a cover of this song, so that our only modern reference point wouldn’t be Mariah Carey and Westlife’s 2000 cover which is nearly unlistenable. The Postal Service’s version is part of the soundtrack to the movie Wicker Park, which I can only assume is about dinosaurs who work in factories that manufacture gunpowder. Probably the best part about this cover is during the choruses how a lot of the synths drop out and it’s just the pulsating beat with the simplistic lyrics carefully layered over the top of a choppy keyboard hook not found anywhere in the original. Anytime anybody talks any sort of shit about Phil Collins’ body of work, this is what I would like you to present to them verbatim: “Okay, asshole. Off of the top of your head, name any other left-handed drummer who has had that many number one singles since 1980…”. If they even begin to think about producing an answer, you have my permission to hit them in the forehead as hard as you possibly can. They don’t need to have children or vote, and if they’ve previously already engaged in either of those activities we simply just can’t afford any more permanent societal damage at their expense.
- Sepultura – “Symptom of the Universe” (Black Sabbath cover, originally released in 1975)
As always, when it comes to heavy metal it all goes back to Black Sabbath…and who better to trust with their legacy than Brazilian metal gods Sepultura? This song originally appeared on Sabotage, an album that you should immediately listen to if it isn’t in your catalog. It’s one of the most important – and for some reason underrated – rock and roll records of all time, and the third track on the record is “Symptom of the Universe” which follows up a brief instrumental outro to “Hole in the Sky” – one of the best LP openers ever. The drum break in this one sounds like it was written by Igor Cavalera himself, pure chaos which sounds like a vintage Pearl kit dying a miserable death in a hail of gunfire. Aside from doing its part to honor heavy metal legends, this remake is also important for another reason. Since the majority of Max’s vocals are very atonal, it poses a very interesting question: What if death metal had been around to a serious degree in the 1970s? What would some of these classics sound like? Cannibal Corpse may have answered that with their cover of “Zero the Hero”, but Black Sabbath was already a band that invented true evil in heavy metal. What would Rush have sounded like with Chuck Schuldiner from Death on vocals? Would “Stairway to Heaven” have been popular enough to be lampooned two decades later in “Wayne’s World” if Glen Benton from Deicide was instructing a bunch of kids in bell-bottoms not to be alarmed when they come across a bustle in their hedgerow? I doubt it, but it’s certainly worth discussing.
- The Chromatics – “Into the Black” (Neil Young cover, originally released in 1979)
Collins turned me on to this cover, and I am absolutely in love with it. After doing some research, I discovered that the Neil Young version was influenced by early Devo. I personally don’t hear it, but if Neil Young tells me to eat a colander full of razorblades I’m doing it because he’s fucking Neil Young and I have to trust his good judgment. Aside from its muddy buzz-saw transference through classic rock stations on the FM dial in your uncle’s truck on the way to the scrapyard, most of us are familiar with the famous line “It’s better to burn out than to fade away…” from the note Kurt Cobain wrote to his wife and fans telling them he was headed out to get groceries right after his routine morning shotgun cleaning. That low-end buzz which is unmistakable on the original doesn’t really cut through in the version done here by The Chromatics, a band that I can honestly say I don’t know a damn thing about. Here the guitars are much cleaner, and the Fmajor 7th chord that finishes out each phrase is more evocative than overdriven. This is a much more controlled adaptation of a song that has a bit of scattered recklessness to it, and it seems to really work with Ruth Radelet’s voice taking charge over a sedated tempo. However the brilliance of this cover lies in the fact that although it is a tad slower than the original, it never seems as if it’s dragging at any point. Good on these guys and gals for totally nailing this one, whoever the hell they are.
- Amanda Palmer – “I Will Follow You into the Dark” (Death Cab for Cutie cover, originally released in 2005)
The original version of this song is very campfire oriented, and if you have a bunch of so-called hipsters sitting around a campfire holding PBRs there is a good chance you can strum this one up on guitar and at least 80% of them will begin to sing along. Palmer takes that approach and spins it into a slower, piano ballad that tests one’s patience at times but sucks the listener in due to her voice. I’m also way out of my comfort zone here, as I have no general interest in The Dresden Dolls or what they might be doing at any given moment of the day. When sung by a female vocalist, this track seems to abandon the somewhat predatory essence of the line which composes its title. Such a feeling is likely unintentional on the part of Ben Gibbard, but it’s difficult to decode Death Cab’s lyrics at times because they are so cryptic. It’s a touchy subject because people are going to be arguing when DC4C officially jumped the shark for years to come, but personally I thought that there were some pretty solid tracks on “Plans”. This cover is a fitting tribute to a very well written song.
- Deftones – “No Ordinary Love” (Sade cover, originally released in 1992)
Even as a guy who’s hated anything classified as nu-metal with a passion, I’ve always liked The Deftones. Their ability to create differentiation between themselves and a majority of the bands who came out at the same time they did is unmatched, and if you don’t believe me look up some of those other artists and see how few likes they currently have on Facebook. This was totally out of left field – as most metal covers are – but Sade is a pretty difficult artist to cover. This is arguably the best Sade song, and it seemed a much more likely choice than “Smooth Operator” for these guys to pull off in monumental form. It’s a very chilling track in nature, and the Deftones tend to use a lot of chorus and flanger type of effects that generate the “Icicle Zombie” guitar sound that sets them apart from the acts that are usually classified as nu-metal. Vocalist Chino Moreno gives a sensational performance that transcends gender, and the bass playing reminds us why Chi Cheng will always be fondly remembered for his awesome technique and tone. The Deftones have such a killer studio sound that is extremely rich yet crisp at the same time, and although this probably wouldn’t work on any other record with the exception of B-sides & Rarities it’s a fine gem to have access to.
- King of Clubz – “Hope” (Crosscheck cover, originally released in 1995)
Yeah, so shoot me…this is a bit of a homer pick. I will say that it’s really cool to hear a band do a song that you witnessed the initial recording of, and even if you didn’t write the track itself it’s still a bit of an ego trip albeit a very minute one. KoC is a local hardcore band that has really carried on the legacy of the old QCHC material, and in a big way. Another really cool thing about this track is that although it was written in E, the band chose to drop it down two whole steps to C to give it that extra depth and crunch. As someone who owns both a seven and eight string guitar, I can honestly say that this really speaks to me on a certain level – a certain Drop-C level. They also altered the drumming a little bit, which probably drives Brett nuts but I personally think both versions sound great.
- Faith No More – “Highway Star” – (Deep Purple cover, originally released in 1972)
The “Easy” choice here would be FNM’s cover of “War Pigs” off of their breakthrough album “The Real Thing”, but for my money nothing beats the version of the Deep Purple classic “Highway Star” that appears on disc two of their greatest hits record “Who Cares a Lot?”. The Deep Purple version originally appeared on their 1972 album “Machine Head” and ended up appearing in dozens of movies like “Dazed and Confused”, a 102-minute snorefest where Matthew McConaghey spent well over trying to an hour trying to finger the girl who eventually married Beck by promising her Aerosmith tickets. While a lot of songs are written primarily based around the G chord, very few bands actually have the balls to construct the other chords in the song with notes from that particular pentatonic blues scale giving the track a minor feel to it. But this is a perfect example of how a band like Deep Purple weren’t one of those bands, and “Smoke on the Water” is another example of a song in the same key that proves for a few short years in the seventies DP was not fucking around. So as you can probably guess, these facts combined with the reality that this is a perfect song for a band with a keyboard player to cover made this one a slam dunk of a cover for San Francisco funk-metal quintet Faith No More. Said keyboardist Roddy Bottum nails the organ sounds on this one, and as usual Mike Patton adds the vocal stamp that only he can provide. I apologize for the video only playing a live version that lasts but a minute, but you get the point and seriously if you don’t know who Faith No More is by now it may very well be too late for you with regards to a lot of the finer things in life.
- “My Way” – Sid Vicious – (Frank Sinatra cover, originally released in 1969)
All truth be told, I can’t stand the Sex Pistols. I thought they were grotesquely overrated in a punk genre where minimal talent could land you an almost mythical following, and most musicians would argue that they weren’t very good at playing their instruments at all. Sid Vicious was by far the least skilled out of all of them, but he was able to Nikki Sixx that shit all the way up until the last moments of his life. It takes serious balls to cover Frank Sinatra. Francis Alfred existed in an era which he dominated the entertainment industry to such a severe degree that he constantly showed up in a suit and bowtie, but at any moment could drop his trousers drunk off his ass, wipe his scrotum on anything and all the women in the room would say “He’s such a nice Hoboken Boy…”. In other words he owned the night even when it was 11AM, which was right about the time he would start pounding scotch and/or anything in a dress that was within stumbling distance. Such was also the life of Sid, who should be commended for his remarkable ability to make it down the staircase in this video to begin with. Furthermore there is something inherently entertaining about a guy like Vicious recording a triumphant “This was my life” tribute to himself, especially when you consider it didn’t end up being released until after he went to the big methadone clinic in the sky himself. I’d be willing to bet that Frank hated this cover if he ever had the patience to sit through a recording of it as it’s an absolute mockery, but seriously…what else would you expect here? The way that he works his way through the opening verse in Frank’s standard low-register bellow is nothing short of hilarious, and for a guy who took such poor care of his body Sid sure did like to show off his teeth during performances. He totally kills it at the end of the song, and if you don’t know what I mean watch the video all the way through.
- Slayer – “Richard Hung Himself” – (D.I. cover, originally released in 1983)
I go very easily go “Guilty of Being White” here, but that’s too easy and apparently Ian Mackaye was not too pleased with the fact that Tom Araya changed the final (and in some cases only audible) word of the song and changed it to “Right”. A lot of people get D.I. confused with D.R.I., and have mistakenly attributed this to Spike Cassidy and the rest of the Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. D.I. was actually a punk band from California in the early eighties fronted by original Social Distortion drummer Casey Royer. The most memorable song from their self-titled 1983 album would be “Richard Hung Himself”, and that’s largely due in part to Slayer’s cover of the track on their 1996 record “Undisputed Attitude”. It’s further complicated by the fact that it appears directly after a D.R.I. song on that disc, one “Violent Pacification”. Tom Araya and the boys really clean house on this one, and aside from excellent musicianship they benefit greatly from the fact that their version sounds like magic on tape. Let’s be honest, the original recording of this song sucks. The Beatles could have been in that studio and it wouldn’t have make a bit of difference, and nobody cleaned up that pool of blood like Kerry King who was largely responsible for this LP coming to fruition. This cover works because when it comes to manage tempo and dynamic changes, not even the most amazing Norwegian metal band can hang with Slayer. Paul Bostaph had some huge shoes to fill picking up where Lombardo left off, but I saw him just a couple of years after this disc came out and I could see why he worked so well with the rest of the band. Is it too late for David Carradine jokes, or did those all turn into Robin Williams bits? Or are they now being referred to as “gags”? Sometimes this is just too easy…
- Widespread Panic – “Pusherman” – (Curtis Mayfield cover, originally released in 1972)
Although I’m not particularly fond of the jam band culture, I can dig on some Widespread Panic without buying any tie-died accessories. They always seemed to me to be a lot more cohesive than artists like The Grateful Dead or Phish, and the range of songs that they have been able to cover over their career is very awe-inspiring to say the least. They do a fantastic live version of the Talking Heads song “Heaven” which has always been a favorite of mine, and a friend of mine who went to a recent concert of theirs said that they closed the show with Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. On the other end of the spectrum is Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” – the second song on his third album “Super Fly”, which was also the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film that shared the identical moniker. The song primarily deals with the lifestyle and slang words usually associated with the drug dealers and pimps of the late sixties and early seventies, and was one of the first popular songs in modern music to utilize the N-word as a euphemism for a friend that you can rely on. (Which definitely isn’t a good thing given how that word has been inserted into a lot of modern rap music, but it’s still worth noting) In the Widespread version they obviously don’t use that term, because even though the Panic’s got soul when it comes down to it those guys are about as alpine as your can get. Musically the original is very reliant on percussion, but what really grabs the listener is that undeniable guitar hook that mimics the addictive qualities of the many substances that such an individual in that field might have to offer. It’s got that kind of “Come on, you know you want to try it…” feel to it, and that is only magnified in the Widespread Panic version as they add that echoed guitar part which seems to hang over the whole track with dominance. I still don’t like a lot of jam band stuff, but I think you have to give credit where credit is due and this would for sure be on of those instances.
- Body Count – “Institutionalized” – (Suicidal Tendencies cover, originally released in 1983)
Don’t let Ice-T’s street smart rap game fool you, this cat is a huge heavy metal fan. So big that he ended up forming a heavy metal band himself in 1990s. T’s new group Body Count managed to avoid any sort of controversy over a song on their debut album called “Policeman Lover”, which is a good thing because had that tune gone the other way things could have gotten out of hand very quickly and we might find ourselves living in a time where civilian relations with police are somewhat strained. The band was largely influenced by such early metal acts as Slayer, and crossover thrash pioneers Suicidal Tendencies. In 1983 ST’s song “Institutionalized” gained attention because of its representation of a younger metal singer living with his parents who was made out to be psychotic by the people around him, but as it turns out he was just trying to work things out and really just wanted a soda. Why Pepsi never took advantage of the name drop on this cut is beyond me…I mean, who wouldn’t have wanted to make note of the fact that your product was being endorsed for free by a group named Suicidal Tendencies that would be later banned from performing in Los Angeles due to supposed gang affiliations and crowd violence? By selecting this cover Ice-T knew he had to shake things up and make it modern, so he updated it to give his take on current aspects of society which the original gangster himself finds to be particularly troubling. Anybody who’s ever had to call Apple or Google for anything is going to find the second verse disturbingly familiar, but at the same time side-splitting. I know a few big time metal fans whose opinions I have a great deal of respect for that can’t stand this track, but personally I like the way he made it his own. I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot more of that movement here shortly, and there will be more from me on this subject in the very near future. In the meantime, the tension mounts…so on with the Body Count. Now if we could only get Suicidal to cover “KKK Bitch”, this thing would come full circle and street justice would indeed finally be served.
- Oasis – “Cum on Feel The Noize” – (Slade cover, original released in 1973)
I refuse to apologize for the fact that I love me some Oasis. Which is a weird thing for me to say, because I usually want to spray diarrhea down the throats of those who say they “love them some” anything. This track is a cover of a song that was made popular as a cover written by another band, which in this case was Quiet Riot’s remake that appeared on their 1983 record Metal Health. But Oasis’ version blows the doors off of the QR cover and the original, and I attribute most of that to the fact that the decision to change the key of this song transformed it into a completely different track altogether. Both the Slade and the Quiet Riot versions are based off of a root G chord that works down to an Eminor. But the Oasis translation begins in C and works down to an Aminor, and when the latter note is reached and Liam Gallagher snakes down to the line where he says “anymore” it sounds damn near perfect. That moment right there is the main reason anybody sits down to write any song ever: To give the listener that bone-chilling “What the Fuck?” feeling that they can’t quite put their finger on. I respect the hell out of Oasis not just for all of the killer songwriting they’ve done over the years, but also for the fact that the Gallagher brothers were able to become the most famous entertainers to have that last name without smashing a single watermelon in the process.
- Weezer – “Paranoid Android” – (Radiohead cover, originally released in 1997)
We started this list with Radiohead doing a cover, so it’s only fitting that we end it with another band covering their work. (And if Carly Simon ever turns up missing and Rivers Cuomo is responsible for it, how unfortunately hilarious would that be for me?) This is not off of any Weezer record, it’s just something that they took video footage of themselves doing in the studio because it was a song they truly love. Once again this is another artist whose work past a point is debatable, but I can’t sit here and bash every band who went through a lineup change. (Additionally, a lot of people seem to have forgotten that Weezer had one of their guitar players die so there’s that wild card floating around as well…) A common mistake that a lot of artists make when attempting to cover Radiohead is that they think they can emulate Thom’s vocals, a feat which is nearly impossible. Just because Muse has figured out a way to tweak certain elements of their sound and made millions of dollars off of it doesn’t mean everybody that owns a copy of “The Bends” should be able to duplicate one of the most influential bands in alternative music history. But it’s hard not to trust Weezer with this one, as Rivers just basically does an impression of himself doing a cover of a Radiohead song. He doesn’t go out of his way to be anyone other than himself, and when you think about it this one could have really gone south as it’s a pretty bold choice from what has now because a landmark album. Overall, great cover that was done without trying to intricately replicate every single electronically manipulated sound that appears on the original recording. This one earns them an A+ for effort if nothing else.
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