Alas. Even in a week of riot grrrl posts, we cannot feature every band associated with the riot grrrl era. However, in this post we get to hear a new group of riot grrrls put a fresh take on songs ranging from traditional punk and rock genres to more surprising choices. I’ll give you a hint: you should know better than to cheat a friend.
Bratmobile – Cherry Bomb (The Runaways cover)
Bratmobile (pictured above) was comprised of Allison Wolfe, Molly Neuman, and Erin Smith. Wolfe and Neuman knew one another from working on Girl Germs, a feminist zine. They met Smith through Calvin Johnson when they followed his band Beat Happening and Nation of Ulysses on their tour in the DC area. Bratmobile, formed in 1991, was one of the first and most prominent riot grrrl bands. They even played the International Pop Underground Convention, a music festival in Olympia, Washington where many punk bands of the era came together to resist being commercialized. The band took a hiatus in 1994, but in 1999, the band decided to reunite for a small show in Oakland. Afterwards the band officially reunited to go on tour with Sleater-Kinney. Their album Pottymouth was re-released on vinyl earlier this year.
The Runaways were a rock band from the late 1970s made up of all women. The lyrics and style of “Cherry Bomb,” one of their biggest hits, are perfect for a cover by the riot grrrls. Bratmobile takes a more simplistic approach to the song, the electric guitar less prominent, providing the merest melodic line. The vocals are also more raw, curdling screams included. The cover ditches the extended guitar solos and other rock frills, focusing on the rebellious sentiment of the song.
Bratmobile – Where Eagles Dare (Misfits cover)
First, can we just appreciate this gem of a line: “an omelet of disease awaits your noontime meal.” The Misfits were a punk rock band from the late ’70s known for the horror themes in their lyrics. This cover is fairly faithful to the original. Since Bratmobile did not have a bassist consistently throughout their career (Michelle Noel, Jon Nikki, and Marty Violence all made appearances as bassists), we lose the original’s thudding bass line in this version. However, the guitar takes over to drive the instrumental melody in a less deep tone. Without the bass, the drums have more of a prominent position in this version, keeping the tempo steady throughout.
Quasi and Elliott Smith – Paint It, Black (The Rolling Stones cover)
Hear Weiss, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, and her intense drumming in this Rolling Stone cover by her current band, Quasi. Quasi was originally formed in Portland in 1993. They often provided backup instrumentals to Elliot Smith, another musician who spent most of his time in Portland. You may know him from his song “Miss Misery” from the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. Even though Smith is the lead singer, the focus is on Weiss. She brings more energy to the drums than the Rolling Stones do. Her drumsticks are often just blurs, and that isn’t just thanks to the lower quality video. Weiss even helps out with vocals towards the end of the song. Her “oh”s haunt and give us the ominous feel the lyrics suggest but that the original’s pure rock style doesn’t fully evoke.
Pussy Riot – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana cover)
The origins of riot grrrl and punk are intertwined. Bikini Kill’s Tobi Vail had a relationship with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. Kathleen Hanna was good friends with him as well; she even gave him the idea for the song title “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Pussy Riot’s cover of this song captures the angst of the original, the tone matching the dark lyrics. This cover is unhurried. Its pace is slightly slower than the original, building towards the chorus without deviating from its starting tempo. The instruments hold back a bit to let the breathy vocals be heard. “Hello, hello, hello, how low.”
Le Tigre – I’m So Excited (The Pointer Sisters cover)
It’s a nice change of pace to hear Le Tigre take on a light-hearted song. They update The Pointer Sisters’ classic with a synth and hi-hat. The Pointer Sisters, originally from Oakland, California and actually all sisters, were at various times a musical group of two, three, and four. However, their most commercial success occurred with three as the magic number, producing other hits like “Jump (For My Love),” Hugh Grant’s jam in the movie Love Actually. The melody in this cover changes a bit throughout, each syllable in “excited” gets its own beat, and “hide” gets a few extra to match. We lose the piano solo and dramatic key change towards the end of the original, but we gain a little extra spunk.
The Gossip – Careless Whisper (George Michael cover)
The Gossip, made up of Beth Ditto, Kathy Mendonça, and Nathan Howdeshell, formed in 1999 in Olympia, Washington. All three members attended the city’s Evergreen State College, the non-traditional education (no grades!) chosen by many riot grrrl and punk band members during the ’80s and ’90s. The band started with an EP and a tour with Sleater-Kinney and continued to make music through 2016, albeit with a change of drummer in 2003. This summer, the band united for a show to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of their album Music for Men. No saxophone needed, this cover starts with a simple beat and Ditto’s voice. The guitar peeks in, and then fully joins, along with the drums, for the chorus. The verses have an ominous sound to them, building up to the choruses. Ditto’s delivery of “I’m never gonna dance again / Guilty feet have got no rhythm” packs a rock punch, contrasting the original’s easy listening-style lament.
Want even more information about riot grrrl? Check out Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus. Tracing both the musical and political movements throughout the country, you’ll find out that even Omaha, Nebraska had an active riot grrrl scene.