Friday, April 13, 2012

Cover Your Ears!

You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover...
But You Can Judge a Band by Its Covers!

"Thee Horror! Thee Horror!"

I've always loved bands that augment their live sets or albums with a well-selected cover song. To me its a case of wearing your influences on your sleeve, and musicians like Elvis Costello and the late-great Alex Chilton made an art out of the well-selected or obscure cover. The phenomenon got me to thinking about the cover songs we attempted to replicate in my old punk band, Thee Katatonix (Version 1.0, 1979-1980).

Yee olde Katatonix (Version 1.0) covered "old shit" and "new stuff too"

Since none of us really knew how to play our instruments at that time - I was a "fake" drummer who only bought a trap set so I could date bass player Katie Katatonic; Katie was our most accomplished "music scholar," having received a "D" passing score in Music Appreciation at Towson High; whilst guitarist Adolf Kowalski had switched to guitar after previously only playing "French" Horn (he thought it meant "dirty") in the Dundalk High band - we soon discovered that covering songs was a lot harder than playing original music. Especially since we rarely heard the original record (for example, I never heard the Sex Pistols' B-side "Satellite" until years after playing it live!); rather, Adolf would play some riffs at practice, and we would attempt to parrot his interpretation and wing it from there after he signed off with a "That's close enough!"

Katie, Tommy & Adolf: deface the music and dance

Now live, without monitors and with Adolf's fuzzbox distorting everything, we tended to mess up - I used to get so frustrated that I remember stopping a song right at the git-go and screaming "Wait a minute - what the fuck song are we playing now?"; Adolf, without missing a beat, called out to our friend Marty Benson, "Hey, Marty, tell Tom what song we're playing"...Marty shouted out the song title, and we started over in unison. At least with originals, when we screwed up (which was often), nobody knew we hadn't intended to play that wrong note or beat - because no one had ever heard "Basket Case" or "(Didn't Get Laid On) Valentine's Day," "I Wanna Die On a DC-10," "I Don't Wanna Marry a Dyke," or "I Hate DC" before. But when you screwed up a cover (especially a 2-chord Ramones song), well, there was nowhere to hide!

So with these reminisces in mind, following is a list of the songs Thee Katatonix absolutely destroyed in our first incarnation, 1979-1980.


Adolf sez: "See if you can name that tune!"

Looking at the songlist that follows, I think you'll agree with me that, while we may not have had any talent, the Kats at least had good taste!
Note: I'm not including all the Mother Goose and nursery-rhyme ditties we butchered after Adolf scored a children's guitar chord (mostly for C chords, if I recall) book and we learned "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain" (we changed the title to "She'll Be Cumming Like a Fountain"), "Buffalo Girls" ("Buffalo girls won't ya come out tonight and fuck me in the mornin'?"), "When the Saints Go Rolling In" (we actually did a great punk-rockin' version of this), and my personal fave "This Old Man" ("This old man, he's so dumb/He gets butt-fucked with my thumb/With a cocksuck, motherfuck, give a dog my bone/This old man went stumbling home..."). (And of course "Roger's Marble Bar" was really just a cover of Wayne County & The Backstreet Boys' bandname-checking "Max's Kansas City" from the Live at Max's LP with new lyrics and local band shout-outs; and our "3rd Degree Burns" was also just a cover rip-off sans acknowledgement of Captain Beefheart's "Hard Workin' Man," the theme from the movie Blue Collar.)


THE TROGGS - "Wild Thing" (Chip Taylor)

Troggs - "Wild Thing" (Fontana, 1966)

This Chip Taylor tune was probably the first cover we ever attempted, because it's so primordially caveman-simple as performed by The Troggs in their #1 1966 cover version that even I could play the bass line. I recall Adolf used to ad-lib the lyrics, like "Wild Thing, you make my zygotes sing!" (a Marty Benson fave line).

Watch The Troggs play "Wild Thing"


"PETER GUNN" THEME (Henry Mancini)

"Music from Peter Gunn" LP (1958)

Cool song by a cool composer from a way-cool '60s TV show created by Blake Edwards and starring Craig Stevens as the titular private eye with the smokin' hot secretary, Lola Albright. I loved that show and took my stage name of Tommy Gunn, from it (as well as The Clash song "Tommy Gun," of course). An early staple of the early Kats because Katie could handle the signature bass line and slow-witted me could handle the slow beat. We opened with this the first time we played the Marble Bar (it worked as a live sound-check to see if, for once, we were actually all in tune and all in time), one of only two songs performed that night before we blew up the sound system. I think Judies Fixation or the Slickees (who also covered "Peter Gunn" as part of their "TV Theme Songs Medley") were the main act - and no doubt pissed! Many bands have covered this song, but one of the most interesting is the Art of Noise version featuring Duane Eddy.

Watch Art of Noise play "Peter Gunn" live



Roadrunner, roadrunner...going faster miles an hour!

People knew what this one was supposed to sound like because the song some consider "the greatest rock 'n' song ever" has been covered by so many people, including the Sex Pistols (whose version we probably heard first and emulated most) and Joan Jett ("1-2-3-4-5-6!") - sorry Johnny, but Joan owns this song with her version (as shown below).

Watch Joan Jett play "Roadrunner"

Richman originally recorded the song with The Velvet Underground's John Cale in 1972 and it later appeared as both a 1974 single on the Beserkley label and as a track on the 1976 Modern Lovers album. The Pistols recorded a demo of the song in 1976, which was finally released on The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle album in 1979.

I distinctly remember playing this at Oddfellows Hall in Towson, our first or second gig, because somebody threw something at Adolf and he unplugged his guitar, jumped out in the crowd and gave chase to the perp (wielding his guitar as a battle axe). Meanwhile, Katie I inadvertently introduced Towson to the bass-and-drums subgenre because we kept playing for like 10 minutes until a disheveled Adolf returned to the stage to plug back in and put the song to rest. Out with a bang and a wimper.

Listen to Jonathan Richman play "Roadrunner"


NEW YORK DOLLS - "Who Are the Mystery Girls?"

"Who's the one who wants to slam it in the door and try to hide it like a mystery girl?"

Who are the Mystery Girls? (And was Paula Poole one of them?) Neither Adolf nor David Johansen will say, so it remains one of life's great unsolved mysteries. I really liked this one with its backing "Who're the Mystery Girls" and Adolf aping Johansen with his pleas of "I'm tawking 'bout LOVE!" From the Dolls' second LP, Too Much Too Soon (Mercury, 1974), also a B-side from the "Jet Boy"/"Babylon" single. This song must have inspired the garage rock group The Mystery Girls.

Watch the Dolls play "Mystery Girls" live


THE RAMONES - "I Just Wanna Have Something To Do"

Road To Ruin (Sire, 1978)

Thank God this was a slow one, because I could actually handle the beat. I'm sure we tried our hand at some more Ramones songs, but this is the one that made it out of the practice space in Adolf's parent's basement (where every once in a while Dad Kowalski would pop downstairs to grab a Genesee Cream Ale or two - and notice that one or two were missing!) (Sorry Adolf, I was thirsty!).

Tom sez: "Oh goodie, a slow one I can play!"

Listen to The Ramones play "I Just Wanna Have Something To Do"


THE WHO - "My Generation" (as "My Genitalia")

Who did we think we were fooling?

God I hated playing this song because everybody had to solo in it and (the truth can now be told!) the musical acumen of Adolf Kowalski, Katie Katatonic and Tommy Gunn came up rather short when measured against Mssrs Townshend, Entwistle, and Moon! Worst soloing ever! as Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons would say. Shocking, I know!

But the signature set-piece song of our early shows was this renamed - and lewdly choreographed - cover of the Who's "My Generation" in which Adolf would unsheath a giant dildo from his pants while taunting the audience "People try to put me down, just cuz I hang so far down/Don't try to talk cuz words might fail ya/Talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-genitalia!" In later shows, our pal Al Erzersky would don either a Rabbi or Samurai outfit and "circumcise" or otherwise slice off chunks of Adolf's dildo until it was completely whittled away by the end of the first year. I fondly recall some audience member at a DC gig (Scandals in Georgetown?) commenting, after we played this song, "I think they're, like, political."

"Don't try to talk 'cuz words might fail ya/Talkin' 'bout my g-g-genitalia!"

Now watch The Who play the song the way it was intended to be played.

Watch The Who play "My Generation" (Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour)


SEX PISTOLS - "Satellite"

"Holidays in the Sun" b/w "Satellite" (Virgin, 1977)

You know I don't like where you come from
It's just a satellite of London...
A suburban kid and ya got no name
You're too dumb baby and ya got no brain
I bet you're all so happy in suburbian dream
But I'm only laughing - You ain't in my scheme...

This B-side to the Pistols' "Holidays in the Sun" single is my favorite Pistols song ever, though I never heard it played right until after the band broke up and I finally scored the 45! Love the line "When I got nothing better to do, there's always you - you're good for my shoe." That Johnny Rotten, he was a such a hater!

Watch the Pistols play "Satellite"


SEX PISTOLS - "Don't Give Me No Lip, Child" (Dave Berry)

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle songbook

Sure, Dave Berry wrote it back in 1964, but no way did we know that! We just played Follow-the-Leader and mimicked whatever the Pistols covered on the influential Elpee, The Great Rock & Roll Swindle. God, we might have added Sid's "My Way" for filler, too.

Listen to the Pistols play "No Lip"


THE FLAMIN' GROOVIES - "Don't You Lie To Me" (Tampa Red)

Shake Some Action (Sire, 1976)

OK the original of this blues standard was by Tampa Red from the '40s, but I'm sure we first heard it being done by R&B devotees The Flamin' Groovies on their Shake Some Action album. "Shake Some Action" and "Teenage Head" (which Adolf no doubt craved) were too hard to play, so we settled on this one. I don't recall ever playing this, but Adolf swears we did.

Listen to "Don't You Lie To Me"


BUZZCOCKS - "Boredom" & "Love Battery"

Pete Shelley's 2-note solo in "Boredom" was a challenge to our abilities

Who didn't love Buzzcocks back then (and forever, for that matter?)? "Boredom" was the sonic-iconic anthem of the early 'cocks that seemed to sum up everthing Punque was supposed to be about aestherically and musically - at least in our interpretation of it. And it was the obvious choice when it came to picking a punk song to cover because, well, we were bored back then. We didn't have Facebook or Internet porn or smart phones yet!

Watch Buzzcocks play "Boredom"

Less obvious was Adolf's decision to cover "Love Battery," an album track from the first album, Another Music from a Different Kitchen.

"My love battery wants to charge you!"

But I guess I can see the appeal of guy's naughty bits being represented by a charged battery metaphor to our fearless frontman 'dolf, someone who routinely pranced about on stage with a strap-on phallus attached to his undies singing "My Genitalia." (Not to mention his AC/DC tendencies as a "three-prong outlet" man.) Though Pete Shelley sang the song on the 'cocks debut LP, a demo version of "Love Battery" had previously been recorded with Howard Devoto right before he split to start Magazine; that version follows:

Listen to Devoto & Buzzcocks play "Love Battery"


THE VALVES - "Robot Love"

Valves - "Robot Love"/"For Adolfs Only" (Zoom, 1977)

I think Adolf bought this single by the Scottish punk band The Valves for the flip side: "For Adolfs Only." But the A-side, which we learned second-hand from the punkrock-griot Adolf K. himself - and not the record (which might have helped) - sounded fun. "I'm in love with a robot girl...She only landed yesterday, she gave me one kiss and she blew me away/Robot love: Beep-Beep, Beep-Beep/Robot Love: Beep-Beep, Beep-Beep!"

Listen to Valves play "Robot Love"

I recall we had tried to play Gruppo Sportivo's similary-themed tale of automaton amour "Beep Beep Love" (a great song from their even greater Mistakes LP), but weren't proficient enough to pull it off. So this cover represented a compromise, Plan B.

"Beep Beep Love" by Dutch masters Gruppo Sportivo

This Edinburgh band (who like the Ramones all had the same last name: guitarist Ronnie Valve, bassist Gordon Valve and drummer Pada Valve) apparently worshipped The Vibrators, which makes sense that Adolf liked it, because we also covered...

THE VIBRATORS - "I Need a Slave"

"I Need a Slave" - album track on "Pure Mania" LP

One for the ladies...Great "romantic" ballad from the band that gave Irish punk rockers Stiff Little Fingers their name. And no, the Vibrators weren't singing about the kind of slave Honest Abe Lincoln emancipated, but rather voluntary servitude of the kinky S&M "Whips and Furs" variety, a la Betty Page (as shown below in her Rotiserrie Chicken S&M Phase):

"Mmmffphhh." What's that, Betty - you'd like to request some Vibrators?

"You'll do!": Captive audience member answers Adolf's call for a slave girl

I'm lookin' for some action, can't seem to get no connection
Put some chains on you honey, I'm gonna pull 'em up real tight
Yeah c'mon child, I need a slave tonight
Well all your bondage magazines, they're gettin' me frustrated
Come on girl, I wanna see you naked.

Listen to Vibrators play "I Need a Slave" (LP version)

Watch Vibrators play "I Need a Slave" (Live)


LOU REED - "Vicious"

Lou Reed - "Transformer"

"You hit me with a flower/You do it every hour/Oh baby, you're so vicious!" I remember opening with this at the Marble Bar one night and I think I even played cowbell on it! From Lou's Bowie-produced Transformer. Adolf liked the title, lines like "You must think I'm some kinda gay blade/Why doncha swallow razor blades," and that little Mick Ronson guitar snarl (which he approximated with his fuzzbox) and I think we thought we were progressive by using a cowbell - like one phone call away from hooking up with Eno! (And by the way, this is by the New York Lou Reed, not Adolf's mysterious camera-toting lookalike friend "Lou Reed" who was always snapping photos that nobody ever saw. Whatever happened to that guy?)

Watch Lou play "Vicious" live in Paris (1974)


THE NORMAL - "Warm Leatherette"

The Normal - "T.V.O.D." b/w "Warm Leatherette" (Mute, 1978)

In retrospect, I can't believe we covered this Mute Records techno oddity (with the static beat that even I couldn't mess up), but now I do recall playing it at Madam's Organ in Adams Morgan, DC, right before or after "I Hate DC" (the Washington crowd really loved that one - with lines like "In the nation's capital, people ain't got balls at all/Everyone's a stuck-up little twit, and you're a dick"!). I'm pretty sure the Kats didn't have anything close to a keyboard or Casio at this point. How the hell did we pull that off then? Must have been a toy sound effect gizmo. I think we were were emboldend by a fuck-all attitude, as before taking the stage we thought we were gonna die, having all three gotten sick from whatever we ate for dinner and taking turns shitting our guts out upstairs at the venue's lone toilet. Yes, we made quite a stink whenever we played DC!

Daniel Miller (aka The Normal and, later, Fad Gadget) was a genius. I used to wear the grooves out listening to this single - especially the A-side "T.V.O.D." (forget Black Flag's "TV Party," along with The Distributor's "T.V. Me," this was the greatest song ever about the Idiot Box!) - and it remains probably my most valued 45, right up there with Berserk's "Giant Robots" and Das Marinas "Fred vom Jupiter." Grace Jones' version wasn't half bad either!

Watch Daniel Miller play "Warm Leatherette"


THE CRAMPS - "The Way I Walk" & "Human Fly"

Cramps - "Surfin' Bird" b/w "The Way I Walk" (1978)

"The Way I Walk" was written in 1959 by Jack Scott, but we first heard Robert Gordon do his rockabilly version, before ending up covering the Cramps' psychobilly version after seeing what Lux could do live with this bad boy. As DJ Mike Crash put it, the Cramps take Scott's original version and "strip it to its raw rock essence, then drag it through a dirty alley and soak it with booze until it's a lean, mean, attitute machine." Wish I could say the Kats did the same, although we did strip it of something, probably its resemblance to either version!

Watch The Cramps play "The Walk I Walk" live for loonies.

And I'm pretty sure we covered "Human Fly" (spelled F-L-Y) which, with all that Bryan Gregory fuzziness was tailor-made for Adolf's wall-of-distortion guitar that masked our early propensity for sounds-close-enough strumming.

"I'm a Human Fly, uh-uh, spelled F-L-Y"

I know Adolf would give it a shot because how could anyone hear missed notes anyway?

Watch The Cramps play "Human Fly" live

"Human Fly" from "Urgh!: A Music War"

ROCK ROLL - "Bedrock Twitch"

Rock Roll's got the Twitch...

...and so does Fred Flintstone

I'm not sure if we ever played this out live, but I know we practiced covering Rock Roll's "Bedrock Twitch" from The Flintstones TV cartoon show. Adolf altered the lyrics to send a shout-out to his 'hood: "Well there's a place I know where the burn-outs go called Dundalk, Twitch Twitch/And when you get the itch you just grab some bitch in Dundalk, Twitch Twich."

Watch Rock Roll play "Bedrock Twist"


When people compared the early Kats to (for want of a better description) the Sex Pistols, Adolf would always correct them and say, "Naw, the Pistols can play; we're more like the Damned 'cause we can't play!" I know we must have therefore covered a Damned song, but I'll be damned if I can remember which one. Must have been something from the first or second albums, like "New Rose" or "Neat Neat Neat," because the later Capt. Sensible-penned stuff was too complex for us. Anybody remember?

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