Dread Zeppelin

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It’s been too damn long since we made a cover band Weird Band of the Week, don’t you think? Let’s end the drought with a little “When the Levee Breaks,” as played by a reggae band led by a fat Elvis impersonator. Yes, people, we are finally paying tribute to the mighty Dread Zeppelin.

In case this ship sailed without you: Dread Zeppelin is a Led Zeppelin cover band that started right here in L.A. way back in 1990 or so…a time when Elvis impersonators were even more popular than they are now, if you can believe it. L.A. also gave birth around the same time to the so-called “Mexican Elvis,” El Vez; Nicolas Cage skydived into Vegas with the Flying Elvises’; and the band Living Colour felt compelled to remind everyone that “Elvis Is Dead.” Someone smarter than us has probably already explained this spike in Elvis mania, but let’s Google that shit later and get back to Dread Zeppelin, shall we?

Around this time, a semi-successful ’80s rock band called The Prime Movers was in the process of getting dropped by their label. (The Prime Movers’ biggest claim to fame, incidentally, was a song on the soundtrack to the 1986 film Manhunter. Their second biggest claim to fame was some seriously awesome ’80s hair in the accompanying music video)  Unable to release any of their own music, they decided as a goof to remake Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”/”Hey Hey What Can I Do” single, but in a reggae style. And just to make the whole thing extra-ridiculous, they recruited an Elvis impersonator called Tortelvis (Greg Tortell) to sing lead vocals.

The single was a hit, as was the band’s live show, which mixed up Zeppelin, Elvis, Bob Marley and other random bits of popular music like Edwin Starr’s “War” (“what is it good for? absolutely nuthin’!”) and the Yardbirds’ “Train Kept A-Rollin.'” Dread Zeppelin was unleashed upon the masses.

And 22 years and about a zillion lineup changes later, they’re still unleashing it. They’re latest album, SoSo, just came out last year. If you got the Zeppelin in-joke in SoSo before you even saw the cover art, congratulations. You can probably also recite entire chapters of Hammer of the Gods, which we’re sure makes you a hit with the ladies.

Fun Dread Zep side notes: Robert Plant is a fan. Tortelvis performs with a personal assistant, Charlie Haj, whose entire job is to bring him water and towels. They have an album called No Quarter Pounder. And judging from their Facebook page, they really love donuts. Hey, Tortelvis didn’t get that fat on banana-and-peanut-butter sandwiches alone.

It may seem to the casual fan like Dread Zeppelin have run their shtick into the ground at this point…and, well, they kinda have. But they have actually tried to mix it up occasionally. They released an album of disco covers in 1992. The Fun Sessions includes covers of non-Zep classic rock staples like “Smoke on the Water” and “Freebird.” (So yes, you can yell “Freebird!” at a Dread Zeppelin show and not be a total asshole. OK, you might still be an asshole.)

But let’s face it: Anyone who’s ever gone to a Dread Zeppelin concert has been there to hear Elvis/reggae versions of “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love.” Or Zep/Elvis mashups like the one in this video, which might feature our favorite self-indulgent guitar solo of all time. Mercy.

We usually only include one video per post, but fuck it. These guys deserve an encore. Besides, as excellent as the above clip is, it doesn’t fully showcase the band’s reggae chops. This one does:



Weirdify Playlist 8: Covers for Kooks

[Note: The above image was, er, borrowed from Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine’s excellent greatest-hits compilation of loungified rap and rock classics, Sunny Side of the Moon. If you’re not familiar with Richard’s stuff, you should go to www.richardcheese.com right now and check it out. Especially because if you do, there’s still a chance he won’t take us to court and/or steal our wives for using his album art without permission. Thanks.]

Nothing announces your weirdness to the world better than a really demented version of a familiar song. It’s like saying, “You know how this song sounded in its original form? We’re the total opposite of that. Or we might just be YouTube whores hoping to score a few extra views with our medley of Lady Gaga songs played on bassoons.* Either way, are we wacky or what?”

Here, then, is a brief Spotify playlist of some of our favorite weird cover songs, from bands that rank high on the Weird List, bands that probably should be on the Weird List, and a few bands that are by no stretch of the imagination weird, but cool enough to include, anyway (you’re welcome, Ben Folds). Obviously, this list only scratches the surface of the vast universe of weird covers, and we’ll probably revisit it at some point. Probably with less Led Zeppelin. Although we make no promises on that.

(*Sadly, The Breaking Winds’ Lady Gaga medley is not available on Spotify and thus, not on this playlist. We’re not made of magic, people!)

1. Laibach, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Taking a familiar song from the classic rock canon and declaiming it like some pretentious dorkwad at a poetry slam is the oldest trick in the weird-cover-tune book (I was tempted to include William Shatner’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” arguably the definitive example, but I’m pretty you’ve all heard it). But something about Laibach’s gravelly, Teutonic spin on the Rolling Stones’ old pseudo-Satanic jam makes it sound like the most original idea in the world.

2. Ben Folds, “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Another well-worn cover trick is the painfully white version of a familiar hip-hop/R&B song (see also: The Gourds’ “Gin and Juice,” Jonathan Coulton’s “Baby Got Back,” etc.). In this case, Ben Folds’ version of Snoop and Dr. Dre’s misogynistic anthem stands out for me, mostly because it finds an unexpected core of heartache and melancholy underneath all the posturing. It’s the softer side of gangsta rap.

3. Hurra Torpedo, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Norway’s favorite kitchen appliance rockers give Bonnie Tyler’s ridiculous ’80s power ballad the beating it so richly deserves.

4. Tragedy, “More Than a Woman.” Tragedy do one thing, and they do it well: Hair metal covers of Bee Gees songs. Any questions? Moving on…

5. Metalachi, “Immigrant Song.” Another high-concept cover band, Metalachi do mariachi versions of metal songs. Most of it works better than you might expect—but even when it doesn’t quite work, as on this hilarious Hindenburg of a Led Zeppelin cover, the results are still pretty fantastic.

6. Nouvelle Vague, “God Save the Queen.” If you’ve ever heard one of your favorite ’80s songs transformed into a lilting bossa nova ballad, you’ve heard Nouvelle Vague, a French/English cover band whose versions of  Gen X oldies like “Melt With You” and “Dancing With Myself” have been licensed to death. Their catalog tends to be a little too hipster-wedding-soundtrack for our purposes, but this pretty acoustic Sex Pistols cover is just left-field enough to make Johnny Rotten hurl in his grave. Which, in a way, makes it possibly the most punk-rock Sex Pistols cover of all time.

7. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, “Fire and Rain.” The flipside to the pretty Sex Pistols cover is, of course, a punk-rock cover of a James Taylor song. Me First, a “supergroup” side project featuring members of NOFX, Foo Fighters and the Swingin’ Utters, have run the unexpected-punk-cover concept so far into the ground that they’re now covering Japanese bands, but something about a rockin’ “Fire and Rain” still makes us giggle like Beavis and Butt-Head.

8. Edmund Welles, “Big Bottom.” Yes, this is a Spinal Tap cover played entirely on bass clarinets. And yes, it goes to 11.

9. The Bad Plus, “Barracuda.” We should hasten to point out that The Bad Plus, a power-jazz trio from Minnesota, have done killer instrumental versions of several familiar pop and classic rock tunes. This track, however, is not one of them. Have you lost the singer yet, guys? You have? The jazz gods be praised.

10. Richard Cheese, “Baby Got Back.” With all due respect to Jonathan Coulton’s delightful version of this same Sir Mix-a-Lot classic, we highly prefer Richard Cheese’s lounge lizard take (also, the cover of his best-of album, The Sunny Side of the Moon, was too good not steal for our playlist artwork). And in case you’re noticing a theme between this and “Big Bottom”: Yes, we do like big butts and we cannot lie.

11. Señor Coconut, “Smoke on the Water.” This dude has worked his cha-cha magic on everything from Kraftwerk to Prince. But since we decided to take this playlist in more of a classic-rock direction, nothing says “geriatric DJs spinning classic-rock steez” more than a little Deep Purple.

12. The Moog Cookbook, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” Van Halen played on vintage synths! OK, Van Halen themselves did this on 1984, but there’s still something pretty unsettling about hearing a programmed robot voice intoning, “If you want it, got to plead for it, baby.”

13. Dread Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love.” Possibly the most high-concept tribute band of all time (and yes, we have dropped the ball by not adding them to the Weird List yet), Dread Zeppelin play reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs, as sung by an Elvis impersonator. Mercy.

14. Tiny Tim, “I Love Rock and Roll.” At the height of his popularity, Tiny Tim turned his quivering falsetto loose on any number of popular songs, from “On the Good Ship Lollipop” to “I Got You, Babe.” And while his falsetto is indeed a marvel, it sounds downright quaint compared to the Tom Jones-like bray he unleashed on Chameleon, an overlooked 1980 oddity that features this amazing version of the song made famous by Joan Jett. Honestly, you don’t have to listen to the whole thing, unless you really want to hear what it sounds like when an aging eccentric bludgeons a song to death as though it’s solely responsible for the decline of his career.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.