I just don’t know what it is about punk rock and chart covers, but they fucking love them. Pretty much every punk band has covered some variety of popular song and generally, to good reception. I’m very unsure about how I feel on covers as a whole – the original is there for a reason and often, people don’t do a very good job (Gallows, Nervous Breakdown… don’t fucking do it any more. Ginger lead singer, you are not Keith Morris). However, there are some truly stellar ones out there and they kind of highlight what punk can be these days – fun, carefree and entertaining.
Those delicious ska beats
Ska bands seem to be the number one culprit for pop covers. I think it comes with the territory. Happy, fun, joyful; it’s everything that ska is. If you’re going to dance like a tool to the latest chart hit, why not skank to it? Most of the ska covers are wonderfully kitsch – classic German pop in the case of Goldfinger’s glorious rendition of 99 Red Balloons and an entire album’s worth of Grease hits from Less Than Jake’s ‘Greased’ release are perfect examples of this. Of course they’re songs you know, but they’re songs so ingrained into your social memory that to hear them again but reworked into a bunch of trombone and trumpety joy is refreshing, even exhilarating. They’re the sort of songs you wind down the sunroof for, the sort of songs you take down the park with your iPod speakers on full. More kids know the Reel Big Fish version of ‘Take On Me’ than the original A-Ha version these days. [spunge] did an whole album of popular chart songs and got Bowling For Soup to guest on ‘Centrefold’, making it even more dirty than it was back in the 80s. If you want the best, you head straight for the ska bands.
Punk goes… not even punk any more
If you’ve ever listened to the wave of late 90s-early 2000s American pop-punk, featuring favourites such as Sugarcult, New Found Glory, Saves The Day, then you’ll have heard a Punk Goes… compilation. The very title of these albums is a misnomer – none of the bands were ever punk in the first place. But they were fun. The first ‘Punk Goes Pop’ had the Yellowcard cover of ‘Everywhere’ by Michelle Branch, and that is the only Yellowcard song I have ever liked. ‘Punk Goes 80s’ had even more Rufio and ‘Punk Goes 90s’ started to branch out to what was really popular by sticking the quite frankly excellent cover of ‘Under The Bridge’ by Gym Class Heroes on it. All of these had a certain charm to them – they were the bands you knew and loved just messing around. But then everything changed. Fearless decided to release ‘Punk Goes Crunk’ in 2008. Who the fuck were all these people? Maybe I just got older but I only recognised about four bands on the list, and I hated All Time Low (in fact, I deleted their cover of Umbrella because it mentally scarred me so much with its mediocrity). However, I was hooked. I enjoy my hip-hop, and I most definitely enjoy my 90s hip-hop over the lot, so New Found Glory’s cover of ‘Tennessee’ by Arrested Development filled me with joy. Say Anything’s cover of ODB’s ‘Got Your Money’ had me in fits of laughter and well… some of the other ones were just kind of cool. I would never be caught dead listening to Forever The Sickest Kids otherwise, but I just can’t say no to their rocked up version of ‘Men In Black’. Another band with kids in the title did quite a good rendition of ‘Notorious Thugs’. It’s all good. Not quite as good as New Found Glory’s first ‘From Your Screen To Your Stereo’, but hey, nothing’s perfect.
All praise aside, I know I won’t be listening to ‘Punk Goes Classic Rock’. Listening to Pierce The Veil do ‘Don’t Fear (The Reaper)’ would be the equivalent of tearing out my heart, stamping on it and then taking a piss on it, just to be sure it knew its place.
Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
Me First And The Gimme Gimmes only DO covers. A veritable supergroup of punk rock heroes, each album has a different theme. And they know exactly what they’re doing. And the costumes, oh my the costumes. There is a sea of mediocrity surrounding most punk covers and the Gimmes are surfing out of there on a tidal wave of sheer hilarity and awesome. The Gimmes certainly know how to do their mashups too, mixing various punk riffs and references into their standard covers. They cater well to their audience and look fantastic in Hawaiian shirts. The first Gimmes cover I ever heard was their version of ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’ and I didn’t think it was sacrilege. I think that’s evidence enough to prove how awesome this band is. But if you want some more, they also recorded an album at a boy’s bar mitzvah and let him play drums on a song. Now, that’s cool.
I also thought it was them who covered ‘Enter Sandman’ when I was younger but it was the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who are similarly awesome and are yet another ska band. Like I said, covers come with the territory.
I feel that our covers are safe in the hands of such veterans as the Gimmes and punk bands everywhere will indulge in a few gems live. The ‘Punk Goes…’ series should die fairly soon, as it needs putting out of its misery. But the golden era for this kind of thing was the early 2000s, and I don’t think we’ll ever be able to claim it back. Hell, it was the golden era for a lot of things, but maybe that’s because I’ve got a kind of hazy romanticism for the time when I first discovered punk rock. Either way, to get to the good stuff, you have to dig deep. And here are a few classics which you should probably check out, partly recommended to me by the fine people at Punksoc:
- Screeching Weasel – I Can See Clearly
- H-Blockx – Ring Of Fire
- Kid With Man’s Head – Hotel California
- New Found Glory – J’Y Suis Jamais Alle
- AFI – My Michelle
- Set Your Goals – Put Yo Hood Up