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July 5, 2011 10:28 AM   Subscribe

I'd love your recommendation for songs my very amateur band can cover. Some criteria inside.

Some friends and I have started jamming--fantastic fun, and a terrible racket. We have a drummer who played in high school some 20 years ago; a bass player who started lessons over the spring, I think; a female singer/guitarist who picked up guitar over the winter (I don't know whether she's had singing lessons, but she can belt 'em out); and me. I've been playing guitar for 18 years or so, blissfully unencumbered by lessons or technique. I can play through most songs, often (but not always) by ear, and I can hammer out a solo or good riff from a song--but I'm no improviser, so I'm not making up anything new. We all have room to grow in our musical ability, to be sure.

So far we've played some rockabilly by Wanda Jackson, and Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes, something by the Ramones, and probably a couple other things I can't quite remember. It's always fun, but we do best with things we all know (or at least have heard), and that are not too challenging (i.e., taking into account that 50% of our members have been playing for no more than 6 months or so).

I think it's safe to say that we're all on the indie spectrum. I listen almost exclusively to Britpop (always have, always will), but my bandmates are more widely traveled in the indieverse. Stuff like the Clash (I'm thinking Should I Stay or Should I Go, but haven't proposed that to the group), Bowie, the Ramones, would all be great candidates for us. Matchbox 20, Creedence, Brooks and Dunn, or whatever, would be entirely out and cause the band to break up.

Can you recommend any good, easy songs for us to cover along those lines? Bonus points if there is something more meaty for me to try to work on (riff, solo), since I'm not at the point where I would just make one up.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
posted by empath at 10:30 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by luckynerd at 10:36 AM on July 5, 2011

Well, there's always the we-only-know-three-chords classic, Louie Louie.
posted by phunniemee at 10:39 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are some pretty simple Pixies songs, e.g. UMass, Here Comes Your Man...
posted by greasy_skillet at 10:41 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Kinks: You Really Got Me. Dead simple and awesome, with a spastic guitar solo.
posted by otolith at 10:41 AM on July 5, 2011

Seconding the Beatles. Everyone starts off with them, they have some things you can play with just a few chords, but also much more complicated work that can challenge you.

Other common songwriters that are good for beginners are Cat Stevens and Paul Simon.

Also, I think some things from The Cure don't sound too difficult to play, and might sound really good with a female lead.
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:42 AM on July 5, 2011

The Standell's Dirty Water is a classic of the garage band ouvre (although, if you're in New York City it may get you some dirty looks -- but in Boston it could get you fans).

The Rock-a-teen's "Woo Hoo" is also one that's gotten a recent hit of popularity, and it's also just goofy and fun.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 AM on July 5, 2011

'Gloria' and 'Wild Thing' are two garage band classics.
posted by box at 10:59 AM on July 5, 2011

Early Rolling Stones might work. Jumpin' Jack Flash seemed to be a staple of the high school garage jammers I knew.
posted by jquinby at 11:07 AM on July 5, 2011

David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust -- of course this sound sounds great when done to perfection, but there is something about it that sounds awesome when its played in shambolic haphazard fashion with lots of gusto.

The Replacements: I will dare. I linked to the full band version there, but this "in studio" of Westerberg is nice to see for the guitar bits. As many fans of the band will attest just about any Mats' tune is great no matter how well (or sober) it is played.

Speaking of the Cure: Jumping Someone Else's Train is a relatively easy one to pick up and it's great for thumbing your nose at posers. The tempo on the linked video is a sign of the times when it was recorded (as in totally rad to my ears but it sounds good a little slower, too -- which is maybe how you want to learn it).

Have fun! I hope you post some results to Music, too.
posted by safetyfork at 11:11 AM on July 5, 2011

2nding the Pixies.

Talking Heads: Stay Up Late or Psycho Killer

Fleetwood Mac: Landslide , Rhiannon and while it's a bit technical I love Go your own way .

Elvis Costello: Pump it up , always a fan favorite.

Dammit, I gotta get back to work, I could do this all day.
posted by Sphinx at 11:12 AM on July 5, 2011

The Sonics may well be in your range: Have Love, Will Travel (minus the sax); The Cramps Goo Goo Muck; Some version of Shakin' All Over... Something jumping like Hoy Hoy Hoy... a version of Come On (I like this version by the Planet Rockers)...
posted by peagood at 11:22 AM on July 5, 2011

Sister Ray, Velvet Underground

Roadrunner, Modern Lovers

The Passenger, Stooges

I Wanna Be Your Dog, Stooges

Shake Some Action, Flaming Groovies

Teenage Head, Flaming Groovies

Talk Talk, Music Machine

Great Big Big Head, Alice Donut

(These are all songs covered by an awful, awful garage band I was in years ago. We had about a year of musical experience between the four of us. It was great fun.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:32 AM on July 5, 2011

Female singer screams Cherry Bomb and I Love Rock N Roll by Joan Jett. I'd also consider Garbage (the band) as most of it is relatively easy to play and pretty recognizable.

Green Day are good snotty 3 chord punk songs, especially stuff from the Dookie era.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:46 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you able to learn Queen Bitch? Because if you can, I really think you ought to.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:49 AM on July 5, 2011

I'm going to stick to the '90s here:

Veruca Salt (songs: "Seether," "Volcano Girl")

Hole (album: Live Through This)

The Breeders (their first 2 albums: Pod and Last Splash)

Letters to Cleo (song: "Here and Now")

Flaming Lips (song: "Turn it On")

Dig (song: "Believe")

Dandelion (songs: "Waiting for a Ride," "Weird Out")

Hum (song: "Stars")
posted by John Cohen at 11:53 AM on July 5, 2011

2nding The Passenger, my shitty basement band covered it semi-recognizably
posted by ghharr at 12:21 PM on July 5, 2011

several songs by the Jam would work: "In the City," "This is the Modern World," and "Going Underground" especially.
posted by scody at 12:22 PM on July 5, 2011

Violent Fems - Blister in the Sun (incredibly easy + fun)
posted by forforf at 1:13 PM on July 5, 2011

My not-particularly-musically-skilled three piece band loves playing:

The Cure - Just Like Heaven (but punked up)
All Ramones songs, but particularly: Blitzkrieg Bop, Spider-Man, I Wanna Be Sedated
M.I.A - Paper Planes
Many Jimmy Eat World songs, especially The Middle
Billy Idol - Dancing With Myself
OutKast - Hey Ya!
posted by zoetrope at 2:42 PM on July 5, 2011

Neil Young's two great "___girl" songs from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere:

Cinnamon Girl, for rhythm guitar bliss.

Cowgirl In The Sand, for bass and solo guitar chops.
posted by Beardman at 4:43 PM on July 5, 2011

James! Most of their songbook is really simple chord progressions.
(Sit Down; Tomorrow; Say Something; Ring the Bells)

...what, and no Pretenders? (Back on the Chain Gang; Brass in Pocket; Middle of the Road)
posted by smirkette at 5:27 PM on July 5, 2011

there's an album out of pop-punk covers of Belle & Sebastian songs. maybe do something like that with Moldy Peaches or other early twee bands?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:28 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cover band I used to play in had a few awesome songs we used reliably:
Lithium by Nirvana
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin

I also nth:
Dancing with Myself by Billy Idol
Blister in the Sun by The Violent Femmes

I would also recommend you have the guitarist and bassist look over various tabs or music of songs they like, since they can find the stuff easier. Drums can always be figured out in one way or another. If they like the music, it makes playing and practicing by yourself, that much easier and more fun.
posted by Nackt at 5:39 PM on July 5, 2011

Two (slower) Aussie cover greats (perfect for late session drunken smooching):

The Church, Under The Milky Way (plenty of vids on YouTube of them doing it live, too)

Hunters and Collectors, Throw Your Arms Around Me (ditto)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:43 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, your situation isn't all that different from how Talking Heads started out back in the day (before they went all syncopated and tribal): Talking Heads '77 has "Love Comes to Town," "The Book I Read," "Don't Worry about the Government," "Pulled Up," "Buildings on Fire," all of which could work (FWIW, rumor had it that David Byrne pretty much taught Tina Weymouth the bass on tracks like these), and of course their cover of "Take Me to the River" from around that time is about as easy as it is fun to play (no, the keyboards aren't absolutely necessary). BTW: Maybe not for performance, but if you want good practice in getting tighter as an ensemble, a great warm-up track would be "Right Start" (an instrumental available on the remastered Remain in Light album; it's a simplified version of the rhythm part from "Once in a Lifetime," with most of the hard stuff taken out - very funky when you're just learning).

Staying in time-machine mode, check out the second album by Gary Numan and Tubeway Army, Replicas (from 1979), the one just before the "Cars" single hit big (with all the squiggly synth, etc). It's pretty much straight guitar-based New Wave, very danceable and pretty easy to play. And while we're at it, you guys really oughta work up a version of "Cars"; fwiw, it's the kind of tune you don't need to have perfect to get the message across (again, screw the synths and add guitar).

Not sure how weird you're looking for, but there's some Devo tunes that could work (when in doubt, slow it down is my motto): "Be Stiff," "Clockout," "Praying Hands," and "Uncontrollable Urge" are from the pre-"Whip It" phase, when it was guitars rather than keyboards to go with the quirky/jerky rhythm. In the same vein, there's a great N-W single from 1980 by Alice Cooper called "Clones" that's an overlooked classic and pretty playable (with a few adjustments).

"Planet Claire," by the B-52's might work, if you got creative with substituting for the organ parts (quite doable). Along similar lines (that is, go slow and leave shit out), The Divinyls' "Pleasure and Pain," "Heaven," by the Psychedelic Furs (you all can't possibly sing any worse than Richard Butler does; plus, kinda cool guitar solo), "Never Say Never," by Romeo Void (drop the sax part and repeat the riffs until your heads fall off), "Radio Free Europe," by REM (again, how much worse could you guys sing than the original?), (probably too mainstream pop for you all but easy and fun nonetheless) "Another One Bites the Dust," by Queen and "My City Was Gone," by The Pretenders, "Digital" and "She's Lost Control," by Joy Division (they were quite guitar-heavy on these pre-New Order tracks), "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da Da" and "When the World Is Running Down," by The Police might be pushing it a bit guitar-wise, depending, but the songs themselves are pretty simple....

Oh, and venturing briefly into this millenium, I'd take a shot at some tracks by Bloc Party, although again it might be pushing it a bit technique-wise: "Banquet," "So Here We Are," and "I Still Remember." Not sure why, but I've always found these guys capture a sense of the excitement that comes when you're just starting out musically.

And, finally, since this post got way longer than I planned, I'll sum up by saying in my experience there are two things to keep mind when you mostly suck as a band: 1) keep it danceable, or at least groove-oriented (no matter how primitive you may be musically, you can always get the beat right, if you work at it), and 2) you can actually get away with a lot more as far as campiness/silliness when you're musically non-threatening. Seriously, years ago in Harvard Square, I recall a street band about as musically basic as you can imagine who still managed to bring down the house every time with their version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." The audience went absolute bonkers for it, probably from the sense of magic that comes when you can follow every little part yet the sum total musically goes way beyond.... ;-)
posted by 5Q7 at 10:29 PM on July 5, 2011

I had the luck to play with much better musicians when I was starting out on bass, but some songs I learned pretty quickly were Three Pistols and New Orleans is Sinking both by Tragically Hip. Aside from that, for a bit of grunge, Nearly Lost You by Screaming Trees worked well. For White Stripes, Hypnotize is a pretty great song to belt out, and the bass can just play along with the guitar.

I saw Weezer above. Tired of Sex is a pretty fun, not all that difficult song to play.

Have fun. Don't worry about mistakes. They'll happen, and you'll keep rocking.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:07 AM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: Wow--thanks all! These are some great suggestions! I will forward this list to my bandmates, and we'll pick a few for the next rehearsal. I especially like the Pixies suggestions, given that we're in Boston... but I could definitely see us rocking out to all of them.

I'll follow up once we attempt lift off.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:40 AM on July 11, 2011

"Planet Claire," by the B-52's might work, if you got creative with substituting for the organ parts (quite doable).

....Actually, I think what you're thinking of as the "organ" (I'm assuming it's that theremin-y sounding....sound) is actually Kate Pierson's voice. So yeah, very do-able.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 AM on July 11, 2011

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