Vilified by some, deified by others, covers can many times be controversial. In their cheesy version it can be a tribute band with very little of themselves on top of the original. Sometimes it can go to their head: word is that the Lennon impersonator of a Beatlesque band would carry a gun backstage of a Buenos Aires theater, thinking the CIA was after him. The noble version looks more like the Ramones Tribute album We’re A Happy Family, where artists like U2, Metallica, Tom Waits, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a dozen others own the songs of the legendary NYC punk band and reinterpret them in their unique style.
Well executed, a cover can bring great benefits for the careers of the people who gave birth to the song, the performers recording them, the labels, the audience, and of course, the song itself, which many times is elevated not only in quality, but also in popularity.
As a sort of precursors to the Tierra Fértil expedition, here we have some interesting covers projects, because of its genesis, the results they got, the story they carry… or maybe we they are just some of our favorite pieces of music and —as all music lovers— we like to talk about them and recommend.
Otras Canciones (A77aque)
¿Can a cumbia, a folk-rock song, a tango, two 80’s hits and other ten equally dissimilar starting points fuse into one of the best punk records ever?
The answer is yes. With this album the band achieved things no one would have considered possible —like having a crowd of punk rock kids pogo dance shirtless to a song originally by legendary latin star Gilda, blended seamlessly with great renditions of Erasure, The Who, Eurythmics, The Ramones and The Beach Boys very well translated to Spanish, and also mashing-up rival bands Soda Stereo and Los Redondos into a single track.
A great record front to back, still relevant over 20 years of being released.
NOFX / Rancid (BYO Split Series Volume III)
Following the punk thread, this record is one of the most particular things I’ve seen in the record industry. Californian label BYO, after two previous volumes, starts a conversation with the bassist and singer from the also Californian band NOFX, proposing to do a split record.
¿What’s a split? In a time when access to radio and television was pretty much restricted to small labels and independent artists, two bands would get together and make a split record filling half of the songs each, in order to lower production and distribution costs and to do some cross-publicity.
The original suggestion was to do it with Lagwagon, but NOFX rejected it because the band was too close to their circle and it would be boring. The counter-proposal was “get Rancid and we have a deal”.
And this is were the story turns really interesting: someone —I think on the Rancid camp— suggested that each band should cover six of the other band’s classic tunes. The result is spectacular and a very fun listen.
Curious fact #1: some editions start with Nofx doing the Rancid songs and others vice-versa. I got the Rancid side first so that’s my natural way of listening to it.
Curious fact #2: it’s not on streaming platforms other than Youtube. You have to get the pirate copy from one of those apps like Soulseek or Limewire that only a few still use or try to get a physical edition (which are very rare – good luck!). Super old school.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cindy Lauper)
Very few people know that Cindy didn’t write the song —although, of course, she nailed it like no one else and got it to the top. Producer Rick Chertoff was gathering gems that were close to him, sensing that eventually they would end up in an album for which the voice hadn’t shown up yet. He met Cindy through a colleague and he realized that she was, in his own words, “the Cinderella for his slipper”.
Instead of showing her the demo, he took her to see the author’s band live —Bob Hazard & The Heroes—, trying to impress her when she would see everyone cheering and losing their minds over the song. They drove three hours back and forth from New York and Philly. The trip back was a little uncomfortable apparently —she hated the song, she thought it was an insult, because it carried a sexist message. The whole project was in danger.
Luckily, a few weeks over he insisted and she became more open to the idea, thanks to the argument that the song wouldn’t be sexist if a girl was singing it instead of a man. The song would not only stop being sexist, it would also start talking about liberation and empowerment. And it did become a huge feminist hit…!
Full story here.
Valerie (Amy Winehouse / The Zuttons)
A good example of how a song transforms incarnation after incarnation, growing and feeding off previous versions.
Amy is summoned by producer-DJ Mark Ronson —who had co-produced her album Back To Black— to collaborate on a record of versions. She —who, according to Ronson, did not listen to any music from after 1967— chose the song Valerie from Liverpool indie band The Zuttons, from the previous year (2006). Ronson didn’t think it was gonna work, but he was astonished when hearing her performance in the studio: they transformed a mellow rock song into a super bouncy retro-soul track.
Another crazy fact is that, months before the official track was released on the album, she played it live in the BBC Radio 1 show Live Lounge, performance in which the song keeps the original slow rhythm but without the rock elements —just with electric piano, bass, clean guitar, a shaker and backing vocals. Without the distinctive beat of Ronson’s recording!
American IV (Johnny Cash)
A formidable collection where you mix country-folk, a legendary singer and a bunch of songwriters summoned from many places and musical eras. It also has the peculiarity of being the last batch of Johnny Cash albums he released.
Producer Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Audioslave, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Adele, Lana del Rey, Linkin’ Park and a long etcétera) approached Cash in the early 1990’s and offered him a record deal —with the opportunity to relaunch his career, that had gone stale due to bad production decisions in the 70’s and 80’s by his label Columbia Records. Johnny, a little skeptical, accepted mostly because the producer offered him to have a big part of the creative control of the process. And so in 1994 the American Recordings collection began.
The initial process for American I was to get together to play, sing and tell stories until the songs would pop up. They started with a Cash-only record, revisiting some classics from the singer’s career and covering oldies and more modern songs. This same formula would strengthen and consolidate in the fourth volume of the collection, the one that got further up.
With guest stars like Fiona Apple, Nick Cave, John Frusciante and Don Henley, American IV: The Man Comes Around includes renditions of songs originally by The Beatles (In My Life, extra nostalgic, looking back to one’s own life through the rearview mirror), Depeche Mode (Personal Jesus, taken out of the dancefloor and put in the small stage of a bar), and the one that took all the awards, Hurt, originally by Nine Inch Nails. It also contains three “self-covers”, new —and improved?—versions of songs of his early career.
We leave this one here for today and continue in the second part.