How To Do a Cover Version

It may have escaped your attention, but the other week it was Record Store Day.

I’m never quite sure what to make of Record Store Day.

Sure, I see it’s intentions are honourable, the aim being to attract punters back into (independent) record stores, part with their hard-earned cash, and keep the shop alive and kicking for a while longer.

And that’s great.

But what it also does, with its slew of limited edition releases set free for that one specific day, is feed the record buying equivalent of the ticket tout.

Whilst you will see ticket touts outside gigs, flogging their grubby wares, they’re far more likely to sell over-priced tickets online, and these exclusive Record Store Day releases are going the same way.

Take, for example, one of the most sought after releases this time around, the Foo Fighters Hail Satin album, which includes a load of Bee Gees overs.

Now, I don’t know how much these were being sold for in-store; I would imagine being a limited edition release by one of the world’s biggest rock bands, who are fronted by a guy who used to be in one of the world’s most iconic and influential bands, I’d have thought round about the £50 – £60 mark would be appropriate.

Now have a look at how much they are being going for on ebay:

Fair enough, the first guy has had the decency to throw in a couple of DVDs which you could probably pick up in your local Cex store for a couple of quid each. But those prices are just ridiculous.

In the same way as bands, venues, ticket selling outlets and festivals are trying to crack down on the ticket touts, something needs to be done to prevent this exploitation of genuine fans.

As it happens, I’ve managed to *coughs* obtain a copy of the album in question. Released under the name Dee Gees, as a nod not just towards the source act in question, but to main Foo Dave Grohl. (I had to explain this to somebody on Twitter who thought it was a fake…)

I know what you’re thinking: the Foo Fighters covering the Bee Gees? That sounds awful!

It really isn’t. For a start, it’s only the ‘A’ side that’s covers (the ‘B’ side is a load of live recordings from the Foo’s most recent album, which I don’t own, so can’t really comment on, other than to say they sound like every Foo Fighters live song I’ve ever heard), but it’s quite surprising how good, and faithful to the originals, the covers are. For a start, Grohl rocks a really quite impressive falsetto which I don’t ever recall hearing on his previous records. He should try it more often.

Here’s a taster:

Dee Gees – Night Fever

More soon.

Old

I try to avoid posts marking the anniversaries of records being released for two reasons.

Firstly, I can’t be bothered with, and would have no idea where to start, keeping track of this sort of thing.

Secondly, because I just feel old when I see them.

“It can’t be that long, can it?” I find myself thinking, before looking it up and finding that yes, yes it can be that long ago that the record in question came out, even if does seem like a blink away.

On my Twitter timeline this week, it was brought to my attention that Sleeper’s The It Girl is twenty five years old this week.

I wouldn’t mention it were it not for the fact that I have a ticket for a gig which has been kicked down the road several times because of Covid, where the band will perform the album before this in full, ably supported by The Bluetones doing the same for their debut album, Learning To Fly.

And so it is: Sleeper’s The It Girl is 25, and I dare not look to see how old their debut album Smart is.

So here’s one of the singles from the album, notable for two reasons. Firstly, it’s used as the theme tune to a Radio 4 panel show (either the Sue Perkins hosted Dilemma, or the Victoria Coren-Mitchell hosted Heresy, I can’t remember which now and typically neither are available on the iPlayer at the moment to allow me to check – I think it’s the former):

Sleeper – What Do I Do Now?

And secondly because of this utterly wonderful cover version, by the other Elvis, which I’ve posted before but is so good it deserves another outing:

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – What Do I Do Now?

Take your pick.

More soon.

New Mood on Monday

I’ve not written one of these for a few weeks, chiefly because I’ve been in such an apathetic fug it seemed hypocritical to post tunes of a Monday morning specifically selected to raise one out of the pit of despair that is the working week unrolling out in front of us.

But maybe this is what’s needed: a strutting 1970s era Rolling Stones-esque version of an old Otis Redding classic, chosen for you this morning to shake ya bootie to:

More soon.

How To Do A Cover Version

And so the fug continues, lifting gradually.

I can’t be bothered with having a rant today, not even about the pitiful 1% pay rise given NHS workers in the budget this week, the same week as it was found that close to £37 billion has been wasted on the Track & Trace program, run by Tory peer Dido Harding (surely a coincidence, that) and it was also revealed that the Government had elected to settle the Priti Patel bullying case out of court, to the tune of £340,000.00 plus legal costs, all of which tells you everything you need to know about where governmental priorities lie.

Not that you’d know any of this from reading much of the press this week, who have been far more interested in trying to prove that Meghan Markle is a wrong ‘un. And it may well be the case that she is, in which case she married into the right family. I mean, it’s not like the Saxe-Coburg and Gothas Windsors are short of a few wrong ‘uns themselves, is it? Forgotten about Prince Andrew, have we?

But I’m not writing about any of that. For as the apathetic fug continues to refuse to completely leave me alone, I’ve had an appropriate song in my brain all week, a cover version, which I figured I’d post here this morning.

And then I realised I’d already written about it, albeit five years ago.

To simply repost what I wrote last time seems entirely in keeping with my lethargic state of mind, so, with absolutely no apologies whatsoever, here you go (and in case it’s clear from this, which it isn’t, this is a record I bought on 7″ single back in 1987):

*****

Some would argue that if you’re going to do a cover version, you need to do radically rework it, so that to the untrained ear it sounds like something you wrote yourself.

Substitute the acoustic guitar on the original for an electric one on your track.

Upgrade the soft folky lilt of the original for a rip-roaring rollicking rock riff.

Maybe even shorten the title by, say, one vowel.

Trim out some of those rather unnecessary verses.

And then get Rick Rubin to produce it and pop it out on the uber-cool Def Jam label:

Now, here’s the original, performed by the evil ones from The Detectorists (Yes, I am going to keep making that reference until someone gets it).

I’ll leave you to decide which you prefer:

More soon. And maybe it’ll be something vaguely original.

How To Do A Cover Version

The rules I have in my head as to what does and what does not constitute a good cover version exist only in my head, are completely arbitrary, and subject to change.

It’s my game, I’ll do what I like with it.

For example, I’m fairly sure that I’ve previously argued on these pages that there’s no point in just making a cover which sounds exactly like the original. If you want everyone to know you really like a particular song or artiste, just make sure you bring it up in an interview sometime, don’t bother us with a dutifully faithful replication.

And yet…

Glastonbury 2004, I think. Our sizeable gang has landed in what became our usual rendez-vous position at the Pyramid Stage: right at the back, top of the slope, near the First Aid tent. We hadn’t planned on this being our staging post, but this is where, attending for the very first time the year before, we had ended up at the start of the first day, so it just became “our spot”. Plus, one of our group, Mark, was really tall, so this made him even easier to pick out in a crowd.

(I’m reminded of comedian, actor and human beanpole Steven Merchant relating a story about how once, as a much younger man, he had found himself standing with some friends in a similar crowd. As he stood, he noticed a couple of very pretty girls looking in his direction. Eventually, they approached him.

“Excuse me,” they said.

“Hello,” he thought. “I could be ‘in’ here.”

“Hi,” he said, as casually as he could muster.

“Are you going to be here for a while?” they asked.

Oh, yes, you bet I am,” he thought.

“Yeh, I think so,” he replied, coolly. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh,” the girls replied, “me and my friends have just decided that if we got separated, we’d meet up near you, but if you’re going to move, we need to think of something else.”)

But I digress. On this Saturday afternoon, most of our group had gone a-wandering, and just Hel and I remained at base camp. We sat, people watching in between acts, the sound system booming out an advertisement for a clean water charity the festival was supporting that year, followed by You Only Get What You Give by The New Radicals.

These two seemed to be on a continuous loop, so when a different song came on, it caught both of our attentions. The song was a couple of lines in, when I let out a satisfied sigh.

“Ahh, I love this record,” I said.

“Me too”, Hel replied. A moment passed before a confused look played across her face. “But I can’t remember who sings it.”

Another couple more lines passed. “Me neither,” I conceded.

And then it came to me.

“Tracey Ullman!” I squealed.

“Yes!” Hel agreed, “Tracey Ullman!! Of course!!”

We rested back on our laurels.

A few more moments passed before I sat bolt upright again.

“Is it heck Tracey Ullman!” I exclaimed. “It’s Kirsty MacColl!!”

“Oh, God, yes!” Hel agreed, “Kirsty MacColl!! Of course!!”

“Let’s never speak of this error again,” suggested Hel.

“Agreed,” I said.

With my fingers crossed.

More soon.

Speech!

Whether it was intentional or due to his physical and vocal frailties when he recorded it, Johnny Cash’s part-spoken, part sung version of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ The Mercy Seat is a work of genius.

I’d prefer to think it was intended: certainly the indignant, defiant nature of the lyrics – written from the perspective of a man waiting for the end on Death Row – is certainly added to by the way Cash seems to randomly ramble from one to the other.

I don’t need to say any more about this, do I? OK: Genius, from start to finish:

More soon.

How To Do a Cover Version

Tuesday’s Short Song post featuring The Box Top’s The Letter prompted a comment from long-time reader and Chain Gang contributor George who said:

“Have you heard Al Green’s version? I think it’s tremendous. Some might disagree (they are of course wrong).”

I hadn’t, but this seemed a most serendipitous suggestion, given the Rev. Green also featured here on Saturday night, and so I decided to investigate.

He’s not wrong you know:

I’ll be honest, before The Box Top’s version ended up in the Short Song series, I had been flirting with the idea of including it in this series anyway, but not with The Rev. Green’s version as the alternative. There are so many versions to choose from, but one that I really love is by Ellie Greenwich.

You know Ellie Greenwich. No you do, I promise you. She either wrote or co-wrote such indisputable classics as The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, The Crystals’ Da Doo Ron Ron, The Shangri-La’s’ Leader of the Pack, Manfred Mann’s Do Wah Diddy Diddy (itself a cover version, but we’ll save that for another time, I think), and Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High…I could go on.

But in 1968 she released an album entitled, Ellie Greenwich Composes, Produces and Sings; a slightly disingenuous title given that she didn’t do any of these things on the original version. I’m probably doing her a dis-service there, for the style is very different to The Box Tops’ version, even more so than Al Green’s version, and so she may have either recomposed and/or produced this version, which she definitely sings on.

It couldn’t sound any more like it was auditioning for an Austin Powers movie if it tried, could it?

(Disclaimer: I have never seen any of the Austin Powers movies.)

More soon.

How To Do a Cover Version

When you’ve written a song which is universally recognised as a classic, and which has been covered over 150 times, then when you announce which your favourite cover version is, I would imagine the person responsible for the cover must feel pretty chuffed.

Such a little nugget was dropped on this week’s edition of Guy Garvey: From The Vaults, a show currently airing on Sky Arts, which has recently become a free-to-air channel (I’m not sure if this is a permanent arrangement, although I suspect it might be as it’s been given it’s own channel number on my tellybox, and another one shunted out of the way). It’s a channel – and a TV show – worth checking out, because they generally show gigs on a Saturday night, by the likes of Nick Cave and Pulp, to name just two.

As for From The Vaults, it features the avuncular Elbow singer introducing clips from ITV’s music TV vaults, not somewhere I would have thought particularly blessed with valuable content, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The first episode included some wonderful, never seen before footage of Kate Bush from when she first toured at the end of the 1970s, so good that I wished I’d made more of an effort (read: been able to afford) to go and see her when she finally got round to playing her second set of live dates a couple of years ago.

The classic song that I mentioned at the top of this post popped up in this week’s edition was this absolute beauty:

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)

And here’s the footage they showed, snaffled from an appearance on The Russell Harty Show back in 1975:

You won’t be at all surprised to learn that the reason I mention all of this is not just to nudge you in the direction of a really good pop music archive show, but to give me an excuse to post the version of Make Me Smile that Mr Harley likes best out of all of them, as mentioned by Garvey on last night’s show (and he wouldn’t make it up, now would he?),from their 1990 3 Songs EP:

The Wedding Present – Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)

He’s a man of great taste, is Mr Harvey.

Guy Garvey: From The Vaults airs at 9:00pm (UK Time) on a Friday night, is doubtless repeated at least once, and the whole series is currently available to stream via NOWTV.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

This is a bit special.

In 2019, Karine Polwart released Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook, an anthology of reworkings of contemporary material covering some fifty years of Scottish pop and rock.

There’s much to be loved on the album, with covers of songs like The Waterboys’ The Whole of The Moon, Deacon Blue’s one good song (Dignity), Big Country’s one song that doesn’t have their trademark bagpipe-guitar sound on it (Chance), and Strawberry Switchblade’s ever-glorious Since Yesterday.

Doubtless one or more of these will feature here at some point in the future, but this evening I give you the album’s closer, a cover of the one and only Ivor Cutler:

More soon.