In the late 80s, an Australian band played a few shows for the Indigenous peoples. Much like North American countries, Australia has a sordid history in kicking out the Indigenous populations. Also, much like the American Indigenous populations, the Australian Indigenous populations often live in impoverished conditions. Considering Australia is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, this bothered the members of Midnight Oil. So, they wrote the classic rock song, “Beds Are Burning” (known by some as “The Time Has Come”).
Beds are Burning picked up a lot of traction. In Australia, the song reached #6 in the charts. Beds are Burning Reached #1 in neighboring New Zealand, as well as Commonwealth countries Canada and South Africa. In the United States, Beds Are Burning hit #6 in the rock charts, and #17 on the Billboard charts. Once more, Beds are Burning became an anthem of social justice the world over, and promoted awareness about an issue that, quite frankly, most of us didn’t know much about.
With all great songs, there have been several covers over the years. With that said, the time has come to look at each of these covers. How do they compare to the original? And do they promote the social justice the original version preaches?
Original: Midnight Oil (1987)
We start the original with a solid bass guitar groove, which holds steady throughout the song (a few key changes here and there). A few seconds in, we hear lead vocalist Peter Garrett almost talking the lyrics as he describes a scene of a desolate landscape – a landscape no one would want to live in. The pre-chorus screams out “The Time Has Come!” and hints that the entire continent of Australia should be given back to the indigenous population. The chorus, with lines like “How can we sleep while our beds are burning?” laments the lack of responsibility taken on the issue.
The second half of the song repeats the same sentiments of the first verse. The intensity of the song escalates as Garrett almost cries and laments the second verse. It’s clear by this emotion in his voice, that Garrett and the rest of Midnight Oil are not just pointing to the listener, but also themselves. It’s clear Midnight Oil wants change that begins with themselves.
Cover: Underground Moon (2001)
In 2001, a one-off project by former Dokken / War and Peace members Jeff Pilson and Tommy Henriksen recorded a decidedly harder version than the original. Starting slow, with vocalist Pilson saying “I know what you want,” the song explodes a few seconds later. Loud guitars replace the steady bass groove found in the original, and Ozzy Osbourne like vocals scream at the listener.
There’s not much more to say about the Underground Moon cover of Beds are Burning. Pilson and Henrickson just amped things up to 11. However, I will argue that this amplification from rock to hard rock makes Beds are Burning sound more urgent. We get the message in both songs, but with Underground Moon, we feel a fire has been lit under our feet. We feel like the time has come to take this song seriously.
Cover: Tck Tck Tck (2009)
The Tck Tck Tck version of Beds are Burning was recorded by a celebrity, a supergroup, and was ultimately an ad for a climate summit in Copenhagen. This supergroup featured artists from all around the world. A few A-listers (of the time) such as Fergie, Lilly Allen, and Jack White make an appearance. Of course, Midnight Oil is involved, as well as the vocalists from Duran Duran and The Scorpions. Even Chrissy Amphlett of the Divinyls sings a few lines. Tck Tck Tck also features actors and musicians all across the world who aren’t widely known outside their own country. But I digress. How does Tck Tck Tck sound?
To be blunt, Tck Tck Tck sounds like any other celebrity supergroup song. There’s just not a lot of heart. Sure, there are a few things that stand out. Firstly, Koffi Annan and Desmond Tutu open and close the song with statements about climate change. A few vocalists have a few great parts. The Scorpion’s lead vocalist belts out the line “In 45 degrees” and Chrissy Amphlett sings the chorus in her best voice. Theophilus London raps the lyrics “How can we dance, how can we dance?” A few African and Asian musicians that really stand out as well (most of whom aren’t credited, and so are impossible to name at this time).
Aside from the celebrity supergroup vibe, the other thing Tck Tck Tck does is to change a few lyrics in the pre-chorus. “It’s for the Earth, for our Land” replaces the lyric “To pay the rent, to pay our share.” A few other similar lyric changes make sure to hammer the point; the meaning of the song has changed. Beds are Burning has become about all people, not just the Indigenous people of Australia.
Cover: Amanda Palmer & Friends (2020)
Amanda Palmer responded to the recent fires in Australia by releasing a charity album. With a few friends and colleagues. The album steals a line from Beds are Burning (45 Degrees) as the title, and of course, features a cover of Beds are Burning.
Pamer delivers the verses in her signature, arthouse baroque pop style. The primary instrument, a piano, chirps in the background as Palmer sings in an almost Cockney accent. Later in the song, we lose the piano and gain some guitars, as a nod to the song’s rock and roll heritage.
The Brushfires of Australia disproportionality affected the Indigenous population. And again, this album is a charity album, with all proceeds going to Firesticks Alliance, an Indigenous-Australian led organization. Palmer brought the song back to the people it was written for.
Cover: Leo Moracchioli (2020)
Every week, Norwegian musician Leo Moracchioli takes a song, almost at random, and covers it in a metal / hard rock style. While most of Leo’s covers are amazing, some of these covers stand out above the rest. Leo’s cover of Beds are Burning is certainly one of those covers. Of the hundreds of covers, Leo has done, Beds are Burning is easily in my top 5.
The Leo version and the Underground Moon version operates in the same genre. Still, Leo make Beds are Burning his own. With extended guitar solos, echoing and deep vocals, and even heavy metal growling at times, Beds ar Burning finds itself as a horrific (in a good way) song. We feel the horrors the song describes. And of course, that’s important in Beds are Burning, as the message truly is the most important thing about the song. We must feel the intensity!
The Time Has Come to choose the best version of Beds are Burning
Every cover I examined here is insanely good in their own right. I will even admit, the TCK TCK TCK version has grown on me a bit. Yes, it’s a celebrity supergroup, but whatever. Still, I’m not going to say TCK TCK TCK wins this round. Meanwhile, the Amanda Palmer version is interesting, yet seems to miss something. Maybe the fact that the original version is so rock-oriented and Amanda Palmer is so, not, rock-oriented is why I just don’t like the version that much. As far as the Underground Moon version: It rocks. But again, the Leo version rocks harder.
So, that leaves the original Midnight Oil version or the Leo Moracchioli version. Soundwise, I have to say Leo wins hand down. He creates an intensity with hard rock that Beds are Burning really benefits from. However, I must wonder if Leo gets the point of the song. Then again, Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil states that the song isn’t just about social justice, it’s also about the Indigenous people of Australia joyfully dancing in the desert.
Even though the Indigenous Australians have had so much taken away, they’ve retained their spirit. So, maybe Leo’s song pays tribute to this aspect of the song. Yes, Beds are Burning is heavily steeped in social justice, and yes, the song states the Indigenous people of Australia are owed their due. However, despite what the Australians took from the Indigenous population, they can’t take everything. Maybe Leo’s version celebrates this fact. So, with that said, the time has come to pull the trigger. Leo Moracchioli has the best version of Beds are Burning!