The Worst Cover Songs Ever, part 3
Takuu: Sekunda “Suomi Vapaaksi”
How do you say “polished turd” in Finnish? “Takuu,” methinks. “Liberate Finland” is translation of the song title here, and boy is this ever the sound of teenagers liberating themselves from the bonds of society. What’s special about this track, finally released on vinyl last year, is that it’s an obscure shit-fi hardcore band covering another obscure shit-fi hardcore band. Like Kuolema covering Terveet Kädet around the same time (Takuu also covered TK) or Eizen covering Autodefensa (or the legendary and seemingly nonexistent Discharge covers tape recorded by Poison Idea), this is the stuff of tape traders’ wet dreams. Trust me. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Finland and the Basque Country both have long lists of extremely rough and raging insular 80s hardcore obscurities: the bands supported each other and made music expressly for themselves. Listen to these 20-odd seconds of voice-cracking proto-grind, and you’ll see that neither Takuu nor Sekunda, who wanted to be the fastest Finnish band of all time (in 1982), set out to please, or even communicate with, outsiders. Unlike, say, Kansan Uutiset’s almost contemporaneous “I Wanna Fuck Your Dog” (yes, “Fuck”—and the demo version, it must be noted, is wonderfully atrocious), Takuu’s cover of Sekunda signals a constitutive shift in punk rock. It was beginning to stand on its own feet. Where once punk defined itself wholly in the negative, by what it was not, now it was tentatively beginning to shape the affirmative contours of a movement.
Galactic Symposium: Cream “Sunshine of Your Love”
You may feel compelled to blow a few lines and drop your computer out the window after listening to Galactic Symposium destroy “Sunshine of Your Love,” perhaps the best of the worst. (Also, let's just pause and note how integral to punk Eric Clapton was: his overt racism almost single-handedly launched Rock Against Racism.) The Galactic mob recorded an entire album, finally released a few years ago, of ribald, raucous, and uproarious covers of hit tunes, including “Paranoid” by Sabbath and, most famously because it was the A-side of their Peel-approved single, “YMCA.” That song, more so than the others, underscores just how camp this business of destructo-covering pop music is. Although UK DIY bands like The Door and the Window were no cabaret or lounge acts, Galactic Symposium, along with Phones Sportsman Band’s boffo, louche singing (of a Slade song, for chrissake), accentuate the queer undercurrent that fed punk rock even as punk rockers so often disavowed it.
Sick Things: Cockney Rejects “Head Banger”
Perhaps it’s because toilets flush counterclockwise in Australia, making the shit go down differently, but whatever the cause, the list of nihilistic shit-fi music from there is lengthy. Melbourne’s Sick Things, who mostly recorded from 1980 to 1981, are remembered for producing a posthumous 45 that is hardcore by default just because it’s such rough, violent, and needles-pegged punk rock. There are more than two whole LPs’ worth (even more posthumous) of other material, all recorded live on 2-track tape, but none of it quite matches the single, “Committed to Suicide.” One of the LPs, “The Sounds of Silence,” includes this cover of Cockney Rejects’ take on the Motörhead sound. I was never sure if the original was a pisstake, but this sandpaper, pills, and fisticuffs version is serious listening. The way the tune dissolves into a squall of feedback and noise where the solo should be, only to re-emerge on the other side in the chorus, could make Takashi Mizutani, of Rallizes, a jealous man. Their other LP, “My Life’s a Mess,” includes more covers than originals, with Discharge, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and the Partisans among them. But none reaches the cage-fight aggression of this one.
Merciless Game: Confuse “Merciless Game”
Buried at the end of an under-the-radar split 7" between two no-count noise-core bands is this laser-accurate cover of Confuse’s “Merciless Game.” The band, which takes its name from the song, is a bedroom project of a friend and contributor to Shit-Fi, Zach Howard. Although Kyushu noise-core has become somewhat trendy in recent years, thanks largely to Myspace, Zach is no trendoid, and the attention to detail heard on this cover is proof. The fan spirit here is much like that of Eric Hysteric’s cover of O. Rex; the difference is that Zach can actually play all the instruments (more or less). This cover’s uncanny verisimilitude stands out in a sea of pale imitators who mostly match the disparate parts of Confuse’s sound without achieving the glorious headache-inducing sum.
Germs: Archies “Sugar Sugar”
The classic suck-fi recording of the Germs live at the Whisky in June 1977, eventually released as the “Germicide” LP, showcases Bobby Pyn et al at their just-shy-of-comatose, hebetudinous finest. Of course one needs to balance this recording with “Lexicon Devil” to understand the whole spectrum that was the Germs, but the trainwreck—existential and of musical ability—heard here remains an intense voyeuristic thrill. Ryan Richardson has written that the “crushing lack of musicianship” of this recording “should serve as inspiration to any would-be punk rock band member.” Indeed. It might similarly lead to suicide, but it’ll have been worthwhile in the end.
Titmachine: Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog”
Titmachine, an all-woman troupe from the Netherlands, released two singles in 2008 that caught the attention of the aficionadoiesie. But some couldn’t believe the hype. I found this review of their Myspace page (not their records), penned by a fellow Brookynite named Jason (reproduced unedited):
Really untalented, terrible. It reminds me of how bad the late 90’s could be when it seemed like every open mic had a shit waste of electricity band like this. I could tolerate it, but can’t anymore...there is nothing redeemable about this in any way. And you might think, ‘well that’s an accomplishment then isn’t it?’ Or ‘Everyone hated the Sex Pistols when they first played.’ It’s not even on the same planet, it can’t compare...I could score 4 minutes of silence...but I’m not John Fucking Cage! This is such blatant boring posturing, it makes me sick. They are billing themselves like some kind of novelty, having met in prison and this is the only job they can get?... they are a joke.
Well, our buddy Jason takes the bait and explains exactly why bands like Titmachine will continue to exist and why the need for that existence remains. Anyway, Manisch Depressiv meets the Shaggs, plus some scatting, would be a fair comparison. I bet I’m not alone in fantasizing about strapping down dudes who catcall women in the street and forcing them to listen to this song.
Evolutions: Trend “Band Aid”
The diversity of what is now lumped together as “garage" punk from the 90s and 00s makes the term fairly useless. Many of the best garage is hard-to-the-core punk but not exactly hardcore punk; yet calling it “punk” alone is also too nonspecific, so what’re ya gonna do? As with 60s garage, there are tons of cover versions to be found among the hundreds of records that fit the bill. This song by the Evolutions may not the most representative shit-fi cover by a garage band, but I love it. Last year, my buddy Dave Hyde contributed a Shit-Fi Mixtape that highlights some of the more lo-fi, primitive, antisocial, and off-the-wall garage punk from the last 20 years, including this one. He called it a “blown-out, disgusting mess.” The Trend were notable for combining teenaged earnestness with incompetent playing, but their sound was positively cleancut in comparison to this rabid, atonal version. Your ears will need a band-aid after listening.
Los Punk Rockers: Sex Pistols “Bodies”
I have already rhapsodized about the gift hand-delivered by God himself to Spain in the form of the Los Punk Rockers LP—it almost makes four decades of Catholic dictatorship seem to have been worth it—so I’ll keep my comments brief. It’s impossible to choose a favorite tune. Instead, I’ve picked my favorite Pistols song to include here. The combination of hamfisted playing, loose interpretations of the original music and lyrics, bizarre vocal stylings, and general WTF-ness of the whole album make this record a perennial Shit-Fi favorite. After all these years, it still cracks me up.
Dragons: Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the U.K.”
As I have worked on this article, the music playing in my head has been a medley of bad versions of Sex Pistols songs, from Los Punk Rockers into Dragons. If anyone else could hear it, my sanity would surely come into question. When The Wire began its article on cover versions with a mention of this song, the author claimed it was an actual Chinese punk band. Of course, Dragons intended for music journalists to think that was the case. The idea behind the band (there’s an LP and a Japanese pressing of the 45 too!) was precisely to fool them and explode assumptions—in 1982. So many years later, I can’t help but think the song strains credulity, but we hear what we want to hear, right? Needless to say, hackles raised, I penned a vitriolic letter to the editor of The Wire after reading the article, in which I noted the author’s winking knowingness merely exposed why the subversiveness of the record remains relevant. Of course the author meant no harm, but that’s exactly the point. Shit-Fi means exploding assumptions and so-called common sense; it means demonstrating that notions of taste, complexity—or one-dimensionality, a charge that could be leveled at nearly every song listed here—and quality are socially constructed and contingent, not objective and certainly not independent from political economy. Few tears have been shed over the term “false consciousness” having fallen out of favor, but to think that the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas does not apply to cultural production, even to your friends’ bands, is itself one of those ruling ideas. Shit-Fi is intended to show that we ignore this fact at our own peril because at some point all of this is about more than just music.
Honge Honge: Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant”~“God Save the Queen”
Japan’s answer to Psycho Sin provide the last part of the shit-fi Sex Pistols covers trifecta. This flexi is pants-shittingly obscure but probably easy to find in 100-yen bins across Japan. Its sleeve, however, is priceless. Other than these two bargain-basement covers, the rest of the “music” consists of a couple noise-core–esque inept thrashers (though not in the Japanese style of noise-core—more the New Jersey style) and some caterwauling spoken-word–type pieces that, in the words of my pal Christy, “make me feel like I’m crazy.” “Make it stop,” she ordered. Anyway, there is not much to say about these two sonic abortions other than that we should be thankful Honge Honge decided to shorten each song to basically just a verse and a chorus. The other option would’ve been to extend them to “Sister Ray” lengths, à la Screamin’ Mee-Mees. Even I would have found such an endeavor trying.
Dukes on L.S.D.: Deep Purple "Smoke on the Water"
While I was working on this article, I received the following e-mail hyperventilation from a close friend (unedited):
Do have this thing, or have you heard of it??? It randomly came in the store yesterday from this dude who is a picker of sorts (hits lots of goodwills estate/garage sales etc..)
Its German, from '89 the sleeve is fucking amazing and that is what initially caught my eye. Its a black and white pic of some Indian (as in India) school kids in little English looking private school clothes sieg hieling. No text except the title of the LP across the bottom which says "........und sie legetn ihren fuhrer in den gotteskasten" and the back is a photo of a bunch of what appear to be cops or union workers stading in front of a building. The bac photo says "dukes on LSD" across the top and the first song title "oral sex" (most of theA side titles are in English, but most all of the lyrics are all in German.)
The first songs lyrics are "oral sex I wanna have oral sex, oral sex with you" and thats it..
Artistically, the record could almost be, like an Ex record or something in the sense that its really strong, stark black and white imagery with a political vibe, but alot dumber as I think these dudes were coming from more of a dada, "look at this ridiculous picture" thing.
Okay, onto the music.
Complete and total lo-fi punk played at Camping Sex pace, with a psychotic vocalist and a drummer who just beats and beats and beats and legit retarded guitar playing/picking. Every song appears to have been recorded differently as the textural quality changes with each track sharpley. The recording quality is comprable to early Dead C or some UK DIY punk from the late 70's or something. Its just fucking over the top bad sounding in the "i cant realy believe I didnt know this record existed...(lol). The thing that impressed me to no end is the consistency. That teenage panzer korpse dude totally was inspired by this. It almost has a Siltbreeze quality, but coming from a euro hardcore background or maybe a german avant (think HNAS etc.) rather than the post punk school that alot of the Siltband came from. For a record with such vaired vibes it works completely as a whole and is an exciting listen the entire way through. If they start to lose you in the muck, they hit you with a stab of feedback or some weird keys (I think either yamaha keyboard thing or at times an electric piano??) and its like a nun stabbing a sleeping student with a knitting pin. These dudes were not exactly hung up on the pesky 'verse chorus verse' situation, so that helps as you dont quite know what to expect. The A side ends with about a 1:00 version of Smoke on the Water that I can honestly think is cooler (in sound only, not in year of execution, or age of participants) than the Silvers 'do you want to dance' cover.
Even before hearing this track, I knew I had to include it in the article. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting for a tape of it to arrive from the author of the above e-mail. How obsolescent of us.
Mrtvý Miminka: Shitlickers “Warsystem”
Several years ago the guy who literally wrote the book on punk in Czechoslovakia—Kytary a řev aneb Co bylo za zdí—mailed me a cassette of the country’s standout 80s hardcore bands, containing this gem: a 1984 rehearsal track by Mrtvý Miminka (or Dead Babies) that is a extremely primitive, sung-in-tongues cover of “Warsystem” by Sweden’s Shitlickers. “Warsystem” is the purest distillation of hardcore punk ever; it’s overbrimming with rage, with little room for anything else. Although export versions of the lone Shitlickers EP circulated, Maximum Rocknroll didn’t even review the record until March/April 1983. What’s more, unlike Poland or even Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia was more closed off to the Western punk scene (despite the noteworthy dissident heritage, post–Prague Spring, of Plastic People of the Universe, for example). There were only three overseas releases by Czechoslovakian punk bands—all compilation appearances in 1984—one of which was A64’s rough cover of “Banned From the Pubs” by Peter & the Test Tube Babies, released on the “World Class Punk” cassette, itself a contender for inclusion in this article. The thought of the Shitlickers’ obscure music not only crossing the Iron Curtain but registering as something worth covering, with hardly any knowledge of the broken English original lyrics, strikes me as the essence of why I, and many others like me, continue to be enthralled by punk rock. This action was a miniscule contribution to the development of a world not bounded by nation-state borders and their related ideological constructs. To say that music breaks down barriers, however true, is a cliché. Sure, Eric Burdon and the Animals played Poland in the 60s, for example, but this sort of musical expansion, however well-intentioned, because it was backed by corporate and state funding, comprised the battering down of Chinese Walls Marx and Engels diagnosed as the bourgeois mode of extending its sphere of influence:
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
In contrast, Mrtvý Miminka recognized the lingua franca of disaffection and anger, backed not by the state or by any corporation, but against these dreadful things. This cover, in all its lo-fi, shambolic glory represents an alternative globalization. At the same time the 1980s ideologues of what would come to be called neoliberalism were insisting that there is no alternative, punks sought to create a microcosmic world after their own image, devoid of vainglory, as ugly and imperfect as we ourselves have always been. It’s fleeting and it rarely lives up to externally imposed expectations, but this cover proves that it’s real.
Thanks to Shit-Fi's Supreme Opinionated Idiotic Leaders (SOIL) for advice, mp3s, auction links, unanswered e-mails, etc.: Chris, Christy, Clint, Dave, Graham, Jesse, Jill, Paco, and RJ.
This is the third of three installments.