Artist Exploration

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – Punk Covers for All!

covers for all - Me first and the Gimme Gimmes.Image Credit: wetwebwork - https://www.flickr.com/photos/wetwebwork/
Image Credit: wetwebwork

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes does one thing: they make punk covers for all. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes is not a run of the mill band; they’re a supergroup, composed of band members from The Foo Fighters, NOFX, Lagwagon, and a few others. Again, they play nothing but covers in a punk rock style. What separates them from most cover bands though – name a popular music genre, and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes has done a cover of a song from that genre. The one exception I can think of is rap, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Gimme Gimmes attempted this at some point.

What really makes the covers of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes special – they make the song work for the covers, and vice versa. So many cover songs are either forced into a genre, or the band forces themselves into the genre of the song. There’s nothing wrong with the “forced” cover mind you, but putting the genre of the band on equal footing of the original song – well that’s the heart of punk music right there! One of punk rock’s core value is equality, after all.

So – let’s look at several of the Gimme Gimmes’ covers from all over the genre map. How do these songs work? What makes them equal? And why are these punk covers for all?

Rocket Man (Soft Rock)

While the original Rocket Man, originally sung by Elton John, follows more of a soft rock sound, The Gimme Gimmes’ fast and hard punk sound works to convey the song’s emotions and existentialism. Rocket Man starts by a deliberate drum solo and rhythm guitar part. We know we’re going somewhere – and this somewhere will change us.

As the guitars blare, getting louder and louder as the song progresses – our pulse pumps faster and faster. We feel the fear the Rocket Man feels. We ask the same questions the Rocket Man asks. There’s the feeling we might not come back from this journey. Even though to us this is just a song, we still wonder if this song is something more.

At the end of the song, the tempo slows to the pace of the original – as though to pay homage to Elton John’s version. However, there’s a second reason for the slower tempo – it simulates the Rocket Man, waiting in his spaceship on the launch pad. It shows a moment of calm before he’s hurled off into space on a giant rocket. And he is hurled off into space – the tempo speeds up as though our own rockets gain speed while thrusting us through the atmosphere.

I have the feeling Elton John would approve of the Gimme Gimmes’ Rocket man.

I am a Rock (Folk-Rock)

As someone that believes Paul Simon can do no wrong (for the most part), it’s hard to think that I am a Rock can be improved upon. Nay – it can’t be! Granted, the original I am a Rock conveys so much anger that it almost begs for the anger of punk music. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes understand this – and instead of trying to improve the song, they offer their alternative. The amped up tempo, the screaming vocals, the high pitch of electric guitars, and later the growling of rhythm guitars – we feel the pain and the anger of the song’s speaker.

At the ending of the song, the guitars stop, and the singer sings in an almost sobbing voice “and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.” At first – this change jars us – but then we realize – this is the point of the song. As much as the “I” in the song wants to be a rock or an island, they’re not. They’re human – they feel pain – and they cry.

Rainbow Connection (Children)

If you know me, you know the song Rainbow Connection is very special to me. While the song makes me cry, it also makes me dream and fantasize and love and care. Imagination: that’s the heart of the song – that’s also a key point of punk music’s ethos.

Punk music encourages you to go do what you want to do – despite what the rest of the world says. Follow your own path and tell those who don’t support you – well, I try to keep this site PG-13, so I won’t say what punk rock usually says – but you can guess.

The Gimme Gimmes knows the almost sacredness of this particular song. Yes, there’s blaring guitars, a fast tempo, and all the other hallmarks of a punk song. Still, the singer sounds so earnest. He almost sounds like he’s paying tribute to the song with his vocals. He cares deeply about Rainbow Connection’s message – he recognizes the scope of the song. Very few things earn the respect of punk music – so to hear the singer pay so much tribute to this song shows Rainbow Connection and its message earns its place.

And yes – I am crying a little….

Phantom of the Opera (Modern Opera)

I never thought I’d ever say that an Andrew Lloyd Webber song rocks. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating – he did write the script for School of Rock. Still most of his compositions are a bit more classically based. The Phantom of the Opera literally has Opera in its title. The song defines its genre before we even hear a note. With the fast paced, almost metal sounding guitars, I find myself wanting to get up, slam dance, and throw up the sign of the horns.

Usually we know if the Gimme Gimmes are paying tribute to a song, and when they’re making fun of the song. On Phantom, however, we just don’t really know. Maybe they just think Phantom of the Opera is a fun song. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. Like I said, they make punk covers for all – so maybe it’s up to us, to the all, to bring our own meaning to this cover.

The best part of the Gimme Gimmes’ version – the female background vocalist goes full opera at the end of the song. At first, I almost thought the Gimme Gimmes sampled Sarah Brightman’s vocals – but nope! These are the real deal! These vocals come from the Gimme Gimmes themselves.

My Boyfriend’s Back (Doo-Wop)

Gender specific songs when the artist does not match that gender presents a certain problem. Some artists take the approach the Animals took in “House of the Rising Sun” – a rewrite of the song to match the artist’s gender. Then there’s Bob Dylan’s approach – just sing the song as is and don’t worry about the gender. The Gimme Gimmes take Dylan’s approach to “My Boyfriend’s back.” This is just their style – the Gimme Gimmes like to adapt themselves to the covers just as much as they adapt the covers to their style.

There’s really not much else to say here – as the song (both the cover and the original) are just good clean fun (about the ass whooping the dude is going to get when the boyfriend comes back). We might dance to the original, we might hedbang to the cover – whatever – do your own style. That’s what punk is about after all!

End of the Road (90s R & B)

I’ve heard Boyz II Men play the original version of End of the Road twice now. The first time, they passed out roses to a bunch of swooning fans lucky enough to claw their way to the stage in a fairly large concert hall. No doubt, these stage clawing fans see this song as romantic and no one can blame them. Heck, if I hadn’t paid attention to the lyrics, I might think End of the Road sings about a continuing relationship as opposed to a closing one. Really though – I see this song as a song that needs to say so much more to the lying, cheating ex lover of the singer.

Perhaps The Gimme Gimmes feel the same way I do about End of the Road. The very first thing we hear – they replace the speaking part at the beginning of the song. Here’s the the Boyz II Men version:

Girl you know we belong together
I don’t have no time for you to be playing with my heart like this
You’ll be mine forever baby
You just wait

End of the Road lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Karen Schauben Publishing Administration

Now here’s The Gimme Gimmes’ version:

Darlin’, you complete me
But you make a lot of assumptions
And when you assume things you make an ass out of you and me
Don’t make an ass out of me

That’s quite a difference. Enough to make us look at the song in a totally different context. Instead of a romantic song saying “I’ll forgive you, just come back!” the song tells the the man singing the song that – hey….you should probably just get over her because she treated you like crap!

Yes – this strays from the Gimme Gimmes’ normal approach of somewhat respecting the original song. But sometimes the best cover shows us a different story than the original.

Mona Lisa (Traditional Pop)

At the beginning of Mona Lisa, originally sung by the great Nat King Cole, the Gimme Gimmes present a stripped down version of the song. No guitars, a slow tempo, an accordion, and a few jubilant notes played by blowing on a glass bottle.

Just as we think that the Gimme Gimmes won’t give us a punk version of the song – they give us a punk version. Guitars roar at high decibels, drums speed the beat up significantly, and we even get a shredding guitar solo.

The song almost sounds like two covers pushed together. We’re presented with two sides of the same coin – maybe we like one more than the other, or maybe we like them equally. The audience gets to choose. The band has already decided they like both versions.

The two sides seems to be a common theme with the Gimme Gimmes. I guess punk covers for all means more than just a cover from your favorite genre – but also a chance to explore the songs of these genre in a new way and with a new point of view.

Stairway to Heaven (Classic Rock)

If there’s one flaw to the the original of Stairway to Heaven, it kind of drags a bit. The tempo just seems too slow for too long. The Gimme Gimmes fix this flaw. The Gimme Gimmes speed things up halfway through the first verse actually (where the orignal takes what, a million verses?).

Ok – maybe this version of Stairway to Heaven speeds things up too soon. I’ll admit, while I said the original drags – this cover speeds up way too fast. Having said that – I feel like this demonstrates the problem of the original by way of hyperbole. By having the opposite problem as the original, the Gimme Gimmes points out the faults of the original.

Yeah – I just pissed off a bunch of people by saying Stairway to Heaven isn’t perfect, didn’t I?

Delta Dawn (70s Country)

The original Tanya Tucker song feels really sad if you look at the lyrics. Contrast this sadness with the fun feeling we get with the Gimme Gimmes’ version – and we get a cover that just misses the point…or so we think.

The Gimme Gimmes’ version is hardly the first. In fact, the Gimme Gimmes actually covers other covers of the song. Yes – the orginal is a sad song, but every single cover of the song has been a lot of down home, dancing fun. So – making Delta Dawn a song you can mosh to just extends that tradition – while perhaps making fun of other cover versions of the song. Very meta!

(Ghost) Riders in The Sky (Western)

No, I did not include this cover in my article on (Ghost) Riders in The Sky – but I was tempted. I don’t think I would have changed my mind on the best cover – as holy crap – this does not hold a candle to Johnny Cash’s version (I don’t think any version has that ability.

The two standards I held every other cover of this song: Does it convey the adventure, and does it convey the dreadful message of the original? Well – the sped up tempo and the loud punk guitars certainly gives us a feeling of adventure. The second verse strips down the loud guitars and focuses on the rhythm guitars – which seem to mimic metallic hooves of a hellish stampede coming to get you. Yeah – I’d say this version meets these two standards well.

I Write the Songs (Easy Listening)

I write the songs, originally performed by Barry Manilow, is about God’s relationship with music. Essentially the song tells us that God gave music to us as a gift to humanity. While I’m not really a Manilow fan, that’s just a beautiful message to convey.

So – what about the Gimme Gimmes’ version? What about the wailing guitars? What about the punk tempo? They’re perfect! They convey the message of the song just as well as Manilow’s version. Why? Because both are valid genres – and those who love these genres – really love them. Actually, pick a genre and cover this song in that genre, as long as you keep the message, it’ll work!

The vocals puts the Gimme Gimme’s version above other covers of I Write the Songs. Lead vocalist Spike Slawson has the uncanny ability to imitate the style (and at times, the original singer) of the song, and yet make it work with the punk instruments pulsing in the background. This is exactly what he does in this version – there are times when his vocals immitate’s Manilow’s in a way that’s actually kind of creepy.

Strait Up (late 80s Pop)

Strait Up, originally by Paula Abdul, was in constant rotation when I was a high school freshman. I loved the song back in the early 90s – but in the 2010s I can barely listen to the song. It’s mostly the bridge – it’s unmelodic and just gets boring. Having said that – the Gimme Gimmes’ version of Strait Up is not boring. Not at all!

Maybe it’s the throbbing guitars, maybe it’s the energy of the vocals, maybe it’s the fact that they use the bridge properly – as a middle section between a slow tempo verse and a fast tempo chorus. Regardless – when I want a nostalgia blast involving Strait Up – I go for the Gimme Gimmes’ version.

The Times They are a Changin’ (Folk Punk)

Yes – I just said the classic Dylan song was folk punk. Sure – in the 60s, The Times They are a Chagin’ was just called folk – but that’s because punk was not invented yet. Believe me – the anger, the cry for social change – yeah, Dylan would have been all over punk if it were a thing in the 60s. Especially with songs like The Times They are a Chagin’. It’s a very angry song!

I could argue that the Gimme Gimmes don’t really put their own spin on The Times They are a Changin’. They just play the song in the way it should have been played originally: loud, proud, and unapologetic. Yelling lines like “you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone,” and “It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls” (at senators no less). Yeah – again, this is a punk song through and through. Sadly, this song is still extremely relevant. But I won’t get into politics – like I did a couple weeks ago.

Like I said, punk covers for all!

I showcase thirteen different genres here – I could probably showcase forty at least. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes know how to cover a song – and they know how to make punk covers for all. That is not to say you’ll like every one of their covers – as most people don’t like every single genre of music. However – most people really love one or two genres of music – and the Gimme Gimmes know how to cover pretty much any genre. Again – I have yet to see them cover a rap song – but I really want them to attempt this. I wonder what punk covers of NWA or even Kanye West. Punk music really knows how to portray the social injustice and anger both those artists convey in their music. If your listening, Gimme Gimmes, that’s called a hint – make it happen!