Friday, January 11, 2008

All Folked Up:
Pop Punk Covers of Folk Songs

Hi ho, this is your old pal Boyhowdy, host of folk-music coverblog Cover Lay Down. Your usual host left me with the keys to the place while he's off galavanting around in the lower 48 for a week or two; I've fed the plants and watered the cat as instructed, and now it's time for a little noise.

Because while Fong's away, the cats will play. Loud, and with plenty of feedback.

Though my own blog runs to the mellow and acoustic, as audiophiles go, I'm more than a collector of folk covers. I spent my late teens and early twenties in thrall to the rising fuzz and feedback of the pre-grunge, post-punk late-80s alt rock movement, particularly the east-coast manifestation -- The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., Juliana Hatfield, Sonic Youth and others -- and over the years I've retained a fondness for this genre, even as its seminal artists go mellow and find alt-folk along with the rest of us. (I'm also a man who once brought a picture of Val Kilmer to a hairstylist, but that's a story for another day.)

In my constant search for new folk covers to share with my own listeners, I find plenty of stripped down covers of songs by the west coast grunge camp -- Nirvana covers are a dime a dozen in every genre. But it's comparatively rare to find a folk cover of a Lemonheads tune. Seems these guys were known for their sound more than their songs.

Luckily, a coverlover with a genre bias always has two places to look for his earcandy: covers IN that genre, and covers of songs FROM that genre. As such, the happy place where my two loves meet turns out to be full of driving drums, fuzzed guitars, howling vocals and the squeal of feedback, all to the tune of some classic folk song.

Today, some punked up, fuzzed up, sped up, juiced up folk songs from both coasts, and beyond. These are the guys who paved the way for Nirvana, Hole, Green Day, Blink 182, and The All-American Rejects, among others, so give a little respect as you pass. And if anyone has a copy of The Lemonheads cover of Suzanne Vega's Luka, please let me know -- I used to have it on a transparent yellow vinyl 45, but I gave it to a great friend and serious collector as a holiday gift over a decade ago.

The Lemonheads, Mrs. Robinson (orig. Simon and Garfunkel)
A decade before Stacy's Mom brings the MILF back into the popular imagination, the original angry young late-eighties kids fall in love with a new kind of Mrs. Robinson. Picture a stringy, greasy long-haired grunge-rocker in Dustin Hoffman's place, hunched over a bass guitar and amp in the basement while he moons over some unattainable baby boomer friend of his baby boomer parents, and you've got it exactly.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, The Boxer (orig. Simon and Garfunkel)
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard (ibid.)

Can you tell I've been gathering in covers for a Simon and Garfunkel post over at Cover Lay Down? Prolific pop-punk cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes is well known to coverbloggers; they specialize in tearing top forty ballads and light folk hits to shreds.

Sebadoh, Pink Moon (orig. Nick Drake)
I saw these guys at Bard College in 1992 with Superchunk -- they were late and almost too messed up to play, but they still ROCKED. Today, like The Lemonheads' Evan Dando before him, Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow is known for his alt-radio sound; last year's Emoh was a blogfave. This is back when they were seriously punk. The best part is when the lead singer screams like a banshee. Never has the word "pink" sounded so terrifying.

P.J. Harvey, Highway '61 Revisited (orig. Bob Dylan)
The song sounds quiet at first, like the audio levels are off, but beware -- it's a trick, designed to get you to crank the volume. Fall for it. P.J. Harvey is only pop punk sometimes, but this is one of those times.

Sonic Youth, I'm Not There (orig. Bob Dylan)
Included on the incredible soundtrack to recent Dylan biopic of the same name, as a nod both to the indierock roots of most of the other artists, and to the continued genius of still-kicking experimental post-punkers Sonic Youth. This is what a pop punk power ballad sounds like. (Sonic Youth also does an electronic folk version of Mama You've Been On My Mind; it's out of this world, but I'm saving it for the folkblog.)

Jason Falkner, Both Sides Now (orig. Joni Mitchell)
Jason Falkner's dreamy, lushly-synthed album of instrumental Beatles covers used to work wonders at bedtime. This is not it. No, this is a fast-paced romp meant to speak for a generation dripping with anger and frustration at not being able to put words or meaning to that crazy little thing called love.

Dinosaur Jr., Lotta Love (orig. Neil Young)
More Lou Barlow, in his other band Dinosaur Jr. -- the guy defined the lo-fi alternative indierock sound way back in the 80s, but don't tell the indiekids, it would break their hearts. This barely recognizable cover comes from a 1989 alt-rock and grunge-heavy The Bridge: A Tribute To Neil Young, which is so awesome it could have been the entirety of this post, if we let it.

Screeching Weasel, You Are My Sunshine (orig. Jimmie Davis)
You'd think the sentiment of this song wouldn't fit with the style, but it works pretty well as a full-bore, post-punk, almost metal-tinged paean to someone clearly just as unwashed and emo as Screeching Weasel themselves.

Fong won't be coming home for a while, so I might be back again over the next two weeks. Then again, I might not. I left the water running for the cat, just in case, and rumor has it you might be getting a drop-in from at least one other familiar guest as well. In the meantime, how about joining me over at Cover Lay Down, where today we're featuring a short set of stripped down folkcovers of songs by The Smiths.

As always, all puchase links above go to artist and label sites wherever possible. The better to stick it to the man with, my dear. Be punk; buy disks and disdain downloads, because downloads don't pay artists like plastic does.


avashia2 said...

Some of these are ok...(Mrs. Robinson). My teen self never thought I'd say this, but Dinosaur Jr....make it stop!! I am officially old.

Burbanked said...

Hi there! I don't mind you borrowing the Val Kilmer jpg from my site, but please copy the file and place it on the Blogger server. The way you've got it hotlinked now causes my server traffic that it wouldn't ordinarily have, so I'd appreciate it if you would change it.


boyhowdy said...

D'oh! My bad for hotlinking, folks. I claim recent hard drive troubles, but that's no excuse for pushing other peoples' bandwidth.

All images now hosted locally via Blogger, but link to the original location, so credit can go to the original hosters.