Listen to this song by West Coast Canadian punk institution D.O.A. It’s “War”, a cover version of the 1970 Edwin Starr signature tune (written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong), and despite a view textural differences, it remains pretty much unchanged. Who’d have thunk it? Good God, eh? The song is taken from the band’s 1982 album War on 45.
As has been roundly proven on this blog of mine, I love the cover version. Not every cover version, of course. But by this I mean I love the idea of the cover version, because the best of them takes a song out of its original context and quite often brings new meaning out of it. And sometimes, as in this case, the stylistic context doesn’t change the meaning at all. War is still good for absolutely nothing (unless you’re an arms dealer or a politician whose favour in the polls is slipping…), whether it’s brassy soul-funk, or crunchy Vancouver punk rock.
The point here is that the heart of the material is pretty intact. War is still nothin’ but a heartbreak. And dare I say that D.O.A lead singer Joey Shithead sounds downright soulful in his delivery here? Punk rock is often held together in people’s minds as associated with a nihilist worldview. Yet, D.O.A is pretty convincing here, respectful of the subject matter where they could easily just have taken the piss. I’ve lost my stomach for ironic cover versions which do nothing but go to prove how ‘funny’ a band can be and without adding anything interesting to the material.
West Coast punk in the early 80s differed from a lot of late-70s UK punk in that there seemed to be a strong political dimension to it, and a spirit of activism which could help to explain the reasons for this cover version. To prove a commitment to furthering the cause of a better world, Joey Shithead would go on to running provincially as a member of the the Green Party of Canada in 1996 and 2001. Of course he would do it under his given name, Joe Keithley.
Who says ‘no future for you’?
Joe Keithley currently runs his own label, Sudden Death Records. Check out the line-up and investigate some of the associated MySpace pages for more music.
Enjoy!Thanks again to Bev Davies.