When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Social Distortion takes on The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
Though it doesn’t sound particularly antagonistic, the Rolling Stones’ 1966 song “Under My Thumb” undoubtedly confirmed for the world that the young U.K. gents were, indeed, the new bad boys of rock ‘n’ roll. Groomed from the outset by then-manager Andrew Loog Oldham to be a dangerous counterpoint to the bookish Beatles, the Stones had by the early ’60s already begun to perpetuate this image by urinating in public, fathering illegitimate children and the like. Thus, Jagger’s caricature of a controlling male lover in “Under My Thumb” was less surprising than it was affirming, accompanying other Aftermath songs like “Stupid Girl” into sea of feminist rebuke.
Already one of the band’s strongest and most inventive original cuts (Brian Jones’ marimba melody somehow pushed the Stones’ blues-heavy sound forward without compromising their machismo), “Under My Thumb” became further mythologized when it became the score for Meredith Hunter’s death at Altamont in 1969. This event is shown in poignant detail in critically acclaimed documentary Gimme Shelter, which depicted the astral highs and hell-ish lows (forgive the pun; after all, is anywhere lower than hell?) the band endured on its infamous U.S. tour that year. All of this would happen, of course, on the heels of Jones mysteriously dying in his swimming pool mere months earlier. When would the nightmare end?
Whether consciously or not, few bands could channel the Stones’ anti-authoritarianism or disarray better than venerable L.A. punk band Social Distortion. Led by the enigmatic Mike Ness, whose battle with heroin addiction in the ’80s came on the heels of Keith Richards’, Social Distortion married punk-rock ferocity with rock sophistication better than any, if not all, of the litany of acts that have attempted the same fusion then or since. Their cover of “Under My Thumb”— which, for my money, doesn’t sound any better than on 1998’s Live At The Roxy—is a generous and enormously propulsive tribute to the original. Indeed, the song’s raw content finally received the raw treatment it entailed, making a very strong case for the cover over the original in this round.