How to Do a Cover Version

I’m around a month early for posting something (else) about John Peel, but on yesterday’s The Chain post, Swiss Adam nominated and justified the inclusion of Dinosaur Jr’s “Freak Scene”, by mentioning their cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, which in turn led me to this: a most out of character Thursday night post.

When The Cure’s version came out, I was just finding my feet in the world of what was then called Indie music, and they, like my other heroes of the time The Smiths, perfectly bridged that gap between chart music and a whole world which was becoming much more interesting and alluring.

For my money, The Cure were at their Indie pop best around that time, with some of their singles being the most chart-friendly songs they would release, but still managing to retain that quirky weirdness that had marked them out previously to people far wiser and on-the-ball than me.

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The Cure – Just Like Heaven

By the time I first heard Dinosaur Jr’s version of “Just Like Heaven” they had already crossed my radar, for I’d seen the video for “Freak Scene” on BBC2’s weekday alternative music show “SNUB TV”, had dug a little deeper, and so I pretty much knew roughly what to expect.

“SNUB TV”, which seemed to kind of morph into “Rapido” before our very eyes,  was essential viewing for me and a few of my mates during my first two terms at college, when we were all living on campus in the halls or residence. I was the only one who had a colour TV, and we would all pile into my box-room and fight for a bit of arse-space on my single bed to watch it. (It was the most action my bed ever saw.) For the year or so that it aired, “SNUB TV” was one of my two main sources for discovering new music.

The other was of course John Peel.

Demi-God that he was to us, Peel also had a bit of a reputation for accidentally playing songs at the wrong speed, to such an extent that there was a posthumous compilation album featuring some of his favourite tracks entitled “John Peel – Right Time Wrong Speed”. It was this that just made him all the more endearing, I think.

It was on one of his shows that I first heard Dinosaur Jr.’s version, my ears perking up as he announced it. But it was not the speed of the record which perplexed him on this occasion – it was the brevity of it, and specifically, the way it unexpectedly crashes to an end. The record was followed by about ten seconds of dead air, followed by Peel emitting one of those little snorts he used to do when embarrased or amused, and saying something along the lines of “Well, that finished rather abruptly”.

He has a point. When I started DJing, I used to love playing this version, because I coud sense the crowd expecting me to make the same mistake and mess it up. But I would already have the next tune ready and cued, my finger hovering over the Start button on the Technics decks, ready to kick in the next tune at exactly the right moment, in exactly the way that Peel had so bumblingly not managed to do.

And everytime I timed it right, I’d hear Peel’s voice saying “Well, that finished rather abruptly”. And I still do everytime I hear it now, almost thirty years later.

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Dinosaur Jr. – Just Like Heaven

Well, that finished rather abruptly.

Cheers, John.

More soon.

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Jez

On Twitter: @atastehistory or me (where you're more likely to get a reply and a follow back): @jezbionic or by email at: dubioustaste26@gmail.com

7 thoughts on “How to Do a Cover Version”

  1. Just about perfect really. Two brilliant versions of the same great song, a nice memory of Peel and a namecheck for SNUB TV – there’s a programme I haven’t thought about for years. I think I’ve still got the officially released VHS video compilation somewhere in this house. Nothing to play it on mind.

  2. I’ve still got what I believe is a fully working VHS machine. It’s gathering dust on top of a wardrobe at the moment, whilst my collection of VHS cassettes are doing likewise under my bed. I think somewhere amongst them is a couple which has stuff I recorded off SNUB TV. May have to blow the dust off them sometime.

  3. Very moving Piece, Jez. I know I sound like a sissy here, but honestly there hasn’t been a SINGLE day since on which I didn’t think of/miss Peelie!

  4. Nice piece btw, Jez. The Saturday Chart Show and it’s alternative section re-ignited my interest in small gigs when it played Birdland and Mega City 4 together one week. One of the best things that happened!!

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