Check Out This Fascinating Document of Early Indie Rock Bands Covering Each Other
The Pixies covering the Jesus and Mary Chain. Yo La Tengo covering Beat Happening. Sonic Youth covering Mudhoney. Mudhoney covering Sonic Youth. If you are a fan of any of the above artists, then we strongly recommend checking out this spreadsheet compiled by New York Times Magazine editor Nitsuh Abebe, which catalogs cover versions of ’80s and ’90s indie rock songs, performed by other ’80s and ’90s indie rock bands. “In between punk and the mid 90s, there was something sort of interesting about the way so many bands used covers to stake out a whole audience and canon and set of shared references around what was still called ‘alternative’ music,” Abebe writes to introduce the list. By covering their peers and recent forebears, he continues, these bands were signifying their allegiance to the underground, drawing unexpected connections between scenes, “commemorating shared space.”
Abebe did not intend the list (cleverly titled “our band could be your band“) to be comprehensive—he seems to have whipped it up quickly, in response to a Twitter conversation between music writers—but it is a fascinating document nonetheless. Everyone but the most devoted fans of this music will likely find something interesting they haven’t heard before: a live bootleg of the Replacements mumbling and shouting their way through R.E.M.‘s classic debut single “Radio Free Europe”; Brit indie rockers the Wedding Present giving Pavement’s early signature song “Box Elder” a (relatively) hi-fi makeover less than a year after the California band released it, back when Stephen Malkmus was just some stoned dude in Stockton. Perhaps you may even have your mind mildly blown, as mine was when I learned that the Breeders didn’t actually write “Drivin’ on 9.”
Along with YouTube links to the recordings in question, the list also has meticulous annotations. Abebe notes that it was Neko Case playing drums in the Vancouver band Cub when they covered Beat Happening’s “Cast a Shadow” on their debut album, for instance, and traces a sudden proliferation of Young Marble Giants covers in the mid-’90s to a 1993 CD reissue of the Welsh band’s sole album Colossal Youth. Despite the humble presentation, there’s a lot to learn from and appreciate here—like a capsule history of indie rock itself, sanctifying its own songbook of standards as they’re being written. See the full spreadsheet here, and listen to Built to Spill’s lovely version of Daniel Johnston’s “Some Things Last a Long Time” below.