“The Velvet Underground being another of those changed-everything-forever outfits, but then that’s pretty much the rule now that we’re in the top ten of this thing. Sweet Jane gets the nod here because A. for some inexplicable reason, it hasn’t been overexposed in the culture (the ‘evil mothers’ line probably has something to do with it), and B. it’s main man Lou Reed opening wide his not entirely dark heart, and stopping gravity before he’s done. Particularly that part about the lies inherent in women never really fainting, villains always blinking, children being the only ones who blush, and the purpose of life being just to die. And, of course, it is the Velvets, so no time is wasted, no artificial sweeteners are used. It just goes straight for the heart and soul and brain.
Apparently the story is, the record company pleaded with Lou for a hit single, something that wasn’t inherently transgressive, that could actually get played on the radio. And he delivered. Almost. Because whatever happened, we missed it. The culture, that is. I certainly have no memory of hearing Sweet Jane on the radio back in the day. In fact, it didn’t even get a single release until years after the fact. There were, of course, many covers along the way with the Cowboy Junkies finally kicking the song out of the park. But that’s a whole other angle. The Velvet original remains fresh to my ears, 100 percent non-allergenic. So yeah, I get to include it on this list. The tenth best song most people have still probably never heard.” (Philip Random)
“This Mortal Coil were a project, not a band, brainchild of 4AD Records’ Ivo Watts-Russell. The idea being to dissolve the boundaries between the various groups and artists on the label, get everybody mixing it up together, with an accent on the ethereal, the mysterious yet easy to listen to. Which certainly worked for me, the first album in particular, It’ll End In Tears, which got a pile of play in the middle 80s, evoking as it did an apocalypse that was neither fire nor brimstone, but rather deep and spacious, mournful even. Ideal for the coming down phase of any number of psychedelic ventures – the part where you’re still too wired to sleep, too spent to do anything else but lie flat. The forty plus minutes of It’ll End In Tears being all somber relaxation and release, a whole definitely more than the sum of its parts, except maybe the cover of Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren, the Cocteau Twins Elizabeth Fraser taking it places where gravity remains unknown, and you with it. Or did I dream that part?” (Philip Random)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Brian Eno’s original take on Third Uncle. Bauhaus’s cover is just louder, fiercer, more dangerous, better. In fact, it gets downright harrowing before it’s done – a reminder that so-called Goth didn’t even exist at the time, Bauhaus being one of those rare outfits that forces a re-think, a whole new definition. Yeah, there were already lots of folks dressing in black, mourning for their own deaths, but they were just part of the greater scene, lurking in the shadows of the cooler clubs like something important was being born, but it hadn’t quite arrived yet. Until along came Bauhaus, looking good in black themselves, and way too loud to ignore.
“In which Nina Simone proves the experts wrong. The Bee Gees peaked long before all that disco foo-furrah of the later mid-70s, probably in 1967 with To Love Somebody which may just be the greatest song of unrequited love ever written, the proof being in the covers, everybody from the Flying Burrito Brothers to Michael Bolton to the Chambers Brothers to Billy Corgan, Roberta Flack, Michael Buble, Janis Joplin, Eric Burdon taking a swing at it … but nobody ever owned it like Ms. Simone, whose pumped up 1969 take removes all adornments, just tells it like it is-was-will-always-be. I lost somebody. I’m broken. I don’t think I’ll ever be fixed. At least I still believe in my soul.” (Philip Random)
“I’ve never been one to buy many singles – something to do with coming of record buying age in the early 1970s, I guess, when albums were the thing. But every now and then, you’ve got to adjust your strategies. Like hearing Dinosaur Jr‘s planet killing version of the Cure’s Just Like Heaven on the radio one sublime summer day and immediately needing to own the record. But all I could find was a 7-inch. Which if I’d been truly cool would’ve triggered a whole new phase for me, 7-inches being all the rage as the 80s turned over into the 90s, particularly if you were into raw sort of proto-grunge indie-rock. But I’ve never really been into just one sound or attitude. It’s always been everything, if possible. Which to my mind (and heart) is what J Mascis and crew accomplish here, the kind of rapturous, all encompassing escape velocity that redefines reality forever … until it suddenly just has to stop.” (Philip Random)
Pin-Ups, the last of the Ziggy-era Bowie albums, was an all covers affair, in which the thin, strange alien paid tribute to the musical heroes of his youth. As a whole, the album’s not his greatest, feeling pretty tossed off overall. But the take on Here Comes The Night is superb. Loud and brash, a full-on show-stopper that at least matches the original. Which is pretty amazing when you consider Van Morrison sang that. How often has he been equaled?
“In which Sonic Youth muck around with drum machines and whatever, take the piss out of a Madonna song, turn it into a zeitgeist-defining masterpiece. At least, that’s what my friend Martin thought. And he was a loud guy, persuasive. Indeed, there was a brief chunk of 1989 when Into The Groovy really was the greatest record ever, in the history of all humankind. Why argue?” (Philip Random)
In which Einsturzende Neubauten, barely four years on from tearing up condemned Berlin real estate and calling it Art (if not music), get traditional, dig up an old folk ditty (written by a Canadian) concerning the last man and woman alive after a nuclear war, and make it their own. Which is to say, they sharpen the edges, darken the shadows, pound some metal, and otherwise call out the banshees.
“It’s 1969 and Nina Simone, one of the great voices (and souls) to ever descend upon music, delivers the closest thing she’ll ever have to a pop album. Artists covered include Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Bee Gees, even the Beatles (sort of) with Revolution less of a cover, more of a rousing riff on John Lennon’s call to consciousness (if not arms). Music to change the world either way. Or as a friend once put it, if this is what a political meeting sounded like, I’d join a f***ing party.” (Philip Random)