Tuesday Ten: 089: Better Covers

Firstly, further to last week, can I also suggest that following an advert for this seen at the weekend, that there is a seperate circle of hell reserved for it?


088: Bad Cover Version

Anyway, on with this week. For only (I think) the second time, you lucky people get a double dose this week. In addition to the planned flipside to last week, you also get my rundown of the ten tracks you should hear this month.

So onto the first bit, covers. Like last week, this is undoubtedly hugely subjective, some of you will disagree with my choices, others will have tracks that I should have included. Once again, there is a shared Spotify playlist with all the ideas I’ve had so far, with cover and original where possible (and one or the other where not possible) – feel free to add your suggestions to the list, or in the comments below. On we go.

Johnny Cash
(originally by Nine Inch Nails)

Yes, yes, I know this has now been played to death, we’ve all shed a tear or two by the close of the video, we’ve seen the original take on an extra poignancy as a result…and still none of this even takes a tiny bit of the colossal emotional hit away from this extraordinary cover. Released as a single posthumously, it takes a more directly religious and personal angle in Cash’s hands, musing on what his life meant to others, and honestly, it’s probably up there amongst the finest cover versions ever released. Even more remarkably, all of the “American” series of albums he did with Rick Rubin (which this comes from, of course) are worth a listen.

Black Steel
(originally by Public Enemy)

Let me make one thing clear here – it’s not as if the titanic original is a bad track by any means, it’s just that Tricky’s cover is absolutely unbelievable. Completely reworking the track from the ground up, only leaving the vocal delivery and rhythm almost totally as it is, other than it being Martina Topley-Bird’s sweeter voice delivering the tale of a man refusing to accept a draft callup. So the beats and piano refrain are swept away, turning it into a tribal-industrial-punk-metal soundclash that sounded totally unique at the time, and is one of the peaks of Tricky’s incredible debut album.

You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)
(originally by Dead or Alive)

About a decade ago, there were suddenly masses of alternative or punk covers of eighties, er, classics. Some of these covers were sodding awful (hello, Korn), some were passable (hello, Orgy), and some were brilliant. This was one of the latter, an industrial/metal dancefloor club staple for years, and with good reason – grimier, nastier and better to dance to than the original – at least for the audience it was intended for, anyway…

Butterfly Collector
(originally by The Jam)

Garbage singles were, for a long time, highly collectable and actually worth doing so – usually they had at least one cracking B-side if not more, either new songs, remixes, or as in this case, covers. A reworking of a song that initially showed it’s utter contempt for a particular “groupie”, Garbage turned it into a murky, sleazy marvel with Shirley Manson purring the vocals over the top. The original sounds rather thin compared to the mastery of this, and Garbage’s version contains far more of the malice and spite that surely was intended for the original.

Running Up That Hill
(originally by Kate Bush)

A band who have done a lot of covers over the years, but interesting they only appear to pick tracks that they genuinely love, which has resulted in a number of pretty good versions. This is one of quite a number of covers of this track, never mind the remainder of Kate Bush’s classic singles. But this one is here because of the striking treatment of it. It strips the off-kilter beats down to an ominous pulse, and leaves little more than a piano melody and then the vocals. And it turns an already very, very strange track into a song of pitch-dark, gothic beauty: something Placebo often aimed for but never quite reached with their own material.

Apoptygma Berzerk
Fade to Black
(originally by Metallica)

This might have something to do with my dislike of Metallica, but I love this track. I’ll never forget the time I played this to a few friends who were Metallica fanatics, and their faces were a picture. It took them two minutes to recognise exactly what it was Apop were covering! Rather than reprise the lengthy metal ballad that is the original, Stefan Groth all but jettisoned everything save the vocals and built a hands-in-air EBM monster from it instead. It’s a marvel that it works, but Stefan Groth’s covers are often well-chosen – and he’s done a lot of them, even bringing them all together on Sonic Diary a few years back (which is where another astonishing cover resides – a piano and voice-only take on Bizarre Love Triangle).

The Hunt
(originally by New Model Army)

Ah, jesus, this one could get me lynched by certain readers of this. Still, I love it, and more to the point, I heard this version long before I went and hunted out the original. Not a lot has been done to the song, really – this is something of a reverent cover by a band that clearly hold a lot of respect for NMA – but it is chunkier, a little heavier, and Max Cavalera’s bellow suits this song brilliantly.

While the originally was admittedly a classic of 80s electro-rap-funk, it sounds extraordinarily dated compared to the urgent, rampaging version RATM unleashed on their post-split covers album Renegades. A sign of how accomplished a band RATM were and are, it was their covers of rap/electro tunes that came off best (just listen to their takes on Microphone Fiend or I’m Housin’, or this, to see what I mean), and this one in particular is the pick. Not only did they up the pace musically, it was also transformed into even more of an explicit celebration of renegades of the ages, and how people can make a difference, and the end results was one of RATM’s finest ever moments.

Marilyn Manson
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
(originally by Eurythmics)

Of the various covers Brian Warner has attempted, one of his earliest singles is still the most effective, as far as I’m concerned. Turning an eighties pop tune into one of the most downright sleazy songs I’ve ever heard is, I suspect, harder than might be expected, but it’s an impressive take in this case, and was perhaps the song that catapulted him into the public eye first, and set him on the way to tabloid notoriety.

Faith No More
(originally by Commodores)

I swear that the band covered this purely to piss off their less open-minded fans, but that perhaps backfired a little when it went to #3 in the charts in the UK! It’s a marvellously straight-faced take on this piece of seventies schmaltz, and only a band as wilfully bloody-minded as FNM could ever have gotten away with it…

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