Black Marble tells us about his favorite cover songs; his covers EP is out this week
“About three years ago we started playing cover songs on stage, and a couple of unforseen things started happening," says Black Marble's Chris Stewart. "First off, people would ask me - not knowing it was a cover - when the new songs they heard were coming out on an upcoming Black Marble LP. Sadly, I’d have to tell them that a) I didn’t write the song, and b) me playing this new material was not evidence of the impending new release they were hoping for. The other thing that would sometimes happen is people would come up to me who already knew the songs I was playing. These people were stoked to hear an old favorite worked into our set, but again they would often wonder if they could ever hear them outside of the live setting."
Now they can, as Black Marble releases I Must Be Living Twice, an all covers EP, this Friday via Sacred Bones that has him bringing his minimal wave synthpop style to songs by Robert Palmer, Wire, Grouper, The Field Mice, and Lives of Angels. You can stream "Johnny & Mary" (Robert Palmer) and "In Manchester" (Wire) from the EP below.
We asked Chris, who is Black Marble for all intents and purposes, to pick some of his favorite cover versions by other artists, and he made us a list including covers by Minor Threat, Devo, Roxy Music, Joe Cocker, The Flying Lizards, Cat Power, The Raincoats and more. Check those out, and read his commentary for each, below.
BLACK MARBLE'S FAVORITE COVER SONGS
Roxy Music - “Jealous Guy” (John Lennon)
I really loved the John Lennon version, which is more of a piano arrangement. The Bryan Ferry version here seems really out there by comparison, almost surreal. I can’t quite figure out what’s so odd about it but it definitely makes an impression after knowing the original well. Especially the video which has a hyperreal quality.
The Clash - “I Fought The Law” (The Bobby Fuller Four)
Originally recorded by The Bobby Fuller Four, and later by Green Day and The Dead Kennedys, but nothing compares to The Clash version which contains my all-time favorite guitar breakdown by Mick Jones. If I ever had to fight the law and lose, this is definitely what I'd want to hear while losing.
Minor Threat - “Stepping Stone” (The Monkees)
I can’t imagine a version more different than the one by The Monkees and more awesome than this 2-minute hardcore punk version by Minor Threat. Fun fact: at the end Ian says “Skip we love you” - Skip was the owner of the record shop in DC I used to go to when I was a kid.
Devo - “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (The Rolling Stones)
This version feels more anxiety-ridden than the Rolling Stones original. As opposed to the Mick Jagger version, when Devo says "I can’t get no girly action" you tend to believe it. Devo always kinda felt like a rock band full of virgins to me (in the best possible way) so covering a song about not being able to get any satisfaction makes sense.
The Raincoats - “Lola” (The Kinks)
I love how sort of unprofessional but somehow perfect the Raincoats' singing always was. For some reason, if you get two or three people harmonizing out of key it sort of averages together to make something your brain interprets as in tune. This is definitely one of my all-time favorites.
Cat Power - “I Found A Reason” (The Velvet Underground)
A thing people like to say about covers, on YouTube and whatnot, is “better than the original”! Especially if it's really not even close to better than the original. I think that guy PewDiePie covered an Elliot Smith song once and his fans wrote “better than the original”. A far more depressing thing to take in than any Elliot Smith song. Anyway, I think this song is better than the original.
Sid Vicious - “My Way” (Frank Sinatra)
I can’t believe Sid could remember all the lyrics to "My Way" long enough to record this song.
The Flying Lizards - “Money (That’s What I Want)” (Barrett Strong)
This song feels like it was in every '80s movie but somehow I can’t think of a single one specifically. If I worked at an ad agency in 1986, and I had to make a commercial where like a schlubby guy in a junk car is getting gas and then all of a sudden a lady pulls up in a Mercedes in slow motion and the gas starts gushing out of his tank while he stares at her, this would be the song I would try and use.
Joe Cocker - “With a Little Help From My Friends” (The Beatles)
At the beginning of quarantine a long, long time ago, I watched the entire Woodstock concert from start to finish and Joe Cocker performing this song was one of my favorite performances of the entire event. I wish I could have seen him perform it at some point. Such a cool soul version of a Beatles original.
BONUS: Black Marble - “Johnny and Mary” (Robert Palmer)
I always loved this early Robert Palmer song which is lesser known than his later more polished stuff when he was a huge '80s icon. It feels more like something that would have been on college radio at the time or on a Cherry Red compilation or something. I thought it would be cool to take a stab at it myself as I’ll always feel a bit married to that style and this marks a period in time when it seemed like he was as well.