Making Rock Harder…and Better?
I’ve always wondered how rock bands feel when they’ve written what they believe to be a great song and later another band records it and has equal or greater success with the song. I guess it’s one thing if the original band is successful with the tune, makes money and has an appreciative fan base. The alternative of a band making music and toiling in relative obscurity with little to no exposure and then having another band come along and make a big hit out of your song does not sound appealing. The original writers receiving composing royalties may take some of the sting out of the situation.
When a heavy metal band covers a song and makes it their own, sometimes the original rock version languishes in obscurity. Years pass and more people are familiar with the cover version and think the cover version is better than the original. Whether that’s true or not is up to the listener.
7 Examples of Rock Songs Covered and Made Popular by Heavy Metal Bands.
We’ll start off with Peter Green and the extremely original British blues rock band Fleetwood Mac. This was before they became a huge pop hit machine after Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan left the band and Fleetwood Mac added Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. The song is the enigmatic Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown) from 1970.
In 1979 Judas Priest put their indelible mark on Green Manalishi with dual guitars and Rob Halford’s soaring vocals. Just what is the Green Manalishi? According to author Martin Celmins the song was inspired in a drug-induced dream in which Green was visited by a green dog which barked at him. Peter Green said, “It scared me because I knew the dog had been dead a long time. It was a stray and I was looking after it. But I was dead and had to fight to get back into my body, which I eventually did. When I woke up, the room was really black and I found myself writing the song.”
Uhhh okay. Those must have been some heavy drugs.
Green Manalishi has become a staple of live Priest shows. Why did Priest record the song? According to bassist Ian Hill it was simply because, “We were fans of Fleetwood Mac. They were way ahead of their time.”
A band that has almost no recognition outside of its native Australia is Skyhooks. Their song Women in Uniform hit number eight on the Australian charts in 1978. However, Skyhooks made two number one and two number two songs over their career, so this was not their biggest hit. But outside of the land down under Women In Uniform is their best known song because of another band.
Almost as a rule Iron Maiden record cover songs as “B sides” to their singles. To support their debut album in 1980 the band chose for their third single release Women In Uniform, in this case as an A side. The B side was an original composition, Invasion. What makes this even more unusual is that Maiden recorded a video for Women In Uniform. The improvements upon the original are vast. Maiden’s version moves along at a faster pace with punk attitude. Drummer Clive Burr hits the right groove, guitarists Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton are perfectly in sync and singer Paul Di’Anno simply nails it. While this never was a hit per se, it is the better known version.
Group leader, bassist Steve Harris is not a fan of the song. Maiden has played the song only one time live in concert, November 25, 1980 at Newcastle City Hall. However there is also a live video of Women In Uniform from Top of The Pops with their new guitarist Adrian Smith.
Brownsville Station had one huge hit, 1973’s Smokin’ In The Boys Room. The song hit number three on the Billboard charts. Smokin’ In The Boys Room insured that Mike Lutz (bass) and the late Cub Koda (lead vocals and guitar) who wrote the song would receive a steady stream of royalty checks for their popular composition. But it was another band 12 years later who through an MTV video, would bring Lutz and Koda bigger residuals.
Mötley Crüe put Smokin’ In The Boys Room on their 1985 album Theatre of Pain. The formula of a quirky video mixed with an already catchy song led to a big hit. The Crüe’s version only reached number sixteen on the charts, but incessant radio and MTV exposure brought the song to a new generation of rock fans.
Hard rock superstars Aerosmith need no help in gaining popularity by other bands covering their songs, although Run DMC did help invigorate Aerosmith’s career in the 1980s by recording Walk This Way.
Reviewing Aerosmith’s long history, there is one phenomenal song that is familiar mostly only to devoted fans of the band: 1976’s Nobody’s Fault, from the album Rocks, written by guitarist Brad Whitford and singer Steven Tyler. Arguably Nobody’s Fault is Aerosmith’s heaviest song and got limited radio airplay in 1976. In retrospect, maybe that may also be because radio deejays never bothered to flip the record. Nobody’s Fault was released as a B-side single to the mega-hit Back In The Saddle.
For me, San Francisco bay thrashers Testament improved an already great song. Testament’s version of Nobody’s Fault is superb. The 1988 version from the album The New Order is just one of ten perfect tracks on a vastly underappreciated metal album.
Poor Slade. Fantastic music and performances obscured by glam-rock. In the early 1970s England Slade’s popularity was at its peak. The hit songs kept coming one after another and Cum On Feel The Noize was Slade’s pinnacle staying at number one in the UK singles chart for twelve weeks in 1973. In the U.S.the song barely got to number 98 on the hit chart and quickly vanished. Slade just never caught on in the States the way they did in the rest of the world.
When Quiet Riot put Cum On Feel The Noize on their 1983 album Metal Health it was against the wishes of lead singer Kevin Dubrow who could not stand the song. Reluctantly the band recorded it and to the surprise of everyone, the song went to number five on the Billboard charts and helped propel the album to number one, a first for any metal band.
Slade”s Cum On Feel The Noize, has a small fraction of YouTube views, compared to Quiet Riot’s which has over 20 million views. To this day there are many U.S. listeners who mistakenly believe Cum On Feel The Noize is a Quiet Riot original.
Two artists you would probably never associate with one another are Joe Jackson and Anthrax. But the song Got the Time, ties them together.
Joe Jackson is one of those talented musicians who had a mini-string of hits and would be better known today but for a fickle public. Jackson’s musical output is sheer genius and he should be considered one of the great singer-songwriters of all-time. Unfortunately casual music listeners are familiar with one song: Is She Really Going Out With Him and that’s it. That’s a shame. Here is Got The Time from the 1979 Jackson debut album Look Sharp.
When Anthrax put out Got The Time in 1990 on the album Persistence of Time it was frequently on MTV. The funniest thing I remember was that people misheard the lyric “got the time, ticking in my head” as “chicken in my head!”
Joe Jackson does not think much of Anthrax’s cover calling it “clumsy” and “lumpen” but says, “Thanks for the royalties!”
Concluding our look at rock made into popular metal are the kings of making other people’s songs sound great – Metallica. With three cover LP’s and countless B-sides of music that Metallica like, the songs run from popular, Bob Segar (Turn the Page) to obscure, Killing Joke (The Wait).
The two bands who most benefited from Metallica’s covering their songs are Diamondhead and Budgie. Diamond Head are a heavy metal band while Budgie was an eclectic hybrid of progressive and hard rock so we’ll keep with the theme of turning a rock song into metal.
Budgie, from Wales, barely made an impact in the United States despite a unique sound. The power trio led by high-voiced singer and bassist Burke Shelley reminds some of Geddy Lee of Rush, looks-wise if not sound-wise.
Budgie were continually altering the sound of their music for over 40 years from 1967-2010. A devoted, yet small, worldwide fan base kept the group recording and touring despite many personnel changes with Shelley being the glue holding it all together.
Breadfan is the second Budgie song covered by Metallica, the first was Crash Course in Brain Surgery. The 1973 Breadfan original is killer. How ahead of its time was Breadfan? Take a listen.
Did Metallica improve upon the original? Metallica’s cover brought millions of additional curious fans to listen to and re-evaluate Budgie. Metallica’s version came out in 1988 as a B-side single to Harvester of Sorrow. This is the 1989 live version.