This spring has been one of unlikely holiday mashups from “Valentine’s Ash Day” to “Easter Fool’s Day.” In the spirit of mixing things up this year, I put together a list of musical acts—some more well known than others—who have taken familiar hits in other genres and made them entirely their own.
Back to the ’50s: Big Daddy
Big Daddy started out in the 1970s as an oldies cover band, but it was when they later began playing mashups, giving newer songs a ’50s makeover, that they got their big break on the Dr. Demento Show. Although they are often called a “satire band,” they are really one of the first bands to perform mashups such as Guns N’ Roses à la The Tokens, Rick James à la The Everly Brothers or The Talking Heads à la Harry Belafonte. They are also the only band who could make me actually enjoy the Celine Dion mega-hit “My Heart Will Go On” by making it doo-wop. Take a listen to Men at Work à laThe Drifters.
Gaelic Takeover: TG Lurgan
TG Lurgan is part of an independent summer music school project in the Gaelic-speaking Irish district of Connemara. To better help the area’s youth learn the language, Coláiste Lurgan has them create and perform covers of pop hits with Gaelic lyrics. They have covered hits by .fun, Adele, Avicii, and Bastille, to name a few. Their YouTube hits are well over 1 million views, including for their cover of “Cups (When I’m Gone).” Every single one of these young musicians is filled with talent.
Blue Grass, Heavy Metal: Steve ‘N’ Seagulls
Besides having the best band name in country music, The Finnish band Steve ‘N’ Seagulls are best loved for their bluegrass versions of heavy metal hits, with their most popular being AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” They’ve also rocked the bluegrass to other headbanging hits like The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.”
For original songs, there’s the American band The Native Howl, a “thrash grass” band who performs their own bluegrass hits with a thrash metal attitude. They deserve a listen as well.
Rockin’ and Ropin’: The BossHoss
The BossHoss is a German band who not only does plenty of party-worthy original county songs, they’ve gained a following for their country and western covers of pop, rock, and hip-hop hits. Nelly, Wham, The White Stripes, and Plastic Bertrand are just a few of the artists they’ve covered. They like to refer their music as “country trash punk rock,” but whatever it is, it is a blast. Those who saw Kingsman: The Golden Circle might recognize their version of Cameo’s “Word Up,” but I really like their catchy take on The Sisters of Mercy’s “This Corrosion.”
Head Banging Mariachi: Metalachi
The “World’s first… and only Heavy Metal Mariachi Band.” These guys have made plenty of stops in my neck of the woods, but they are getting attention everywhere for their Mariachi versions of metal hits from Ozzy Osbourne to Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Guns ‘N Roses, and others. They’ve even made an appearance on America’s Got Talent. A good place to start with these guys is their first CD, Uno, as well as their follow up, Dos. Muy facil.
Pop Meets Pagliacci: Puddles Pity Party
There is nothing conventional about the 7-foot-tall clown Puddles, who remains silent and somber until the music starts. Then his voice is just breathtaking. Taking on the Pagliacci-like image, he booms out hits from Lorde, Sia, or David Bowie with a powerful voice. The alter ego of Big Mike Geier, Puddles and his booming baritone have gained a fanbase from Neil Patrick Harris to Jack Black. If you get a chance to see Puddles live, do so, as this clown can move an audience to both laughter and tears in one show.
A Geek’s Guide to the Orchestra
There are several wonderful string performers and orchestras who have covered rock, movie tunes, and other unlikely songs heard in classical concerts, many who have gained a huge following. To keep things brief, I’ll just run you through some of my personal favorites. Hopefully, you’ve heard of them all. There are Tommy Tallarico and his overwhelmingly popular Video Games Live tours and albums, 2 Cellos, the Piano Guys and, of course, Lindsey Stirling, all of which know how to let their geek flag fly with class.
There are too many beautiful, fun, and geeky covers by all these artists to mention here, and that’s a good thing. Since Game of Thrones is now on a long break, I’ll feature 2 Cellos’ cover of its beautiful theme song.
Melodies in Metal: 331Erock
Just as many of these bands have taken metal hits and turned them into other genres, guitarist Eric Calderone (known by his YouTube moniker 331Erock) has a knack for taking everything else and making it metal. His first hit was the “He’s a Pirate” theme from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl, but he has since made tons of other covers from the soundtracks of Star Wars to Lord of the Rings. His most viewed hit? According to Wikipedia, it’s Disney’s “Let It Go” from Frozen, gaining more than 10 million views!
Crooning with the Rockers: Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine
What can you say about Richard Cheese except, perhaps, tread lightly? This Vegas-style lounge singer and his band consisting of fellow cheesy musicians Bobby Ricotta, Frank Feta, and Billy Bleu, covers Disturbed “Down With the Sickness,” Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” and everything in between. Richard was the brainchild of actor and comedian Mark Jonathan Davis, who created the character for a Los Angeles area radio station. He has made several late night television appearances, and has been featured on a diverse range of shows and movies from Dancing With the Stars and HBO’s The Leftovers to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
He doesn’t spare the profanity, so make sure to give him a listen before playing him at the family picnic. For a family-friendly tune, here’s his version of “Man in the Mirror” featured in The LEGO Batman Movie!
Before I ever heard of Richard Cheese, I remember a band called Black Velvet Flag, who crooned punk hits like “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies and “Amoeba” by The Adolescents. Their own story is actually the subject of a one-hour documentary, The Rise and Fall of Black Velvet Flag.
The Possibilities are Endless: Postmodern Jukebox
Unless you have completely avoided the internet for the past five years, Postmodern Jukebox, formed by pianist Scott Bradlee in 2011, is everywhere. They rework current hits into a variety of vintage styles, and have a cast of several talented musicians and vocalists. There have vintage cabaret versions of “The Final Countdown,” New Orleans dirges of “Seven Nations Army,” and other hits covering styles from the 1920s to the 1970s in jazz, soul, doo-wop, R&B, and other shout-outs to the past. The hardest part about finding an example of their work is their catalog is growing by leaps and bounds every day, not just in the number of songs they put out, but the amount of new talent they bring in to perform. Puddles Pity Party has even made a few appearances with them, and singer and comedian Wayne Brady fronted their Cab Calloway-style 1930s jazz cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
With this in mind, I’ll end this list with the simple, no-frills cover that first brought my attention to this group, a “Vintage Grandpa Style” cover of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”: