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Think of the most outrageous, unlikely, ridiculous cover of a song you”ve ever heard.
Scissors Sister’s adaptation of the Pink Floyd classic Comfortably Numb?
Or perhaps Stairway To Heaven, Rolf Harris-style? Or how about Sid Vicious’s My Way?
Well, the Scorpions have possibly trumped them all with their own version of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love – and it’s marvellous.
That’s right! The band who infamously sing about “giving her inches and feeding her well” being influenced by Marc Almond, the New Romantic artist, who, so urban myth tells us, once required treatment for drinking…….well, you know the rest!
In theory, this article should stop right here because the song which reached No 1 in 1981 was not a Soft Cell original. It was first released 17 years earlier by soul stomper Gloria Jones, who later became famous as the mother of Marc Bolan’s son Rolan.
But the music world is littered with songs that are more memorably linked with follow-up artists than the original
Typical examples would be Roxy Music’s Jealous Guy, composed by John Lennon, Mott The Hoople’s All the Young Dudes, given to them by David Bowie, Patti Smith’s Because Of The Night, ditto Bruce Springsteen and the song recently voted the best cover in history, All Along The Watchtower, a Jimi Hendrix classic but a track which barely caused a ripple of excitement when originally released by Bob Dylan.
It’s fair to say that The Scorpions’ version of Tainted Love will never feature in any Top 100 cover songs. Neither will their own adaptaions of the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday, Tin Soldier by The Small Faces or any of the other covers on their new album Comeblack, a combination of reworked classics from within the band and songs by their own favourite recording artists.
Cover songs are loved and hated in equal measure but they’re as much a part of rock n’ roll as a Les Paul guitar or a Fender Strat.
What’s more, every band that’s ever stuck a note play covers, from the embryonic four-piece down your local to stadium rockers.
Neil Young and Meatloaf have back catalogues which must make choosing a set-list almost impossible but both artists, on their recent UK tours chose to end their concerts with covers, The Beatles’ Day in the Life and the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter respectively.
The Scorpions, of course, aren’t the only musicians who have chosen to record covers specifically for album purposes.
Six years ago Def Leppard released Oh Yeah!, to almost universal derision yet the album includes some blistering covers. Rock On by David Essex is included in their live set while T Rex’s raunchy 20th Century Boy and Hell Raiser by The Sweet reflect Joe Elliott’s love of glam rock.
At the other end of the scale but no less an enjoyable listen, the ever-experimenting Peter Gabriel recorded Scratch My Back when he wrote to various artists asking them to donate a track which he could record with an orchestra.
Bowie’s Heroes is so good, so different and indeed so slowed down, it’s sounds like an original in its own right. Paul Simon’s The Boy In The Bubble works almost as effectively though to these ears, Radiohead’s Street Spirit doesn’t.
Rush too released a mini-album of hits by artists who influenced them. Feedback may not be anywhere near their best composition but versions of Crossroads, Summertime Blues and Heart Full Of Soul are definitely worth a listen.
But that’s the thing about covers. They do split opinion. Of course, there are honourable exceptions like Guns n’ Roses Live And Let Die, which is probably better than the original by Wings, Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City, a Whitesnake classic yet most fans would struggle to come up with Michael Price and Dan Walsh as its composers and Van Halen’s crunching You Really Got Me on their debut album, a song made famous a decade earlier by The Kinks.
And let’s not forget songs such as Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey In The Jar, Led Zeppelin’s All Shook Up and of course Eric Clapton’s After Midnight which, I would hazard a guess, most casual music fans believe were songs penned by the said artists.
Cover songs have in the past led to rifts within a band. UFO’s Peter Way was happy to record Eddie Cochran’s C’mon Everybody when the group were still making their way in the world but a decade later, their version of Cochran’s Something Else, saxophone et al, was cited as one of the chief reasons behind his decision to quit in 1982.
With the Scorpions having served noticed that they’ll be calling it a day in the near future, I doubt there will be any quit threats from the German quintet but I’d love to know which one is the closet Soft Cell fan.