Metal band Disturbed recently hit double platinum sales with their cover of Simon and Garfunkel‘s 1966 hit, “The Sound of Silence.” The cover itself was critically acclaimed, with many including Paul Simon himself complimenting the version for its inventiveness, punk aesthetic and respect to the original.
Beginning in the late 70’s and early 80’s, there have were a disproportionate number of punk and new wave bands covering ’60s songs with either affection, cynicism or just plain silliness. Whether they respected the originals or not is anyone’s guess, but they always put their own spin on the classics.
In a tribute to bands continuing to reinvent the canon of 60’s pop music, here’s a brief throwback to five of the most memorable covers from that era.
The B-52’s – “Downtown”
It seems like a given that big-haired retro throwbacks the B-52’s would cover one of the cheesiest pop songs from the decade. But in their trademark style, they inject Petula Clark’s original with silly playfulness, and Kate Pierson’s vocals add just a hint of street smarts that Clark only wished she had.
The Stranglers – “Walk On By”
It seems like most every band tried their hand at this Dionne Warwick classic, most to acclaim; Isaac Hayes even recorded a 12-minute funk jam in 1969 that has been sampled extensively since. But British punk rockers The Stranglers were able to extract the inherent loneliness of Warwick’s original and combine it with nihilistic punk sensibilities. An extended organ solo reeks of The Doors, adding further mystery and 60’s credibility.
Devo – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Devo was formed in Ohio in part as a direct reaction against the violence of the Kent State massacre in 1970. To them, humanity had finally devolved to base and ugly violent behavior. What better 60’s classic than the ultra-cool Rolling Stones anthem “Satisfaction” to strip off Jagger’s machismo and reinvent as a jittery track devoid of human warmth. In a way, it was its own anthem for post-Watergate national anxiety leading up to the uncertain and coke-fueled 80’s.
Oingo Boingo – “You Really Got Me”
The Kinks’ original is a template for the entire genre of heavy metal, not least because of its iconic riff. Oingo Boingo’s cover combines Devo’s metallic coldness with the outright silliness of The B-52’s. Guitar riffs are replaced by demented trumpet blasts and the lead singer jumps pitch at a heartbeat accented by manic sounding Kraftwerk-style backup vocals. It perhaps help to understand that the band’s lead singer is now famed film composer Danny Elfman; one thinks of only a few of the twisted films and TV shows he’s helped score like “The Simpsons,” “Ed Wood” and “Beetlejuice,” and suddenly it all falls into place.
The Slits – “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”
Similar to “Walk on By”, this Marvin Gaye original had already become an R&B standard by the time The Slits covered it. The British band were heavily influenced by dub music and with this release they somehow managed to insert their character firmly while creating a brand new way to hear the song. Ari Up’s patois-tinged vocals coupled with Viv Albertine’s choppy reggae guitar make it a funky dance classic that could be easily played at any Jamaican block party to this day.