Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Midnight Oil had many huge hits in their native Australia, but only one song made an appearance on the U.S. Top 40: the 1987 classic “Beds Are Burning.” In a way, it’s surprising this song was their international breakthrough, given how specific the lyrics are to their native land – a protest song advocating for giving Australian lands back to Aboriginal group the Pintupi. Not subject matter guaranteed to register internationally when you take into account all the desert oak and cockatoo references (how many non-Australians can even pronounce “Yuendemu”?).
In another way, though, it’s no surprise at all this song connected wildly. I mean, ignore the lyrics (as no doubt many listeners did) and just listen to it:
The song has not been covered an enormous amount, but a few dozen versions exist. Many Australian bands have covers in their back pockets. In other cases, big touring bands like Pearl Jam and Imagine Dragons might prepare a version when touring down under.
We dug through every cover we could find to the pick the best five. Many of these upbeat versions make easy answer of the the “How can we dance” question of the chorus (and the one slower cover might help with the the “How do we sleep”). The song may belong to Midnight Oil, but we’re not going to give it back just yet.
Patti Smith – Beds Are Burning
Like she did with “Gloria” forty-plus years ago, Patti Smith reinvents “Beds Are Burning” with a whole lot of new lyrics. In this case, she opens the song with over three minutes of original spoken-word poetry, a powerful rant about what humanity continues to do to the earth and oceans. You’ll focus on her words the first time through, but on your second listen, tune into the band behind her. The guys, several of whom have been with her since the “Gloria” days, start with subtle atmospherics but ever so gradually build in intensity to match her words. By the time they all transition into the actual song, the blast of energy feels.
D Sailors – Beds Are Burning
“Beds Are Burning” has been covered in no genre so often as punk rock. Amidst a sea of competition, German quartet D Sailors’ version wins out due to the subtle melodic changes they give the verses and the great horn section. Like all the other punk covers, it boasts an insane amount of energy and only-barely-in-tune singing.
Novaspace – Beds Are Burning
In case there was any doubt that “Beds Are Burning” was a killer pop song, Novaspace removes every trace of subtlety on this pounding dance track. It sounds like some sort of Ace of Base techno remix – which may be off-putting to purists, but works wonderfully on its own terms.
Augie March – Beds Are Burning
The perfect comedown after Novaspace’s ecstatic rave, Australian indie-rock band Augie March turn the song into a seven-minute dirge of electronic atmospherics. The words seem an afterthought in this extended mood piece. It sounds like a piece of modern classical composition, something Philip Glass or Nils Frahm might have a hand in.
Murray Head – Beds Are Burning
Pop singer Murray Head, best known for his 1984 hit “One Night in Bangkok” (15 years prior, he also sang the original title track of Jesus Christ Superstar), doesn’t change too much on his covers. But the changes he does make matter, particularly the backing singers who echo him at the end of every chorus line. At he belts the hell out of this song, roaring at top passion.
Bonus: Pearl Jam
The two bonus tracks are both live snippets from broader melodies. In the first, Eddie Vedder throws in the chorus after a Sydney performance of his own band’s “Daughter.” He doesn’t seem to know the words perfectly. But the audience certainly does.
Bonus: Tenacious D
For a radio session in Australia, Jack Black and Kyle Gass combined three local hits: AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” “Beds Are Burning,” and Men At Work’s “Overkill.” Like everything they do, it’s ridiculous but actually sounds pretty good.