“Punk has always been about doing things your own way. What it represents for me is ultimate freedom and a sense of individuality.”
Billie Joe Armstrong
Looking At Things A New Way
I’m gonna do something a little bit different with this post. I’ve done posts about music before (The Late Night Trail) where I reminisce about songs I listen to while under the influence of insomnia.
What I originally wanted to do here was do a Top 10 about my favourite punk covers. But there are just to many that I love. So I’m gonna take the opportunity to talk about some of them individually.
You’ve all heard covers before, even if you didn’t know you had.
Whether it’s songs like Hallelujah by Rufus Wainright (from Shrek), All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, Mad World by Gary Jules (Donnie Darko) and loads of songs you probably didn’t even know were covers.
I fucking HATED the Busted version. Suddenly everyone “knew” the song and it was used as ringtones that would drive me nuts when they went off.
But lets get back on track. I’m here to talk about a particular type of cover, the punk cover. The most famous punk cover has to be Sid Vicious singing My Way (Frank Sinatra) and while it’s slurry, incoherent and an absolute insult to the original I still really love it.
Punk has always been a music with high energy, fast pace and badly tuned guitars. I was raised on punk music so when I discovered punk covers I was a very happy teenager.
Sometimes punk covers are just fast paced versions. Sometimes they are complete nonsense. And sometimes they can change the meaning of a song entirely.
So let’s take a look at some music fuckery in the form of a punk cover.
99 Red Balloons – Originally by Nena – Covered by Goldfinger
99 Luftballons was a surprise hit from the German band Nena in 1983. It dominated discos with its upbeat tone, despite nobody understanding the words.
When the English version was released later people learned what the song was about and were a bit taken aback. The song is actually about the world coming to an end in a brutal war.
The idea is that some balloons are released along the German-Soviet border (when Germany was split between East and West) causing a general to panic and dispatch fighter planes in response to the “threat”. Things escalate and before you know it, the world is erupting in a war that eventually ends the world. Not exactly a cheery disco hit.
My father told me that at the time (when people released how depressing the song was) DJs would just play the German version and sort of pretend the English version didn’t exist. It was still fun to dance to after all.
The song is obviously very anti-war and comments on how fragile peace was during the Cold War. All in all, a great little song.
Jump forward to the year 2000 and enter Goldfinger, a moderately successful American punk band. When they covered the song they picked up the pace, singing in both English and German, and turning the dial up to 11.
The song starts off very similarly to the original and is quite slow-paced. But after the opening verse they kick it up a notch and the song becomes a lot more visceral.
Singing about a panicking general with hard guitar behind it really adds to the “tensions are rising” theme of the song. “This is what we’ve waited for, this is it boys, this is war!” in particular just feels so much more urgent.
The other added benefit of having the lyrics in German and English really adds to the idea that this is two opposing sides, both panicking and ready to pounce.
I prefer the cover to the original but I’m almost certainly biased. I was raised on this kind of music and, to me, it’s just brilliant.
So which do you prefer? Original or cover? If you can think of any covers you’d like me to talk about next then feel free to chuck me a message and we can have a chat. 🙂
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you all next time. Until then, remember to take care of yourselves. Peace.
The English version as sung by Nena in 1984.