Punk bands have a long tradition of transforming well-known songs into punk rock bliss. Covering a famous hit is the perfect way to pay homage to influence. It can also be an ironic embrace of an unlikely song. As the following list demonstrates, punk versions of classic hits are pure fun!
THE RAMONES – LET’S DANCE
Amid songs of sniffing glue and fear of basements, The Ramones self-titled debut includes a cover of the 1962 hit, “Let’s Dance.” Although lyrically out of place, the song is easily absorbed into the album. After all, Ramones were essentially a pop band that played super fast. This version of “Let’s Dance” fits right in.
THE UNDEAD -EVE OF DESTRUCTION
When Bobby Steele was sacked from The Misfits he wasted no time in putting together a new group. Even with top-notch original material, covers add a dose of fun. Their version of “Eve of Destruction” fits right in with the other songs on Act Your Rage.
The lyrics are well-suited for Bobby Steele’s distinctive snarl. It’s a defiant song that allows Steele to channel anger into a stellar performance. He even digs deep and pulls out a big guitar solo. “Eve of Destruction” is proof that The Undead created quality punk rock of the highest caliber.
CIRCLE JERKS – PUT A LITTLE LOVE IN YOUR HEART
When a band called the Circle Jerks covers “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” the results are comical. The female vocals at the end of each chorus push the song to new levels of hilarity. This cover is a shining example of how punk can make a mockery of famous pop hits.
YOUTH BRIGADE – DUKE OF EARL
Covering this oldie let Youth Brigade showcase their talent. A soft drumbeat keeps time and the vocals assume the burden of carrying the melody. The restrained tempo allows Sean Stern to demonstrate his impressive range. It’s interesting to hear his voice cascade into a variety of phrases that would never fit in the confines of a fast-paced punk song.
Soon enough the drums hit hard and Sean shouts commands. Gang vocals return each phrase. The refrains grow intentionally sloppy and loose, before descending into planned anarchy.
FEAR – WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE
Originally performed by The Animals, Fear’s take on “We Got To Get Outta of This Place” is a perfect fit. Lee Ving could have easily written the lyric, “In this dirty old part of the city/where the sun refused to shine/people tell me there ain’t no use in trying.” Alongside originals like “Living in the City” and “New York’s Alright,” a song about urban decay and struggle is right at home on a Fear record.
GANG GREEN – CROCADILE ROCK
The last thing you would expect from drunken hardcore legends Gang Green is an Elton John cover. Their take on “Crocodile Rock” is entertaining and memorable. Naturally the tune is sped up and punked out. It seems likely they’re mocking a classic hit, though it IS possible the band had a soft spot for Sir Elton John.
M.O.D. – SURFIN U.S.A.
As the singer of crossover legends S.O.D., Billy Milano made a huge impact in bridging punk and metal. The first M.O.D. album sounded very much like his former band. Yet, for their second release, Milano took an extreme left turn.
Surfin’ M.O.D. is essentially the soundtrack to a fictional beach movie (though clips from the REAL film, Back to the Beach, are sampled throughout the EP). Dialogue, referred to as “Totally Narley Talking by Katrina & Bill,” is dispersed between songs. In addition to original material, there are covers of “Color my World” and “Shout,” but an attempt at “Surfin’ U.S.A.” takes the cake. Hearing Billy Milano attempt to sing like the Beach Boys is nothing short of amazing.
DEAD KENNEDYS – VIVA LAS VEGAS
In 1964, Elvis Presley recorded the upbeat “Viva Las Vegas” to promote his film of the same name. In the hands of the Dead Kennedys, the song is much faster, yet the basic melody remains in tact. Lyrically, there are a few changes. References to coke and speed inject a dose of reality into the Vegas experience.
The band manages to capture the feel of the arrangement by using only drums, bass and guitar. Jello is brilliant as always. The lyrics give him cannon fodder to mock Vegas tradition. Rampant greed and unchecked capitalism are natural themes for a DK song. Who knew that the Dead Kennedys covering Elvis would make perfect sense?
MINOR THREAT – GOOD GUYS (DON’T WEAR WHITE)
A cover of The Standells “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” closes out the Salad Days EP. Released after the band’s break-up, the track is slower than early Minor Threat, yet equally potent.
Often referred to as the “God Fathers of Punk Rock,” it’s unsurprising that a Standells composition lends itself to a punk makeover. This defense of the blue-collar man is molded into the perfect Minor Threat song.
BLACK FLAG – LOUIE, LOUIE
Black Flag wasn’t the first band to cover “Louie, Louie,” though their version may be the best. It’s certainly the angriest. The band romps through the song with the same fury that drives their original material.
Originally released as a 7 inch, “Louie, Louie,” marks the first appearance of Dez Cadeno on vocals. His aggressive vocal delivery has much to do with the song’s impact. After changing the lyrics up, “Louie, Louie” becomes a true Black Flag song.