Top 10 Flaming Lips Classic Rock Covers
The longer the Flaming Lips have been around, the more restless they become. They started as a punk band in Oklahoma almost 30 years ago. They then turned to psych-rock before becoming one of the new millennium’s best prog bands with 1999’s ‘The Soft Bulletin.’ Recently, they turned back toward the freakout music that graced some of their earlier recordings. But they possess an adventurous streak that rivals one of their main influences, Pink Floyd. It was no big shocker when the Lips covered ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ in its entirety on a 2009 album — they’ve been covering classic rockers in concert and on record for years. Our list of the Top 10 Flaming Lips Classic Rock Covers includes songs by Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, the Who and Pink Floyd.
The Flaming Lips take on Marc Bolan in this cover of T-Rex’s ‘Ballroom of Mars,’ which was originally on 1972’s ‘The Slider’ (the Lips version comes from a bootleg). Not so surprisingly, the Lips slow down Bolan’s glam trip to a murky crawl, but they retain the song’s super-fuzzy, sparks-flying guitar solo, which they execute with twisted excellence.
Unsurprisingly, the Lips are huge Beatles fans, especially their later experimental period (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Flaming Lips Classic Rock Covers). Some weird noises surface, and frontman Wayne Coyne‘s voice gets a bit shaky, on their stripped-down version of John Lennon’s 1980 comeback single, but it’s relatively faithful, as far as Flaming Lips cover songs go.
The 1989 tribute album to Neil Young, ‘The Bridge,’ included covers by indie rockers like Dinosaur Jr., the Pixies and Sonic Youth. Some play it straight, some don’t. The Flaming Lips’ take on the title track to Young’s 1970 album falls somewhere in between. At this early stage in their career, their punk roots, and inability to play other artists’ music with finesse, still surface.
In the mid ’00s, British singer-songwriter Rachel Fuller hosted a webcast from Pete Townshend‘s London studio. Guests would drop by, and occasionally the Who guitarist and Fuller (a frequent Townshend collaborator during the decade) would join them. The Flaming Lips covered the Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ for an iTunes-only album culled from the program.
David Bowie’s pre-‘Ziggy Stardust’ spaceman song (from 1971’s ‘Hunky Dory’) gets a typically woozy, but still straightforward, reading from the Lips, who covered it for a 1992 Peel Session. Their version later showed up as a B-side to the single ‘This Here Giraffe.’ Coyne’s voice begins to lose some of its stability midway through, but otherwise ‘Life on Mars?’ throws few curves.
Following the success of ‘The Soft Bulletin’ and its follow-up album, ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,’ the Lips’ old record company repackaged their first three albums as ‘Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid,’ throwing in some bonus songs, including a cover of Zeppelin’s epic ballad from their second album. The Lips slash the song in half, messing up parts of it along the way. But their reverence for the song is obvious.
‘I Am the Walrus’
This one’s pretty much a no-brainer: The Beatles’ most acid-damaged song covered by the ’00s’ most acid-damaged band. The Lips’ version of ‘I Am the Walrus’ was released at the tail end of 2011 after recording sessions with Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band. Like in their take of John Lennon’s ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Flaming Lips Classic Rock Covers), the Lips don’t steer too far from the tune’s original template.
In 2007, the Flaming Lips played some songs and sat down for an interview that makes up an ‘iTunes Originals’ album of their own tracks plus a couple of covers, including a ferocious take on Sabbath’s 1970 favorite from ‘Paranoid.’ It’s possibly the most note-for-note copy the Lips ever mastered … except for the usual snaps in Coyne’s voice.
The Lips included a cover of Queen’s 1975 classic as an exclusive bonus song to iTunes’ version of their 2006 album ‘At War With the Mystics.’ They also recently made a video for it. And they have a lot of fun with the song, rolling through its various twists and turns with perfect timing and genuine love.
In 2009, the Lips — along with pals Stardeath, White Dwarfs, Henry Rollins and Peaches — recreated Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic in order and in its entirety. We could have gone with any of the tracks for our list of the Top 10 Flaming Lips Classic Rock Covers (in fact, the whole album is worth a listen), but we’ll stick with the most popular one. Plus, their take on ‘Money’ is pretty representative of the project, employing Floyd’s original template as a springboard to a spaced-out re-imagining of the classic.