Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cover Versions We're Not Quite Certain About (An Occasional Series)

From 1987, it's the great Richard Thompson and his avant-garde friends Fred Frith, Henry Kaiser and John French with their version of...The Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA"?




This is from a really interesting album, incidentally, but the track itself has always left me scratching my head. Which is to say I've never been sure whether they're being a little snobbishly superior to the song (and surf music generally) or just having a bit of silly fun.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

or possibly both?

J. Loslo said...

I vote for silly fun. I never got the impression Thompson was snobbish.

It is fun, too.

Faze said...

Nah. It's snobby. No one is superior to "Surfin' USA". This proves it.

Dave said...

I'm with Anonymous, here, although it's not clear what they are parodying. The lyrics? Gee, that's a tough target. Sorry, I'm much more a fan of Paul Simon's reinterpretation of "Surfer Girl," possibly BW's first song. It's much harder to reinterpret innocence and beauty than to make fun of it.

The tasty instrumental break leads me to believe that Thompson & Gang wanted a crack at playing surf guitar. Nothing wrong with that, especially when it's so fine.

This reminds me a little of Zappa's Ruben and the Jets." An homage to a genre done with affection, but with an inability to connect with the emotional core. If you are going to do this kind of stuff, you might as well either do it better or do something obscure that will lead folks to the originals.

Or, maybe it's just a goof.

Dave Lifton said...

I can't answer the snobby-silly debate, but I'm pretty sure that photo is the last time Thompson was photographed without him wearing a hat.

Marsupial said...

I think I vote for the Silly party here. Keep in mind that this was only slightly after the Jesus & Mary Chain's cover of SUSA -- so I'm thinking this was just their attempt at a goofy reinterpretation of it.

Or, maybe they were just being jerks... but it doesn't come off like that to me.

Faze said...

It's much harder to reinterpret innocence and beauty than to make fun of it.

Dave: brilliant. There's almost a fear of innocence in this type of parody. Same with Reuben.

edward said...

I'll go with a silly parody, a few years late. The early 80's were full of reworkings and parodies of all sorts of genres, and surf music was a pretty popular target. This may even be a parody or the parodies.

Ultimitely, it is just not a very good record. It strains way to hard at "fun."

Wendy Cohen said...

I dunno, either ... the stiff, joyless "inside outside USA" annoys me. If John Waters were a musician, I'd expect him to do it like this.