I have a few John Lennon tribute albums. One came out about ten years ago, an album called Working Class Hero. Q did one in honor of John’s sixty-fifth birthday. Neither could I recommend.
There’s something about John Lennon’s solo music that doesn’t lend itself to cover versions. Some have said that Lennon did the definitive version of his songs, so no other version were needed. Honestly, I think the truth of the matter is that John’s solo work tends to be so slight that there’s often no reason to cover one of his songs. (Yes, I just called John Lennon’s solo work “slight.”) And when someone does cover a John Lennon song, there’s often no spark of originality to the cover to make it stand apart.
Which is why I’ve been mildly curious about the Instant Karma: The Campaign to Save Darfur compilation. It’s a two-disc set of John Lennon covers by a variety of artists, from R.E.M. to U2 and everything in-between. How would it fare?
I bought the lead single–R.E.M.’s cover of “#9 Dream,” probably my favorite solo Lennon track–off iTunes and was pleasantly surprised. “#9 Dream” is an unjustly overlooked Lennon track. For people looking for the dreamier Lennon, that’s the solo track to look at. But it also had the misfortune of being off Walls and Bridges, the album Lennon made during his eighteen month separation from Yoko Ono, and so it’s generally forgotten today. I digress. R.E.M.’s version of “#9 Dream” sounded like, well, an R.E.M. track, unlike the typical cover that sounds like the original song but with a different vocalist.
So when I heard Green Day’s cover of “Working Class Hero” off the same compilation, I had my breath taken away.
At first I was unimpressed. Billie Jo Armstrong’s voice and a guitar, much like Lennon’s original–his voice and a guitar. But then, about a minute in, we get drums. And then, we get another guitar. A wall of sound builds, momentum builds. “Working Class Hero” has drive, direction, power. And then…
Green Day fades away, and it closes with John Lennon himself, his voice and his guitar. And it’s over.
It sounds like a Green Day song. 🙂
I’m just amazed.
It’s not quite as remarkable as Elbow’s cover of the song from the album Q put together, but then again Elbow’s version is almost completely uknown. For a generation unfamiliar with “Working Class Hero” they could have no better introduction than Green Day.
If the rest of the album lives up to R.E.M.’s “#9 Dream” and Green Day’s “Working Class Hero,” Instant Karma will be that rarity–the worthwhile cover album.