Things I hate #21

Shit cover versions. I mean, was Rod Stewart sat at home one day, thumbing through his iPod, considering the warranty left on another blonde and wondering what he’s going to watch on telly while the World Cup’s on this summer, when he clicked the wheel onto ‘Higher and Higher’ and, frowning, thought to himself: ‘Hmmm, Jackie Wilson didn’t really do much of a job with that. I could turn it ’round. There’s a tune in there somewhere.’ Och aye, the noo. And like a middle of the road version of the Blues Brothers band he got the boys back together and they plodded their way through a soul classic; one eye on the clock the other on some bird’s arse. Ah, well, it’s another Ferrari in the bag and maybe some gigs on the after dinner circuit. Have you heard Rod’s version? It keeps catching me unawares on the radio. Baby Jane, what a load of old crap. It’s karaoke. Pedestrian karaoke. It’s a bottler’s version with a big, fat yellow streak running through it. He avoids the dynamics. The sense of deflation I get when I hear it come on the radio is depressing. It’s like that rush of despair that comes through in hangovers and following a bad day when you’ve fucked up or have been fucked up and are still facing the appalling consequences of the fuck up. Rod’s version of ‘Higher and Higher’ is like Mr Asino who ran the Cherry Blossom B & B on the outskirts of Hiroshima glancing out of his window on the morning of Tuesday 7th August 1945 and thinking, ‘hmmm, it’s not looking any better.’ It’s a festering, radioactive wasteland. It’s a big, fat empty wank of a song. Driving along the M62 the last time I heard it, I slammed my head into the steering wheel. Fucking spiders! Why? Why? Why? Why? WHY?!

For a kick off, what is the point of a cover version that apes the original? Who would you rather have a conversation with – Magnus Pike or Mike Yarwood as Magnus Pike? Why have cotton when you can have silk, all that malarky? It serves no purpose. There’s no interpretation of the original, it’s simply vanity to want to sound like somebody else. Or get a cheap hit. Added to which, by and large a cover version is like King Midas in reverse. Touch gold and turn it to shit. So what sort of half-wit would want Wet, Wet Wet’s version of ‘Love is all around’, with the fat, lazy production and Marti Pello grinning like an online paedo that’s just convinced some teenager that he’s a fourteen year old called Brett who’s into JLS and hanging around in the shopping centre doing fuck all and to fire up the webcam, when you can have The Trogg’s original for all it’s tinny recording. Give me Reg ‘Crop circles’ Presley any day of the week. Or who would possibly want to hear Robson and Jerome wiping their chapped, shitty arses on ‘What becomes of the broken hearted’ when you can have Jimmy Ruffin tearing his soul out? And yet they do. Or, at least, they did. And, let’s face it, still do. Michael Ball, Daniel O’Donnell, every bastard winner of the X-Factor, Mark Ronson, Jamie ‘the singing Hobbit’ Cullum cobbling together some sub-Sinatra phrasing (the reason Sinatra sang like that, you short arse fucking twat, was because that was his voice. Whereas you’re from Romford not the Five Points, you shiny bell end), all these – and many more – second-rate shysters have all made careers on the back of other people. And while Sixpence None The Richer’s version of ‘There she goes’ might keep Lee Mavers in Everton season tickets and give him the freedom to play five a side whenever he wants, it adds nothing to the La’s original recording(ssssssss…) of it. It just cuts its balls off. Which is, perhaps, the point of a shit cover version. A lot of people out there want their music comfortable. They want it bland and beige. Listen to it a few times and then forget that it ever existed. Move onto the next three and half minutes of plastic. And who’s to say that they’re wrong…? Well, me. And Jackie Wilson. Fuck democracy. Fuck The X Factor and radio play lists and Simon Cowell and Christmas albums where some classical singer cranks out ‘Yellow Submarine’ to a backing by the London Symphony Orchestra. Fuck ‘em all.

Aligned to this there’s cynical and manipulative product placement; which, in earlier times, would have been easy to ascribe to racism. In the 60s it seemed that the Klan stalked the A&R rooms and the boardrooms of the big record companies. One of my favourite quotations from Julian Cope: ‘Young white 60s kids were quite happy to hear rampant declarations of impending fucking just so long as those songs were sung by pretty young white boys, and not by the scarily horny mid-40s Negro originators.’ This is perhaps less true than it was, but it still holds water to a degree. Shit cover versions tend to take an original and repackage it with an apparently more acceptable face. Whether that face be whiter or minus the overt drug problem or long hair or the inability to get through a sentence without saying ‘fuck’. Or simply more easy to use up and dispose of when you’ve done with them. It tends to involve applying loads of gloss and ripping the guts out of the original. You don’t as often get a white singer taking over a black artist’s song as you did, in fact in the cynical package exercise you might even get the opposite these days, but you do get some manufactured product riding on the back of someone else’s melody. Someone who’s usually more obscure, more mercurial, more awkward or more bloody difficult. Like Leonard Cohen (‘Hallellulah’, Alexandra Burke), The Smiths (‘Stop me if you’ve heard this one before’, Mark Ronson), The Undertones (‘Teenage Kicks’, fucking Busted), the shameful list goes on. This is Tin Pan Alley getting its revenge on The Beatles for having the audacity to write their own material and take control of their own career. This the recording industry reasserting who’s boss. Taking care of business.

In 1967 The Who released ‘I can see for miles’. It was the epitome of a Maximum R’n’B; Pete Townsend wind-milling out proto-power chords and Keith Moon coming at you like he’s going to drum his arms off through both extremes of the stereo landscape, Roger Daltry snarling out a freak beat melody and John Entwistle… erm… playing the bass. In a week that saw Cliff Richard at number 6 with ‘All My Love’ and Val Doonican sitting cosy at number 4 with ‘If The Whole World Stopped Loving’ (30th December 1967), The Who stalled at number 7. Pete Townsend was right. People are thick. In the wake of the single’s relative failure Pete spat on the record buying public. Do the same. Now go out and listen to some Jackie Wilson.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Where is there a fucking firing squad when you need them? Either for this fucker or to put me out of my misery. If there were any justice in the world this twat would be up against a wall. Any last requests, piiiiiiig? Yeah, tell this fucking cunt to shut the fuck up or I’ll save you the trouble and shoot myself… Not the fucking Eagles, man…

Post script. Good cover versions I can think of are Isaac Hayes’ version of ‘Walk on by’, stretched out and orchestrated into a deep soul classic. Or The Who’s version of the Vandellas ‘Heat Wave’. Then there’s the Small Faces tearing through ‘If I were a carpenter’ where Stevie Marriott nearly rips his diaphragm apart.



One comment

  1. GSmudger · April 17, 2010

    What about Cake’s version of ‘I Will Survive’? They drag it kicking and screaming out of The Pink Flamingo, rip away all the glitterballs and sequins, wedge some swagger, funk and mariachi trumpets into it and make it a seething, fast-fretting beast. At least that’s how I hear it.


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