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The Lemonheads and Mrs Robinson close out a year of cover versions [December 13, 1992]
Plus: Madonna, Nirvana, and The Wedding Present
Greetings, Time Traveller! 👋
It’s December 13, 1992 again
📰 The final cherry on the Annus Horibilis arrives when someone leaks the queen’s Christmas speech to The Sun. 📽️ A new holiday classic arrives in the form of The Muppets Christmas Carol. 📺 Lots of classic Christmas specials on telly, including the one where Del Boy starts selling tap water as “Peckham Spring”.
🎶 Number One song in the UK Top 40 is still Whitney, but let’s take a look at…
This week’s Number 20: ‘Mrs Robinson’ — The Lemonheads
Folks, we’re nearly at the end of 1992. This is the last regular issue of this year—we’ll do a Best Of next week and return in January with a look at 1993.
Thank you for all of your shares, likes, comments and support this year. I love you all. And because I love you, I feel I can’t lie to you.
End-of-term vibes have struck @Twit90s towers. Christmas movies and chocolate are calling to me, so I won’t be writing the issue I had planned.
What was the plan? Well, there was one of big trends in 1992, which is summarized in this NME headline:
There were a LOT of cover versions in the charts in 1992. Of the 100 best-selling singles, there were 21 straight-up covers, and that’s notsongs based on samples (‘On A Ragga Tip’) or remixes (Brothers In Rhythm’s version of ‘Temptation’).
Oh, and the NME? They release an entire album of cover versions at the end of the year. It’s called Ruby Trax and it’s quite good.
Why so many covers? Well, a lot of things, and each of them could fill an entire issue of this newsletter. To summarise:
Copyright law was a mess in 1992 (and still is). Sampling was a chaotic practice resulted in hundreds of lawsuits, but no clear legal precedence. Recording an original cover of a song was, in some ways, easier and cheaper.
A wave of chart-oriented DJs spotted a winning formula: crazy beats with a recognisable tune on top. Nobody cared which tune you picked as long as the beats were banging, which is why you get mad shit like Rod Stewart (see below) and the music from Tetris.
CD sales overtook cassettes in 1991. People were keen to upgrade their music collection, leading to the other major trend of 1992: compilation albums. The album charts from this week in ‘92 has 9 Best Ofs in the top 10 alone! Bands reissued classic singles to promote their Best Ofs (hence ‘How Soon Is Now’ finally becoming a chart hit in 1992), which helped create the right environment for cover versions to breed.
The rise of cover bands on the live scene showed that there was an appetite for this stuff. That possibly led to the phenomenon of covers-only bands like Under Cover (the name!), KWS (who had a massive hit with ‘Please Don’t Go’) and The Pasadenas (who did old soul songs so well that some people thought they really were an old Motown band).
Some folks had genuinely interesting ideas for reimagining classic songs. The winners in this category are Erasure, whose brillant ABBA-esque EP took everyone by surprise.
Boomers started entering their 40s and wanted to revisit their past, hence The Lemonheads recording ‘Mrs Robinson’. Dando and Co were asked to do this cover as part of The Graduate’s 30th anniversary celebration. As mentioned in our review of It’s A Shame About Ray, Evan Dando hates the original and hates his cover, but a man’s gotta eat.
Maybe we’ll dive into some of these topics next year. But it’s almost Christmas! And there are chocolates to be eaten! Let’s just enjoy Evan Dando being tortured for a while!
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 6 (↑ from 10): ‘Deeper and Deeper’ — Madonna
Madonna had a wild 1992 (see the issue about ‘Erotica’ from a few weeks ago), but she finishes the year with a straightforward Madonna single.
And it’s a very good one too, with deep disco beats and a great hook. Madonna is a controversialist, but she’s also a pop savant who showed incredible instincts during her imperial phase.
That imperial phase started with ‘Holiday’ in 1983, continues here in 1992, and we’ve still got some mid-90s classics to go. Truly, she is the Queen of Pop.
Number 7 (New Entry): ‘Phorever People’ — The Shamen
Another good year for The Shamen too. ‘Phorever People’ sees the return of Jhelisa Anderson last heard on ‘LSI (Love Sex Intelligence)’.
‘Phorever People’ allows Jhelisa to sink her teeth into a massive chorus. Good times. In a parallel universe, this was 1992’s Christmas Number One…
Number 25 (New Entry): ‘No Christmas’ — The Wedding Present
…or maybe this was!
The Wedding Present release a Christmas tune as their 12th and final single of 1992. All dozen of them are gathered on The Hit Parade, which is our album of the week: keep scrolling to read more!
Number 27 (New Entry): ‘We Are Raving’ — Sunscreem
A perfect example of opportunistic DJs putting any old nonsense on their records. Slipstreem decided to do Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’, but change the lyrics to “we are raving”.
Trying to think of a joke with the punchline “not raving but drowning”, but I got nothing.
Anyway, this is awful but it is at least marginally better than ‘Sesame’s Treet’.
Number 28 (↑ from 40): ‘In Bloom’ — Nirvana
Kind of weird watching this video now. It’s a fun and clever video that probably inspired the likes of Weezer (and, indeed, Foo Fighters.)
Very enjoyable at the time, but now we know how much Kurt hated the showbiz part of rockstardom. It’s hard to imagine him feeling proud of this video, and knowing this makes it slightly harder to enjoy now. Just slightly.
Anyway, we are now officially at the end of Grunge Phase One. In a couple of months, Nirvana will start work on In Utero, Pearl Jam will get cracking on Vs., and Stone Temple Pilots’ Push will make waves in the charts.
Get ready for Phase Two.
Album of the Week
The Hit Parade — The Wedding Present
What a perfect way to end the year.
To recap: David Gedge and the Weddoes spent 1992 on a madcap mission to dominate the charts by releasing a single every month. Each release was a limited edition 7” featuring one original Wedding Present song and one cover version.
Conventional wisdom would say that this is a waste of plastic. Record labels prefer to release around four singles per artist per year, giving each song a chance to breathe and find its audience.
Turns out, conventional wisdom was wrong. The Wedding Present—who had never troubled the pop charts before—hit their commercial peak, with every single making the Top 30. They even cracked the Top 10 with May’s effort, ‘Come Play With Me’:
Are the songs any good though?
Yeah! I mean, they’re a mixed bag at times, and the B-sides are a bit slapdash. The DIY aesthetic is part of the charm though, and it’s exciting to when a catchy pop hook jumps out, like the chorus of July’s single ‘Flying Saucer’:
The word “indie” often refers to a very specific kind of guitar rock—the kind that The Wedding Present play, in fact.
But “indie” is short for “independent record label”. It’s not about how the music sounds, it’s about how people find your music. If you can connect with an audience without going through major label channels, you are indie.
The Wedding Present did exactly that. They released what they wanted, when they wanted, and they didn’t consult some marketing suit. It worked, and it worked at a time when most indie labels were going through an existential crisis.
In that sense, The Hit Parade is far and away the best indie album of 1992* and one of the great indie albums of all time.
But it’s more than just a quirky one-off** experiment in distribution methods. It’s also a great collection of songs from one of the most charming weirdoes in pop music.
* Technically, The Hit Parade didn’t appear as a standalone record until 2003. Let’s please agree not be nerds about it.
** Gedge, clearly a glutton for punishment, decided to repeat the challenge by releasing a single in each month of 2022. The final one is due out on December 16th—you can get them from his website.
Next week: The Best of 1992
Expect one final email rounding everything up before we break for the holidays.
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See you soon!