Electronic cover versions

While listening to the new Collide album (which we were pretty hard on in our review, it still stands but some of these tracks have held up better than we would have thought…) Softsynth was struck by the number of songs that seemed like odd matches with a predominantly electronic band (John Lennon?) Got us to thinking about some of the great cover versions given new life by electronic bands over the years (and some of the noble failures. And some of the just plain shitty treatments).

Some of the early great electronic recordings were cover versions, none more notable than Daniel Miller’s 1979/80 Silicon Teens project which was mostly synthpop covers of classic rock songs from the 50s and early 60s.

It didn’t always work (like the too-twee-by-half “Judy in Disguise”) but sometimes, like the fantastic version of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” it made for really refreshing takes on the classics.

Bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and The Human League diddled about with covers (Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man”, the “Nightclubbing/Rock n Roll” amalgam, respectively) in the early days of their careers and the likes of Depeche Mode messed about with classics like “The Price of Love” before becoming full-fledged recording artists.

Perhaps the most successful well-known electronic cover was Soft Cell’s monster 1981 hit single, their version of the Northern Soul classic “Tainted Love” (which for decades had the distinction of being the song to log the most weeks on billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart).

The main thing these songs had in common was their simplicity, which lent them to the one-fingered synth lines of the day. These were simple bands, doing simple songs that were obvious entries into the synth lexicon.

Since that time many electronic bands chose more varied, often more challenging songs to cover. Sometimes covering already-electronic standards, sometimes, and usually more interestingly, covering songs that were anything but electronic to start but with a new synth edge; some of the notables:

Backlash’s neat Ultravox cover EP, Quiet Men

Book of Love’s spectacular version of the Exorcist Theme (“Tubular Bells”) and their better than it has any being Bowie cover, “Sound + Vision”

The Bronski Beat/Marc Almond take on the Donna Summer classix “I Feel Love”

Celluloide’s wholly original take on The Cure’s “Three Imaginary Boys”

Data Bank A’s harsher but faithful version of Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity

Dragonette’s terrific, terrific take on Wolfmother’s “Woman” (not recorded, but a regular live staple and we hold out hope for a recorded version eventually…)

Erasure’s uneven, but occasionally great ABBAesque EP and their awesome cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”

Fischerspooner’s better-than-the-original take on Wire’s “The 15th”

Frazier Chorus’ half-time, slowed version of the Sex Pistol’s “Anarchy in the U.K.”

I Start Counting’s impossible-to-properly describe mash up of the theme song from Rawhide and Boney M’s “Ra Ra Rasputin”

Martin Gore’s great, obscure Counterfeit EP

Mobius Band’s “Love Hurts” from their otherwise uneven covers EP, Empire of Love

Obscenity Trial’s surprisingly great version of White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” – it shouldn’t work at all but it really does.

Parralox’s nifty take on Radiohead’s “Creep” (also covered on the aforementioned Collide album, the former a dance-pop take, the latter, a slow, moody dirge version – both interesting, both utterly unique takes on this classic trope).

Shiny Toy Guns doing a weird gothy electroclash version of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U, and a faithful but no less fantastic version of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom”.

Yendri’s kick-you-in-the-nuts aggro take on Depeche Mode’s “Everything Counts”.

So many more. These are a few that stand out and deserve to be samples.

Then there are the misguided attempts – look no further than And One’s bizarre covers album, Bodypop 1 ½ with dull, plodding, uninspired versions of other electronic classics or Apoptygma Berzerk’s many, many covers which are sometimes okay (their take of Kim Wilde’s “Cambodia” is…interesting) and sometimes downright lame (much of their Sonic Diary covers album with the exception of the faithful and solid Visage cover “The Damned Don’t Cry”), Erasure’s odd and unsuccessful “Magic Moments” cutesy pie disaster, Pet Shop Boys execrable “Always on My Mind”, Blancmange’s lame periodic ABBA covers (ABBA covers have a special place in the hearts of electronic artists…), Depeche Mode’s dull as dirt version of Velvet Underground’s “Dirt” (the VU is a go-to well for electronic bands, as recently as the aforblogged take on “Venus in Furs” by Gary Numan and Little Boots…), Goldfrapp’s inexplicably boring version of Olivia Newton John’s “Physical”, Martin Gore’s disappointing Counterfeit 2, or The Postal Service’s take on Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” – they would go on to record a wonderful album but this was an utter drag).

In this day and age all the classic electronic bands have cover albums devoted to their material – O.M.D., Depeche Mode, The Human League, Pet Shop Boys and Yazoo have all received the tribute treatment and in many of these cases (like The Nine’s great take on Depeche Mode’s “Shout”, Hungry Lucy’s sweet observance of the Pet Shop Boy’s “Jealousy” or Soviet’s version of Yazoo’s “In My Room”) the treatments are great, but the challenge is so much less in these cases. Often-faithful takes on classic electronic songs seems like a gimme for many modern electronic bands. Of no less quality perhaps, but often less interesting than the more out-there attempts…

What stands out for you? What are the best electronic cover takes? What the disasters that proved electronic bands have no business recording non-electronic originals? Sound off…

Watch: Fischerspooner: 15th

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