Pop Goes the World: “Ruby Trax,” Disc 1

Written by Music, Pop Goes the World

In 1992, to celebrate their 40th birthday, NME enlisted 40 bands to cover Number One hits by other artists, and the results were nothing if not interesting. David Medsker serves up the first of three discs in this week’s Pop Goes the World.

The early 1990s were a good time to be an Anglophile. Even more so than during the whole Britpop thing, if you can believe that.

Allow me to explain. Modern rock radio was exploding, but as eager as they were to crown new kings, the format still had great respect for the bands that blazed the trail before a clear path existed. And the programmers didn’t look down their noses at a band if they had commercial success, either; Tears for Fears were just as welcome on the dial as The The. There were no subgenres under the British pop umbrella, either; British pop was British pop, with no separation of the “cool” from the “uncool.” And everyone had a shot at scoring a hit. It was a beautiful time.

Few compilations from the era demonstrate this all-for-one approach better than Ruby Trax, a three-disc compilation assembled by rock mag (or is it rag?) NME as a benefit to the Spastics Society. The magazine had turned the big 4-0, and to celebrate, they asked a bunch of bands – forty of them, natch – to cover a Number One single from the rock era. Many bands played to their strengths and covered material that was similar to their own; others went completely off the rails. Sometimes this was a good thing. Other times, not.

Disc One is, by this writer’s estimate, the weakest of the three. It starts out strongly enough with the Wonder Stuff’s fiddle-happy take on Slade’s “Coz I Luv You,” and Billy Bragg unleashes his inner disco dancer on, of all things, the Three Degrees’ ballad “When Will I See You Again.” The Jesus and Mary Chain – surprise! – get lost in feedback on a cover of Howling Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster” (the Stones took it to the top), and then the Mission goes absolutely supernova on their cover of Blondie’s “Atomic.” I still put the Mission and Stuffies covers on mix discs.

It’s at this point that things get a little weird. The Fatima Mansions turn in a cover of Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” that lands somewhere between St. Etienne and Public Enemy’s “Rebel Without a Pause.” Seventeen years later, I still can’t wrap my head around this. Does Mansions singer Cathal Coughlan really like this song, or is he just taking the piss out of it? If it’s the latter, did he really think a benefit record was the most proper forum for such a stunt? Thankfully, St. Etienne are next, taking Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise” and owning it from this point on. The Wedding Present runs through “Cumberland Gap” like they have a plane to catch (it’s over in 91 seconds), while Welfare Heroine, a band I hadn’t heard before or since, cover a song I haven’t heard before or since, Peter Starsedt’s 1969 ballad “Where Do You Go to My Lovely?.” I have no reference base for this one, but I can tell you that I just hit the fast-forward button, much like I did when I first got my hands on this. Danii Minogue’s cover of the Jacksons’ “Show You the Way to Go,” meanwhile, is rather cute from a historical perspective, as in ‘Isn’t it cute that this is how dance records used to sound?’ I’m not being facetious, by the way.

The Blue Aeroplanes decided to talk “Bad Moon Rising” rather than sing it, and I can’t say that was the best call. They also changed the tempo to a typical rock beat, which means it takes them five and a half minutes to get through a three-minute song. The instrumental “Apache” is worked over by the punk band Senseless Things, and anyone familiar with the Incredible Bongo Band version will be scratching their heads after listening to this. The disc ends with what seems like fitting cover, Teenage Fanclub doing “Mr. Tambourine Man”…but what’s with the vocals? After the big, lush harmonies of Bandwagonesque, the singing sounds tired here. Very strange.

Join us in two weeks when we break down Ruby Trax‘ far-superior Disc Two, which features Blur, Tears for Fears, House of Love, Tori Amos, Suede, the Farm, and one Buddhist covering another Buddhist.

1. The Wonder Stuff – Coz I Luv You
2. Billy Bragg – When Will I See You Again?
3. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Little Red Rooster
4. The Mission – Atomic
5. The Fatima Mansions – (Everything I Do) I Do It for You
6. St. Etienne – Stranger in Paradise
7. The Wedding Present – Cumberland Gap
8. Aztec Camera w/ Andy Fairweather-Low – (If Paradise Is) Half as Nice
9. Danii Minogue – Show You the Way to Go
10. Welfare Heroine – Where Do You Go to My Lovely?
11. The Blue Aeroplanes – Bad Moon Rising
12. Senseless Things – Apache
13. Teenage Fanclub – Mr. Tambourine Man

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