In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Next year marks the fiftieth birthday of Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” record reviews. His blurbs pioneered the idea of giving albums letter grades, and he’s graded thousands over the years. In the 2010s, though, he’s only awarded a coveted A+ four times. The recipients: A Tribe Called Quest, Laurie Anderson, Vampire Weekend, and… Wussy. As if that wasn’t high enough praise, in that Wussy review for 2014’s Attica! he dubs them “the best band in America.”
He’s not alone, either. This Ohio band, based around the duo of Chuck Cleaver (formerly of Ass Ponys) and Lisa Walker – middle and left in that top photo, respectively – has become a critics’ darling in recent years. Their new album What Heaven Is Like should only continue that trend. Billboard’s already called it “a concise 10-song meditation on hope and fear,” and it doesn’t come out until tomorrow.
Two of those ten songs are covers, the first time the band’s included any on a proper album. Not that most listeners will probably realize that they’re covers; these music superfans dig deep into the vaults, covering cult favorite folkie Kath Bloom’s “Oblivion” and 1970s garage rockers The Twinkeyz’ “Aliens in Our Midst.” Listen to the latter:
In honor of Wussy’s recent forays into the world of covers – they also released a killer version of The Beatles’ “Getting Better” for Record Store Day – we asked Chuck and Lisa to share five of their own favorite covers ever. And they did, times two. The series is called “Pick Five,” but really this one is a Pick Ten, as they each sent in thoughtful and funny insights into five gems.
Chuck Cleaver’s Favorite Covers
Afghan Whigs – Mr. Superlove (Ass Ponys cover)
“Admittedly a bit of bygone self promotion but the Whigs were the first to cover an Ass Ponys song. I teared up a bit the first time I heard it. Truth be told, I like it better than our version.”
Mallard – Desperados Waiting for a Train (Guy Clark cover)
“Some of these folks had been members of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. I heard this before the Guy Clark original. Dunno, it just kicks ass.”
Dinosaur Jr. – Just Like Heaven (The Cure cover)
“Again, I prefer this to the original. Big noisy guitar and the end cuts off like a mistake. What’s not to like?”
Hüsker Dü – Eight Miles High (The Byrds cover)
“More noisy guitar + a howling, protracted scream. A must!”
Wussy – Breakfast in Bed (Dusty Springfield cover)
“Yeah, I’m kissing my own ass again but Lisa sings the living shit out of this. And we didn’t even leave out any chords like we usually do. So there.”
Lisa Walker’s Favorite Covers
Townes Van Zandt – Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones cover)
“This song takes on a whole new meaning filtered through Van Zandt’s lens and faltering voice, which frankly suits it better than the Stones’ swagger. Don’t get me wrong…I love Sticky Fingers as if it were part of some sort of holy canon. But I can’t escape the feeling that ‘Dead Flowers’ is a song meant for Townes, and the Stones are just the ones covering it, rather than the other way around. Kinda like ‘Wild Horses’ belongs to the Burritos in a way.”
The Fall – Victoria (The Kinks cover)
“Perfectly executed and improved-upon by Smiths and co. It’s no ‘Hit the North’ maybe, but dammit it’s close!”
Cat Power – Werewolf (Michael Hurley cover)
“This version has all the fragility of Michael Hurley’s original, but with the additional welcome layers of Chan Marshall’s ghostly vocals and ethereal production. Every time I come back to that You Are Free record, it hits me like a beautiful gut punch.”
Scrawl – Public Image (Public Image Ltd. cover)
“This is a great meeting of loves for me. The original has always been a favorite of mine.. and Scrawl are near-and-dear to my heart. (They remain one of my top live music experiences.) This cover is perfectly suited to Marcy and Sue by making excellent use of their formidable hypnotic and harmonic powers.”
Dinosaur Jr. – Houses (Elyse cover)
“I realize Chuck also has a Dinosaur Jr. cover in his, but oh well… so be it. The original version of this 1968 Elyse song is so great that it’s hard to understand why it wasn’t an FM radio hit in its day. But it’s become a cult classic now, so we can all enjoy it thanks to the magic of reissues and the internet. Vetiver does a perfectly passable (mostly-acoustic) cover, but frankly it’s more fun to hear Neil Young’s guitar lead given the Mascis treatment. Ya know?”
Wussy’s new album ‘What Heaven Is Like’ is out tomorrow on Damnably in Europe and Shake It! in the US. Buy it at their website.