Cover versions

16 Jun

It is often said (probably by the same people who get paid for producing all those reports and surveys telling us the bleeding obvious!) that a sure sign of advancing years is that we become increasingly set in our ways and thought patterns.

Now, despite me telling anyone who’ll listen that while I’m 56 on the outside I never got much beyond 26 inside, I had noticed in myself recently a tendency to sound, shall we say, a touch resistant to change! Indeed, on some subjects such as repatriation issues I’m starting to sound like a Daily Mail editorial!

It is not, I wish you to understand quite clearly, that I in any way support the British National Party or have any wish to “send back” any of the hard working Poles, Lithuanians, Rumanians etc currently doing all of the crap jobs that we won’t touch! No. My current animosity is towards the bloody Scots! Rebuild that wall a.s.a.p. I say and shove them back over it!

There! You see what’s happening to me – I’m getting “Don’t Get Me Started!” syndrome!

Another sure sign of impending ossification of the intellect is that you tend very easily to stray completely off the point – and that’s exactly what I’ve done here!

OK. I’ll save my antipathy towards the Caledonian tribes for another day and start again!

What I was intending to write about was the rigidity or otherwise of my opinions regarding MUSIC.

I grew up in the 1960’s when the music scene was blossoming – I was even in a Beatles Tribute Band once! If that’s what you call two 10 year old boys setting up a stage in the playground and singing the latest hits to a horde of screaming 7 to 10 year old girls! We even got chased across the playing field – I didn’t understand what THAT was about, I thought we were quite good!

Anyway, so much of the music that flooded into your ears in those days (provided you could pick up the Pirate stations – see earlier posts) WAS brand new that it never occurred to me that some of it wasn’t.

The fact that some of the output of bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (i.e. anything they didn’t write themselves) comprised old blues standards that had been reworked into the current style simply didn’t occur to me! I’m sure I was not in any way alone in taking for granted that anything I heard in those days was the ORIGINAL.

It was not until I came to realise, in the last 5 years or so, that some of my all-time favourites were quite often remakes of something that might have first appeared 50 years before, that I was able to rethink my somewhat rigid views on another related issue. The cover version – which is what many of the things I like best now turn out to be!

There IS a difference though as I think of a “cover version” as a remake of something that was already a hit for someone else from the 1960’s onwards – so I have an “original” of sorts to compare it to.

Prior to 2004 I was of the very firm opinion that there could be no such thing as a good cover version!

This opinion was, if not formed then certainly cemented into place in 1993 when Rolf Harris, complete with that bloody wobble-board, produced a version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” – considered the foremost anthem of my generation!

I hate to think of my feelings when I first heard that he’d done it, let alone what I felt when I actually heard it! This was HERESY! The Gods of Rock and Roll would surely not allow this and would smite Mr Harris into a pile of antipodean dust! This, I thought, will surely mean WAR between Britain and Australia!

It didn’t happen. Worst of all, some misguided wretches with no musical souls went out and bought the awful thing to the extent that it rose to number 7 in the singles chart!

In the 11 following years I managed to wall off the memory of “Stairway” until early in 2004 the wounds were opened again when The Scissor Sisters decided to cover Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”!

I first heard this at a party and spent the whole evening gritting my teeth and muttering to myself. The gist of these mutterings were that I quite understood how modern bands had insufficient talent to fill an album with their own stuff but DON’T F***ING RIP OFF FLOYD AND ZEPPELIN, OK?!!

And then……….

One day at work, not long before we both got made redundant, my colleague Nik asked me to listen to a CD.

“You won’t like it”, he said, “but give it a chance”.

The CD was by a collective of Reggae and Dub artists calling themselves “The Easy Star Allstars” and was not just a cover of a song; it was a cover of an album. Not only that, it was a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”! It was entitled “Dub Side of the Moon”. No wonder Nik thought I wouldn’t like it!

Still, as requested, I gave it a chance and, wonder of wonders, I LIKED IT!

In fact, I liked it so much I got a copy of my own and played it in the car which led to an interesting scenario a few months later.

After I was made redundant I got a short term job that involved driving around the country auditing the IT equipment of a company in the process of being taken over. It was a hot day and I was making my way through heavy traffic in Wolverhampton with the window down and this thumping dub version of DSotM booming out of my speakers.

A sports car pulled up alongside me at some traffic lights and the 2 Afro-Caribbean guys in it were soon grooving away to my music while trying to work out where the hell it was coming from! I kept a straight face and showed no sign of being able to hear it and I don’t think a 50 year old man in a Citroen Picasso was even considered by them as a possible source. The lights changed, I went straight ahead and they turned right still looking puzzled!

Since then I have gone back and modified my views – there are still covers that I HATE (sorry Rolf!) but some, I am now prepared to admit, are quite good.

A couple of weeks ago I was informed by my friend Nik that the same bunch of people had produced another “cover album”. This one is called “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band” (so they’re obviously not afraid of tackling the classics) and I’ve now listened to it. And like it.

So, whereas a few years ago I wouldn’t have even CONSIDERED listening to it, I was able to tell Nik that I thought their “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was the second best cover I’ve heard of that song – it’s not quite as good as Elton John’s version!

There’s obviously still some hope that my brain is not turning to concrete quite yet!



Posted by on June 16, 2009 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “Cover versions

  1. Mike

    June 29, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    Cover versions. Back in the Fifties and Sixties, when EMI and Decca had a virtual monopoly of the UK record industry, the only way to avoid paying their horrendous prices was to go to Woolworths and purchase a quickly-produced “Embassy” cover.

    Most were mediocre, but occasionally, one would be BETTER than the original – like Johnny Chester’s cover of Billy Fury’s under-produced “Last Night Was Made For Love” – which your readers may still be able to find on YouTube.

    However, in the Nineties, when the public had tired of buying “remastered” classic albums, the record producers had to find something NEW – except having ignored new talent for years, they discovered there WASN’T any.

    So they got pretty boys and girls to do lame covers of REAL pop hits, figuring the kids were too young to have heard the originals – which worked fine, until the kids’ Mums and Dads PLAYED them those originals and they realised they were being CONNED.

    But not all covers are crap, oh no. When an artist takes a classic and puts something of THEMSELVES into it, they make it THEIRS. Like the Pet Shop Boys’ version of “You Were Always On My Mind” – which is a GREAT record that owes NOTHING to Elvis.

    And as for your Stones, Animals, etc., they were actually BLUES BANDS who mined the blues classics and DISGUISED them as Pop! There is… a house… in New Orleans…

  2. Lala

    September 26, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    First things first: “Rebuild that wall a.s.a.p. I say and shove them back over it!” – BIIIIIIG historical inaccuracy there. while Hadrians (and the antonine) wall was there as a defense of the border of the Roman Empire, it was not there to specifically keep the Scotts out as such. The Roman’s largely allowed their occupied Birish subjects to live as they did before and that involved trade with the Scots. One of the primary daily funtions was as a way of monitering trade (and ensuring relevent taxation was recieved) and *allowing* the scots through. So there.

    Also maybe the reason you didn’t like the Scissor Sisters’ version of Comfortably Numb (way less dull than the original in my opinion) is because you don’t like avant-garde electro-pop. this doesn’t mean that all covers are automatically likely to be bad. A lot are really interesting homages and re-interpretations of tracks that mean something to the covering artist (Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails, Eminem, Nirvana and Johnny Cash for example have all reworked other people’s tracks really really well).

    Blah blah blah. I’m being a smartass.

    • littlealfie

      September 27, 2009 at 10:03 pm

      You miss the point that, whatever its original intent may have been, Hadrian’s Wall COULD be rebuilt and made to serve the purpose I want it for!

      Everything I write here is, of course, my opinion – it isn’t necessarily logical but it’s MINE! Anybody else wishing to disagree is perfectly entitled to express their opinion – even relatives!

      Oh and I EXPECT you to be a smartass – I PAID for you to be a smartass!


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