5 Sappy Songs That Deserve Heavy Metal Makeovers
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.
"Never Let Me Down Again" by Depeche Mode
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.
"She Bop" by Cyndi Lauper
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.
"Dirty Little Girl" by Elton John
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.
"Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac
Stick with me, kids. I have a 21st century song on the list, too, but this is a music list and Fleetwood Mac is still one of the best-selling bands of all time. Also, even if you're all young and cool, you know Fleetwood Mac songs. It's inescapable. Their 1977 album, Rumours, is still all over classic rock and easy listening radio, and countless movies and shows. Following that commercial success, they released the more experimental Tusk, where Lindsey Buckingham flexed some musical insanity muscles. Like Paul McCartney, Sting and Prince, Buckingham is a music phenom, equally gifted as a composer, singer and multi-instrumental musician. And like those musicians, sometimes he goes a little off, producing half-baked messes. The title track is that mess, featuring dark, angry lyrics, dark, angry vocals, powerful drums and, of course, the USC Trojan Marching Band. Oh right. That's another reason you might know the Mac -- they sometimes play this song at sporting events.
The Song's Heavy Metal Elements: All of it. Lyrically, it sounds like it's sung by a guy who's super suspicious that his lover is cheating on him. Buckingham convincingly spews venom about that other man on the phone. And he's not interested in love or being friends at this point. "Just tell me that you want me," is what he sings, but doesn't quite scream. And then the fucking marching band comes in and it all goes to hell.
The Band to Bring Out the Metal: Death From Above 1979 I have to give Adam Tod Brown the credit for suggesting these guys. According to Wikipedia, they are a "Canadian alternative rock/noise rock duo," but that's a stupid definition. Much more telling would be to say that they sound like this and this. They're the boys to take that whisper snarl in the verse into a scream. They'd replace those horns with filthy angry distorted bass, while still staying true to Mick Fleetwood's monster drums.
"Lights" by Ellie Goulding
Hey, remember in the intro when I said I liked all the songs on this list? I lied. "Lights" by Ellie Goulding sucks an awful lot, and I've been dying to HBN it for every week it's been riding the Billboard charts this summer, but it's such a big pile of nothing, there wasn't even enough to make fun of. So anyway, in this song, Ellie Goulding combines her completely uninspiring, frail tiny thing of a voice with utterly unimaginative and predictable production.
"Stand back, everyone. I'm about to start sucking right at you."
So, here you go. A recent song in the old man's article. Happy now? Yeah, suck on this:
The Song's Heavy Metal Elements: This song's lyrics -- while not resembling anything good -- are pretty dark and sad. Kind of consumed with death. Something bad has happened. Perhaps a broken heart, but seemingly worse:
And I'm not sleeping now, the dark is too hard to beat
And I'm not keeping now, the strength I need to push me
You show the lights that stop me turn to stone
You shine it when I'm alone
And so I tell myself that I'll be strong
And dreaming when they're gone
'Cause they're calling, calling, calling me home
Calling, calling, calling me home
You show the lights that stop me turn to stone
You shine it when I'm alone
Noises, I play within my head
Touch my own skin and hope that I'm still breathing
And I think back to when my brother and my sister slept
In an unlocked place the only time I feel safe
Of course, none of that really comes out over the awful pop techno beats and Goulding's tiny delivery. But what if a band just as death-obsessed and dark as this song hints at being performed it?
The Band to Bring Out the Metal: Slipknot Slipknot. Y'know, Slipknot. These guys:
Pictured above: Members of Slipknot on their way to Burning Man (to disembowel some pathetic hippies).
Take Goulding's voice (best suited for a movie about a fairy dying from some wasting disease) and replace it with a real death-metal growl. Remove the canned simple beats and replace them with a barrage of snare attacks. And fill up the whole thing with a guitar distortion sound forged beneath the bowels of hell in Satan's personal torture chamber, and then maybe this song might not suck.
Also not sucking? The latest episode of HATE BY NUMBERS. Also, be sure to follow Gladstone on Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest regarding Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. And then there's his website and Tumblr, too.
For more from Gladstone, check out 5 Satirists Attacked by People Who Totally Missed the Point and 5 Famous Songs Everyone Thinks Are by the Wrong Artist.