Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Erickson didn’t simply sing [the] songs, he became them. Watching him then, it was like he was screaming to get outside of his body, knowing that the music behind him was a cannon meant to hurtle him into the stratosphere. I can recall shows where Erickson sang as if his life would end if he didn’t reach a certain plateau. We’d stand in the audience, holding our breath and hoping for his sake that he got there. – Bill Bentley
In 1990, Roky Erickson, fresh out of incarceration for mail theft, was institutionalized. He was a poverty-stricken paranoid schizophrenic who had it legally notarized that he was from Mars. He was also a giant in psychedelic garage-rock circles for his work with the 13th Floor Elevators in the ’60s and his later solo work, a man who knew how to let the demons wail. Bill Bentley, once a teenage diehard fan of the Elevators and now an music executive at Warner Brothers, learned that Erickson was in dire financial straits and organized a tribute album to help him out. That album, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, didn’t just provide Erickson with a desperately needed influx of cash; it introduced the world to a desperately talented songwriter, via a slew of artists who knew a good song when they played one. Kudos to all involved for bringing the buried treasure of Erickson’s songwriting to the surface, sharing its riches with the world, and seeing Erickson to that next plateau.
MP3: Primal Scream – Slip Inside This House (13th Floor Elevators cover)
Screamadelica is considered one of the greatest albums of the ’90s, a landmark in the melding of acid house and indie rock. Its second track, “Slip Inside This House,” had bowed the year before on Pyramid; some of the words have been changed (it’s “trip inside this house” here), but the Scream perfectly capture the psychedelic explorations of the mind Erickson had sung about a quarter century before.
MP3: Bongwater – You Don’t Love Me Yet (Roky Erickson cover)
Thanks to Bongwater, “You Don’t Love Me Yet” made it onto a lot of college DJ’s flirting mix tapes. Kramer and Ann Magnuson worked together to make a swooning, longing song that somehow negates the pain of the lyrics. Was that the only way they could have done it? Check the sound bite at the end for Bongwater’s answer.
MP3: Richard Lloyd – Fire Engine (13th Floor Elevators cover)
It’s quite possible that some of the artists on Pyramid were unfamiliar with Erickson’s work before they answered Bentley’s call, but that wasn’t the case with Richard Lloyd. When he was in Television, the band often opened their shows with a cover of “Fire Engine,” with Tom Verlaine singing lead. Here, Lloyd gets the job done on vocals, and his guitar brings both ’60s and ’70s punk back to the present day, and in full living color to boot.
MP3: Butthole Surfers – Earthquake (13th Floor Elevators cover)
Like the Elevators, the Butthole Surfers were Texans known for ingesting substances and following their effects wherever they may go. Perhaps because of this, their take on “Earthquake” is one of the strongest songs on the album, as they chase themselves headlong down any number of cacophonous rabbit holes.
MP3: T-Bone Burnett – Nothing In Return (Roky Erickson cover)
The chaos in Erickson’s mind may have flourished, but it wasn’t able to obliterate the tenderness in his heart. His song “Nothing In Return” was a treasure about unrequited love, and in the caring hands of T-Bone Burnett, its message, while painful, takes on a truly universal resonance.
The complete track listing:
1. Reverberation (Doubt) – ZZ Top
2. If You Have Ghosts – John Wesley Harding & The Good Liars
3. I Had to Tell You – Poi Dog Pondering
4. She Lives (In a Time of Her Own) – Judybats
5. Slip Inside This House – Primal Scream
6. You Don’t Love Me Yet – Bongwater
7. I Have Always Been Here Before – Julian Cope
8. You’re Gonna Miss Me – Doug Sahm & Sons
9. It’s a Cold Night For Alligators – Southern Pacific
10. Fire Engine – Richard Lloyd
11. Bermuda – Vibrating Egg
12. I Walked With a Zombie -R.E.M.
13. Earthquake – Butthole Surfers
14. Don’t Slander Me – Lou Ann Barton
15. Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog) – Sister Double Happiness
16. Burn the Flames – Thin White Rope
17. Postures (Leave Your Body Behind) – Chris Thomas featuring Tabby Thomas
18. Nothing in Return – T-Bone Burnett
19. Reverberation (Doubt) – The Jesus and Mary Chain