Rebirth of the Cool: I Fought the Law

I first heard “I Fought the Law” by the Crickets as I first heard many of the oldies: travelling in the car with my parents. Much of the foundation of my music education was laid while sitting in the back seat of the car as we drove to family gatherings, listening to the only radio station – WMJI Majic 105.7 – that my mother, father and I could agree on.



Sonny Curtis wrote the song and brought it with him when he joined the Crickets after Buddy Holly’s death, releasing it in 1965. The song was covered in 1966 by the Bobby Fuller Four and did well for them (though Fuller’s tremolo warble makes me want to punch him), but I’m going to take a wild guess that the majority of people reading this are most familiar with the Clash’s 1979 cover.



You’ll notice a couple of small lyrical changes from the Crickets’ original. For instance, the narrator of the original is robbing people with a zip gun, while, starting with the Bobby Fuller Four cover, he began robbing people with a six-gun. Though, of course, the biggest change implemented by the Clash took the narrator from merely missing his baby (or, as Fuller had it, leaving his baby) to killing her, making him much more of an outlaw than he started out. But, you know, at least he feels bad about it.

The lyrics of “I Fought the Law” seem to invite people to mess with them, and nobody messed with them more than Jello Biafra as he rewrote them to comment on the murders of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk for the Dead Kennedys’ 1980s re-working of the song.


Rebirth of the Cool: …Baby, One More Time


It’s been too long since we’ve had a Rebirth post, but I’m sure some of you have taken a look at the title and are already wincing in anticipation of this one. Let’s get the difficult part out of the way now.



I know, I know… Back in the early 2000s, while I was accumulating a collection of “Ring of Fire” covers, my boyfriend at the time, in his perverse nature, took to collecting “…Baby, One More Time” covers.

Hey, we’ve all made bad choices in partners, okay?

But there was one stand-out gem in this perplexing collection, that being the complete piss-take version by Mr. Bungle.



Speaking of perverse, I found this version by Frank’s progeny, Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa, over at Cover Me and actually find it… kind of… sexy… (This may have something to do with the fact that I wore out Dweezil’s My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama album when I was a teenager.)



Thus concludes this episode of Unfortunate Confession Theater.


Rebirth of the Cool: Children of the Revolution

Some artists are practically uncoverable, by virtue of wild technique, extreme virtuosity or uncompromising personality… but that never stops other artists from trying. Sometimes you just have to watch and shake your head as you watch trainwreck after trainwreck. Sometimes you weep and gnash your teeth. Sometimes it helps if you come in from the middle.

Aside from just being a great band, T. Rex had a larger-than-life personality, sprinkled with glitter and sex. Every T. Rex song was imbued with this personality, sonically represented by shake-your-ass beats and Marc Bolan’s suggestive vocals. Nobody has ever had quite the same sparkle and stomp.



Though if you want to talk bands with comparably unmistakable and inimitable personalities, there’s always the Violent Femmes. This is where I came into this song stream. Like many of my generation, the Femmes permeated my adolescence, for good or for ill, making me simultaneously queasy and excited. To this day, I still have unhealthy and confusing feelings about Gordon Gano (preacher’s kids will have that effect on people). On their album The Blind and the Naked, the Femmes had the gall to cover T. Rex’s “Children of the Revolution”. Well, maybe not so much covered as kidnapped and beat it until it was so broken and bruised that it barely resembled it’s original state (which is always the right way to do a cover, if you ask me).



There have been other attempts at covering “Children of the Revolution”, and most of them have ranged from forgettable to laughable (there is something so wrong and so right on about Bono singing “I drive a Rolls Royce because it’s good for my voice” on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack), but the cover from Neon Indian, while not everyone’s cuppa, feels faithful to the original cosmic sex shimmer of Bolan and his boys.


Rebirth of the Cool: Sinnerman


Nina Simone and the song “Sinnerman” go hand-in-hand. If you think of “Sinnerman”, you probably think of Nina’s version, and if you think of Nina, you probably thing of “Sinnerman”. Simone’s version is so authoritative and brilliant that you might not realize that she didn’t write the song. “Sinnerman” (or “Sinner Man”) began life as a traditional spiritual and many other people had a turn at it before Simone made it her own in 1965. For instance, king of exotica Les Baxter did it up with Will Holt on vocals in 1956.



Kind of a shock after Simone’s version. It’s kind of… well… white. (Though not the whitest of the white. For that, check out versions by the Weavers and Tommy Sands.)

Peter Tosh had a long relationship with the song, beginning in 1966 (some sources say 1964 or 1965) when he recorded it with the Wailers. In the ’70s, he changed the name to “Downpressor Man”.



One of the most recent versions was recorded by the Black Diamond Heavies for their 2008 album A Touch of Someone Else’s Class. It clearly draws from Simone’s version, shaping the song out with John Wesley Myers’ distinctive Fender Rhodes sound and ravaged vocals.


Rebirth of the Cool: Ohio Covers Ohio, Part Two

When you hear the phrase “Ohio bands”, one of the first names that should pop into your head is Guided By Voices. If it isn’t, we may have to sit down and have a long talk. Birthed in 1983 in Dayton and led by a high-kicking former teacher and one of the most prolific artists around, Robert Pollard, GBV slammed through 16 studio albums and 16 EPs (plus 3 split EPs) before saying farewell in 2004.

In the meantime, they commanded a hell of a lot of love and respect not only from fans, but also from other bands, including fellow Daytonians the Breeders, who covered “Shocker in Gloomtown” on their 1993 album Last Splash. I love this video for the Breeders’ cover for the idea it gives that A) Dayton bands roam the streets of town and B) have nothing better to do than spy on each other’s practic sessions.


GBV reunited this year to tour and show the kids how it’s done, while sending GBV fans into paroxysms of ecstasy. Here’s “Shocker” 2010-style.


GBV returned the favor during their 1995 tour by covering the Breeders’ “Invisible Man”. Unfortunately, we don’t have the GBV cover available, but you can easily imagine it from the Breeders original. This song sounds like it was practically written for Pollard and company.
ers, video

Rebirth of the Cool: Trick Bag

As I’ve copped to before, sometimes I discover great music through questionable sources. For example, my discovery trail to Earl King’s “Trick Bag” began in 1990 thanks to a cassette tape that featured one of the most ubiquitous songs of that era. But let’s start at the beginning…

Released in 1962, King’s original has a solid, loping, irresistible groove and an engaging story.



In 1964, Seattle band the Artesians took the song and added layers of noise and bombast with muscular organ and lots of hi-hat. I swear if you put your face close enough to the speaker when you listen to this version, you’ll feel your hair blown back. (Incidentally, if anyone has information on this band, please let me know. I’m having trouble turning up much on them.)



Now let’s leap to the ’90s. In 1990, Robert Palmer created a cultural phenomenon with his video for “Addicted to Love” – you know the one, with the heavily made-up, dead-eyed ladies in their little, black dresses. Despite the fact that everyone grew sick to death of that song, the album it came from, Riptide, was actually pretty good for its time and was loaded with some fairly non-conventional twists, including Palmer’s slightly disco-ish cover of “Trick Bag”.



Then in ’91, the guitar returned to save our souls, and in ’92, the Gories brought “Trick Bag” back to its roots, hitting somewhere between the sparse groove of the King original and the freak-out of the Artesians cover.


The Gories – Trick Bag

Rebirth of the Cool: Ohio Covers Ohio, Part One

The Black Keys have a way with a cover song and having long been champions of our shared home state of Ohio, it’s no surprise that they’ve covered a few of their fellow Akron-area musicians.

The James Gang, fronted for a time by Joe Walsh, formed in Cleveland in 1967. Their best-known song was a typically ’70s rock ‘n’ roll nugget called “Funk #49”.


While keeping the rock essence of the song, the Keys admirably trim the original’s excess making it, for me at least, far more palatable.


While the Cramps formed in Sacramento, California, the dearly departed Lux Interior hailed from Stow, Ohio, just outside of Akron, and Lux and wife Poison Ivy lived in Akron for a couple of years in the early 1970s.


While a somewhat less natural choice for the Keys than the “Funk #49”, their cover of the Cramps’ “Can’t Find My Mind” reveals an appealing glimpse of punk spirit and Auerbach’s penchant for fuzz guitar serves the song well.


Devo formed in Akron in 1973 before eventually moving to California and never really looking back, but not before leaving the Akron music scene shaken, bewildered and inspired.


Even though Patrick Carney has professed Devo to be one of this favorite bands, “Uncontrollable Urge” is an even less natural choice for the Black Keys to cover than the Cramps. There are hardly two bands more opposite in sound and spirit. I’ll let you be the judge of how well they bridged the gap.


Rebirth of the Cool: Yeh Yeh

The many paths that can lead to the discovery of good music can be interesting… and they can also be a little embarrassing. Back in the 1980s, when everything was shiny with clean edges and far too much hair product, I was plopped down in front of the television with my parents watching The Tonight Show when a British singer named Matt Bianco performed. Though far too pretty and polished, Bianco was, in a way, a little ahead of his time, mining a retro vibe that wasn’t all that popular in that era. He played a song called “Yeh Yeh” that managed to lodge itself in my head forever.


“Yeh Yeh” was originally a Latin-flavored instrumental recorded by Mongo Santamaria (what a name) in 1963. It was a more languid affair back then, with inexplicably jarring vocal interjections, but still a wonderfully infectious groove.


The same year, Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan took the song and added some speed, some shimmy and some lyrics.


The more digging that is done on this jazzy tune, the more interpretations pop up. The perhaps ironically-named group Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames did a passable version in 1965. Paul Anka covered the song in the late 1950s/early 1960s, and it was predictably un-groovy. And in 2001, They Might Be Giants put their characteristic twist on it for their Mink Car album.

Rebirth of the Cool: Goo Goo Muck

The Cramps seemed to permeate northeastern Ohio culture in an insidious way. Even if you had never heard of the Cramps before, you somehow instinctively knew that Lux Interior was from Akron. That’s the way it felt, anyway. And the fact that my mother clipped Lux’s obituary from The Akron Beacon Journal for me when I’m certain that, if I mentioned the Cramps to her at all, it was only once or twice in the distant past bares this out.

One of the Cramps’ best-known songs is the deliciously depraved “Goo Goo Muck”.


You may know that “Goo Goo Muck” is a cover of a 1962 tune by Ronnie Cook & the Gaylads. Little information is available about this band, and the only other song mentioned by them is the b-side to “Goo Goo Muck”, “The Scotch”.


In the 1960s, instrumental bands were a happening thing in American rock ‘n’ roll. Groups like the Ventures, the Surfaris and, of course, Booker T. and the MGs experienced success to rival their vocals-enabled peers. When I began researching instrumental band the Fireballs, their 1958 single “Torquay” struck me as sounding very familiar…


Rebirth of the Cool: Video Killed the Radio Star

Follow me, children, back to the long-forgotten oh-how-we-wish-we-could-forget dawn of the 1980s. It was all about geometrics, big shoulder pads and bright colors. Everything was flashy and bold. The music video, instead of just being a novelty promotional tool, was becoming a commodity in the music industry. If you didn’t have a music video for each of the three singles from your album, you might as well not bother breaking out the Moog because no one was going to be interested in your songs. When MTV launched on August 1, 1981, the first video to play was for a song recorded in 1979 that seemed a prescient tale: “Video Killed the Radio Star” by Buggles.


In 2005, Ben Folds Five put their typical piano arena anthem stamp on the tune.


More recently, vibrant bluegrass act Cadillac Sky orchestrated the song, in a lovely and near-ironic twist, with the instruments of their genre, making the tune warmer and more joyful than one might have thought possible. Here they are performing the song with friends at the midnight jam at Merlefest in 2009.


In this age of the internet, the idea of a video star seems as quaint as did the idea of a radio star back in the early ’80s. Perhaps someday in the future, someone will rewrite this song as “The RFID Chip Killed the Internet Star”.