You may have noticed from previous rants that
I have a taste for the remix and what Tim Burton termed
‘re-imagining’ of the familiar. I think it’s a sign of a
strong song that it can cope with being recast, preserving the
qualities of the original and displaying previously unseen facets.
Some songs make a strong impression and will
remain forever fixed in the mind. I remember standing in a
crowded SFX Centre one winter’s night many years ago watching The
Smiths play when they launched into the rumbling bass line of ‘How
Soon Is Now’ – a song I had never heard before and that transfixed
me with its beauty. For
this admittedly very personal reason t.A.T.u’s cover version on
their album 200 km/H in
the wrong lane does not qualify as either big or
Now there are loving tribute covers – Q
Magazine recently assembled an entire CD full of top notch covers as
a John Lennon commemoration.
Wonderful as it was to hear The Stereophonics perform Don’t Let Me Down, it didn’t
bring anything new to the music – but then it wasn’t intended
to. This was a tribute,
not a deconstruction.
My love of the quirky and off-centre is
Accordingly, I’ve always been drawn to the different and
unusual. For example,
when I was growing up Lynard Skynard’s Freebird had a
quasi-religious status among the denim-clad inhabitants of The
Grove. I now own a reggae version of it – sung by a Mexican-American
Elvis-impersonator called Tortelvis. He fronts a band called
Dread Zeppelin whose day job is churning out Led Zeppelin covers,
again in a reggae style.
In fact I even have an album called Dub Side of the Moon by the
Easy Star All-Stars, which consists of faithful and loving reggae
versions of the entirety of Pink Floyd classic Dark Side of the Moon, track
by track. Have a listen.
Bizarre, but not as bizarre as the album of
bluegrass instrumental covers of early Pink Floyd psychedelic
numbers that sits beside it on the rack. Listen to samples here.
While these have undoubted comic value, I
admit they are of novelty value mainly. A more serious contribution
is Livin’, Lovin’,
album, by a variety of terribly earnest female singers runs through
some of the most famous numbers in the Led Zeppelin canon, bringing
a fresh and indeed even feminine interpretation to some very heavy
blues rock classics.
I think it’s a massive challenge to find new
vistas in the work of very distinctive bands. That’s why I was so
intrigued to recently find Exit Music - an album of Radiohead
covers, ranging from jazz-soul to Drum & Bass in their approach.
From Shawn Lee’s soul-lite version of No Alarms, No Surprises and
the Randy Watson Experience’s drum & bass re-interpretation of
Morning Bell to Meshell
Ndegeocello’s jazzy version of The National Anthem.
Somewhere between this and the comedy cover
Vague, an album of punk and New Wave covers done in a jazz-lite
style. Imagine Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart
covered by an Astrud Gilberto soundalike. Well, that's just
the first track. They do the same thing to
XTC's Making Plans For Nigel and The Undertone's
Teenage Kicks. Even The Clash's Guns of Brixton
gets the ballad treatment. Strangely enough, The Dead
Kennedy's Too Drunk To F*** didn't make the transition to
the politically correct U.S. released version, notwithstanding that
it sounds like it was sung by Altered Images (Ahh! Claire Grogan!
Like a feisty Kylie - makes me weak at the
In Ireland, Today FM’s
morning jock, Ray Darcy has long had a policy of having guests
perform acoustic versions of current pop hits which are frankly
beneath their dignity.
The best of these are later released on CD. For tsunami relief, they
went a step further inviting as many Irish performers as they could
to perform their favourite U2 song.
U2 have such a distinctive sound their songs
have long resisted successful covering, but the floodgates opened
with this album. Juliet
Turner singing I still
haven’t found what I’m looking for with the yearning and loss of the Country
& Western singer.
Damian Dempsey singing Sunday Bloody Sunday as if
he had caused all the death and destruction himself. “Gohh me back
against the wall neoww!”
Elvis impersonators rear their ugly heads again as Kevin
Doyle rips through Vertigo in a Las Vegas
But none of these can hold a candle to the
best cover of all. Late
in the twilight of his career, the man in black rasps his way
through U2’s alpha ballad One, an entire life’s worth
of emotion and fatigue oozing through the
Have you come here for
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come
here to play Jesus,
To the lepers in your