My favorite thing about Judas Priest is their rendition of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust." The original, about Baez's failed romance with Bob Dylan, is a beautiful melody sung over an intricately plucked guitar, and my mom played her copy all through my childhood. But in college, I was blown away by the Priest version. Playing the same song aggressively brought forth a whole new set of qualities. I won't say they made the song reach its full potential, but they fully realized a different potential.
Furthermore, unlike Sid Vicious doing Frank Sinatra's "My Way," the Priest cover isn't thriving on simple kitsch appeal. The point is not just "Ha, look how I rocked up a wimpy song. It rocks now. Get it?" There's something about playing the song with intensity and anger that accentuates qualities the song already had.
One last note: Although I'm referring to the original versions here as "wuss" songs (or "wimpy" or whatever the final adjective ends up being in the title), let me be clear -- I like all these songs. I'm just comparing them to the heavy metal monsters they could be. Oh, also, metalheads, please don't school me on what bands are actually metal or what metal is. For the purposes of this column, I'm using the term somewhat loosely to convey loud, guitar-based rock played with dark intensity.
In truth, I'd put this one at #1, but I'm starting it at #5 because it's good at explaining my whole premise, and most people here seem to skip introductions as frequently as Cracked's Ian Fortey skips flossing. Or brushing. Or any form of hygiene that doesn't happen incidentally from scavenging rodents picking food out of his body when he passes out in alleys.
Sure, there are lots of things to hate Depeche Mode for. They are the epitome of fey, English, keyboard-based '80s cheese, and I really do despise some of their stuff precisely for that reason. But then there's also the inescapable fact that every single song on Music for the Masses and Violator is fantastic. If you can free your mind and accept that this was a band about straying from the two guitars/bass/drum/vocals conventions of rock, you will hear a lot of songs that kick a tremendous amount of ass and, with a heavy metal makeover, would kick that much more.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down Again":
The Song's Heavy Metal Elements: Even knee-deep in vague homoeroticism, this song has a dark and foreboding vibe with an opening riff that could thrive played on a searing electric guitar. Take the vocals and raise them a full octave higher into a metal shriek-scream. Then double them. Then take the few notes of the repeated riff at the end of the phrases and replace them with power chords crunching. Then up the tempo ever so slightly. Can you hear it? What if I give you a band to start the imagination ...
The Band to Bring Out the Metal: Faith No More Faith No More's guitarist Jim Martin would do wonderful things with that riff. Take a listen to his guitar work in "Kindergarten." But there's another reason Faith No More is perfectly suited: They've never strayed from turning homoeroticism into metal. Take songs like "Be Aggressive" ("You're the master and I take it on my knees") and "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" ("If I tighten up my hole, you may never see the light again"). After lyrics like that, Depeche Mode's swishy car ride in which the dominant friend "promises me we're as safe as houses as long as I remember who's wearing the trousers" seems almost butch.
Back in the early '80s, Cyndi Lauper was dominating the pop charts with her breakthrough album, She's So Unusual. That's the one with "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Time After Time" on it. You know it -- the songs the fat lady cutting your hair at Supercuts starts humming along to when it comes on the radio. But the third single off the album, "She Bop," was also a hit, and unlike the super friendly lyrics on the other songs, this one was about jerking off. Please jump to 45 seconds in or suffer the worst video intro since Cracked's Adam Tod Brown used penis puppets to read his poetry at the beginning of the unsolicited stroke vid he sent me:
The Song's Heavy Metal Elements: Well, first off, it's a song about a chick proudly proclaiming that she masturbates. That's pretty rock 'n' roll right there. And if you started the song at 45 seconds like I told you to, you heard something approximating a riff. A riff that could rock if placed in the right hands. "But Gladstone," you say while trying to read and picture Cyndi Lauper masturbating at the same time, "it's kind of a cheesy riff." And I'd have to agree. That's why the song should be redone by ...
The Band to Bring Out the Metal: Lita Ford Maybe I just equate Lita Ford with masturbation because she was most popular for that moment in the '80s when I first learned how to love myself ("He Bop?"), but she seems a pretty perfect choice. She could take that 13-note riff, add her stack of '80s guitar sounds and sing/snarl that vocal.
To this day, I can't watch a woman unconvincingly tear a guitar apart without getting aroused.
OK, this one is a little askew -- mostly because "Dirty Little Girl" is arguably already Elton John's loudest song -- second only to "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." But then again, it's Elton John, so this song (which I still do love) never lived up to the full gritty potential it promises. Don't get me wrong: Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson were an absolutely first-rate group of musicians, and Elton's vocal sizzles with a sufficiently aggressive swagger, but a song as raunchy and dirty as this calls out for more.
The Song's Heavy Metal Elements: The song seems to be about an aging and unkempt prostitute who the singer is simultaneously disgusted by and attracted to.
I understand that phenomenon.
Here's a sample of some of the lyrical filth:
Gonna tell the world, you're a dirty little girl
Someone grab that bitch by the ears
Rub her down, scrub her back, turn her inside out
'Cause I bet she, I bet she, I bet she, oh, I bet she
Haven't had a bath in years
Here's my own belief about all the dirty girls
That you have to clean the oyster to find the pearl
Psst, Elton's speaking metaphorically.
The Band to Bring Out the Metal: The Darkness This song must rock out with sexual impropriety, but it needs to have a sense of humor, too. Unfortunately, I am not a metal band, so I had to think of someone else. I came up with the Darkness. Not really a metal band either, but they did have some big powerful guitars and a singer with a monster high end. I think they could do "Dirty Little Girl" justice. Take that song, keep the vocal intensity, replace the piano riff with dirty guitar and fill the space not with keyboards and slick production polish but distorted, compressed power chords that sound every bit as sweet and raunchy as the syphilitic whore that Elton is pretending to pine away for.