Cam Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Covers

I got an email yesterday from Paper Bag Records offering up a free download of “Paper Bag Records Vs The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”. They have taken bands from their roster (Elliott Brood, Born Ruffians, Cuff The Duke, The Acorn and seven others) and covered the classic “Ziggy Stardust” album and even included the bonus track “John, I’m Only Dancing”. It got me thinking about cover songs, the good, the bad and the ugly.

In all fairness it is too early to comment on the Paper Bag compilation as I have not spent enough time with it yet. You can draw your conclusion as it is available on the label’s website

When David Bowie released “Pin ‘Ups” in 1973 I didn’t immediately know it was a collection of cover songs, I just knew it was the new Bowie album and it needed to be in my collection. Bowie recorded the songs by British bands that had influenced him from between 1964 and 1967 and thus exposed me to older songs by The Who, The Kinks, The Pretty Things, Them,  The Merseys,  The Yardbirds, The Mojos and The Easybeats. With the exception of The Who and The Yardbirds tracks, these define my point of reference for these songs. First impressions can be everlasting. It is rumoured that Bowie would release an album of American covers but sadly that never came to fruition.

Earlier in 1973 Bowie had released his follow-up to “Ziggy Stardust” “Aladdin Sane”.  On the single “Drive-In Saturday” Bowie sang “she smiled like Twig the wonder kid” referring to the famous English model Twiggy. Her rise to fame coincided with the timeframe of the material on “Pin Ups” and it is Twiggy who graces the album cover. Vogue magazine had shot the two and had planned to feature the picture on the cover of their magazine. It was decided that a man should not grace the cover of Vogue and the shot became the cover of the album.

Bowie also has the distinction of covering himself. In 1972 he found out that the band Mott The Hoople was about to throw in the towel. Years of touring and release after unsuccessful release had taken its toll on the band and they were ready to pack it in. Bowie convinced them to give it one more chance and offered them the yet to be released song “Suffragette City” from his forthcoming Ziggy Stardust album. The band refused so Bowie penned the song “All The Young Dudes” and Mott gladly accepted. The tune raced to the top of the charts and became the biggest single they ever released. Bowie started to perform the song live in 1973 and various different version recorded by him has since been released.

Often listeners don’t realize they are listening to a cover, or, if they do.  they may have never heard the original. Ian Hunter was the singer of Mott The Hoople (and will be making a rare Toronto appearance on December 7 at Lees Palace) and shortly after Mott disbanded he embarked on a solo career. His eponymous debut album, recorded with former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, led off with the song “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. The great little rocker went Top 20 in the U.K. but didn’t dent the charts anywhere else. In 1989 now-infamous American hair metal band Great White covered the song and had a huge hit with it. The song does not hold a candle to the original but I am sure Hunter was happy with the royalty cheques. Hunter would also cash in a few years later when Barry Manilow recorded his song “Ships”.

A few years earlier another dismal L.A. band had a hit single courtesy of the Brits. “Cum On Feel The Noize” was originally recorded by the British band Slade in 1973 and was a big hit in England. Actually the band was massive in the U.K. but never really conquered North American radio until 1984 when the John Punter produced “Run Runaway” became a Top 20 hit. Quiet Riot was an L.A. band that had been founded by the late Randy Rhodes in 1977. After a couple of albums Rhodes, at the request of Dana Strum from Slaughter, auditioned for Ozzy Osbourne’s band and left Quiet Riot. The second version of the band was the one that had the hit with their Slade cover. After the success of the first Slade cover the band went to the well again on their next album and took a shot at “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. At  the exact same time I was working with three Irish brothers Pat, John and Tommy McManus who were collectively known as Mama’s Boys. They had signed to Jive Records and were in North America touring with Ratt in support of their new single “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. It was an epic battle of the record labels with Quiet Riot narrowly edging out the far superior version from Mama’s Boys. Of course, our very own Bob Segarini also took a stab at Slade when he released “When The Lights Are Out” on his Bomb Records debut in 1978.

In 2007 Canadian artist Danny Michel took a shot at covering Bowie when he released “Loving The Alien: Danny Michel Sings The Songs Of David Bowie”.  He covered songs spanning the length of Bowie’s career but the defining moment for me was his rendition of “Young Americans”.  With an acoustic guitar he stripped the song down to its very essence and then flavoured it with a country essence. If you are going to do a cover you might as well try to spin it in a new way. That’s why Danny’s version works for me and The Wallflowers cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” leaves me cold.

Some songs manage to become hits twice. A Foot In Coldwater scored a Canadian hit with “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want” in 1972. In 1974 the song was re-released in a shorter form and once again became a hit. In 1984 Canadian metal band Helix covered the song and it became a hit for the third time. Their version is so close to the original that it is hard to differentiate the original from the cover.

Ottawa’s Five Man Electrical Band raced to the top of the U.S. and Canadian charts in 1971 with their song “Signs”. Close to twenty years later in 1990 American rock band Tesla covered the song on their “Five Man Acoustical Jam” album and once again the song was all over the airwaves.

I think I may need to cover this topic again next week.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

Contact us

Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

2 Responses to “Cam Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – Covers”

  1. Talking covers – When I compiled my own CD of the original Pinups – basically all of the Bowie covers in order by the original artists, I discovered that one of what I thought was an original, was actually a cover. Rick Zehringer (pre – Derringer) was in the McCoys and they penned and performed Sorrow (B side of the McCoys cover of “Fever”). Bowie would have heard the Mersey’s cover and that is probably the version that inspired him.

    Two other covers that left me uninspired were Kiss absolutely ruining Argent’s “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” and the People covering the Zombie’s “I Love You”.

    Another cover forever entrenched in Canadarcana is a little known recording by a band out of Galt called Amish. They cut a brilliant cover of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” that was so different from the Traffic version that it hardly sounds like a cover other than the basic structure of the song, much like Danny MIchel’s work on the Bowie tunes (which I listen to often – my ears have a soft spot for Danny’s work).

    Thanks for the column and the stirring up of some great old memories,

    Bill Curran

  2. Went to see Danny Michel just after he released the Bowie cover Songs and he didn’t play a single one, really pissed me off, haven’t dug him since.

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