I was watching a clip of Bowie & Annie Lennox, doing a rehearsal of Under Pressure for the Freddie Mercury Tribute and in the background George Michael, oblivious to the fact he is being filmed, is singing every word with them. Rockstars are just like us, they are fans first and musicians second and the music that they are subjected to, from the day they are born to the the day that they pick up their first guitar, will influence who they are.
I have wrangled over many a pint the merits of doing cover versions to young bands and the root of my argument is twofold: you wouldn’t want to go into a courtroom with a lawyer who had not studied the law, so how can you write a great song until you can play one and understand what makes it great?
Secondly, fans love them. The list below is full of people who have written remarkable songs in their time, but they all understand the desire of their audience to be entertained, and often the strongest memory of a show for a fan is not what they have heard from the band’s own catalogue, but what cover the band did as an encore. So here in no particular order is my attempt to point our readers towards some marvellous Scottish moments of musical homage.
(Note from The Dear – though Alec says these tunes are in no particular order I thought it’d be more fun to have a countdown. So, with Alec’s help, next week we’ll do the top 10. Feel free to chip in with ideas).
First of all, a couple of songs that just missed the top 20.
Skye Boat Song – Tom Jones
This has to be the cheesiest cover of all time and the most gorgeous obscure piece of 60’s trash pop. The production and vocal is so over the top, it is truly memorable for its audacity and guaranteed to get any Scottish granny bopping at a family party.
Joke – Eddi Reader
I have a confession to make that ‘Perfect’ by Fairground Attraction was and remains one of the most irritating songs it has ever been my misfortune to be subjected to, so Eddi Reader had a lot to do to turn me around. But a listen to ‘Patience of Angels’, her work on Burns, or this heart wrenching tune written by the brilliant Boo Hewerdine, and past sins of the ear were forgiven.
Now the top 20:
20. Purple Heather – Rod Stewart
I hate the blatant commercial pillaging of this song and could have picked a dozen Rod songs, ‘Bring it On Home’, ‘Drift Away’, ‘Dirty Ol Town’ or the stunning cover of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed [Live]‘, which can be found on the Faces Box Set, “Five Guys Walk Into a Bar”, (one of the best Rock n Roll records ever). But as much as I hate everything this version stands for I have never had the courage to remove it from my hard-drive and damn you Rod, you pull me back to my lost youth growing up in Canada and watching my Mother, family and friends play old songs, from, “the old country”, and that is why it is here.
19. Why Should We Idly Waste Our Prime – Sluts of Trust
Recorded for the Radio One World Burns Special I am fortunate to have rescued a copy courtesy of John the singer. The show had a ton of unique, entrancing and special performances of Burns songs and none more so than this from Sluts of Trust, glorious.
18. Caledonia – Popup
I have punted this track before but I am still in awe of this band (pictured above) and how young bands can play songs they love with a freedom they never quite realise in their own material, so there is a lesson hidden in great songs!
17. After All I Live My Life – Edwyn Collins
Beyond the sublime lyric, “I saw a dragon shake the cathedral walls”, there is an incredible subtlety about this track. Edwyn collects old guitars and valve amps and studio equipment so the guitar tones and solo on this record are astonishing, as is the vocal, which audibly gets older as the song reflects on a past life, with Edwyn ending up sounding like a creaky old Dylan, truly beautiful!
16. This Flight Tonight – Nazareth
I am going to put my neck on the line here and say it is a huge disappointment that while Scotland consistently produce cutting edge indie and pop bands, we have struggled to produce a great rock or metal band for some time, though RAAR was a near miss. The temptation to have Guns and Roses’ version of Hair of the Dog was strong but these Dunfermline legends deserve their place in this list for doing what all we 60’s children would have liked to have done to Joni Mitchell in our youth.
15. Grace – The Cinematics
I have been privileged to see and hear this fabulous band and other young bands do a number of covers in my time including a standout version of Boys Don’t Cry by The Cinematics for a John Peel gig and Leo Condie of The Low Miffs singing Hallelujah or indeed The Low Miffs cover of Springsteen’s Jungleland. Covering Buckley is a dangerous occupation as his fan’s reactions can be brutal in the extreme but this version at SxSW wins any argument hands down as Mary Guibert, Jeff Buckley’s mother, was in the room, and she was visibly moved to tears by this performance.
14. Still In Love With You – Thin Lizzy featuring Frankie Miller
Recorded by Thin Lizzy for their album Nightlife, this is a cover that is not really a cover, more a duet but if you ask Frankie about it, he will tongue and cheek ask where his writing credit and royalties are. That aside it remains a Lizzy classic and Clarkston’s own Brian “Robbo” Robertson plays one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded live on Lizzy’s 1978 Live & Dangerous album. And after being fired by both Lizzy and Motorhead for doing too much drugs and booze (now that is hardcore Pete D), Robbo went on to tour with Frankie for many a year.
13 Psycho Killer – Rico
Now when I think of Talking Heads, I think of NYC and I have always thought that David Byrne was as New York chic as an East Village Manhattan cocktail at Marion’s, though our wee Davy was actually born in Dumbarton of all places. I have seldom ever heard a Talking Heads cover that I like, but Rico’s version has a menace and irony true to the original and uniquely unusual. The video was filmed on the roof of his studio in Argyle Street; watch out for the Kingston Bridge in the background and the little wobble from Rico as he walks along a tiny ledge, 5 floors up.
12. King of the Road – The Proclaimers
If ever your insane enough to allow me behind a pair of DJ decks this is going to be played towards the end of the night and a ton of drunken punters are going to throw themselves about, hug, sway, click their fingers badly and become best friends with people they hardly know for 2 minutes and 48 seconds whilst singing along to a classic, and that is exactly why these Leith boys have toured the world longer than so many “it bands”.
11. Love Vigilantes – Laura Cantrell
Ok so she is American, singing an English song but if I can do an article on why Amazing Grace is not Scottish then I can have Laura Cantrell, as without a wee Glasgow label called Shoeshine who specialise in Alt Country and cool pop finding her, she would not be the star she is today.
Next week : The Top 10