I’m pretty sure I’d heard Pixies‘ version of The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s “Head On” before the original, and so it’s maybe a bit of an overcorrection on my part to insist the original is better than the cover, which is probably just as well-known. Or maybe it’s just that I’m into drum machines these days.
The song was the second single from their third album, 1989’s Automatic, and despite the presence of drummer Richard Thomas in the video, the song was recorded only by the brothers Reid and electronic boxes as the rhythm section.
It’s unclear what program this 1989 live performance came from – The Tube was over by 1987 – but it had an impressive lighting budget and drunk camera operators to showcase the JAMC as a full live band.
The Mary Chain played a Black Session in Paris in 1994, and the resulting bootleg is where this live version comes from:
Fast-forward to their 21st century reunion, and their performance at Oya in Oslo, Norway in August 2007:
And now to the Pixies version. I feel like it was a little unusual to not only record a cover of a two-year old (relative) hit song, but to include it on an album and release it as a single, but Pixies always kind of did their own thing. And it worked. The notes in the Wikipedia entry on the making of the video, cribbed from Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies, are also interesting.
And, as with the original, here’s a couple live performances pre-breakup and post-reunion. The first recorded at Brixton in London in 1991:
And the second at Pasadena Daydream in California in August 2019:
I’m a little surprised there’s not more versions of the song out there, but maybe tackling a song made famous by not one but two legendary bands can be a little daunting. Nonetheless, this version by Toronto’s own Ducks Ltd which came out yesterday certainly has fun with it, turning it from a driving rager into a jangly saunter, accompanied by Sara Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties on backing vocals.
And I’m not much for irony these days, but I can’t not include this one by The Hoff – accompanied by The Cars’ Elliot Easton on guitar, no less – included on his 2019 record Open Your Eyes, which is really just… odd, in its song selection (lots of New Wave and post-punk!) and collaborators (The Stooges! Flock Of Seagulls! Ministry!?!).
It’s a strange world out there.