Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
When David Bowie moved to Berlin, he took an apartment over an auto parts store. Iggy Pop shared a room with him. There were no chairs – they had decided chairs were unnatural. One night they were sitting on the floor waiting for Starsky and Hutch to start on the Armed Forces Network. The show started with a call signal – beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep, beep beep beep. Bowie picked up a ukulele (“it might have been his son’s,” Pop later remembered) and wrote out the chord progression. “Call it ‘Lust for Life,'” he told Pop. “Write something up.”
Describing their songwriting process, Bowie said, “I often gave him a few anchor images that I wanted him to play off, and he would take them away and start free-associating.” Pop later realized that Bowie’s title came from the Kirk Douglas film about Vincent van Gogh. “In the two albums we made,”said Pop, referring to Lust for Life and The Idiot, “I think Bowie wanted to make the comment that I was an idiot à la Dostoyevsky and insane à la van Gogh. Like, ‘Here I am producing albums for this insane idiot — let’s see what happens!'”
What happened were exuberant lyrics about heroin addiction (partially inspired by William Burroughs), a driving rhythm played by drummer Hunt Sales, and the most positive, upbeat, happy song of Pop’s career. Unfortunately, Elvis Presley died a few weeks before Lust for Life‘s release, and RCA decided to dedicate everything to Elvis, from pulling all promotion for its other artists to having its record plants press nothing but Presley. Pop’s work was among those lost in the shuffling off the mortal coil, and it stayed half-forgotten for years on end.
Then it appeared in a movie, and… nothing. See, the movie was Desperately Seeking Susan, and people were more interested in Madonna. But a decade or so later, it showed up in the opening scene of Trainspotting, as future Obi-Wan Ewan McGregor ran from the police and talked about choosing life. It opened the film with a bang, new generations discovered the song, and soon it was inescapable, appearing in everything from video games to a Rugrats movie to Royal Carribean cruise line commercials. A little strange, you might think, to promote a family-friendly vacation option with a song that off-handedly admits, “Of course I’ve had it in the ear before.” But Pop had no qualms – he was just happy the song finally got its place in the sun. (And the royalties sure didn’t hurt.)
Bowie did a live version, but as he’s a co-writer of the song, it doesn’t count as a cover. But these five do…
Bad Livers – Lust for Life (Iggy Pop cover)
The Bad Livers spent the ’90s playing what they insisted wasn’t bluegrass music. “This isn’t bluegrass and it isn’t this or that,” said singer and banjo player Danny Barnes. “It’s Bad Liver music. We end up making our own thing.” One of those own things was a cover of “Lust for Life” that takes it down to Texas and kicks it through any number of haystacks.
NY Loose – Lust for Life (Iggy Pop cover)
What’s that – you think “Lust for Life” could’ve been louder and could’ve been faster? Have we got a cover for you! This comes from the tribute album We Will Fall, which features covers of Iggy and/or the Stooges by the likes of Joan Jett, Joey Ramone, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. NY Loose may not have as high a profile, but their performance needs take a back seat to nobody.
Twitch – Lust for Life (Iggy Pop cover)
Another Pop tribute album, Pop OD, filled with Detroit acts ready to do their hometown hero proud. “Lust for Life” wound up in the hands of Twitch, who drop any suggestion of thunder in favor of a reggae sound and more intricate stickwork. It’s one of those covers that shouldn’t work but does, even as the lust for life turns into taking life as it comes.
J2 featuring Nicole Atkins – Lust for Life (Iggy Pop cover)
Nicole Atkins is a longtime favorite of ours, and she proves why once again with her performance of “Lust for Life.” Beyond the lyrics, this cover owes nothing to the original, cutting it in half and changing the music and melody completely. Credit to producer Jay “J2” Singh, whose Iconic Series collects his versions of cover songs designed to score epic trailers.
Son of Dave – Lust for Life (Iggy Pop cover)
Benjamin Darvill is more than a former Crash Test Dummy; as he says on his Bandcamp page, he’s “an international cult Bluesman on a mission to save your musical soul from modern hogwash.” He does it with harmonica, beatboxing, and plenty o’ loops, and he does it well. On his KTel-esque all-cover album Explosive Hits (full title: Son of Dave plays 13 Explosive Hits by other artists), he gives “Lust for Life” a down and dirty going over. Dave has got to be proud of his boy.
You’ll find plenty of covers of and by Iggy Pop in our archives.