how to make a great punk cover (reprise, updated)

Happy Sunday, people! I hope you’re having a lovely, lovely weekend. I’m in a reuse/recycle mode, and figure if it’s new to you, that’s what counts. I dedicated this past week’s radio hour on wobc.org (5-6pm, EDT) to great punk covers, and I’ll post a clip or two from that show on Wednesday, but wanted to update a post from last year at this time. (From October 6, 2013.) Enjoy!

… So, let me offer something short and sharp for your consideration: five key punk covers, in order of historical appearance. One of the virtues of punk was its recuperation of the cover song. In the rock-as-art movement commencing with The Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965), the turn to the original composition was a key factor separating rock from pop and, in turn, away from the black influence of blues, R&B, and even jazz, for which the cover or the standard was a key part of the repertoire. The Rolling Stones, of course, took steps to “keep it real” as the bluesy bad-boys foil to The Beatles by offering a cover song on nearly every disc post-1967 (not Goat Heads Soup–1973), for those of keeping score at home).

Rather than the cover song as something a combo played before they got better, punks held onto covers, and The Clash blazed the way in this regard, offering up lovely renditions of Mose Allison’s “Look Here” and Eddy Grant’s “Police on My Back” on Sandinista! The Sex Pistols didn’t last long enough to bother, but their posthumous releases, including The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, documents their (disdainful) affection for The Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner”–a punk standard, if there ever was one–and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” The Who’s “Substitute,” and, regretfully, Sid’s interpretation of “My Way.”

For a punk cover to rise to greatness, I suggest it needs to do one or more of the following things:

1) it takes a somber song and makes it joyful.
2) It offers a fun challenge to our sensibilities, by disrupting our notions of racialization, class, gender, or sexuality.
3) It offers a renaissance of the joy of rock’n’roll before rock-as-art and draws a connection between early 60s rock (or before) and the present.
4) It takes something that appears to be powerful and makes it wimpy, but with total “badassery”–my favorite recent entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The results, of course, can be unsettling and, in turn, provide immeasurable inspiration to make it through the day.

I’d be happy to hear your version of this history, but I believe it commences with Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” and the unrivaled opening verbal gambit. From SNL 1976:

A year later, of course, The Ramones release their debut LP, which includes a cover of “Let’s Dance,” but it’s the second LP when The Ramones truly shine as interpreters of rockabilly and surf guitar classics. Here’s a brief–although I suppose with The Ramones, it’s always brief–rendition of The Ramones doing “California Sun”:

The Clash, legend has it, had nearly wrapped up the recording of their debut LP and, with 13 songs in the mix, they had 28 minutes of material. They decided to record Junior Murvin and Lee Perry’s “Police and Thieves” (live super-snarl mix included here) for the album and, in doing so, made history by insisting on the inimitable blackness of their musical forebears.

I’m not sure this track rises to the historical significance of the others included here, but I have a real soft spot for decidedly groovy interpretation of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by The Slits. It insists on the imperative of joy, and what could be wrong with that?

There are certainly some brilliant covers between 1979 and 1985, from The Clash’s “Police on My Back” (The Equals), to Costello’s “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” (Sam & Dave), and Wall of Voodoo’s “Ring of Fire” (thank you, @MickeyUndertone, for weighing in earlier). But I’ve got to give a nod here to Aztec Camera’s cover of Van Halen’s “Jump,” which I recall hearing on rock radio in Sacramento and Stockton back in the day. The DJ would play some, if not all, of the track, and ask listeners to call in to weigh in on this travesty. They all hated it. I loved it. Roddy Frame and co. stripped bare David Lee Roth and co. of the bluster, the guitar and keyboard virtuosity, the spandex and the hairspray to show the world in plainspeak what exactly the song was about. (Of course a song is more than its lyrics, but not in this rendition.) In turn, they produced one of the purest, if mellowest, punk gestures ever.

Et tu? What are your favorite punk covers?

key punk covers — not a best-of list

Happy Sunday, people! I hope you’re having a lovely, lovely weekend. I wish there were some pithy way to riff on the absurdity of the posturing in DC, with the continued separation of keywords  (“negotiate,” “good faith,” “will of the people,” “Americans for Prosperity”) from their historical meaning, but it is distinctive, awe-inspiring and, in the end, I figure, alas, brutal and debilitating.

So, let me offer something short and sharp for your consideration: five key punk covers, in order of historical appearance. One of the virtues of punk was its recuperation of the cover song. In the rock-as-art movement commencing with The Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965), the turn to the original composition was a key factor separating rock from pop and, in turn, away from the black influence of blues, R&B, and even jazz, for which the cover or the standard was a key part of the repertoire. The Rolling Stones, of course, took steps to “keep it real” as the bluesy bad-boys foil to The Beatles by offering a cover song on nearly every disc post-1967 (not Goat Heads Soup–1973), for those of keeping score at home).

Rather than the cover song as something a combo played before they got better, punks held onto covers, and The Clash blazed the way in this regard, offering up lovely renditions of Mose Allison’s “Look Here” and Eddy Grant’s “Police on My Back” on Sandinista! The Sex Pistols didn’t last long enough to bother, but their posthumous releases, including The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, documents their (disdainful) affection for The Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner”–a punk standard, if there ever was one–and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” The Who’s “Substitute,” and, regretfully, Sid’s interpretation of “My Way.”

For a punk cover to rise to greatness, I suggest it needs to do one or more of the following things:

1) it takes a somber song and makes it joyful.
2) It offers a fun challenge to our sensibilities, by disrupting our notions of racialization, class, gender, or sexuality.
3) It offers a renaissance of the joy of rock’n’roll before rock-as-art and draws a connection between early 60s rock (or before) and the present.
4) It takes something that appears to be powerful and makes it wimpy, but with total “badassery”–my favorite recent entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The results, of course, can be unsettling and, in turn, provide immeasurable inspiration to make it through the day.

I’d be happy to hear your version of this history, but I believe it commences with Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” and the unrivaled opening verbal gambit. From SNL 1976:

A year later, of course, The Ramones release their debut LP, which includes a cover of “Let’s Dance,” but it’s the second LP when The Ramones truly shine as interpreters of rockabilly and surf guitar classics. Here’s a brief–although I suppose with The Ramones, it’s always brief–rendition of The Ramones doing “California Sun”:

The Clash, legend has it, had nearly wrapped up the recording of their debut LP and, with 13 songs in the mix, they had 28 minutes of material. They decided to record Junior Murvin and Lee Perry’s “Police and Thieves” (live super-snarl mix included here) for the album and, in doing so, made history by insisting on the inimitable blackness of their musical forebears.

I’m not sure this track rises to the historical significance of the others included here, but I have a real soft spot for decidedly groovy interpretation of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by The Slits. It insists on the imperative of joy, and there’s rarely anything wrong with that.

It seems impossible that there isn’t a great punk cover between 1979 and 1985, but I’ve got to give a nod here to Aztec Camera’s cover of Van Halen’s “Jump,” which I recall hearing on rock radio in Sacramento and Stockton back in the day. The DJ would play some, if not all, of the track, and ask listeners to call in to weigh in on this travesty. They all hated it. I loved it. Roddy Frame and co. stripped bare David Lee Roth and co. of the bluster, the guitar and keyboard virtuosity, the spandex and the hairspray to show the world in plainspeak what exactly the song was about. (Of course a song is more than its lyrics, but not in this rendition.) In turn, they produced one of the purest, if mellowest, punk gestures ever.

Enjoy!

(post) punk gems, v. 35 — The Raincoats

Happy Wednesday, blog-o-crats! There’s lots of fun under the sun in Clash-land, with the box set, the revival of the Strummer mural in the East Village, and Misters S., H., and J. making the rounds reminding folks of the glory days of rock fandom.

I’m sympathetic to folks who want this depiction of Mr. Strummer to be a tad more handsome, but I’m simply delighted to see that it’s back. And hey: to those folks who are frustrated: grab some spray cans and DIY!

Briefly, today, the loosest of Strummer & Co. connections: I’m digging this mid-career track by The Raincoats, who were DIY exemplars: Palmolive left The Slits, got together a quartet of gals and released “Fairytale in the Supermarket” on Rough Trade back in May 1979. The sleeve, label, etc., appeared hand-printed–in true DIY style. Their debut LP came out in December 1979 (available here in lo-fi), Palmolive left shortly thereafter and, after 1981’s Odyshape (LP), they released on cassette, a la The Replacements’ The Shit Hits the Fans, The Kitchen Tapes, from a performance at the Kitchen in New York City. Richard Dudanski of 101ers’ fame and Clash comrade Derek Goddard provide percussion.

As you may recall, Kurt Cobain took a keen interest in The Raincoats and helped get DGC to re-release key bits of their catalog years later. As Cobain noted, “When I listen to The Raincoats I feel as if I’m a stowaway in an attic, violating and in the dark. Rather than listening to them I feel like I’m listening in on them. We’re together in the same old house and I have to be completely still or they will hear me spying from above and, if I get caught – everything will be ruined because it’s their thing.”

The influence, of course, can be felt throughout the Nirvana catalog–which expands next week with the anniversary release of In Utero, in $125 and $22 packages. Krist and Dave provide a preview here.

Thoughts on mini-Sound System on Sunday. See you then!

(post-) punk gems, v. 24 — The Pop Group

Good morning to you folks in the western hemisphere — and happy belated Canada Day to you up north, and merry Independence Day eve to my country-folk.  I thought about staying on this side of the Atlantic for today’s gem, but, well, no.

It’s round about June ’77 when The Pop Group forms, and in early ’78 they mark out what they’re about for the NME: “We want to create something that is capable of being good and evil at the same time. We want to be the beatniks of tomorrow.” The Nietzschean influence is evident on their first single, “She’s Beyond Good and Evil,” and amid the echo-y washes of guitar and vocals and Joy-Division-y drums, they rearticulate ol’ Friedrich’s ideas for post-feminist ends, with one of the finest lyrics of the era: “Western values mean nothing to her / she’s the girl of my dreams.”

Members of The Pop Group, which disbanded in 1981, and then re-formed for a few gigs just a few years back, would take up instruments in bands as wide-ranging as Head, The Slits, Rip Rig + Panic (with Neneh Cherry), Maximum Joy, and Pigbag–whose 1981 single “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pig Bag” brought maximum joy to my early adolescence. Little can go wrong in a pop group with multiple drummers!

review from Clash-de-camp, punk and the grey lady

zxHappy, happy June, to you!  The birds outside own the soundscape while I’m typing, but their love calls and dog alerts will give way to a chorus of lawnmowers in just a few hours. A few of you have checked-in anew this week, so it’s great to have you catching the latest news at K-SAT. Certainly the big reviews of Stealing by The Baker, long-time frontline roadie for The Clash, was a nice way to wrap up May (Louder Than War on top, and Daily Swarm on the bottom). I do hope you will share this item with your loved ones and punk comrades from back in the day. Many thanks to The Baker for finding the time to put this review together, and for the kind words about the book.

image -- LTW headline

swarm image

Lots of folks have passed on the word (nearly 500 and counting @ LTW), but do consider leaving a bit of feedback for The Baker at the bottom of either article. Your encouragement is what keeps us wordsmiths going.

In other punk media news, John Holmstrom’s The Best of Punk Magazine is holding steady in amazon sales since its December release, and drawing many favorable reviews.

punk collection

I’m not sure why folks give him flack for trying to pay the rent on a project that didn’t do so back in the day. At $20 for over 300 pages of spirited prose and photos, it’s a fine, fine collection–do let me know, though, if you think otherwise.

One of the key joys of working on the book was spending time talking with key figures from the NYC punk scene, folks close to The Clash, and others, and I can’t offer enough thanks for how generous they were with their time. To show my generosity, though, I want to share some of things I learned while doing research for the book that appeal to a wider audience, and to the writers among you in particular who might be working on your own punk-post-punk chronicles.

As noted in Stealing All Transmissions, Holmstrom and PUNK’s “resident punk” Legs McNeil, and the folks at Trouser Press, Soho Weekly News, and The Village Voice played key roles in setting the stage for The Clash to play The Palladium (3000 seats), rather than The Bottom Line (400 seats), on their first three visits to NYC. The New York Times, too, must be included in this conversation. John Rockwell, who’s about as well credentialed as they come (Harvard, U. of Munich, UC Berkeley)  joined the Times in 1972 as their classical music critic, took on popular music duties and, in this late 30s, apparently in jacket-and-tie, was hanging out at CBGB, The Palladium, and elsewhere, and spreading the gospel via “The Grey Lady,” as the Times was then known.

John Rockwell SO3346

And he was there earlier than most. At the end of 1977, in “Pop Music: Of Women, Country and the Punks” (Dec 25, p. 66), he opens his list of highlights, alas, with accolades for Fleetwood Mac, whom he regards as “popular and wonderful.” (Among the critics he wasn’t alone in this regard–check out the 1977 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll from The Village Voice.) Then, at #8 on the list, alongside the photo montage of soulmates Johnny Rotten and Crystal Gayle, he writes, “This was also the year that saw the beginnings of what may be the next British rock invasion–this time of punk rock. In 1975 and 1976 our attention was seized by the American punks, but not particularly new happened on that front here this year. Instead, we saw the first American performances of artists like the Damned, the Jam, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Elvis Costello–and, if nothing untoward happens, the Sex Pistols will make their American debut before the year is out. And after them will come the Clash, the Vibrators, and many more.”

A-ha! It was Rockwell who put the voodoo on The Pistols! Rockwell, and Robert Palmer among others, chimed in on punk with some regularity and open minds. William Safire, perhaps not too surprisingly, found punk didn’t suit his tastes. In the late 70s, especially, Rockwell was on the scene, and he regularly mentioned punk releases and happenings in his “Pop Life” column.

Like their indy colleagues, Times reporters covered the side projects of their colleagues in radio. Shortly after the demise of the “Elvis to Elvis” format at WPIX-FM, Andy Edelstein penned “How Mass Appeal Makes Rock” (May 18, 1980, p. LI13), which showcased Mass Appeal, the Long Island quartet with guitarists DJ Jane Hamburger (below) and Linda Dering.

mass appeal -- jane h -- 1979

(Here’s the full pic at the photographer’s site.) Edelstein notes, “The band’s music is raw, rough-edged but highly danceable, reflecting the influences of such adventurous English bands as the Gang of Four, the Clash, and the Slits–groups whose records Miss Hamburger played on her show before she resigned in March, when the station adopted a stricter format.” Hamburger submitted her resignation in order to join her friends at the last Clash show at the Palladium. Edelstein gives props to Hamburger’s weekly show on Hofstra University’s WVHC-FM, on which she continued to play a key role in bringing the music of The Clash to tri-state listeners.

Thanks for checking out the rather lengthy post! Have a rock-steady week, and check back on Wednesday for more underheralded post-punk gems!

Here’s a couple of fun tracks by the Slits, and GO4 at Hurrah’s, where Jane and Meg Griffin spun their big-beat mix.