Got The Fever

Thursday, May 10, 2007

(Covered By) The Clash

My man Darcy over at Feel It (see my links and visit often) recently had a post about cover tunes that inspired me. He asks the questions “ … What constitutes a cover version?” and talks about variations on a theme in reference to cover versions. Luckily for us he has a few gems to offer. One is the Isley Brothers version of “Hello It’s Me” (which I featured a version of by Jeannie Bryson) and an Elkie Brooks version of Ned Doheny. Both by the way are should not be missed and must be in your download folder.

Point being, most bands cover songs. Everyone from Al Jolson to The White Stripes and all in between cover songs with very few exceptions. Including The Clash.

Sandinista! London Calling. Certainly two of the better known Clash albums and two of the best albums for their time period. Fantastic punk/new-wave band who were in the forefront of the movement and among the most respected bands until their untimely, and unfortunate breakup. They could write them, that’s for sure. And man, could they pick covers.

Wrong ‘Em Boyo
Who didn’t cover this at one point? Everyone from the Beach Boys! To James Brown. But, it hadn’t been covered successfully in quite a while before the Clash covered it on London Calling.

Although the song itself dates back to the late 1800’s, the version that the Clash covered was taken from The Rulers, a rocksteady Jamaican band. It’s originally a rough and tumble song about mayhem and murder called ‘Stag O' Lee’. Lloyd Price had a hit with it in the early ’60 – 'Stagger Lee' and he was asked to change the tough ass lyrics by Dick Clark, to something more appropriate to the white American Bandstand audience!

Stagger Lee went to the barroom
Walked across that barroom floor
He said, "Now, nobody move"
And he pulled out his forty-four
"Oh, Stagger Lee," cried Billy
"Please don't take my life
I got three little children
And a very sickly wife

But listen to the Rulers version, who meld Stagg O' Lee with Wrong Em’ Boyo. The Clash lifted it almost note for note – including the retake of the first half of the song at 0’48. Love the whole island infused feel that's heavy on piano and has slapping in the background keeping time.

Why do you try to cheat?And trample people under your feet
Don't you know it is wrong?To cheat the trying man
Don't you know it is wrong?To cheat the trying man
So you better stop, it is the wrong 'em boyo!

Police On My Back
A true smoker by The Clash off of Sandinista!

Originally done by The Equals who had as a lead member a young Eddie Grant – he of ‘Electric Avenue’ fame! This kid (at the time) had a heart attack at twenty one(!) and still kept going! The Equals were one of the early mixed race bands who scored a hit before even Sly did. A great mix of pre-ska, garage and calypso. How’s that for imagination and depth? Once more, listen to how closely the Clash followed The Rulers version – note for note, eh? One of those tunes I would have loved to see live in it’s time back in swing London.

Well I'm running, police on my back
I've been hiding, police on my back
There was a shooting, police on my back
And the victim well he wont come back

I been running Monday Tuesday WednesdayThursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Runnin Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday FridaySaturday Sunday
What have I done?What have I done?

Dig heartily on both of these – true monuments in their own right and a testament to great songwriting.

The Rulers: Wrong ‘Em Boyo (36)
The Equals: Police On My Back (42)

Yet another great site has contacted me this past week. Fufu Stew has fantastic playlists and writing that is superb – get there and feast!


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