Mar 072016
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

blacksabbath

“War Pigs,” originally titled “Walpurgis” (defined as “Christmas for Satanists” by Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler), is the first track off Black Sabbath’s second studio album, 1970’s Paranoid, and is regarded by Guitar World magazine as the “greatest Heavy Metal song ever.”

The slow gravitational pulling power chord intro creates an atmosphere of an apocalyptic wasteland. The rolling darkness and muffled air-sirens continue until they are quickly halted with the most spine-tingling, D to E power chord transition in heavy metal history, not once, not twice, but thrice! Ozzy Osbourne gives us a piercing belt of “Generals gathered in their masses / just like witches at black masses,” and Toni Iommi continues the pattern after every Ozzy verse until Iommi’s power chords evolve into a wicked guitar riff. Bill Ward comes crashing in on drums, Geezer Buttler starts pounding his bass, and before you know it, you’ve bypassed “Luke’s Wall” (the song’s instrumental outro) and you’re riding shotgun with Lucifer on a thrill ride through hell.
Continue reading »

May 082012
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

It is in no way difficult to see why you might find bluegrass covers of non-bluegrass songs completely musically offensive. Let’s put it out there: it’s no secret that if you sit there and knock out a pop classic on a banjo and fiddle, you are not asking to be taken seriously. For the most part, bluegrass covers exist simply for their novelty value. Continue reading »

Queen

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Mar 312009
 

Queen was my first musical love and, re-listening to these tunes for this post, I remember why. Few dispute Freddie Mercury’s position as one of the greatest frontmen of all time, but Brian May’s absurd guitar playing and Roger Taylor’s rock-solid drumming helped propel these tunes to another dimension. As a kid I never went beyond the greatest hits, and I never needed to. They’re that good. So here are some of said hits, done different.

Electric Six – Radio Ga Ga
The Detroit six-piece behind the über-catchy Danger! High Voltage! brings their electro-rock to this Metropolis-themed Queen hit. It’s loud, brash and sassy, and doesn’t forget to include the tune’s signature double-clap-along. [Buy]

Hayseed Dixie – Fat Bottomed Girls
This bluegrass tribute act is about as tongue-in-cheek as you can get (Hayseed Dixie = AC/DC. Get it?) and brings some down-home hootenanny fun to this ode to larger ladies everywhere. Queen hit publicity gold with double single for this and “Bicycle Race,” staging a naked bicycle race with plenty of, you guessed it, fat bottom girls. Check it. [Buy]

Xiu Xiu ft. Michael Gira – Under Pressure
This one at once clings to the original arrangement and pulls away from it, coming apart at the seams even while the performers take it very seriously. Having a female vocalist brings a new swagger to it (inspired perhaps by Annie Lenox’s masterful turn at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert) while some dissonant horns threatens to bring the whole thing down. [Buy]

Beach House – Play the Game
Left off the indie-tastic Dark Was the Night compilation for some sort of licensing reasons (did Queen really not approve an AIDS benefit disc??), the wavering synths back some neo-folk singing, fragile even with the drum machine. [Buy]

Tenacious D – Flash
Jack Black and Kyle Gass aren’t exactly known for their covers, but this live one is a real gem. The song is just absurd enough as is to count as comedy, so their masterful acoustic playing is put on the spotlight to propel a wry take. If you wonder why it cuts off so suddenly, it’s because it’s an intro to their own “Wonderboy.” Watch the whole thing here. [Buy]

Ingram Hill – ‘39
It’s an irresistible chord progression, showing guitarist Brian May was no slouch at writing songs either, and does it justice with thumping drums, choir harmonies, and a bit of accordion. This comes off Killer Queen, the only Queen tribute comp worth getting, which includes Joss Stone’s slow-burn “Under Pressure” and the Flaming Lips’ spastic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” [Buy]

Laibach – One Vision
German Industrial giant Laibach lets loose with a stomping translation called “Geburt Einer Nation” (Birth of a Nation) that Wire magazine proclaimed one of the greatest covers ever. It’s definitely different, as if the song’s optimism was on the war path for your head. [Buy]

Upsilon Acrux – Bicycle Race
Some sort of low-fi, toy-piano freakout, this one can’t help make you smile at the A.D.D. absurdity of these guys. Like ten covers in one, they transfer from grunge to lounge without flinching, adding some space-age effects en route. [Buy]

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Killer Queen
Known as “Britain’s national orchestra,” London’s Philharmonic doesn’t just churn out the standard boring “classical” take on rock music. Their tribute discs are arranged and performed by the very finest composers and players England has to offer, and you can hear the difference. Off of their Passing Open Windows Queen tribute, “Killer Queen” blasts out with horns, drums, and…what is that familiar interlude? “Good bye, everybody…” [Buy]

The Busters – We Are the Champions
True story: In high school my band decided at the last minute to close one of our shows with this one. The only problem: none of us were particularly good, and we didn’t have time to learn the chords. So we just got the audience singing loud enough to mask out dissonance. Thankfully, the samba-reggae Busters did their homework. [Buy]

Nov 182008
 

For many bands, rocking you hard isn’t enough. They feel the need to tell you how hard they’re rocking you. So as a tribute to the many groups too insecure to let the music speak for itself…let there be rock.

Ludwig Van 88 – We Will Rock You (Queen)
I don’t know when Ludwig plans on rocking me, but until then I’ll settle for being pleasantly reggaeed. [Buy]

Patti Smith – So You Want to Be (A Rock’n’Roll Star) (The Byrds)
Having established herself as cover artist extraordinaire with “Gloria,” Patti’s fourth album threw in this Byrds tune. It hews a little closer to the original, but Smith’s punk spitting strips aways the polish of the original to show what being a rock star is really about. [Buy]

Roxanne Morgens – Rock’n’Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution (AC/DC)
Half of the AC/DC catalogue could be used here; those boys love to talk about how hard they rock (more evidence here). Morgens rocks a lot more quietly though, proving that sensitive folk music isn’t noise pollution either. [Buy]

We Are Scientists – Bang Bang Rock and Roll (Art Brut)
For a co-headlining tour with Art Brut a few years ago, the pair put out a tour-only EP that featured them covering each others songs. Art Brut tackled “The Great Escape,” but did a far worse job. [Buy]

Bruce Springsteen – Rockin’ All Over the World (John Fogerty)
Though Bruce deals with more original subjects for his own material, his live covers tend to have a theme. Seven Nights to Rock, Good Rockin’ Tonight, I Don’t Want to Hang Up My Rock’n’Roll Shoes, etc. His focus on rocking is justified by the exuberance of the performances. [Buy]

Twisted Sister – It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) (The Rolling Stones)
Oh Twisted Sister, you can’t possibly take yourselves seriously. They stretch it out for over ten minutes in this live raver that features plenty of aggressive crowd participation. [Buy]

Hayseed Dixie – I Love Rock’n’Roll (The Arrows)
This bluegrass cover band got their start doing AC/DC tunes (hence the name), but have since taken on from The Cars to Spinal Tap. Here they do Joan Jett – wait, I mean The Arrows. That’s right, Joan’s huge hit was in fact a cover, and not a very creative one. I’m sure the royalties have been keeping those Arrows boys in gold-plated diapers for years now. [Buy]

Rasputina – Rock and Roll (Led Zeppelin)
Cello goth lends itself to covers far better than one would imagine. Sounds like it’s been a very long time since she’s rocked and rolled – centuries, perhaps. [Buy]

Laptop – It’s Still Rock’n’Roll to Me (Billy Joel)
Billy Joel is criminally under-covered, but this group does it right, turning one of his biggest hits into a weird electronic dirge. [Buy]

The Alarm – Rocking in the Free World (Neil Young)
This cover doesn’t veer very far from the original, but when the original’s so good, does it need to? For a more adventurous take though, check out this post. [Buy]