FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: 180-Degree Covers

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This week Friday 5 Across the Lips looks at five original songs and the covers of those tunes that took a lot of artistic license.  

1. “Enter Sandman”  

Enter Sandman,” Metallica’s classic wall of sound from their self-titled 1991 album, is a dark, brooding, and slightly disturbing song about the childhood horrors of drifting to slumber; however, it becomes an ebullient big-band extravaganza in the hands of the squeaky clean Pat Boone.  You can almost see Metallica plotting with the monsters under the bed in the original; in the cover, you know Boone is leading them in a big, splashy dance number.

Original by Metallica (1991)

Cover by Pat Boone (1997)

2. “Black Diamond”

Recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Kiss has built a four-decade career on face paint, pyrotechnics, and straight-forward hard rock songs that has influenced a few generations of rockers worldwide to pick up guitars and follow suit.  The band has had a strong following in Japan since its early days that included a young musician named  Yoshiki Hayashi whom Kiss inspired to start his own metal band, X Japan.  Gene Simmons tapped Yoshiki to cover the song “I” from the universally ridiculed 1981 concept album Music From The Elder for the 1995 Kiss tribute album Kiss My Ass.  Yoshiki wisely distanced himself from that groaner and instead created a hauntingly beautiful classical arrangement of “Black Diamond” from Kiss’ 1974 debut album for the American Symphony Orchestra.  The resulting collaboration has been the only memorable contribution to the otherwise forgotten tribute album.

Original by Kiss (1974)

Cover by Yoshiki Hayashi and the American Symphony Orchestra (1995)

3. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

Blues rocker Rod Stewart was another disco casualty in the late ’70s as the dance genre infected the airwaves with its predictable beats and cliched sexually-charged themes when he released “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” on his 1978 album Blondes Have More Fun. In an effort to salvage Stewart’s rock cred, co-writer Duane Hitchings defended the song by claiming Stewart was actually spoofing the disco lifestyle.  Legions of disco fans might say otherwise as the disco classic hit number one on many dance lists and stayed there for many weeks.  A true spoof of the song’s disco lifestyle came 15 years later when the industrial supergroup Revolting Cocks came up with a much seedier version.  Its ironically blase hardcore delivery of Chris Connelly’s monotone vocals over Al Jorgensen’s grinding synth work sleazed up Stewart’s notion of a one-night stand being sweet, innocent disco fun.

Original by Rod Stewart (1978)

Cover by Revolting Cocks (1993)

4. “Hurt”

Cover songs rarely eclipse the original, but it happened with Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails exceptional song “Hurt.”  Cash was nearing the end of his life when he recorded the song and he knew it; his once mighty bass-baritone voice that made us believe he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die now strained with age, uncertainty, and loneliness.  Those he loved and the world he once ruled were gone.  All that was left was a vulnerable elderly man ruminating about a life that went way too fast.

Songwriter and NIN frontman Trent Reznor himself was moved by the cover.  In a 2004 article in Alternative Press, Reznor said, “I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”

Original by Nine Inch Nails (1994)

Cover by Johnny Cash (2002)

5. “Superstar”

The biggest hit of the Carpenters‘ career was actually itself a cover, which many erroneously believe was originally recorded by the brother/sister duo.  Written in 1969 by Bonnie BramlettLeon Russell and Delaney Bramlett, it was given the working title “The Groupie Song,” before being renamed “Groupie (Superstar)” when recorded by Delaney & Bonnie and Friends Featuring Eric Clapton.  The somewhat creepy story of star obsession didn’t catch on even when it was later covered by acts such as Joe Cocker, Bette Midler, Cher, and Vicki Carr. It wasn’t until Karen Carpenter’s sweet, innocent voice brought to life the tragedy of the naive groupie’s empty, unrequited love.

The Carpenters had a legion of fans for several decades, but the most unlike were the art-noise indie icons Sonic Youth.  They recorded a gripping post-punk dirge for the late-Karen Carpenter, “Tunic (A Song for Karen)” on their 1990 album Goo that caught the attention of producers of the 1994 tribute album If I Were A Carpenter.  Most of the covers in the album featured top alternative rock bands of the day presenting rather straightforward renditions of Carpenters hits; however, the Sonic Youth contribution stood out with the group’s signature feedback guitar work and Thurston Moore’s throaty, whispering vocals that underscored a feeling of defeat and desperation.

While indie fans loved this version of the song that was later used in the soundtrack for the 2007 movie Juno, Richard Carpenter didn’t share the enthusiasm.  In a 2009 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Carpenter said, “At least when it comes to something like this, I will say I don’t care for it but I don’t understand it. So, I’m not going to say it’s good or it’s bad. I’m just going to say I don’t care for it.”

The Carpenters version (1971)

Cover by Sonic Youth (1994)