(Ed. note: Jeff and I go back to our days of sweating alongside each other for funk records. Now he proudly maintains Houston’s tradition of damaged art punk and smoldering equipment with Black Snakes and Kangaroo and the Baroque Millionaires. And I listen to folk music. So go figure.
Knowing Jeff’s reputation for inhaling whole lost sub-genres at a time and drawing fine, obsessive distinctions amongst the same, I’ve been pestering him over the months to post on Office Naps. After enough breakfast tacos and the promise of drunken Schlitterbahn escapades, he set aside some of his valuable time as CEO of Wonk Records and relented. – Little Danny)
There seem to have been a disproportionate number of covers of mid-‘60s popular rock tunes in New Wave.
One of the most popular covers was Devo’s version of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” But they weren’t alone. Two years prior to the Devo version, The Residents released their own version of “Satisfaction.” Although it originally went unnoticed thanks in part to a pressing of 200 copies, it eventually became an underground hit in the U.S. in the late ‘70s, and received play throughout the college radio scene. Upon its re-release, the Residents’ cover of “Satisfaction” sold 30,000 copies, helping to solidify their growing reputation. So it seemed that New Wave bands loved satirically covering this tune. Or was it not satire at all, and they were simply not satisfied?
To me it seems ironic that a band that was part of the scene referred to as “New Wave” would be covering old songs. I imagine that’s why I like the concept so much. But time has passed and there is no longer anything “New” about “New Wave” and we’re only left with the records and bad reunion shows. Though I’ve heard Devo is still really great.
(It should be noted that The Residents where a little extreme in regards to ‘60s cover songs. In 1976, prior to their release of “Satisfaction,” they released an album filled completely with noisy, deconstructed ‘60s covers in the form of two side-long audio collages that consisted of no less than thirty “covers.” Listening to it is very much a “name that tune” experience, although they do they damnedest to keep it challenging.)
1. Modern Art Studio, Satisfaccion (Mid America Sound)
The mid- to late ‘70s was a very fertile time for Ohio music. The most notable bands to come from the state were Devo and Pere Ubu, but there were many other wonderful art punk and New Wave bands from Ohio and throughout the Midwest. The Midwest bands were quite different than bands from the West Coast, the East Coast or the South. I might even consider Midwest bands artier than the East Coast scene, which usually has a reputation for being the artiest. Or perhaps I just mean Midwest bands were the “quirkiest.”
To me, this is the most interesting cover of “Satisfaction.” Devo and The Resident did a fine job and sold a lot of records as a result, but Modern Art Studio really makes the track their own. It’s barely recognizable as a cover until the riff at the very end. With a song like “Satisfaction,” it’s important to do something interesting with it since everybody’s heard it a few thousand times. Modern Art Studio chose to make it unrecognizable by changing the lyrics and avoiding the main guitar riff. Singing half of the lyrics in Spanish is a great touch. Too someone like me who doesn’t know Spanish, it changes the song completely. But since I don’t know Spanish, the lyrics might not be in Spanish. As far as I know, the words are in no language at all.
Modern Art Studio is a trio from Cleveland, Ohio. They released two 7″s before vanishing into obscurity. I assume they went to college, and studied Art.
2. Tidal Waves, Fun, Fun, Fun (What?)
While the Midwest was quirky and arty, the West Coast was just plain weird, and California in the late 70s was the center of this creative, sheer-weirdness. But the Tidal Waves seem to be pretty unique in that they fall somewhere between the West Coast weirdoes, the LA Punk scene, and England’s DIY scene of the late 70s. They’re unlike anything else I’ve heard from LA in the late 70s and, because of that, I love them.
“Fun, Fun, Fun” was, of course, a hit by The Beach Boys in 1964. Perhaps an ironic choice for a cover song, the Tidal Waves do a great job of updating the original to fit into the context of early 80s LA punk, borrowing punk rock’s chugging bass lines and driving drums. Although I hesitate to call this song “punk.” The feel is fun and playful, which aren’t two words usually associated with the punk, and the song is too complex. There are too many chord changes, a vocal melody, a melodic hook, and a combo organ – none of which are punk. But that’s the reason I like this.
The Tidal Waves recorded this 7″ with the recruited help of five of their friends. This was their only release. Chris Ashford, who plays guitar and sings on this record, also produced a handful of 12″ compilations released on What? Records in the early to mid-‘80s. The Tidal Waves must have been formed solely to record this cover of “Fun, Fun, Fun.” What other song could they have played?
3. Y Pants, Off The Hook (99)
Y Pants have always been one of my favorite bands from the late ‘70s New York scene known as “No Wave” (thanks to a compilation partially documenting the scene entitled No New York). However, Y Pants have an amazing childish charm that separates them from the rest of the scene. Behind the melodic childlike vocal harmonies, the music was mostly composed of amplified children’s equipment such as toy drums, ukulele and toy p
“Off the Hook” was originally written and recorded by the Rolling Stones. In contrast to “Satisfaction”, the Stones’ most often-covered song, this is the only cover of “Off the Hook” that I’m aware of. But the naive lyrics fit in great with the simple sounds of Y Pants. I can’t imagine them covering any other Rolling Stones song.
Y Pants released two records. “Off the Hook” was one of the songs included on the four song 7″ EP released on 99 Records in 1980. Other than this 7″, which was produced by Glenn Branca, they released an LP on Branca’s Neutral records in 1982. All of their recorded material is currently available on one CD thanks to Periodic Document.
— Jeff W.