Sunday, July 31, 2005

Thinking about covers

Earlier this week, You Ain't No Picasso posted a whole mix of indie rockers covering mainstream hits. I've got a fun one to add from Teenage Fanclub:

Like A Virgin (mp3) - Teenage Fanclub

Also from the band, a beautiful cover of one of the Velvet Underground's best songs (though it may be a little too faithful to the original to be great):

Who Loves The Sun (mp3) - Teenage Fanclub

When I consider my all-time favorite covers, one stands out above the rest. Partly because the original and cover come from two of my favorite albums (yeah, technically Complete Discography's a collection of EPs and singles), but also because they illustrate the ideal relationship between coverer and coveree.

12XU (mp3) - Wire

12XU (mp3) - Minor Threat

If it works, a cover while paying homage should recontextualize the song and illuminate overlooked qualities of the original. Minor Threat took something that was already loud, fast and angry and made it louder, faster, angrier--impossibly so. As well as tightening the screws and upping the velocity (from an already zippy 1:55 to 1:03 minutes), it benefits from Ian MacKaye's inimitable sarcastic shout and barked orders to "flex your head." Then there's that little cough (!) in the middle that reminds you these dead serious straight edge boys are human.

What's lost? The original is all about tension and suspense (no one does ominous better than Wire), briefly relieved by short bursts of spleen. Despite its speed, there's a weird kind of patience to those bass and drum passages that Minor Threat doesn't even pretend to adopt. The Minor Threat version is all release, all urgency, all diatribe. I think I prefer the original by a slim margin, but damn, if the cover, with its intense sense of self-righteousness, isn't great.

If you don't own copies of Pink Flag and Complete Discography, buy them. Like right now.

Pink Flag-Wire Complete Discography-Minor Threat

12XU has been covered several times, including by Naked Raygun and Dag Nasty, the D.C. hardcore outfit led by one-time Minor Threat bassist Brian Baker. Since it's already been pushed to the limits of fast, I'd love to see a really slowww version.

12XU (mp3) - Dag Nasty


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