In Pick Five, great artists tell us about five cover songs that matter to them.
When post-punk pioneers Gang of Four first reunited in 2005, they told the New York Times they weren’t planning on writing any new songs. They have clearly changed their tune since then, following a couple recent albums with a new EP out this week. Way back in 1980, David Fricke called them “probably the best politically motivated band in rock & roll,” and they’re still at it: that new EP features a photo of Ivanka Trump on the cover. And its title? Complicit. (As if that wasn’t pointed enough, there’s also a Russian translation.)
Here’s the lead single, “Lucky.” Gang of Four fans will recognize Gill’s signature guitar style right from the opening notes.
To celebrate the new EP and the band’s longevity, we asked founding guitarist Andy Gill – the only member to continue from the classic debut album Entertainment! all the way through today, and the man behind some of the most instantly-identifiable guitar playing in rock history – to tell us about his favorite cover songs.
1. I Roy – The First Cut Is the Deepest (Cat Stevens cover
Andy says: “This is a great song, written by Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam). Rod Stewart did a version that was a big hit, but I think best forgotten. In fact there have been several hit recordings – yet if you check it out on Wikipedia, the best, by I Roy, isn’t even mentioned which is just a joke. I Roy was an extraordinary toaster, a term that described the precursors of rap. He had a deep, rough voice that seems to tell of both hard times and joy. The groove is incredible; you can’t possibly not move to it. I Roy toasts his way through with ad-libs and beautiful variations on the melody and then, when the chorus hits, a brilliant production move in contrast to I-Roy’s low gruff tones, it’s sung by a young male voice whose name goes uncredited. If all the songs had to go in the world but one, this would be the one that survived.”
2. Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Smokey Robinson/Gladys Knight cover)
Andy says: “A song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown Records in the mid ‘60s. The first recording was by Gladys Knight and the Pips, and there’s a good Slits cover too, but Marvin Gaye’s version is the greatest. It obsessed me when first I heard it in 1968 (I was, erm, 12), and it still does. I don’t think there is a groove like it, mechanistic and funky tight. Knight’s version is cool but in comparison it’s too loose, as if nobody’s really concentrating.”
3. David Bowie – Across the Universe (The Beatles cover)
Andy says: “Apparently Lennon had been arguing with his first wife Cynthia and went to bed thinking about the flow of words the argument produced. The following morning he wrote the lyrics for this song but the music developed very slowly over many months. The Beatles eventually recorded it and released it, but Lennon was to complain later that Paul McCartney never gave Lennon songs the same kind of attention that he did his own and Lennon wasn’t entirely happy with the result. The Beatles’ version doesn’t particularly engage me but I absolutely love the David Bowie version on 1975’s Young Americans, which is probably in my top nine albums — and most likely because this song is on that album.”
4. Devo – I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones cover)
Andy says: “This is another song that has obsessed me from a very early age. It’s hard to declare the Devo version better than the original Stones recording, but they do a really good job, particularly if you check them out on the video in the yellow suits doing their moves and playing their weird guitars.”
5. Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)
Andy says: “Jimi Hendrix is one of my heroes. He managed to be a hyper-talented superstar without being particularly up himself or obnoxious, as far as I know. He managed to get sound out of his guitar with his techniques and FX boxes that appeared to be some kind of direct expression of his self, of his thoughts. There are very few musicians to compare. He created sound from the guitar that nobody could dream of, nobody thought possible He could switch from almost orchestral-sounding rhythm playing to incandescent soloing. Dylan’s original version of the song is good, but Dylan himself said of Hendrix’s version ‘that’s his song now.'”
Gang of Four’s ‘Complicit’ comes out Friday. Pre-order it here.