In the 1980s (and into the 90s), it became quite the vogue for heavy metal bands to “cover” classic rock songs. It was funny and surprising at first, but it quickly became a “thing.” These typically disposable tracks were usually filed away somewhere on the album’s second side and served as filler. Sometimes, however, the song went on to become the band’s most popular. Consider “Cum on Feel the Noize,” the Slade classic, that shot otherwise mediocre metal band Quiet Riot to the top of the charts. The cover is sometimes a cheap shot, an effort to ridicule the “softness” or “lameness” of the original (Chicago’s sleeping-pill “Color My World” butchered by Billy Milano’s Method of Destruction), sometimes a respectful nod (Aerosmith’s “Nobody’s Fault” dutifully performed by thrashers Testament), sometimes a perverse attempt to highlight just how “heavy” the band was (Led Zeppelin’s already heavy “Immigrant Song” ground into greasy pulp by Dark Angel), or a desperate ploy for attention (Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” recorded note for note by Mr. Big). There are far, far too many to name, but I thought I’d do a quick rundown of my own favorites.
5. David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” originally released in 1972 on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, got a Sunset Strip-style tune up by glam shredders Racer X on their 1986 Second Heat album. The only possible improvement over the classic original is uber-guitarist Paul Gilbert’s masterful solo work.
4. Jimi Hendrix’s waltz-time downer rock anthem “Manic Depression” was released in 1967 on the legendary Are You Experienced? album. It was given the Brooklyn strong-arm treatment by Carnivore on their excellent but less legendary Retaliation album. Lead singer Pete Steele, later front man for Type O Negative, yowls and grunts his way through this 3/4 stomper as only a man tortured by depression and driven by madness can.
3. Black Sabbath’s 1971 “Children of the Grave” appeared on their Master of Reality album. This is one of the true head-banging classics, and a song that Lester Bangs pointed out actually contained both hippie hopefulness and dour heavy metal apocalypse in a single vessel. It is very much an artifact of its era, which is why White Zombie’s Rob Zombie proved so adept at recycling its druggy thudding energy. Zombie specializes in hoarding pop culture kitsch, vintage horror effects, and obscure movie references. His albums are cluttered like old antiques shops with these props, so he was naturally drawn to Black Sabbath’s period piece. That is why his down-tuned but pumped-up performance of the song on 1994’s Nativity in Black tribute album outshines the rest of a very good crop of cover songs. Just try to keep from nodding your head to this one!
2. Iggy Pop and the Stooges threw the thunder to their dazed audiences in 1969 with “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” from their self-titled first album. It’s a hell of a track, one that went on to become a cornerstone of punk rock. It’s a rough-edged, sludgy affair (with clear chiming sleigh bells up high in the mix to keep the time) to begin with, so when Slayer decided to rework it in their chest-beating tribute to Iggy and the boys they had to take it one step further (these go to 11 . . .). It appeared on their 1996 Undisputed Attitude album, a collection of punk and hardcore covers, as “I’m Gonna Be Your God,” making it less cozy and interrogative, more hostile and imperative.
1. When Glenn Danzig and the Misfits recorded songs like “Green Hell” and “Last Caress,” Metallica and their eventual superstardom were no more than a glint in James Hetfield’s eye. Metallica never forgot their influences, even as they ballooned up to mega-rock-star bozo status. As early as 1987 they released a “back-to-roots” EP cheekily titled $5.98 Garage Days Revisited (they inserted the price into the album’s title so that retailers could not sell it for more than the band felt it was worth). There are many highlights on that dirty little gem of an EP, but the best is the final track, the double-barreled Misfits cover “Last Caress”/”Green Hell.” Never has something so dangerous sounded so much god-damned fun.
Honorable mention: Wall of Voodoo’s campy 1982 hit “Mexican Radio” was retooled by Swiss-German metal maestros Celtic Frost for their 1987 dark rock classic Into the Pandemonium. Thomas Gabriel Warrior was so confident of the song’s relevance and potential interest to his fans that he placed it first on the album. The gamble may have paid off, in a strange way, as fans of one of metal’s heaviest and most serious bands were actually pleased by the jokiness of the choice.
The Metal Council has begun to write in. I’ll add their suggestions as we go, below.
Courtesy of Andrew: Queen released “Sheer Heart Attack,” the title track to their third album, in 1974. The stripped-down angry metal band Hallow’s Eve covered it on their monumental 1988 opus Monument.
Eric Bones Bohnenstiel sent these in:
Classic summertime rockers Thin Lizzy released their breezy nostalgic “Cowboy Song” on the flip side of their 1976 Jailbreak album. Anthrax just couldn’t resist.
“Good Times Bad Times” kicks off Led Zeppelins powerful, though highly derivative, first album (you know, the one with the Hindenburg on the cover). It’s a pretty heavy song for 1969, and primitive thrashers Nuclear Assault decided to end their Survive album with the Zeppelin tune (we used to listen to it down by the dirty reservoir where we drank and swam all summer, and even the country boys liked it when it came on).
“Sonic Reducer” is a driving tune that will have you pogo-ing in no time. Originally recorded by the Dead Boys for their 1977 album Young, Loud and Snotty, it was resurrected by Brooklyn thrashers Overkill’s 1985 Feel the Fire LP.
When Ray Charles recorded “I Don’t Need No Doctor” in 1966, he couldn’t have imagined that it would be like catnip (or speed!) to a lot of white rockers. It has since been covered by The Chocolate Watchband in 1969, Humble Pie in 1971, New Riders of the Purple Sage in 1972, and even Styx and John Mayer! That’s because it’s a rocker. A great tune. Despite such worth predecessors, it may have found its true form in 1986, when WASP recorded it. In fact, WASP’s own live version of their recording takes it one step further. This is a true classic.
Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” from their 1972 Machine Head album, has become a gearhead anthem. To this day, it’s dusted off any time a TV show or movie shows some long-haired mustachioed guys racing the big hulks they built in their side yards. It’s a paean to the car as lover, as guiding star, as god, angel, and private devil. The neo-baroque organ and guitar solos still make grown men break into air guitar fits.
Motorhead’s “One Track Mind” appeared on what may actually be their best album, the perennially overlooked Another Perfect Day, but it took death metal growlers Entombed to move it to the next level.
My brother votes for Type O Negative’s take on Neil Yong’s “Cinnamon Girl,” which is, in essence, a truly heavy song with a pounding, distorted riff right from the start.
As a joke, he also added Winger’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” But let’s not forget that Ozzy did a serviceable, but largely pointless, cover it as well.
Jethro Tull’s “Cross-Eyed Mary” was originally intended by the band to be a companion piece to their more famous song “Aqualung” (in fact, Aqualung himself gets a cameo in the song). It’s about a teenage prostitute, who prefers aging lecherous men over schoolboys her own age, not politically correct in the slightest, but it caught the attention of another partly-prog British band, Iron Maiden. It was released on the picture disc edition (with alternate cover, US market only) of their fourth album, Piece of Mind. Later, Metallica also played a live version, though they never put it down in the studio (this is a joke, people).
Chris sends in one more.
“Was always fond of the Racer X cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Godzilla’ too.”
Now, that reminds me that Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” was given the heavy treatment by Overkill.
Drummer Steve writes in with another: Overkill covered Deep Purple’s classic “Space Truckin'”.
Ffej writes in with another, already mentioned in the introduction: Dark Angel’s mangling of Led Zeppelin’s stomper “Immigrant Song.”
To which Seruby writes in:
“I love how fast they (Dark Angel) try to play the “Immigrant Song.” It makes the riff totally unrecognizable. Not a good cover. If we’re talking about bad covers, I would have to add “I Ain’t Superstitious” from Megadeth. “Side B” (for us older folks) of Peace Sells is rock solid other than that turd. I also never liked “I’m Eighteen” from Anthrax, another downer on an otherwise stellar record (my favorite Anthrax record remains Fistful of Metal).
“I Ain’t Superstitious” was written by bluesman Willie Dixon and recorded with Howlin’ Wolf in 1961. First released as a single,it also appeared on the LP Evilin 1969.
Many have covered this song, including the Jeff Beck Group (a version which was featured prominently in a scene in the Martin Scorsese film Casino), The Yardbirds, Chris Spedding, the Upholsterers (Jack White’s first band), Tesla and The Grateful Dead. Then there’s the Megadeth version . . .
Alice Cooper recorded the adolescent anthem “I’m Eighteen” for his 1970 album Love it to Death. Sadly, Anthrax delivered a lackluster version on their debut album (Anthrax did, however, give us an excellent cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” on their I am the Man EP, so we’re even).