When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Garbage takes on the Ramones’ “I Just Want To Have Something To Do.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
With its slowly churning, thick-with-ennui minor chords laid atop a simple 4/4 beat, “I Just Want To Have Something To Do” is a classic punk-rock love song. Coyness is key, declarations of affection only suitable for placement between lines that suggest anything would suffice for a good time, when the truth is some specific one, and time spent with him/her, is the true object of Joey’s affection. An evening spent with this nameless individual would certainly beat feeling sorry for himself somewhere on Second Avenue, staring into a plate of chicken vindaloo, as he begrudgingly suggests he’s doing at the top of the song.
Just as the Ramones profoundly influenced punk rock in a macro sense, they also had a huge hand in giving future rockers specific tools for revealing emotions without being campy—a trait that most of the band’s radio-rock contemporaries were seemingly incapable of doing in the late ’70s. The Ramones were the cool, almost detached antidote to the Journeys of the period, bands that, while undoubtedly talented, were getting rich pedaling a milquetoast image and sound that was safe for the whole family. Sure, these bands weren’t the Partridge Family, but in the continuum of rock history, they will surely go down as some of the most bland. (When’s the last time a budding musician told you he/she was inspired by Steve Perry?)
Mid-’90s heavyweights Garbage largely kept the Ramones’ original in tact, yet fattened it up considerably. Led by the seductive, distorted grit of Shirley Manson’s vocals, the producer-heavy band added layers and layers of rhythm guitar and a faster, more sophisticated beat, placing it squarely within an era dominated by sonically propulsive bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Green Day and the like. Something tells me Joey would’ve approved.