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Punk Rock Cover Songs: What Worked and What Didn’t

Although the era of the punkified cover of a non-punk song reached its commercial zenith in the wallet-chained moshpits of the ‘90s, punk rock has a long history with bringing outside influences and songs into the punk realm. 

While this was most notably prevalent in the skate/pop-punk scene at that time, exemplified best by the covers-only band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, the trend can be seen from the time of punk rock’s origins in the ‘70s to now.

Ramones – ‘California Sun’

Perhaps one of the first punk rock reinterpretations of a pop standard to be released by a punk band, this stripped back and driving rendition of Joe Jones’ 1960 single was a clear example of the influence of classic pop on the Ramones’ sound, ultimately becoming one of their own signature songs.

Verdict: It Worked

Black Flag – ‘Louie Louie’

Countless bands have covered this garage-rock standard, however Black Flag’s abrasive 1980 cover drew new life and energy out of the three-chord classic. Marking the debut appearance of third vocalist Dez Cadena, this cover brought a sense of nihilism and grit to the track. While the non-melodic take on the song becomes a bit draining at times, the single fits in perfectly with the hardcore legends’ sense of humour and deconstruction of rock music.

Verdict: It Mostly Worked

Bodyjar – ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’

Becoming one of their best known songs and a setlist staple, Bodyjar’s cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’ ticked all the boxes in what makes a successful cover. While the song had already taken on a more rock driven rendition previously by The Bangles, Bodyjar’s melodic and tight skate-punk brought even more life to the track. Absolute belter.

Verdict: It Worked

Save Ferris – ‘Come On Eileen’

Arguably one of the most iconic examples of the ‘90s trend of pop-punk/ska bands covering pop songs, Save Ferris somehow made the Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ smash hit single even more upbeat, with the energy of countless Warped Tours and baggy shorts running through it. While this style and formula ultimately ran its course though oversaturation on teen movie soundtracks and “alternative radio”, it’s a simple reminder of where, for better or worse, punk rock has occasionally cracked through into the mainstream.

Verdict: It worked but 99% ska-punk is dumb so I don’t care