If there was a way to measure musical influence per second of recording, Wire’s “Outdoor Miner” would surely be in the 99th percentile. The original version, which appeared on 1978’s Chairs Missing, clocked in at an efficient 1:44 but would be one of the most-loved tracks by the massively influential outfit.
Now that quotient drops a bit if you consider the January 1979 single version, which was stretched out to an epic 2:51 in length in a bid for radio success, netting them a lofty 51 chart position. Producer Mike Thorne reminisced about the exercise in 2000 for The Stereo Society, and Colin Newman talked to Rolling Stone about writing the song on the occasion of its inclusion in the Nine Sevens singles box set in 2018.
And if we go in the other direction, here’s a version that’s annotated as a demo from 1978. It’s slower and rougher so it certainly could be.
For live versions, let’s go to Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse in March 2020 – right before the pandemic cancelled their North American tour, which I was supposed to see them for the first time 12 days later but I digress – less for the performance, which is of course fine, but for this little preamble by Colin Newman:
“This particular song, it had a whole album of cover versions, and not one of them got the chorus right. I don’t know what that says about anything, it’s way more easy than anyone thinks it is.”– Colin Newman
I mean, it’s E-A-G-B. No one got that right?
That album was A Houseguest’s Wish : Translations Of Wire’s ‘Outdoor Miner’, released in 2004 and boasting 19 different versions of the same song. And we’ll come back to that, but first, more thoughts from Newman on covers of his bands songs for Dummy in 2015; the embedded videos mostly don’t work anymore but the commentary is for the ages:
A number of those selections will be appearing below, but let’s start with the opening track from the aforementioned “Outdoor Miner” tribute, an acoustic-strummy take from Swervedriver frontman Adam Franklin:
New Jersey’s Feelies – post-punk contemporaries almost as revered as Wire – included the song in their live sets; here’s them in March 1987 at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia. That’s weird; this recording is exactly 33 years older than the Wire one above – March 7 the date of both gigs – and was also recorded in Georgia:
Seattle’s Telekinesis busted it out for a live KEXP session in May 2015:
1990s supergroup-of-sorts The Grays – hey, Jason Falkner and Jon Brion fans are rabid – included and appropriately lush and perfectly-produced reading as a b-side of their single for “Very Best Years”. I had a copy of that Grays record years and years ago. I don’t think I appreciated it as much then as I would now.
At the other end of the stylistic spectrum, Flying Saucer Attack went lo-fi and fuzzy for their take, which was originally released as a single in 1995 and also counted as their contribution to the Outdoor Miner compilation.
Luna released a perfect cover (yes I’m biased whatever) as a single in 1996 circa but not as part of Penthouse, and included it in their 2018 Lunafied cover compilation which was originally a bonus disc to 2006’s Best Of Luna:
And if you weren’t clear on what the song was about, meet the serpentine leaf miner.