Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published March 1st 2020
Great cover versions - honestly
My last column was about the best songs of 1990 and I promised then that there would be a cover versions column from 1990 as well. This is it! Obviously…
I have said in the past that when there are a lot of good cover versions, it generally follows from there being few decent original tracks in a year. As my rather short list of "almost there" songs in the 1990 songs column shows, 1990 was indeed a little bereft of good songs. The songs that were good were very good, don't get me wrong, but there were too few of them.
I also mentioned in that column that I was putting together a mix-mp3-collection for a thirtieth birthday party. For that reason, there was one song I was asked to please include in this list, and I am nothing if not happy to make others happy. It will become clearer when that song comes up, but – Happy Birthday to K!
Alright, the list. There are some cover songs here that are straight forward. There are also some other forms of cover version here. It was quite the eclectic year.
And to start with, a bonus track – a cover instrumental! But is it really a cover version? It's basically a well-known classical piece done by a pop-punk band. Seriously. 'Sonata No. 3 (Mozart)' by Scatterbrain It's a truly awful video clip – maybe one of the worst – but close your eyes and listen to the fantastic way these guys play this piece of music. Some fine guitaring here.
The real list!
'The Anniversary Waltz – Part One' by Status Quo
Not a straight-forward cover version, but a medley of a few songs from the fifties and sixties, and I love this so much I own it on cassingle (remember those?). And, I'm going to be honest here, this is one of my very favourite Status Quo songs from their entire long career. I also know I am in the minority with that opinion. They seamlessly move from song to song, and it sounds like they're having fun playing the track. This is a great party track. Part 2 is also not too bad either.
'Banned In The U.S.A.' by Luke / 2 Live Crew Warning – NSFW language!
This is a cover of Springsteen's 'Born In The U.S.A.', taking the protest song about the treatment of Vietnam Veterans and changing it up to a protest song about Freedom of Speech. While a rewrite, it is still a cover, and Springsteen apparently supported what they did. This is one of the few rap/hip-hop songs I like, and it says something decent and says it well and forcefully. Based on a true story about the band 2 Live Crew as well. Oh, and the two singers? The album it comes from is listed as being by Luke, but when it was re-released the whole band Luke was lead for – 2 Live Crew – were credited. This is probably a song that some people will not like, but I do.
'Dirty Deeds' by Joan Jett
Joan Jett, the under-rated singer that she is, takes on the AC/DC classic 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap' and delivers a straight-ahead cover that just has an added sense of menace by coming from a female singer. Jett, as she often does, delivers a really good version of the song. Really good. Sure, the guitar work is not at AC/DC's level, but her voice is just awesome.
'L.A. Woman' by Billy Idol
Now, I know that there are a number of people (including friends of mine) who cannot stand this version of the classic song by The Doors. Well, sorry, gang, I do like it. From the piano, to the upped tempo, to Idol's unique delivery, I think this is basically just a fun way of recording a song. Like I mentioned with Status Quo's medley above, the song sounds like he had fun, and that means he really likes the original. Is it as good as the Doors' version? No. But it is actually different enough to stand on its own. I am defending this a little too much, but I know which song is going to get me the most grief for being on this list…
'Nothing Compares 2 U' by Sinéad O'Connor
I love O'Connor's version of this song. It is better than the original, it is better than Prince's version, no-one has come close to matching the emotion she has put into this song. This song is probably one of the three very best songs released in 1990. There is so little I can say about this without sounding like a sycophantic groveler. So, so beautiful.
'Runaway' by The Traveling Wilburys
After releasing their first album, this makeshift but awesome band lost a member when Roy Orbison died in 1988. The plan was to replace him with another 1960s singer with a singularly awesome voice – Del Shannon. Unfortunately, due to (allegedly) some dodgy medication (and people wonder why I don't trust Big Pharma), Del Shannon also passed away. One of my favourite male singers died. As a tribute to the member that never was, on the second album by the Traveling Wilburys (called Volume 3) they recorded his most famous song (one I've mentioned before) – 'Runaway'. While not as good as the original, it still shows a degree of love and care and is a fine version.
'Smoke On The Water '90' by Rock Aid Armenia
From The Earthquake Album, a record designed to raise money for the victims of a devastating earthquake in Armenia (it's all there in the title), a bunch of mainly British classic rock artists allowed some of their classic songs to be compiled together in order to make people want to buy it. However, it also came with a brand-new song – this version of the Deep Purple classic. I love it. The stab of Yes, the drumming by Roger Taylor, the mix of vocalists and guitarists, it is just a wonderful track and, in my opinion, one of the best of the so-called charity tracks released through the 80s and 90s. Is it as good as the original? Of course not; that song is an all-time classic. But is it a good version? Oh yeah… yeah it most certainly is. (There was a version that was released in 1989, but I prefer the 1990 version more.)
'Tears On My Pillow' by Kylie Minogue
Okay. Yep, okay. I find this cover version okay. Just okay. Minogue's best song, in my opinion, was her duet with Nick Cave, and this is just a little bit twee and pop. However, K, who inspired this list, calls this one of her favourite songs, asked for me to include it, and so in deference to her birthday, I have included it. Truth be told, it's not terrible. I first heard the song on the Grease soundtrack, where it is one of the better tracks, sung by Sha-Na-Na, but was originally by (I think) Little Anthony and the Imperials. Minogue's version is fine and sweet enough, and she does not over-emote the song into unlistenability (which I am sure certain 'divas' most definitely would). So, it's okay. Not great, but okay.
'Walking By Myself' by Gary Moore
Ah, Gary Moore, one of the finest blues guitarists ever. The thing is, this could well be considered one of those songs that most people didn't know was a cover, so entwined has it become with the legend of Gary Moore. And that should tell you how fantastic this cover is. Moore made it his own, and it is definitely better than any other version, including the original by Jimmy Rogers. This is such a glorious, wonderful version, and one of the very best songs of 1990.
'Yakety Axe' by Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler
This song comes from the collaboration album Neck And Neck by guitar legends Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler, and, yet again, it sounds like they had fun recording it. The version of this song that is probably best known is 'Yakety Sax' by Boots Randolph, which was used as the theme for the TV series The Benny Hill Show. This is different with some really fine guitar picking throughout and Chet's voice sounding perfectly suited to the odd lyrics about killing chickens. This album flew under the radar when it was released, maybe because of its distinct country feel, but it is a really good one and well worth tracking down.
And there we have it, ten (plus one) cover songs of the year 1990. Some of these songs have actually gone down as classics in this cover version (Moore and O'Connor especially), and this makes the year 1990 a far better year in music than it might otherwise have been considered.