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From The Who to James Brown: Iggy Pop's 8 greatest cover songs

Iggy Pop, in many ways, is a relic of a bygone era. The man who once embodied rock ‘n’ roll extremes was a walking, talking personification of excess has delivered us no end of iconic moments, unhinged anecdotes and all, rivalling only really The Who’s late drummer, Keith Moon. Pop is one of the survivors of the “classic rock” period and is full of cautionary tales about how and how not to live one’s life. The blissful character we see topless on the beach today is a far cry away from the man who was once smuggled cocaine into a psychiatric hospital by David Bowie and Dennis Hopper.

When discussing Pop, it would be reductive to merely focus on his off-stage life, regardless of how fascinating it is. We have to remember that first and foremost, it was as a musician that Pop made his name. In many ways, he is one of the forefathers of punk, with only really Lou Reed rivalling him for the top spot. A proto-punk master in shock value and visceral onstage performances, when Iggy fronted his first proper outfit, The Stooges, both he and the band were way ahead of their time. The group’s first three albums, despite the lineup changes, remain iconic lessons in how to deliver frenzied rock and roll, and without The Stooges, Fun House and Raw Power, we could say goodbye to subsequent heroes such as Sonic Youth and Johnny Marr.

After the Stooges and during a turbulent period of the 1970s, Pop, would continue to pave his own path through music. With a keen eye fixed on whatever musical mode is ubiquitous, for the most part, he has always managed to successfully straddle the genre du jour and his own profoundly individual style of approaching music. Over the years, we’ve seen Michigan’s number one maniac encroach into new wave, industrial, electronic, metal and electronic, to name just a few of the styles he has toyed with.

How fitting it was that he had a high profile bond with David Bowie, with the pair forming a transatlantic partnership between rock’s most chameleonic artists. It should come as no surprise that both artists would become great friends and have significant impacts on each other’s lives. In fact, the adjective chameleonic is the perfect word to describe Pop, and it can be regarded as the main reason for him remaining relevant for so many years, outlasting his peers in both the musical and physical realms.

Never afraid to try something new, feverishly keen on progression, Pop has endeared himself to his devoted fans from day one. His life has been a musical odyssey with many twists and turns, and of course, more than a few misfires. However, what people also tend to forget about Pop as a musician, is just how much fun he is. One facet of his musicianship that people also forget is his penchant for delivering a brilliant cover version. As with his original music, Pop is not afraid to foray into areas that one wouldn’t normally associate with him. 

Given that this is one of the most interesting and surprising elements of Pop’s artistry, this got us thinking, what are Iggy Pop’s eight best covers of all time? With a boatload to get through, trimming it down to such a small number was no easy feat. However, we have provided a balanced list of renditions that show just how versatile of a man and musician Iggy Pop really is. Join us then as we list them.

Iggy Pop’s eight greatest covers:

‘You Really Got Me’ – The Kinks

Included on the rare live album California Hitch-Hike, Pop and band tear through an incredible rendition of The Kinks‘ 1964 classic ‘You Really Got Me’. Recorded in November 1980 after the release of the punk-ish Soldier, this cover is nothing short of brilliant. 

Taking the proto-punk energy of the original and combining it with Pop’s own punk spirit, this cover travels at such breakneck speed that it feels as if the wheels are about to come off at any point. Even more interestingly, Pop’s backing band was a glitzy one. It features ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock on bass, Brian James of the Damned on guitar and The Patti Smith Group’s Ivan Kral on the second guitar. It even featured Klaus Kruger from Tangerine Dream on drums. Did someone forget to mention supergroup?

‘White Christmas’ – Bing Crosby

Here’s a surprise. Iggy’s “Ho Ho Ho” really catches you off guard. It’s hard to know whether this take on Bing Crosby’s yuletide classic is intended as ironic or not. A languid, sedated take on the original, it is a wonderfully syncopated piece with the beat almost seeming out of time, lending the track a slightly sinister feel with is a stark contrast to the innocence of Crosby’s original.

The inclusion of the choir at the end serves to soothe the discomfort the beat creates, and given Pop’s warm baritone, he almost takes the original down a Barry White-esque route. Either way, by the end it flourishes into a refreshing take on the original.

‘La Vie En Rose’ – Marianne Michel

Another surprise rendition, it is almost anathema to hear Pop’s deep, crooning vocals in this delicate way, as he recounts Marianne Michel’s original French lyrics perfectly.

Not only is Pop’s vocal performance exquisite, but the music is also nothing short of incredible. Featuring warm brass, organs and a female backing vocal that augments Pop’s performance, it’s a shame this cover isn’t more well known, as it deserves more plaudits.

‘I Can’t Explain’ – The Who

Pop’s rendition of The Who‘s 1965 classic ‘I Can’t Explain’ is much like his cover of ‘You Really Got Me’. It keeps in line with the original all the while adding some of that classic Iggy Pop spice to it. It contains his snotty, Michigan accent, which is the first point of divergence as is the chorus being a lot more melodic than The Who’s original, lifting it from its analogue setting.

Taken from Pop’s 2014 7″ collection Gimme Some Skin, this is one of the best covers of the original in existence. Though he was middle-aged when he recorded this take, Pop manages to replace the sugary mod essence of the original with the dark, nihilistic energy of his early career, providing a fresh twist on the ’60s classic.

‘Fix Me’ – Black Flag

One of the heaviest and most electrifying tracks Pop ever laid down, is his cover of ‘Fix Me’, the 1983 classic by hardcore heroes Black Flag. Pop delivers an unhinged spin on Keith Morris’ vocals from the original. Pop and band carry the song off to perfection in its 57-second duration, chugging along like a train about to come off the rails.

Pop’s vocal performance is one of the most captivating he has ever delivered and the crazed baritone he enacts on the last line is the highlight: “Fix me, please, I don’t want to be dead/Fix it”. Here, he displays just how much of an impact he had on punk’s development.

‘Everybodys Talkin” – Fred Neil

This take on Fred Neil’s classic ‘Everybody’s Talkin” is incredible.

Famously, the 1966 song was popularised by Harry Nilsson for 1969’s Midnight Cowboy which starred Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. One would argue that Pop’s version is nearly as good as both the aforementioned versions. The music delicately dances around Pop’s worn vocals, and together with the autumnal production, they make this cover one of the best covers in existence. Period.

Given his age and the state that his voice is now in from years of substance abuse and not looking after it, it is understandable that Pop forgoes the iconic falsetto towards the end of the song for a more measured, deeper, vocal delivery. It’s a shame really, as we’ve never heard Pop attempt such a high register, and it’s likely that we never will.

‘Louie Louie’ – Richard Berry

One of Pop’s most unapologetic covers, it is fitting that one of the masters of proto-punk should cover one of the earliest examples of what would become punk.

Pop and band take the song from its 1950s R&B state, and via The Kingsmen’s rebellious 1963 cover of Richard Berry’s original, they drag it by its lapels into the future. Featuring a wicked, distorted guitar solo and a similar, sinister piano line to the Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, one could argue that this is the best version of the song out there.

Taken from 1993’s American Caesar, the cover manages to stay true to the original whilst repackaging it for the contemporary alt-rock audience. It is so good, it even featured in the opening credits of Michael Moore’s 2009 outing Capitalism: A Love Story and as an ending song in Jim Jarmusch’s 2003 flick Coffee and Cigarettes.

‘(Get Up) I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine’ – James Brown

Indeed, the funkiest outing Pop has ever had; this is a hilarious yet majestic take on the original. Pop’s unhinged screams of “Get Up!” and the versatility of his ensuing vocal performance make it one of his most captivating sonic outings.

He honours James Brown, the ‘Godfather of Soul’ with a whole load of attitude and sex appeal. Who can be surprised? In terms of attitude and bedroom antics, both Brown and Pop have a lot more in common than you’d initially think. Fans of cocaine, alcohol, and possessed on-stage performers, this cover is the one we never knew we needed. Just like Brown on the original, Pop provides the heat.

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