The Worst Cover Songs Ever, part 2
Invasores de Cérebros: Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
Like the alchemists who toiled through the dark ages, I personally experienced a dark age approximately eight years ago during which I tried relentlessly to figure out what link could be found between the Stooges and Discharge. The closest I came was a half-baked theory, expounded in excited text messages to friends, about the similarities between in the riffs of “Fight Back” and “1970.” Several years later, while in a Barcelona record shop, I stumbled across a 7" by Brazil’s Invasores de Cérebros. I’d never heard of them before, but one passes up cheap South American punk(-ish)/metal(-ish) records at one’s peril. It turns out their singer did time in some of the earliest and most important Brazilian punk bands, Restos de Nada and Inocentes. Needless to say, Invasores de Cérebros don’t quite reach those bands’ achievements. But this thrashcore cover of the Stooges, complete with a d-beat, demonstrates how the alchemical attempt to turn lead into gold sometimes does the opposite. But even lead has its value.
Stuhlzapfchen Von “N”: Discharge “Drunk With Power”
What exactly this Brazilian band’s name means is unclear. I think it’s pseudo-German for “nuclear suppository.” But maybe not. Despite the 1986 release as Stuhlzapfchen Von “N”, the band was actually A.R.D. (After Radioactive Destruction), a street-metal outfit that started in 1984 and is still kicking today. Maniacs may note that they hail from Gama, the same small city as cult Dis-core stalwarts Besthöven. Anyway, among the hundreds of Discharge covers one can find, this hardcore-bequeaths-black-metal-by-virtue-of-ineptitude version is singular. Can you hear the sound of an enormous door slamming in the depths of hell, on the fingers of the guitarist of Stuhlzapfchen Von “N”? Either that or the guitarist was experiencing hypothermia during the recording—unlikely for a band from the tropics. The crystal-clear double-tracked vocals are the whipped cream on this frozen cow-pie.
Eric Hysteric: O. Rex “Suzi” (retitled “Kleine Susie”)
From the outskirts of Frankfurt, the Wasted Vinyl label, led by one Eric Hysteric, founded a niche market in puerile, primitive, inept just-this-side-of-hardcore punk in the early 1980s. The most well-known band to emerge from this sewer was Vomit Visions, whose drunken forays into potty punk are loathed by collectors ‘round the world. Buried at the end of “A Taste of Waste,” a cassette discography of the Wasted Vinyl label (man, what a great label name!), which also includes tracks that never made it to vinyl, is this sub-sub-sub-rudimentary Germanicized cover of a tune by O. Rex about Suzi Quattro. For those who don’t know: O. Rex was a Brooklyn-based 1976 project of Kenne Highland of the Gizmos, the quintessential Midwest fanzine-editor garage band (which straddled the punk explosion). O. Rex’s lone homemade single is devastatingly rare and has never been reissued. It is one of the most simple, lo-fi, and adolescent records ever produced. Also notable is its tune “My Head’s in 73,” referring to the year most would consider the worst the world had seen since 1945, nevertheless a halcyon one for the post-hippie/pre-punk community of basement-dwelling teenaged rock fanzine scribes. In fact, O. Rex as a band began in 1973, but they didn’t record the record for another three years. By then, music trends had changed, so it only seemed appropriate to look back wistfully on the days before disco. The Wasted Vinyl bands (Eric Hysteric, Vomit Visions, Der Durstige Mann) managed to capture the in-joke fanzine-rock sensibility and put their own perverse and noisy stamp on it, and I surmise that this cover of O. Rex shows that the only folks across the ocean who shared this sensibility found each other at the time. It’s quite a lovely thought, actually.
Vomit Visions: Velvet Underground “Waiting for My Man”
Also included on “A Taste of Waste” is this 1979 live version of one of the most overexposed songs in rock history. Wait for my man Eric Hysteric to smack you with feedback, static, and all-around sonic narcosis. The liner notes tell all: “Many groups played this punk-standard to death, the VOMIT VISIONS killed it for all time. If you know a worse version of this song, you are asked to contact us!” I’m sure they’re still waiting for a reply.
Chosen Few: Coloured Balls “Won’t You Make Up Your Mind”
As I have mentioned, Lobby Loyde told the execs at Stiff Records circa 1976 that he’d already invented the new sound and ‘tude they were now peddling at least three years earlier. “Won’t You Make Up Your Mind” is the shortest, punkest track on Coloured Balls’ masterful album “Ball Power.” This nitroglycerine-laden version, by fellow Australians Chosen Few, begins to explain why exactly it was that pound-for-pound Australia had the finest first-wave punk scene of any country on earth. With the head-start provided by bands like Coloured Balls, the addition of drugs, alcohol, and irate tantrums put bands like Chosen Few into the punk stratosphere. Chosen Few’s “A Root and a Beer” CD offers a veritable cornucopia of pissed-off riff-monster cover versions. Their take on “Hard Lovin’ Man,” as inspired by Johnny Moped, is scarily angry, and their out-of-tune, high-speed version of Birdman’s “New Race” makes the “really gonna punch you out” metaphor seem no longer to be about the new sound and now to be quite literal. For those taking notes, a slightly less noisy live recording of “Won’t You Make Up Your Mind” lurks on the “Do the Manic!” LP released by Existential Vacuum.
Crash Action Winners: Red Crayola “Hurricane Fighter Plane” (retitled “Texas Girls”)
Hailing from Swansea, in Wales, Crash Action Winners was essentially a one-off 1980 side project of the school-boy pseudo-intellectual art-punk band What to Wear. Their goal was to produce a record that could pass as a lost American 60s record. Its otherworldly crudity makes it sound not of its own time for sure, but I doubt anyone would have believed it could have been made in the 60s either. (The search for records this crude from the 60s is akin to a little story called The Odyssey.) The front of the Crash Action Winners EP sleeve depicts a collage of classic 60s vinyl, like Music Machine, the Seeds, and 13th Floor Elevators, hinting that teenage record collectors were to blame for the swirl of noise therein—akin to a hurricane perchance? Someone give the drummer a trophy, please! Apparently, Mayo Thompson, who originally penned the tune, was quoted as saying the cover was “brave but misguided.” That sums up the shit-fi aesthetic quite well, don’t you think?
Screamin’ Mee-Mees & Hot Scott Fischer: Velvet Underground “Sister Ray” (retitled “Sister Ray Revisited”)
This work of art’s resemblance to the original is tenuous at best. But Screamin’ Mee-Mees’ version one of the most inspired, bizarre, disorienting, and trying covers I have ever heard. It is included on a double CD collection of 72/73 recordings by these long-time St. Louis weirdos. They are one of the defining examples of shit-fi music, and this double CD must be considered a psychedelic experience just because it is so difficult to maintain one’s sane equilibrium while listening. It’s a drugged-out, nonsensical, improvised long-form cacophony that sets the bar for outsider art in music. Abstruseness and impenetrability are shown here not to be not the territory of only “high art.” If I had to define what a band should do to avoid ever being labeled “cool,” Screamin’ Mee-Mees would be the epitome.
SPK: Metal Urbain “Panik”
This 1979 live version of “Panik” by French industrial-punk originators Metal Urbain surfaced first on a 10" bootleg limited to 27 copies(!) and then appeared on one of the LPs included in the enormous and pricey SPK boxset released last year by Vinyl-on-Demand. SPK took punk’s aggressiveness but stripped away any vestige of the rockism that accompanied it; in their quest to leave the industrialized world of Fordist production behind—as capitalism was at the time accelerating deindustrialization in the countries where punk was first emerging—they created “industrial” music. This sound took the detritus of nearly ruined planet and tossed it back, sans thank-you note. It was not a recuperation that longed for a return to the so-called Golden Age of Capitalism, nor did it, at least in SPK’s hands, recall the proto-fascist techno-fetishism of the Futurists. Instead, it was an experiment in ugliness. That SPK took their name from a group of left-wing radicals who saw “mental illness” as resulting from capitalism rather than biology—uh, they’re on to something—gives us an idea of how their disorienting noise was intended to thrust the listener out of the comfortable conformity of everyday life, complete with its easy-listening tuneage, in order to realize that, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin, there is no music of civilization that is not at once the music of barbarism.
The Silver: Beach Boys via Ramones “Do You Wana Dance”
Widely accepted as one of the worst records ever made (though most haven’t heard the Silver’s other single), this prepubescent cover of “Do You Wanna Dance” is hilarious and infectious. There is nothing resembling musical aptitude on display by the children who recorded this song, but it nonetheless has transcendent qualities that keep people coming back to it. In fact, the record was the subject of a presentation at Experience Music Project’s pop conference a few years back, which was also the impetus for the 500-copy fanclub reissue of the record, putting the tune in the hands of the cognoscenti. Rumors abound regarding the band; I’ve heard they were the children of music-industry executives. That story could explain how they were able to have released two records, which are both extremely rare. As I am fond of saying, this is the kind of record you play either to end or begin a party, depending on what kind of party it is.
Outsiders: Eddie Cochran “Summertime Blues”
Fear of wading into the morass of worthy-but-not-quite-extreme-enough cover versions by US 60s garage acts nearly kept me from including the Outsiders. Instead, I was going to point to Blue Cheer’s peerless version of “Summertime Blues,” but considering that MTV already has featured that song as a precursor to heavy metal, I figured there’s no need to hype it further. In contrast, the Outsiders’ raw and raucous version of the Eddie Cochran classic, covered to death by a thousand other bands, stands out as one of the highlights of pre-hippie 60s rock. Loud, dumb, and lacking anything akin to subtlety is the way I like it. In that sense, this 67 version has affinities with Blue Cheer’s, but it manages to avoid the self-conscious indulgence that Haight-Ashbury would offer within a year or so as the right way for rocknrollers to get off.
Index: Supremes “You Keep Me Hanging On”
Meanwhile, in Grosse Pointe, distant from though geographically near Motown, Index recorded their otherworldly first album, to my mind the greatest private-press LP of the hippie era. It included two covers: this one and “Eight Miles High.” In contrast to Vanilla Fudge’s version of this Supremes hit, Index’s version is not self-consciously or ostentatiously psychedelic. Instead, it’s an unsuspecting amalgam of surf, early Velvet Underground’s noise—though it’s not clear they’d heard VU—and all-around teenaged drug-stupor un-professionalism. In Platonic philosophy, mimesis is the imitation of the ideal available to God alone. What humans are capable of producing in everyday life is inherently a pale representation, and art is an even paler representation of the ideal types. Index, in contrast, shows not that God is dead, just that Plato had it backwards: mere mortals can mime miraculously. It helps if they record in the place Plato knew well—a cave.
U-Turns: Love “7 and 7 Is”
This four-track all-covers 7" came out a couple years back. Reputedly, these songs were found on a reel discovered in a thriftstore, and nothing is known about the band. It is heart-wrenching to have to choose which of the tunes is the worst, but I went with the least predictable one here. Like the Bags’ thoroughly 70s-punk version of this song, the U-Turns’ version skips the hippie-dippie just-back-from-a-wild-trip-maan original coda. Here, the drummer—for some reason loudest in the mix on some of the tracks—is arrhythmic at his best; the bashful vocalist passes the mic in front of his face every third word or so; and the guitar tone sounds a bit like a four-cylinder Yugo on a steep incline, pushing 6,000 RPMs and about to die. Actually, I wonder if the members switch off instruments from song to song, because I don’t think the mumbler on the A side is the same as the crooner on the B side, where their version of “Get Off of My Cloud” approaches the sublime. To ensure the raucous atmosphere these miscreants (and their friends—or enemies?—in the room) yell at each other during the performance: “Come on, louder!” If it’s true that this recording dates to 67, it’s gotta be the one of the worst recordings of that decade. Transcendently awful, really. I have a vague suspicion that it’s of more recent vintage, but even if that’s true, the recording is so dismal that it’d still be remarkable. Hell, if this record were made in the future, it’d be an achievement.
This is the second of three installments.