In the Spotlight: L7

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Sep 042019

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

L7 cover songs

L7 formed in Los Angeles, outside of the riot grrrl hub of the Pacific Northwest, in 1985 with just two members. Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner both provided guitar and vocals. Jennifer Finch on bass and Anne Anderson on drums joined shortly after. The bass and drum spots changed throughout the band’s career, but Sparks and Gardner have been through it all. L7 may not formally identify as a riot grrrl band, fitting more into the grunge scene, but their timing and musical content make them relevant to the broader movement. 

L7’s politics are no secret. Early in their career, the band organized the Rock for Choice benefit concert to raise money for abortion access. This benefit, started in 1991, continued every year until 2001, when the band started their “indefinite hiatus.” The venue featured both fellow riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill and allies like the Foo Fighters and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. L7’s activism is still strong. Their first new song after the conclusion of their 18-year hiatus, “Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago” was released in 2017. They followed this with “I Came Back to Bitch” in 2018, with lines like “throw some bloody rags of fun” referring to their earlier days when Donita Sparks took out her tampon on stage and threw it into a mud-throwing crowd. (Forget bra burning, tampon throwing is the riot grrrl way.) Their latest album, this year’s Alfa Y Omega, even includes the line “make no mistake – lock us up, lock us up” in the song “Burn Baby.”

Outside of their original work, you can find hints of L7’s feminism in their covers. Hear/see for yourself…

L7 – Hanging on the Telephone (The Nerves/Blondie cover)

Here at Cover Me, we’ve talked about “Hanging on the Telephone” before. Briefly, this song was released on an EP of a short-lived band, The Nerves, but it gained a new life when it was picked up by Blondie. “Hanging on the Telephone” became Blondie’s second single on the album that gave them mainstream status, Parallel Lines. Although the song starts with a different ringtone, the edge of the L7 version of this song is closer to the version by The Nerves. However, L7 replaces the simple guitar line and measured percussion with heavier guitar, including a short yet shredding solo, and more prominent drums. The melody in the vocals tapers off to a raspy caterwaul at times. Riot grrrls aren’t hanging on the telephone for anybody.

L7 – Loudmouth (The Ramones cover)

Let’s just reflect on how a song that repeats the lines “You’re a loudmouth baby / You better shut up / I’m going to beat you up” over and over again does not age well. Somehow, L7 manages to reclaim the “loudmouth” label, and by refusing to shut up, delivers an ironically delivered cover. The punctuating cymbal links the original and the cover. This cover was performed during the reign of the original drummer, Anne Anderson, before she was replaced in 1990 by Demetra Plakas. 

L7 – Used to Love Him (Guns N’ Roses cover)

Speaking of song lyrics that don’t vibe right, here’s another cringe worthy line: “I used to love her, oh yeah but I had to kill her/ I had to put her six feet under.” By changing the pronouns, again L7 twists the song in a way that makes us reevaluate the original. The Guns N’ Roses’s guitar is played with a lazy strum: just the usual laid-back discussion of killing someone. L7’s guitar playing is heftier, so much so that the vocals, when sung, are almost buried at times. Just when you think the guitar solo is taking over the song, though, the vocals re-emerge with a yell. 

L7 – Three Days (Faron Young/Willie Nelson cover)

This song was written by Willie Nelson, but originally recorded by Faron Young (of “Hello Walls” fame) before Nelson reclaimed it for his own debut album. The upbeat sock-hop style music of the original distracts from the depressing lyrics: “Three days that I hate to see arrive / Three days that I hate to be alive / Three days filled with tears and sorrow / Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” These lyrics sound much more at home in the L7 style, often recited rather than sung. In the middle of the song, there is an abrupt change from the forceful guitar and raw vocals to a style closer to the original. After a brief interlude with lighter, melodic singing and swing-style background music, the song transitions back to the L7 we know and love. 

L7 – This Ain’t the Summer of Love (Blue Öyster Cult cover)

This Blue Öyster Cult song comes from the Agents of Fortune album that also brought us “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” L7’s style is similar to that of the original. The vocals are delivered a little bit more harshly, but the instruments match BOC’s stridency. Plus, I love a good cover that shows up in a movie; this one appeared on the soundtrack for the ’90s horror movie I Know What You Did Last Summer. Not the summer of love, indeed. This cover was made after bassist Jennifer Finch left the band in the mid-’90s, but she came back for L7’s reunion in 2015. 

Want to learn more about L7? Check out the documentary about the band L7: Pretend We’re Dead.

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