Bad Cover Version/Good Cover VersionSeptember 16, 2013
There’s a strange bit of serendipity to this post. I’d spent a night last week putting some stuff together for my weekly article and then on his Sunday Service show on 6 Music, Jarvis Cocker played the very track I was planning to write about. In itself, that’s a happy coincidence. But the fact that I’d planned to introduce the record (which has nothing to do with Jarvis) by writing a wee bit about Pulp beforehand was a bit weirder. So, as you read this, imagine the Twilight Zone theme playing away ad infinitum in the background.
If you drew a trajectory charting the popularity of Pulp LPs, there’d be a massive, Everest-sized spike where Different Class appeared and sadly, not much else. Pulp were a proper, fully-formed album band, but save for their brief flirtation with mainstream success, not many (common) people would really know. Indeed, many folk probably consider them a bit of a one-hit wonder. Their last album, 2001’s We Love Life is one of Pulp’s very best. Crashing in at number 6 on the album chart, before crashing straight back out and never to be seen again a mere 3 weeks later, it was a real blink and you’ll miss it album. If you’ve never had the pleasure, you should make some time to acquaint yourself with it.
One track, Bad Cover Version, is a terrifically thought-out ballad that draws parallels between a failing relationship (“a bad cover version of love is not the real thing“) and the 2nd rate dopplegangers we often accept in place of the real deal – Top of the Pops compilation LPs (“the bikini-clad girl on the front who invited you in”), the Stones since the 80s, later episodes of Tom & Jerry when they could talk, the last episodes of Dallas, the TV series of Planet of the Apes, and so on. Amongst the things Jarvis lists is “the second side of ‘Till The Band Comes In’“.
Till The Band Comes In was the much-maligned and undersold 5th LP by Scott Walker (his 6th, if you count his Sings Songs From His TV Series LP). Much like We Love Life, the critics had the artist pegged as ‘past his best’, it too was a bit of a flop and never really got the attention it deserved. The line about the second side of Till The Band Comes In was a joke at Walker’s expense, given that it was he who produced We Love Life for Pulp. Are you still hearing The Twilight Zone music in the background? It’s a circle of life, as one piano player once remarked.
Back in the day before he was producing other people’s flop records and long before felt the need to create an approximation of melody from bashing hanging lumps of meat, Scott Walker reveled in making orchestral-rich pop songs. Like a baritone-rich Serge Gainsbourg he sang of syphillis, sailors and suicide and was nothing at all like yer average teen heart throb. On Till The Band Comes In, you’ll find Little Things (That Keep Us Together). Almost a companion piece to his own version of Jackie, though with less gallop and more gasp, Little Things finds Scott clinging to the coat tails of a melody as jabbing strings and tumbling toms race one another to the finish line. It’s great.
And as if that’s not thrilling enough, here come the Trashcan Sinatras, back in the days when they were The Trash Can Sinatras, faithfully gatecrashing Walker’s tune with all the ramshackle beauty of a wooden-legged man hurtling haphazardly down a hill and into the neighbour’s hedge while being chased by an angry slevvery dug. Which, metaphorically at least, the Trash Cans were round about then. They fairly clatter into Little Things; the old Roland Jazz Chorus set to maximum wobble in a thrilling rush of knee-trembling, reverb-soaked, John McGeogh-esque post-punk while a breathless Frank hangs on to the vocals for dear life.
My first recollection of the Trash Cans doing this was for a Billy Sloan session on Radio Clyde around ’91 or ’92. Like most of the Trash Can’s unofficial output from those days, I have it on a hissy, taped-off-the-radio C90 somewhere, but the version above is taken from the b-side of 1993’s How Can I Apply single. A lost nugget of a record from an era when every Trash Can’s release was packed-full of top quality songs from an apparently never-ending production line that put every other band to shame. But you knew that already.
Long before John started wearing the famous stripey t-shirt, he was awfy fond of a t-shirt bearing the cover of Scott 1. No pictures exist. Believe me, I’ve looked…