Archive for the '(Bad) Cover Version' Category

29
Sep
13

(Bad) Cover Version #18: ‘Simon Says’ by Peter Simon (1990)

The origin of the cover: Released as a single
Original recording artist: 1910 Fruitgum Company
Grade: F

‘Going Live!’, most likely, is one of the few television programmes where the majority of its regular human cast members released a single.

Phillip Schofield’s ‘Close Every Door’ – a blatant cash-in from ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ – was the most successful of these releases, reaching Number 27 in November 1992.

Jennifer Juniper’ – a charity single for Shelter – by the Singing Corner meets Donovan (AKA comedy duo, Trevor and Simon, and *THE* Donovan) also charted, peaking at Number 68 in November 1990.

Meanwhile, Sarah Greene’s only single, ‘Eeny Meenie’, flopped in 1983. Both of those releases had some interesting ideas, but were nothing more than short-lived curiosities.

And there was also Peter Simon, the presenter of game show segments ‘Double Dare’ and ‘Run The Risk’. Incidentally, Shane Richie, who was Simon’s first co-presenter on ‘Run The Risk’, had a Number 2 hit with ‘I’m Your Man’ in November 2003.

The concept of Peter Simon covering 1910 Fruitgum Company’s ‘Simon Says’ sounds ludicrous enough to work, but it also seems well suited to his affable personality. After all, he manages to make the shopping channel, Bid, look entertaining.

Unfortunately, though, the reality of this cover version leaves an unpleasant taste.

Although it is faithful to the original – with the exception of Simon’s troubled Poochie-esque rap – it still ends up being the musical equivalent of Bombalurina covering a Black Lace song.

The backing track is like a dentist’s drill being inserted into your brain, but it’s Simon’s complete disregard for dignity that is most concerning.

The song’s strong whiff of cheese is excusable, but it also sounds nonsensical and hideously puerile to the extent that it makes Roland Rat Superstar’s ‘Rat Rapping’ sound as deep and meaningful as Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’.

‘Simon Says’ is simply inadequate in every single department.

This is, without a doubt, Peter Simon’s lowest moment. It’s even worse than ‘Star Pets’, which says it all.

29
Jun
13

(Bad) Cover Version #17: ‘Connection’ by Collapsed Lung (1995)

The origin of the cover: Released as a single (part of the Deceptive Christmas Singles 1995 series)
Original recording artist: Elastica
Grade: C-

The pop culture website, Freaky Trigger, published a poll about Britpop bands yesterday, which got me thinking about the genre and its cover versions.

While there have been plenty of cover versions by Britpop bands – The Bluetones’ version of TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’ and Sleeper covering Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ spring to mind – I can’t recall many covers of Britpop songs that weren’t by Blur, Oasis and Pulp. [EDIT: one of the few was Elvis Costello’s fine cover of Sleeper’s ‘What Do I Do Now?’, which delighted Louise Wener on ITV’s ‘The Chart Show’; thanks goes to Simon Tyers for reminding me about it.]

Even discovering covers of the biggest Britpop hits – such as ‘The Day We Caught the Train’, ‘Wake Up Boo!’ and ‘Alright’ – would be difficult.

That’s a shame, to a certain extent, because many Britpop acts – including the likes of Shed Seven, Sleeper, Space and The Bluetones – were similar in that they had a number of good singles to their name, but struggled to come up with an equally good album.

Some of their worst moments were formulaic at best but, in essence, many of their singles had strong beats and structures. Songs such as ‘Nice Guy Eddie’ and ‘Slight Return’ would make good cover versions – by the right artist, of course.

One exception to the above was Elastica’s ‘Connection’, which was covered by Collapsed Lung in 1995.

I wouldn’t lump Collapsed Lung into the Britpop genre – interestingly, their Wikipedia entry describes them as “Rap rock” and “[B]ritpop” – but I can see why people would want to.

When you think about it, the definition of Britpop is so broad, and subsequently vague, that any British guitar band from the mid-1990s could – rightly or wrongly – be described as Britptop.

But, even if this cover doesn’t work particularly well, it doesn’t suffer by comparison to Elastica.

This is because ‘Connection’ isn’t a good song to cover in the first place.

Not because it’s a bad song – far from it – but because its success was based on a limited number of unique qualities: the sample of Wire’s ‘Three Girl Rhumba’, the aggressive groans during the breaks, and the presence of Justine Frischmann.

It initially sounds very robust but, when you take away those three elements, substance really isn’t the song’s strongest point. And, because it is such a simple and distinctive song, ‘Connection’ is difficult to reinvent.

To be fair to Collapsed Lung, this cover has some depth and intrigue – even if it isn’t as fun as the original. Adding a gritty electro element is a nice twist, but it really lacks Elastica’s slickness.

The main problem lies with its muddled approach: Collapsed Lung’s attempt to change the dynamics of ‘Connection’ is conflicted by going for damage limitation and staying faithful to the original.

It never sounds sloppy or awkward, but the song’s confused state of mind lingers throughout. And, even if the structure of Elastica’s version is more throwaway, at least its signal of intent is clear from the very start.

It’s not a fantastic cover version, and it’s also one of Collapsed Lung’s lesser moments, but it remains faintly worthwhile.

17
Mar
13

(Bad) Cover Version #16: ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ by Metal Mickey (1983)

The origin of the cover: Released as a single
Original recording artist: The Beatles
Grade: D

The act of a fictional robot covering The Beatles sounds abnormal and fey. It even sounds slightly deranged.

But what remains even stranger is that this cover was not Metal Mickey’s début single. He had already released FOUR singles prior to the release of ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’.

His first single, a version of the Chordettes’ ‘Lollipop’, was issued by EMI in January 1979, just months after the robot made one of his earliest television appearances on Southern Television’s ‘The Saturday Banana’.

Meanwhile, on BBC One’s ‘Nationwide’, John Stapleton described him as a “friendly and an occasionally tuneful robot to keep you company while you work”. Yes, quite.

After the arrival of London Weekend Television’s family sitcom ‘Metal Mickey’ (produced and directed by Micky Dolenz, fact fans) in 1980, three further flops were released on Mickeypops Records: ‘Metal Mickey Magic’, ‘Sillycon Chipp’ and ‘Do The Funky Robot’. They all, quite frankly, sound terrible.

And then came ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’, a cover that doesn’t have any right to be good.

The problem with covering this particular song is that some artists can easily fall into the trap of coming across as needy and desperate, or just plain creepy.

Even worse, they could be dealt with a triple whammy of sounding needy, desperate AND creepy.

And this problem can be multiplied by a hundred if it involves a robot of some kind – especially one that has most likely uttered the words “[c]all my baby lollipop” on vinyl.

But, to be fair, this is a sweet – albeit extremely dated – version, and its relaxed tone certainly prevents it from becoming sinister.

More pressing issues, however, lie with the song’s production. Not only is it flimsy and sluggish but – astonishingly, for a song that lasts just over two minutes – it starts to outstay its welcome at the end.

The production ends up being far too weak to make any long-lasting impression, and it really lacks the glam rock fun of the theme music to ‘Metal Mickey’.

As a cover, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ just about makes the grade but, in all honesty, it offers nothing more than a brief fling of intrigue.

06
Feb
13

(Bad) Cover Version #15: ‘Teenage Kicks’ by Crush (1996)

The origin of the cover: Album track on ‘Teenage Kicks’
Original recording artist: The Undertones
Grade: D-

Regarding chart success, spin-off singles from the children’s television drama, ‘Byker Grove’, have been a very mixed bag.

PJ & Duncan AKA, Point Break, Freefaller and Summer Matthews all reached the UK Top 40, but a similar number of acts flopped.

Grove Matrix, whose line-up featured PJ & Duncan AKA, failed to reach the Top 75 with their only single, 1993’s ‘Rip It Up’. Charley had also suffered the same fate in 1990 with ‘The Best Thing’.

Two other flop acts, meanwhile, included two ‘Byker Grove’ actresses: Jayni Hoy and Donna Air.

In December 1994, Hoy and Air teamed up with fellow ‘Byker Grove’ star Victoria Taylor to release ‘Love Your Sexy…!!’, under the Byker Grooove! band name, for the Christmas market.

The one-off single sounded like a no-frills version of Shampoo and, unsurprisingly, never peaked beyond Number 48 in the UK Singles Chart.

And, although the trio still participated in music magazine shoots during the early months of 1995, Taylor left the music industry, and Hoy and Air were known as pop duo Crush by 1996.

Their sound was lighter, and had some traces of airheaded Britpop, but they still struggled to make a commercial breakthrough: ‘Jellyhead’ stalled at Number 50 in February 1996 and their follow-up single, ‘Luv’d Up’, fared little better, peaking at Number 45 in July 1996.

However, in the USA, ‘Jellyhead’ became a minor hit in the Billboard Hot 100, and they were tipped to “give the Spice Girls a run for their money”.

Also, they released their début album, ‘Teenage Kicks’ (which included THREE songwriting collaborations with Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell), in Japan and South Korea. And that’s where it begins to look a bit more interesting.

‘Teenage Kicks’ featured three covers: The Go-Go’s ‘We Got The Beat’, Blondie’s ‘Picture This’ and, inevitably, The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’.

Yes, that’s right, the album showcased DONNA AIR COVERING ‘TEENAGE KICKS’. And that’s exactly when this cover stops being interesting.

Technically, there isn’t much wrong with it; there’s a little bit of light Garbage, with splodges of Sleeper and Pulp elsewhere.

But, while ‘Jellyhead’ and ‘Luv’d Up’ were faintly catchy, this cover has very little to offer.

Crush have gone down the credibility route and, even if it does sound perfectly competent, no thought or imagination has been put into this cover.

‘Teenage Kicks’ just sounds depressingly familiar to the original, and not a single foot-tap was made while listening to it.

Don’t get me wrong, this could have been a lot worse. After all, the sheer thought of Donna Air covering John Peel’s favourite song is enough to drive anyone to the bottle.

But, to be perfectly honest, hearing a car crash of a cover would have been more entertaining than a vapid interpretation that just plods along to the next album track.

You won’t remember a single second of it, trust me. It’s that pointless.

29
Nov
12

(Bad) Cover Version #14: ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Frank Bruno (1995)

The origin of the cover: Released as a single
Original recording artist: Survivor
Grade: F

If you want to discover minor hit singles by media stars, the 1995 UK Singles Christmas Chart is for you.

Michael Barrymore’s ‘Too Much For One Heart’ charted at Number 25, and was surely an inspiration for Father Dick Byrne’s ‘The Miracle is Mine’.

Meanwhile, Mr Blobby’s ‘Christmas in Blobbyland’ – which peaked at Number 36 – was more like a selection of conversations with Noel Edmonds, with added choirboys, than an actual song.

And then there was Frank Bruno.

Regarding bad cover versions, the boxer teaming up with Mike Stock and Matt Aitken to cover Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ sounds like a match made in heaven.

This is especially the case if you have heard Bruno’s vocal performance during his, Sam Fox, Bruno Brookes and Liz Kershaw’s reworking of Mike Sarne and Wendy Richard’s ‘Come Outside’ for the 1991 Children In Need appeal.

But, on the surface, this cover doesn’t seem too bad.

There’s no denying that it is sub-standard, and the production duo are going through the motions, but it wouldn’t look out of place on a cheaply assembled “sporting anthems” compilation.

Then it hits you. This cover doesn’t feature ANY creative input from Bruno.

All there is are some cheap Hi-NRG production and an unknown session singer, who isn’t credited in the sleeve notes AT ALL.

And, to make matters worse, BMG Records were more than happy to give Sky Sports a plug, as their commentary for Bruno’s world championship victory was sampled, but they couldn’t even credit the song’s only vocalist.

However, by Christmas 1995, this was nothing new.

For example, in May 1995, The Farm were given a mere production credit for Everton FC’s ‘All Together Now’, despite the former performing the majority of the song.

You would expect Bruno’s single to be a novelty cover but, sadly, this isn’t the case. At the time, it represented a new low and it still remains a complete rip-off.

It also shows that Stock and Aitken only care about money and chart performance. For instance, Stock told Billboard in July 1996:

“Record shops have become like libraries – they are repositories of knowledge. I believe if a record shop looked like McDonald’s, red and yellow and fun-looking, they would sell more records.”

But the worst thing about Bruno’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is that the public was fooled by this stunt; it peaked at Number 28 in the UK Singles Chart.

Just imagine the look on little Billy’s face when he played Bruno’s single for the first time on Christmas Day.

And I don’t care if this version sounds barely passable – that’s dull. I want to hear Bruno making a dog’s dinner of it.

Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Frank Bruno: shame on you.

And, if anyone says that Stock and Aitken care about music, just object and show them this single.

25
Oct
12

(Bad) Cover Version #13: ‘Agadoo’ by Chumbawamba (1992)

The origin of the cover: Recorded during a Peel Session
Original recording artist: Black Lace
Grade: B+

John Peel liked cover versions. He never liked the bog-standard replicas, but he enjoyed thoughtful cover versions.

For example, in January 2004, he told ‘The World Today’: “When somebody comes along and does something original that you wouldn’t have expected, then that is particularly welcome.”

Chumbawamba seemed like a group who would throw such a curveball.

In fact, when they recorded a Peel Session on 2 August 1992, they only performed cover versions.

Their interpretations of ‘Knock Three Times’ and ‘Y Viva España’ were perhaps a bit too wishy-washy, while their ‘Birdie Song’ instrumental was never going to be memorable.

However, the opener for this Peel Session, a version of Black Lace’s ‘Agadoo’, has aged particularly well.

It’s clearly a camp joke, but it’s also clever and subtle. Praise, of course, must go to the band for this – being conservative was not Chumbawamba’s forté during the Alice Nutter and Danbert Nobacon era.

It even sounds similar to the original – it still has the familiar tinpot sound while retaining the calypsos.

And, of course, this was the right decision.

The track didn’t need any extra cheese – and the idea of Chumbawamba covering ‘Agadoo’ should be enough of a novelty without it becoming a farce.

The fact that Chumbawamba haven’t cheaply and cynically gone for laughs means that it’s still an unexpected cover.

Instead, they have relied on their charm and craftsmanship to ensure that this cover works as a song. And it’s all the better for it.

Chumbawamba were never going to turn ‘Agadoo’ into a great song, but it’s still a great cover.

They have proven that anyone can polish a turd.

02
Sep
12

(Bad) Cover Version #12: ‘I Know What Boys Like’ by Shampoo (1996)

The origin of the cover: Released as a single
Original recording artist: The Waitresses
Grade: F

I’m not afraid to defend the musical merits of Shampoo.

For example, ‘Trouble’ was irritatingly catchy and infectious – the duo got the song’s cheeky teenage angst down to a tee and the track was a lot of fun.

Although their follow-up singles, including ‘Viva La Megababes’ and ‘Girl Power’, were vacuous and shallow, they still had stains of likeability.

And, best of all, their songwriting collaboration with Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs in 2000 brought about a number of credible ditties including ‘Shampoo’s Cupboard‘.

When it came to covers, though, Shampoo were like a group from ‘The X Factor’.

This doesn’t mean that their cover versions were bad but, for them to be good, they needed to pick the right song.

Their version of East 17’s ‘House Of Love’ (which appeared on their début album, ‘We Are Shampoo’) was performed without a hint of irony and, minus Tony Mortimer’s rapping, almost sounded like a replica of the original.

Similarly, their cover of Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ (a b-side to 1996’s ‘Girl Power’) had a low-budget sound and was a little rough around the edges but, as per usual, it had its quirks.

Meanwhile, The Rezillos’ ‘Top Of The Pops‘, a b-side to ‘War Paint‘ was also faithfully covered by the girls and suited their rebellious streak.

And their next cover, The Waitresses’ ‘I Know What Boys Like’, looked like a good choice on paper. After all, Shampoo clearly modelled their sound and look on the likes of Fuzzbox and The Waitresses.

The original was deliberately raw, clunky and repetitive – they were, in fact, qualities that made the track likeable. In that respect, ‘Trouble’ was a very similar song but this cover doesn’t work at all.

‘I Know What Boys Like’ should be a contemporary-free zone; it doesn’t need slick production and there definitely shouldn’t be any clichéd guitar solos.

Shampoo ignored key elements of this song at their peril and, subsequently, it ripped out the original’s good humour and subtlety.

And, unlike The Waitresses’ version, this was not tongue-in-cheek; it sounded tacky and boorish. Not only is it embarrassing, but it’s the musical equivalent of middle-aged women wearing mini-skirts.

At best, it’s a mess and, to make matters worse, it still sounds like someone vomiting all over a Helen Love record.

They really should have known better.




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