For non-fans, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is the only Joy Division song. Released well after lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide, it was their first single to make the main UK chart and any US chart and so it is, for most people, Joy Division’s one hit. (Unless you live in New Zealand.) Fairly uncharacteristic of their sound (it sounds more like New Order), its success is the kind of thing that annoys fans of influential cult bands who have one mainstream hit. But it’s their hit and so it is Joy Division’s most-covered song many times over.
“Golden Slumbers” is one of the more over-the-top moments from the famous medley which closes the Beatles’ Abbey Road. It’s not really a song so much as a song-fragment and, in the medley, it’s sequenced between the brief but complete song “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and the fragment “Carry That Weight.” “Golden Slumbers,” like most Beatles songs credited to Lennon-McCartney, was actually an adaptation by McCartney of a poem by Thomas Dekker.
“Roses are Free” is a bit of a transitional song for Ween. Contained on their first professional-sounding album, Chocolate and Cheese, it sounds closer to their earlier sound than just about any other track on that record, in part due to Gene’s high-pitched vocals. The song is a litany of advice, many of it absurd, which suggests that following social conventions without thinking may not get you anywhere.
La Roux, the English singer (formerly a duo), is not the first person you’d expect to cover Gang of Four. A synthpop artist, she’s appeared on Cover Me a few times over the last decade. And synthpop did sort of emerge from post-punk. Still, Gang of Four’s sound is so angular and so aggressive it’s not something you really associate with synthpoppers.
“Damaged Goods” was Gang of Four’s first ever single and it does an excellent job of introducing listeners to Gang of Four’s famous fusion of angry British punk and American funk. La Roux’s new cover is a lot less aggressive. The music is peppy, dancey synthpop instead of the staccato bass and guitar opening of the original. And even when it moves into its groove, the original is still edgy. La Roux’s vocals also hide the anger: her voice is a high-pitched croon, in comparison to Jon King’s speak-shouting in the original.
The tenor of La Roux’s cover never really changes, which is why it’s important to watch the music video. A little over halfway through the song, La Roux starts assaulting a microwave with a bat. Apparently it’s Gang of Four’s microwave and their bat. Regardless, it’s the only thing that actually reveals the aggression in the original’s lyrics.
The Velvet Underground famously experienced minimal commercially success in their lifetime, but many of their songs have slowly found their way into the popular consciousness. One of those is “Rock & Roll” from Loaded, their last album with primary songwriter Lou Reed (the last proper Velvets album period, as far as most fans are concerned).
The longest and most ambitious track on Wilco’s breakout album Summerteeth, “Via Chicago” is both a showcase for that album’s elaborate, sophisticated production and a preview of the weird places Wilco would go on their acclaimed followup, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. For LA singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels’ more traditional cover, she’s joined by country rockers Ohtis, who reunited in 2019 after 15 years, and only then put out their debut album.