Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Leatherfaced!: Frankie Stubbs Growls the Classics

“It’s all about the sound—you know, making the guitar go aarrrraaaaaarrrgggh.”
Frankie Norman Warsaw Stubbs, Leatherface

The idea that the songs of yesterday need a kick in the aarrrraaaaaarrrgggh is a key theme in rock n' roll history - from Elvis Presley to The Rolling Stones to Thin Lizzy to The Ramones to Joan Jett to Redd Kross to Blink 182 and a 100,000 more besides. While there is often bitter division between fans of the original and the cover, there's notoriety and/or filthy lucre to be made as long as the cover strikes a nerve.

Punk rock, and especially it's ever-Green Offspring, pop-punk, has always made use of the nerve-striking cover. Punk bands often throw out a cover, usually a roughed-up radio hit, as the last song of the album or set, which establishes both the band's slightly ironic love of silly pop songs and their unwavering intention to Play Like Hell. (Alternately, some call this trick a shameless play for either college radio or the ladies.)

Leatherface (more HERE) are invariably described as a punk band. Since they are accurately, if citationlessly, described in Wikipedia as a "cröss between Hüsker Dü and Motörhead" and they do indeed Play Like Hell, that's probably a fair description. But for Leatherface, UK veterans of over twenty year's in punk's fetid trenches, covers aren't just crowd-pleasers, they're possibility-openers. Stubb's unholy growl of a voice, his gear-grinding guitar sound and his idiosyncratic lyrics, which manage to be both elliptical and imagistic, are the essence of Leatherface but they can also be limiting. So, the band's eclectic covers list, featuring a jumble of styles, eras and familiarity offset the band's superficial consistency, ensuring they can't simply be pigeonholed.

So now, MRML presents a career-spanning (but surely incomplete) set of Leatherface covers that illustrate some of the different ends to which Stubbs & co. use the words and music of others. For ease of listening and brevity of explanation, we have grouped these songs into four and 1/4 crude but manageable categories, which necessitated the inclusion of a 'one-of-these-things-is-not-(quite)-like-the-other' song in each sub-set. (Sorry about that.)

A. Standards
There's not a lot of Hollywood-sized romance in the words and music of Leatherface but what Stubbs won't often say himself, he'll sometimes quote from others, albeit in a voice all his own. While not all part of any one genre, these songs associated with Elvis Presley, Henry Mancini, Jimmie Davis and Bob Dylan (the only one on this list who actually wrote the song in question) show the band dealing in much grander scale emotional territory then they usually tread.

"I Can't Help Falling in Love With You"
"Moon River"
"You Are My Sunshine"
"In the Ghetto"
"Knockin' on Heaven's Door" 1

B. Punk Rock/New Wave
Of course a good cover also shows a band's dedication to it's roots, to its heritage. In this set, we find Leatherface reaching back to the past to show from whence they came. Whether it's the proto-punk of The Stooges, the class of '77 punk bands like The Damned and the Angelic Upstarts or those famous faux-punk, new wavers, The Police, Leatherface give these already aggressive songs an extra shot of vehemence.
"I Got A Right"
"Melody Lee"
"Teenage Warning"
"Message in a Bottle" 2

C. Eighties Pop
Quite often the same adolescents who feign a distaste for the popular music of their time will later, from the safety of nostalgia, end up singing those same songs in karaoke bars. Unlike your high school friends, whose embrace of bygone days reveals mostly their own limitations, when Leatherface shake-up over-worn classics (like these ones by Cyndi Lauper, Tracy Chapman, Elton John and The Christians) they can reveal possibly ignored depths therein. That can be quite a feat with the often tinkly and shallow hits of the eighties.
"True Colours"
"Talkin 'Bout a Revolution" 3
"Candle in the Wind"
"Ideal World"

D. Contemporaries
Our final set does demonstrates how the band has kept its ear open to "newer" songs. The band has done so by covering not only bands who they began playing alongside like Snuff and Wat Tyler (not to mention morbid Australian post-punk lounge lizards like Nick Cave, whose "Ship Song" gets an aching full band reading here) but also by doing songs by bands they influenced like China Drum and Dillinger Four.
"Win Some, Lose Some"
"Hops and Barley"
"The Ship Song" 4

I know you've all forgiven ABBA, like you forgave The Monkees and like you will forgive N'SYNC soon enough but I harbour that grudge still... (Of course this version does gives the song a good goring.)
"The Eagle"

are good

Well there you have a quick tour of the borrowed items in Leatherface's repertoire, those songs new and old that they chose for a wide variety of reasons, to give a full dose of aarrrraaaaaarrrgggh.

1 While "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is a standard it is, admittedly, of a different sort than the others listed.

2 "Message in a Bottle" is not a 'punk' song and, considering the epic romanticism of its lyrics, it might almost fit in the 'standards' category.

3 While "Talkin' Bout a Revolution has a layer of 80's gloss sprayed on it, the song itself is tough-as-nails and without tinkliness or shallowness.

While Nick Cave, who wrote and recorded "The Ship Song" in 1990, came to prominence well ahead of Mr. Stubbs, I'm sure they've covered some common ground.

(Images of "Papa" Stubbs' courtesy of Rock the Cam)

P.S. An anonymous donour went a Longy way towards making this post possible.

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The Shipyards


  1. Thanks!

    (That was quick!)

    I will say this took about two weeks of work. on and off so. even a couple of words is appreciated

  2. Fantastic! Thank you so much for putting this together, and I look forward to digging through it.

  3. Love their covers. Great work Jeffen
    Ken Days Of Our Youth

  4. CallPastorJerkfaceJuly 27, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    Excellent post my good man!

    My current faves would be as follows:
    "I Can't Help Falling In Love"
    "Message In A Bottle"
    "True Colors" (Thank you Queen Of All Tr00 Punx Cyndi Lauper! Yeah Madonna, whatever. You're just a poser with good financial instincts.)
    "Talkin Bout A Revolution"
    "Ship Song"

    Hmm. It would appear that 80's pop and was-influenced-by are my preferred Leatherface leanings. *red faced* Guess I should give their self-penned material a chance sometime, huh?

    Has anyone ever spoken to Mr. Stubbs about getting together with Shane MacGowan for a duets album? Oh, the damaged glory those two gravel gargling fellows would bring to songs both standard and po-mo (post-po-mo even!).

  5. heh, there'll be some good fun in there. on a very tangetially related note, stiff little fingers are on tour right now, playing an expensive show ($30) in toronto in a little while.

  6. Great post!
    Some classics in there but also some turds.

  7. Love the whistling on "Moon River"

  8. Hey Jeffen

    Enjoyed the post though Leatherface was not on my musical radar at that time.Appreciate your effort.Cheers!


  9. Comments are the bets part of blogging - thanks be to you whom speak up!


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