571. ‘Spirit in the Sky’, by Doctor & The Medics

Given the way the charts have been going over the past few months, I’m ready to write this next #1 off as another gimmicky novelty…

Spirit in the Sky, by Doctor & The Medics (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 1st June – 22nd June 1986

From Cliff and the Young Ones, past Falco and The Chicken Song, to this: a mid-eighties take on Norman Greenbaum’s classic 1970 number one (obligatory link to my original post here…) The beefy guitars that open on that famous riff are very welcome – it’s been a good long while since we’ve had proper guitars at #1.

It’s a faithful cover, all the notes are there in the right order. Even the trippy effects between the lines and the riffs are recreated. It’s fine. It’s a great song, and if you stick to the script you’ll end up with a reasonably good cover. But as the song develops, and after repeated listens, you start to wonder why they bothered…

It plods along with the feel of a knock-off karaoke version, especially when the tacky, synthy organ comes in. You can hear it in the background from around midway through, sounding like the one used in the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ theme (sorry, very niche reference for non-British readers…) It’s the version of ‘Spirit in the Sky’ that you’d use in a TV series if you couldn’t afford to pay for the original. Meanwhile, in my post on the original I remember questioning whether Greenbaum was singing this as a religious song. Here, the lyrics pass you by. They’re sung so unremarkably that you don’t really notice them.

It is, as you may have gathered from the preceding paragraphs, not a patch on the proto-glam, acid-fried original. And, yet again, this record backs up my bias against eighties production: it just sounds so much better when ‘real’ instruments are used… By this point my 1980s fixation is very much ‘old man shouts at cloud’ territory, but I can’t help it.

One of the main reasons why I approached this record as a novelty is because the band singing it are called Doctor & The Medics. It just screams ‘aren’t we zany!’ They had been around since 1981, formed in London by The Doctor (AKA Clive Jackson). From the look of the band – big hair and Kiss-style make-up – I want to like them. This is possibly the closest we’ll get to an ‘80s glam rock chart-topper (a genre that’s a definite guilty pleasure of mine). The video also has a goth-glam feel to it, with pale women in floaty white dresses popping their heads out of windows.

The Medics were primarily a covers band, but sadly their subsequent versions of ‘Waterloo’ (featuring Roy Wood) and ‘Burning Love’ didn’t set the charts alight. They remain on the verge of being one-hit wonders, and continue to perform with only The Doctor as an original member. Their sole Top 20 hit isn’t a novelty, then, I can confirm. But neither is it anything more than okay… Meanwhile, ‘Spirit in the Sky’ has one more appearance at #1 to come. And if you thought I was down on this version, well…

Advertisements

Cover Versions of #1s – Joan Jett & Oasis

For my last two covers of the week, I’m going back to the age of glam. I do miss the days when every second chart-topper was a glam-rock stomper…

‘I Love You Love Me Love’, by Joan Jett – originally a #1 in 1973 for you-know-who.

The only problem with ‘the age of glam’ is that one of its biggest stars turned out to be a prolific sex-offender. Despite trying not to, I did enjoy the first two of Gary Glitter’s three #1s. How to listen to them these days, though, without feeling a bit icky? Luckily, Americans have no idea who Glitter is/was, and are happy to use his music at sporting events and in the soundtracks to major Hollywood movies. Joan Jett made a habit of covering old 60s and 70s tunes and giving them a power-rock feel in the eighties. (Yes, I know, he probably still gets royalties. I didn’t say it was a perfect plan…)

‘Cum on Feel the Noize’, by Oasis – originally a #1 in 1973, for Slade

I have complicated feelings towards Oasis. They were once my favourite band (if you were a teenage boy, growing up in suburban Scotland, in the late 90s, you had to love Oasis, it was as good as law). But I don’t listen to them much these days. Liam and Noel are as moronic as they are funny, and they attract a certain type of ‘fan’… And yet, watching this performance at Maine Road, at the height of their popularity, you can see why they were so huge, and it proves anyone who thinks Liam couldn’t sing very wrong. Obnoxious lines like: So you think my singing’s out of time, Well it makes me money… might well have been custom-written for him. Oasis are famously mocked for copying the Beatles, but I’ve also heard them described as ‘Status Slade’. I think whoever said that meant to be bitchy, but I can’t think of a more fun sounding hybrid band. Anyway, I’ll have plenty of time to reassess Oasis when I cover their eight #1s – ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ was a ‘B’-side to their second (and best…?) chart-topper, ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’.

Next week it’s back to the usual countdown, starting with chart-topper number 501.

Advertisements

Cover Versions of #1s – G4 and Paris Hilton

No, don’t run. Come back! I know that title is enough to scare off any right-minded person, but bear with me. Yes, good cover versions are all fine and dandy. But there’s also pleasure to be had from a bad cover version…

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, by G4 (originally a #1 in 1975, for Queen)

If ever a song was ‘uncoverable’, then that song is probably ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Credit then to pop-opera (Popera?) group G4, for giving it a go, and for proving just how impossible a job it is. It’s not that it’s a shockingly bad record; it simply adds nothing to the original. The vocals reach nothing like the heights (quite literally) of Freddie Mercury, and the music is karaoke backing track at best. They should have gone somewhere different with it – full-on opera treatment, a capella, something… G4 were runners-up in the very first season of the X-Factor in 2004, finishing behind Steve Brookstein, who we will sadly have to deal with in our regular countdown… This was their only UK hit. I remembered it existing, but I had completely forgot that this version actually made #9 in the charts!

‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’, by Paris Hilton (originally a #1 in 1978, for Rod Stewart)

The thought of Paris Hilton covering ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ is almost too obvious to be true. No comedy writer would dare be so unimaginative. But here we are. The final track on her thus far only album ‘Paris’ sees Hilton breathing her way through this pretty faithful cover of Rod Stewart’s polarising 5th #1 single. Since this album came out in 2006, she has drip fed us a string of singles, including 2019’s brilliantly titled ‘B.F.A. (Best Friend’s Ass)’. Of course she has never topped her first single, the… *whisper it very softly* … actually quite brilliant, reggae-tinged, ‘Stars Are Blind’.

The final two covers tomorrow!

Advertisements

Cover Versions of #1s – The Fratellis and Weezer

Day Two of ‘cover versions’ week, and I’m being a bit self-indulgent. I’m including this pair not because I think they are amazing covers, but because they are by two of my favourite bands. Bands that will come nowhere near to featuring on my regular countdown, so here’s their moment…

The Fratellis – ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ (originally a #1 in 1977, for Baccara)

Like Miley Cyrus yesterday, this is another cover done for radio. Although a desire to cover ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ would be completely understandable by anyone, at any time, there is a little bit of context here. The Fratellis are Glaswegian, big football fans, and the Scottish national team had just qualified for the European Championships – their first tournament appearance in twenty-three years. ‘Yes Sir…’ was adopted as the team’s unofficial anthem, after a video of the players dancing to the song went viral. In the run-up to the tournament T-shirts were printed with the lyrics, the song title became a hashtag, and Baccara themselves put their full support behind the campaign. Scotland, as tradition demands, went out at the group stage… Away from this cover, The Fratellis are a band well worth discovering. Their biggest hit in the UK was glam-rock anthem ‘Chelsea Dagger’ – a #5 from 2006 that you all know, even if you don’t realise it.

Weezer – ‘Are Friends Electric’ (originally a #1 in 1979, for Tubeway Army)

I love Weezer. I love the Weezer that everybody loves (The Blue Album), and I love the Weezer that many people hate (everything they’ve released since The Blue Album). I even love ‘Raditude’. And I admired Gary Numan’s futuristic electro-chart topper, but I can’t help enjoying it a little bit more with Weezer’s trademark crunchy guitars. Crunchy Weezer guitars make everything better. This was released as the ‘B’-side to 2008 single ‘Pork and Beans’ (one of the band’s classics). Like The Fratellis, Weezer will never trouble the #1 slot – their biggest hit in the UK was 2005’s ‘Beverly Hills’, which made #9. They’re a bit better known than The Fratellis, but still worth discovering in more depth. Even ‘Raditude’.

Two more tomorrow…

Cover Versions of #1s – The Dee Gees & Miley Cyrus

As a celebration for reaching 500 (!!) #1s, I’m going to spend the rest of the week treating you to some cover versions of #1s. First up, some 2020s takes on a couple of disco classics…

The Dee Gees – ‘Tragedy’ (originally a #1 in 1979 for The Bee Gees)

There are some people for whom Steps did the definitive cover of ‘Tragedy’. (They do exist…) Luckily for them, that version will feature at #1 in its own right. So, stepping up to the plate with their own cover… The Dee Gees. Ok, ok… Foo Fighters! For their most recent album, the band devoted half of the run-time to covers of late-seventies Bee Gees hits. ‘Night Fever’, ‘You Should Be Dancing’… But I’ve gone for this one. It’s a pretty faithful cover – I do wish they’d gone a little more ‘rawk’ – though Dave Grohl’s falsetto is a majestic thing to behold. There was a time when rock bands wouldn’t have touched disco with the end of a smashed-up guitar. Those days are gone, hurrah! And isn’t ‘Hail Satin’ just the perfect album name for a hard rock band’s disco covers?

Miley Cyrus – ‘Heart of Glass’ (originally a #1 in 1979 for Blondie)

In the past twenty years, it’s become the thing for current chart acts to do live sets for radio stations and streaming services. Radio 1 kicked it off, in the UK at least, with their ‘Live Lounge’ series. Here then, is Miley Cyrus belting her way through ‘Heart of Glass, from the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas in 2020. It’s not the subtlest take on the song, and it’s a pretty faithful cover like The Dee Gees, but there’s something compelling in the way she just goes for it. Folks agreed, because this made #38 in the UK charts (quite unusual for a live cover version).

Two more tomorrow…

Advertisements

Cover Versions of #1s – Nick Cave & The Villagers

The final two covers for the week, and we’re slowing the pace, ending on a chilled note…

‘The Carnival Is Over’, by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 1986 album track

(Originally a #1 in November 1965, by The Seekers)

I didn’t have much positive to say about The Seekers’ two 1965 #1 singles, the second of which was the dirgey ‘The Carnival Is Over’. But if you want someone to take a dirge, and make it even gloomier, yet make it completely their own, then look no further than Nick Cave. Based on an old Russian folk song, and given some sixties-folk lyrics by Dusty Springfield’s brother Tom, it sold a million for Australia’s biggest band of the decade. Fellow Aussie Cave and his Bad Seeds recorded it for a covers album twenty years later – ‘the song sort of haunted my childhood’, Cave has been quoted as saying. (Until five minutes ago, I had no idea that Boney M had also recorded a version… And I had no idea that Boney M had ever sounded so miserable. Nobody can make this tune sound fun!)

‘The Wonder of You’, by The Villagers – 2017

(Originally a #1 in July 1970, by Elvis Presley)

Despite being described as an ‘indie-folk project’ on their Wikipedia page, and despite it sounding ready made for a Starbucks playlist, I have liked this version of ‘The Wonder of You’ by The Villagers ever since hearing it on the soundtrack to HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’. It is the polar opposite of Elvis’s bombastic version – lo-fi and intimate, with just a hint of old-style rock ‘n’ roll around the edges. In the show, it soundtracks an abusive husband getting flung to his death down a flight of stairs during an Elvis-themed PTA night at a primary school… (I mean, if that description doesn’t make you want to watch something, then I don’t know what will!)

I hope you enjoyed my second annual cover versions week. Normal service will be resumed in a few days, with our 377th chart-topping single.

Cover Versions of #1s – CCR & The Slits

Last night I did two cover versions of the same band; tonight it’s two cover versions of the same song! Onwards!

‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’, by Creedence Clearwater Revival – 1970 album track

(Originally a #1 in 1969, by Marvin Gaye)

Before we go any further, I don’t claim that any over version of ‘Grapevine’ is an improvement on one of the most perfect pop songs ever recorded. But these two gave it a right old go… First, Creedence, with an epic eleven minute take on it, from their ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ album. Does any song really need to be eleven minutes long? No, probably not. But the band sound so in-tune, firmly lodged in their groove, that we can indulge them. The first four minutes is the song, what remains is a jam session based around that timeless riff. It was eventually released as a single, in 1973, but couldn’t breach the US Top 40.

‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by The Slits – reached #60 in 1979

Shorter, though not exactly sweeter, post-punk band The Slits give us an oh so sarcastic rendition. When lead singer Ari Up sings I’m just about to lose my mind… you can’t tell if she’s walking away grinning, rolling her eyes, or preparing to launch herself at her dirty, rotten ex. Plus, the bass line here is really cool.

Two final covers up tomorrow!

Cover Versions of #1s – Fats Domino & Alma Cogan

Day three of cover versions week… and I got a couple of Fab Four facsimiles for you!

‘Lady Madonna’, by Fats Domino – 1968 album track

(Originally a #1 in March 1968, by The Beatles)

Paul McCartney was quite open about the debt that ‘Lady Madonna’ owed to Fats Domino, and so it was perhaps no surprise that Fats himself repaid the compliment less than a year after the original was released. It is probably the most faithful of all the cover versions I’ll post this week… Other than some extra piano flourishes it could easily be Fats singing over the original instrumental track. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock, however, and it took the rock ‘n’ roll legend to #100 in the US, just when it looked as if he might never have another chart hit.

‘I Feel Fine’, by Alma Cogan – 1967 album track

(Originally a #1 in December 1964, by The Beatles)

Towards the end of her career, and just before her much too early death aged just thirty-four, Alma Cogan had a go at covering some of The Beatles’ biggest hits. She put her own twist on ‘Help’, and ‘Ticket to Ride’, but I’ve gone for her very swinging-sixties take on ‘I Feel Fine’. (Actually, her best Beatles’ cover is her gorgeous ‘Eight Days a Week’, but that original was never released as a single in the UK…) Cogan had a close relationship with the Fab Four – especially, the rumours suggest, John Lennon – and I covered this in more depth in my post on her a few months ago. Sadly, none of her Beatles covers seemed to grabbed the public’s attention, all of them failing to chart.

Another two tomorrow, this time a couple of takes on the same well-known chart-topper…

Cover Versions of #1s – The Sugarhill Gang & Shirley Bassey

Our next couple of covers… Aren’t really cover versions at all. More re-imaginings of #1 hits…

‘Apache (Jump On It)’, by The Sugarhill Gang – #53 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982

(Originally a #1 in August 1960, for The Shadows)

The instrumental ‘Apache’ has passed through as many hands as an old five pound note. Originally recorded by Bert Weedon, it was then released to great acclaim by The Shadows – resulting in their first solo chart-topper. In the US, meanwhile, the version that hit big was by Danish guitarist Jørgen Ingmann in 1961, making #2. Skip forward a few years, the Edgar Broughton Band took the guitars and chopped them up with some Captain Beefheart to create this. And then, the Incredible Bongo Band did this:

Their über-funky version became a touchstone of early hip-hop, sampled by LL Cool J, The Roots, and The Sugarhill Gang, the band that had scored the first big rap hit: ‘Rapper’s Delight’, a #3 in 1979. In the space of twenty two years, then, ‘Apache’ had gone from atmospheric instrumental to raucous hip hop, featuring lines like: Custer, Jump on it, Jump on it… and To all you girls that wanna join my tribe, Just move to my rhythm and feel my vibe…

‘As I Love You, by Shirley Basseyalbum track from 1969

(Originally a #1 in February 1959, for Shirley Bassey)

No, not a typo… This one isn’t a straightforward cover version, either. Ms. Bassey is covering herself. Well, if anyone can, it’s her. For her 1969 album, ‘Does Anybody Miss Me’, Dame Shirley re-recorded her first #1 hit from a decade earlier. I actually discovered the remake first, and had started to write my post on it before sensing something was wrong. The 1969 version is light, fun, playful… very ‘swinging sixties’. I thought it sounded ahead of it’s time for 1959. Alas, I was right. It was ten years off. The 1959 version that I had to write my original post on is slower, weightier, and nowhere near as playful. Bassey belts it out as only she can… but it’s very old-fashioned. Give me the later version any day!

A couple more tomorrow!

Cover Versions of #1s – Girlschool & Van Halen

I’ve been writing this blog for… *trumpet fanfare* …three whole years! Plodding along, at a post every two or three days, we’ve made it through the pre-rock years, the rock ‘n’ roll boom, the rock ‘n’ roll slump, the Mersey sound years, the Summer of Love, the late-sixties comedown, the glam era, and the arrival of disco… So, to celebrate, this week I’m taking a break from all the actual chart-topping singles… to bring you more chart-topping singles, in versions you may never have heard before.

Let’s kick it off with a couple of straightforward, balls to the wall rockers…

‘Tiger Feet’, by Girlschool – 1986 album track

(Originally reached #1 in January 1974, by Mud)

(Actually, when I said ‘balls to the wall’, I forgot that this first band are all ladies… Anyhoo…) My one complaint about the original glam rock hits is that they sometimes come out a little light in the mix. So when a ’70s glam classic gets covered with the crunchy bite of ’80s hard rock then I kiss my fingers like a French gourmet tasting the perfect roux. Girlschool were mates with Motorhead, and were the logical result of Suzi Quatro’s pioneering work with a guitar a decade before. They covered plenty of glam classics, including ’20th Century Boy’ (oh, if only that had been a #1) and ‘I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am)’ featuring an actual pre-fall from grace Gary Glitter… Their take on Mud’s signature tune takes an ‘if it ain’t broke then just turn the volume up and rock the eff out’ approach, and it is wonderful.

‘You Really Got Me’, by Van Halen – 1978, reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100

(Originally reached #1 in September 1964, by The Kinks)

A breakthrough single not once but twice. Fourteen years after ‘You Really Got Me’ launched The Kinks to the top of the UK charts, and into the Top 10 in the USA, a glossier, brattier update started getting airplay on the West Coast. While the Kinks were gritty, tough Londoners – Dave Davies resorted to ripping his guitar amp open to get that really scuzzy sounding riff – Van Halen were tanned and gleaming Californians, with confidence and swagger to spare. Just watch David Lee Roth in the video below, acrylic shirt swinging wide, hips swivelling, as he sets the template for every American rock ‘n’ roll frontman for the next decade, while Eddie Van Halen shows off like only Eddie Van Halen could (RIP). I would never go as far as saying that it’s better than The Kink’s original; but it is a brilliant calling card for a band about to become superstars.

More tomorrow!