Covers and Remixes: Black Steel
As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I teach kids that are so young that they have no memory prior to American Idol. This has got me thinking about covering and remixing songs. As I searched the internet for music and themes, I found that many songs have been rerecorded into different genres.
I have chosen a song to examine that has been remade in a different genre. The song is "Black Steel (In the Hour of Chaos)." It was originally released by Public Enemy in 1989. In 1995, a British artist called Tricky released a version of this song with a female vocalist. When comparing the song, the lyrics are nearly identical:
I got a letter from the government
The other day
I opened and read it
It said they were suckers
They wanted me for their army or whatever
Picture me given' a damn I said never
Here is a land that never gave a damn
About a brother like me and myself
Because they never did
I wasn't wit' it but just that very minute...
It occured to me
The suckers had authority
Cold sweatin' as I dwell in my cell
How long has it been?
They got me sittin' in the state pen
I gotta get out - but that thought was thought before
I contemplated a plan on the cell floor
I'm not a fugitive on the run
But a brother like me begun - to be another one
Public enemy servin' time - they drew the line y'all
To criticize me some crime - never the less
They could not understand that I'm a Black man
And I could never be a veteran
On the strength, the situation's unreal
I got a raw deal, so I'm goin' for the steel
I am embedding Tricky's version audio only although the video is available. I am also embedding a live version of Public Enemy performing.
When I first heard Tricky's version of this song, I was confused. Growing up in the United States, I was familiar with the history of oppression and racism in this society. I also knew that Public Enemy was a controversial challenger of racism at the time this song was released (on their album "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back"). For this reason, I associated the lyrics with United States history. I was surprised to hear a British artist remake this song using a female vocalist. Recall that in the lyrics, she sings "I'm a black man and I could never be a veteran." This really challenged my understanding of Tricky's song. Why did he choose this song to remake?
More recently, I have been listening to the album that Tricky recorded this remake on. There is another song on this album that I started to connect with Tricky's Black Steel. This song is called "Hell Is Round the Corner." Here is an excerpt from the lyrics:
I seem to need a reference to get residence
A reference to your preference to say,
I'm a good neighbour, I trudge,
So judge me for my labour,
The bond on me ensures my good behavior
The constant struggle insures my insanity.
Passing the ignorance ensures the struggle for my family
We're hungry, beware of our appetite.
Distant drums bring the news of a kill tonight.
The kill which I share with my passengers.
We take our fill, take our fill, take our fill.
Public Enemy used music to bring social issues out on a relatively local level and Tricky is doing the same thing. Both are addressing the marginalization of members of the society in which they live. It makes me want to learn more about the history of the United Kingdom.
I am embedding the audio only for "Hell is Round the Corner," but the video is available on youTube.