Who doesn’t love a great cover song? We here at FTA loooove covers and a few months back three of us—Chantal, Hoos, and Rebecca—collaborated on a big list of covers which you can read here. We have all played in various cover bands over the last several years—all of us together in a Hole cover band and also in separate projects that have gigged together. We all know how fun it can be to interpret another artist’s work and make it your own, so here we are with a whole new round of cover songs that we adore. Crack on in to see what we picked in celebration of cover band season in NYC!
The Dirtbombs– Sherlock Holmes (Sparks). This Detroit band is an enigmatic group, moving from style to style with ease and excelling at them all. They show their emotional side on this gorgeous rendition of Spark’s “Sherlock Holmes,” a strange song that feels more romantic in the garage rockers’ hands.
The Mountain Goats– Lucretia My Reflection (Sisters of Mercy). John Darnielle is a not-so-secret fan of goth music, even dedicating an entire album to songs about the gloomy rockers. His voice is surprisingly suited to this song. This one might be polarizing – if you like Sisters of Mercy and not TMG, well, you might find this sacrilegious. But I love them both, and I love this.
The Blankket- Badlands (Bruce Springsteen). I have a confession: this weird stripped down version of one of the greatest songs the Boss ever wrote was my first time hearing the song. Sorry, Bruce. This is a charming version that comes from Be Your Own Boss, a 4 song cover EP released on Toronto’s Blocks Recording Club.
Final Fantasy– This Modern Love (Bloc Party). Keeping it Canadian, I was recently recommended Owen Pallett’s very clever cover of Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy,” but it’s this delicate heartfelt cover of Bloc Party – this song that already makes me cry – that really takes the cake.
The White Stripes– One More Cup of Coffee (Bob Dylan). Also creepy: Jack and Meg’s take on this gorgeous Dylan song, originally on Desire, is a highlight of the first White Stripes album. Nice organ, Jack.
Girls Aloud– I Think We’re Alone Now (Tommy James and The Shondelles). Girls Aloud were a British pop group formed from a reality show —not standard FTA fare. This is… not a great version, actually, of the oft-covered Tommy James and The Shondells song. But I love the strange descending synth line the arranger(s) of this alternate mix chose to use. BONUS: Arctic Monkeys actually tried their hand at a Girls Aloud original during a live performance on Radio 1, and it’s both charming and hilarious (they start cracking up near the end.)
Rasputina– If Your Kisses Can’t Hold The Man you Love (Then Your Tears Won’t Bring Him Back.) (Sophie Tucker). Rasputina have adopted a vintage style and sound, so it’s only fitting they put their own spin on this Sophie Tucker song about the joys of catting around town for revenge. Neglected girls shouldn’t worry, that’s what God made sailors for!
Lana Del Rey– Heart-Shaped Box (Nirvana). Sorry, I fucking love her voice on this song, and I wish she would record an album version. (Although I’ve got a (new) complaint- brush up the guitar solo, it’s a classic.) Courtney Love also tweeted at Lana to remind her this song is about her vagina, and I’d expect nothing less.
Hole– Gold Dust Woman (Fleetwood Mac). Speaking of Hole, you didn’t think I’d leave them off here, did you? It’s the spooky season and this Fleetwood Mac cover from the Crow City of Angels soundtrack is a suitably grungier version. (The soundtrack was better than the movie.)
Atom and his Package– Alpha Desperation March/Going to Georgia/Seed Song (The Mountain Goats). It’s a bold move to include three covers by another artist on one of your albums, but that’s exactly what Atom did on his 2001 album, Redefining Music, when he played three Mountain Goats songs over the course of the record. I absolutely LOVED Atom at the time (I still do) so I definitely took notice and dug up the original songs as fast as I could. I had previously been totally unfamiliar with the prolific and captivating songwriter John Darnielle/The Mountain Goats, but I pretty quickly fell in love and started grabbing up as many CDs as I could.
While I’m not the super fan that Chantal is (see her recent MG coverage), I am a huge lover of all of Darnielle’s very early work, aka the songs that you can hear the gears/motor of the tape recorder running on as they play. Adam Goren aka Atom and his Package delightfully recreated these songs in the awkward, geeky, synth punk/new wave way he approached his own songs too and I still count them among my favorite covers more than 20 years after the fact.
Big Joanie– No Scrubs (TLC). I absolutely love a cover that changes things up and Big Joanie has taken the R&B/hip hop classic (which was a number one hit for TLC in 1999) to a lofi punk rock ripper with perfectly executed “NO!” screams in the background, reinterpreting this era defining song into their own instant classic version.
Green Day– Outsider (The Ramones). I famously am not much of a Ramones fan, but they have a few songs I really dig, I mean how can you not love the biggies like “I Wanna Be Sedated” “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”? This is one of them too. Green Day does a faithful note for note recreation here but for some reason it just hits different than the original and I actually like it more. I think probably because the recording quality is better and I love Billie Joe Armstrong’s voice much more than Joey Ramone’s (don’t hate me for that one but it’s true).
Ibeyi– Rise Above (Black Flag). I love Black Flag and I think anyone who has devoted their life to punk rock can say the same. So I don’t take covers of their music lightly. This version though….this stopped me in my tracks, an absolutely breathtaking version that gorgeously reimagines a song that is foundational to punk and hardcore. The twin sister duo of Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Díaz make it sound absolutely nothing like the original and sure, a lot of punk/hardcore fans probably (definitely) wouldn’t like this version, but I could not shake it for weeks after first hearing it. Trinidadian rapper BERWYN also adds some new lyrics with a short verse in the middle of the song for an emotional gut punch.
Interestingly, the sisters admitted in an interview that they had never heard the song before making their version, so unlike legions of crappy punk bands who bashed through covers of this long before they did, they were not fans of the band and had no stake in them whatsoever. (And yes, I played drums in a Black Flag cover band so I’m among those legions of crappy punks.) So why do a cover of an iconic song at all if you don’t know the artist or the role they played in shaping an entire genre of music? It turns out that the sisters were captivated by the lyrics alone, which they first learned of in the studio while recording with producer Richard Russell; they were moved enough by the words to want to record their own version. Read more to see their process and why they chose not to listen to the original even after learning of its existence, a pretty bold and unique move.
This was my first introduction to Ibeyi’s music and I now firmly count myself as fan. Punk rock is the lens through which I have interpreted so much of my life so it’s pretty cool when it can also lead to discoveries like this through it too. Ibeyi will perform at Brooklyn Steel on 3/23/23 and I can’t wait to hear this song performed live.
IDLES– Damaged Goods (Gang of Four). The brash five piece punk/garage/post punkers interpretation of the masterful 1978 debut single by legendary post punk group Gang of Four is a wonderful and abrasive rendition of the classic song. They change it up with the structuring of the guitars to keep it to a highly motorik syncopated approach that mimics the intro of the original, pulsing around that while Joe Talbot growls the lyrics over top, never breaking into the more intricate bass groove or flashier guitar lick like the original. But it’s no matter, it more than gets the point across. With the high energy blast of the guitars bouncing back and forth and Talbot’s distinct vocal delivery, they make the song their own.
It was initially released on a compilation album, The Problem of Leisure, which is a tribute to the late guitarist/founding GOF member, Andy Gill. At the time of the release the band said “IDLES does not exist without Gang Of Four. ’Damaged Goods’ still sounds new and exciting after the millionth listen. We jumped at the chance to just to play it, let alone record it. It was an honour, a joy and a privilege.”
L7– Let’s Lynch the Landlord (Dead Kennedys). How many boxes can one cover song tick? As it turns out, many! One of my favorite bands…covering one of my favorite songs….by one of my other favorite bands, how can I not love it?! L7 amp it up from the already zippy original and make it grungier, but largely keep to the same structure. The song was released as part of the Virus 100 comp of Dead Kennedys covers released on Alternative Tentacles in 1992 to celebrate the 100th release on the label. I recently scored a copy off Discogs when I was reminded of it by FTA contributing photographer, Ellen Qbertplaya, after we shot L7’s Bricks Are Heavy anniversary show in NYC (see my pics). There are some solid offerings on it including Sepultura doing “Drug Me,” and Napalm Death‘s interpretation of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” as well as another radically different take on “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” by Faith No More. I’ve included that one too so you can enjoy them both back to back.
Bonus fun: An old band of mine, Lady Bizness, learned this song to play specifically at one of the final shows at Trash Bar, a Williamsburg bar that was home to some of the first shows I ever played in NYC and many great punk shows during its lifespan. But like many other small music venues in New York, the landscape around it drastically changed over the years as gentrification took hold and the location grew exponentially in value, so it fell victim to a greedy landlord who quadrupled the rent when it came time to renew the lease, forcing it to close in 2015. But karma is, as they say, a bitch, and the spot sat empty for the next few years when no one could afford to take it over, earning them zero dollars in the interim. Serves ’em right for trying to suck the blood of small business owners! As for the band, we had so much fun with this song we kept playing it for the rest of the time we existed. (Sadly a recording does not exist or I’d share it here.)
Los Bitchos– Tequila (The Champs). This has been the closer of the Bitchos set both times I’ve seen them (see pics from NYC and Bristol, UK) and they do a fun, punked up version of the 1958 party classic. They’re also a (mostly) instrumental band like The Champs, but for their take, they add a twist of actually including lyrics on it for an extra bit of flair. I’m hoping a studio recording of this eventually happens but for now, this live YouTube video hits the spot.
MXPX– Take On Me (A-ha). I have very fond memories of loving both the original 1985 one hit wonder (and it’s iconic video that was a cornerstone of the 80s) as well as this cover that came ten years later from the Washington pop punkers. A little kid turned teenage love. (Even though in retrospect, and upon re-listening with more mature ears, the execution and recording of this cover both leave a little bit to be desired. But hey, they were barely out of high school when this was released, so I think we can cut them some slack.)
Nilüfer Yanya– Rid of Me. (PJ Harvey) This is a new artist to me, and I’m delighted to see that PJ Harvey still resonates with the youths. I love the alto sax player mimicking the high vocal parts.
Screaming Females– Because the Night. (Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen) Jesus fucking christ. Two amazingly energetic, dynamic bands cover a song co-written by two likewise energetic, dynamic performers. Check out the ripping solos by super-shredder Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females.
Shonen Knife– Top of the World. (The Carpenters) This cover by Shonen Knife never fails to cheer me up when I’m having a bad day. They keep the light poppiness of the Carpenter’s version but give it a punky punch.
Wye Oak– Running Up That Hill. (Kate Bush) Indie rockers Wye Oak cover what is undoubtedly the comeback song of the year, thanks to its prominence in Stranger Things. This one isn’t as synthy as the original but the duo usher it into the bedroom pop realm with minimal instrumentation.
Yola– Yellow Brick Road. (Elton John) Yola explores the depths of her voice on this Elton John cover. I have absolute chills when she soars into the chorus.