Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.
Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”
THE FLASHCUBES: Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter [Herman’s Hermits]
I believe I’ve already mentioned that I kinda like Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes; insisting that my all-time favorite groups are The Beatles, The Ramones, and The Flashcubes is a pretty direct statement, right? ‘Cubes shows in 1977 and ’78 included a lot of covers; as time went on, the bulk of their set lists became (rightfully) dominated by their own compositions.
The Flashcubes had terrific taste in covers, encompassing ’60s British Invasion, ’70s punk, power pop, new wave, and Eddie Cochran. The ‘Cubes introduced me to the music of The New York Dolls, Big Star, Chris Spedding, and Eddie & the Hot Rods. They covered The Troggs, The Jam, The Hollies, Television, The Raspberries, The Sex Pistols, The Yardbirds, and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.”
And The Flashcubes covered Herman’s Hermits. Just, y’know, usually not the song listed above.
“A Must To Avoid” was the Hermits track that eventually made its way onto Cubic set lists, a song ready-made for live power pop (though the ‘Cubes always skipped its final verse, presumably to keep it lean ‘n’ stripped). But one night in 1978, upstairs at either The Orange or The Firebarn, the ‘Cubes did a seemingly impromptu snippet of “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” They were introducing a Sex Pistols cover, guitarist Paul Armstrong saying they were going to do a song by a group that had just broken up. “The Beatles…?!,” bassist Gary Frenay joked. “No,” said Armstrong, “and it’s not Herman’s Hermits either.”
At which point guitarist Arty Lenin started picking the distinctive faux ukulele intro to “Mrs. Brown.” Paul paused, conferred with Arty, who then resumed his picking as Paul joined in briefly to wail along, Missus Brown you’ve gahht a luuuuvleeee dawwwwwwwterrr…! Drummer Tommy Allen may have thrown in a rim shot, completing this Borscht Belt power pop connection. The gag completed, The Flashcubes launched into their planned cover of either “God Save The Queen” or “Pretty Vacant.”
Was this whole schtick planned out in advance? Maybe. Probably? If so, The Flashcubes pulled off the illusion of spontaneity with grace and aplomb, perhaps not a phrase often applied to the clattering Wall of Noise that defined the sound of Flashcubes ’78.
My memory insists that I witnessed Arty throw in his “Mrs. Brown” lick during at least one other Flashcubes show, that time without Paul Armstrong channeling a punk Peter Noone. If he ever did it again, it was still an isolated incident. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” would not be listed in any document of songs The Flashcubes ever covered. But I saw it. I heard it. I just didn’t hear it coming.
WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: David Johansen sings disco!
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