Like so many others, I’ve been hopelessly hooked on the Misfits’ unique brand of punk for a long time. Almost a complete mythology in and of themselves, Danzig’s songs for the band impossibly blended romance and gore, pop harmony and gutter hardcore.
Unlike a lot of others, I’ve been just as addicted to stockpiling every cover version I can find of the Misfits’ songs. In honor of Rob Crow from Pinback bringing his DevFits cover band—which mashes up Misfits and Devo—to the Blank Club on Aug. 1, here’s a list of my 10 favorite Misfits reimaginings. Keep in mind, I tend to prefer covers that try a different approach rather than those that mimic the originals note for note. But I’m always on the lookout for new Misfits covers, so if you have any personal favorites, leave them in the comments sections and I’ll be sure to check ’em out.
1. The Lemonheads, “Skulls”: Maybe this cover still seems like the best because it was so completely unexpected. When it came out in 1991 on the Favorite Spanish Dishes EP, the Misfits were more of a cult band than the legend they’ve become in the last two decades. No one was doing acoustic versions of their songs yet—now, of course, they’re a dime a dozen. And certainly no one expected the golden boy of alternapop, Evan Dando, to croon “corpses all hanging headless and limp, bodies with no surprises.” Set to a single acoustic guitar, this version captures the melancholy and torch-song longing that few had even picked up on Danzig’s outwardly grotesque songwriting yet. Even after hundreds of bands have piled on with their own takes on the Misfits canon, there’s still something startling and almost touching about Dando’s version: he wants your skull, but there’s no reason he can’t be sweet about it!
2. Phantasmic, “I Turned Into A Martian”: Another unexpected and unique approach, this was from a one-off project headed by Tess Wiley, best known for her time with the Christian pop band Sixpence None The Richer. What inspired her to cover this on her 1999 album I Light Up Your Life, which was mostly covers of bland pop crap like “You Light Up My Life” and “Something About You,” is anybody’s guess. But wow, what a version. Wrapping some spooky, atmospheric guitar in the smoky blues of her native Texas, and setting it to a shuffling rockabilly beat, the song defies easy description. But somehow it gets closer to Danzig’s heart of darkness than a hundred knockoff tunes from supposedly evil metal bands.
3. Guns N Roses, “Attitude”: That’s not to say metal bands haven’t made a showing. Metallica is arguably responsible for the Misfits ever becoming famous in the first place, thanks to their groundbreaking covers of “Last Caress” and “Green Hell,” sandwiched together into three and a half minutes of fury on their Garage Days Re-Revisited EP (which was released in 1987, just four years after the Misfits called it quits). But even better was Axl and company’s take on “Attitude,” which managed to be faster and louder than the original. The covers record that it was on, 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident?, is nobody’s favorite GnR album, but this was the standout track. Slash’s guitar is incredible, but what gives this version its scary power even still is that it’s impossible to tell where Now Officially Affirmed Crazy Guy Axl is coming from on it. With Danzig, this kind of shock song always seemed pretty tongue in cheek, especially next to tunes about zombies and screwing fire hydrants, but does anyone else feel like Rose is singing it without a trace of irony?
4. Drag The River, “Hybrid Moments”: Now probably the people’s choice for best Misfits song of all time, “Hybrid Moments” therefore gets the most cover-version love, especially from indie bands. But these Colorado alt-country dudes nailed it with the honkytonk version captured on their Live at the Starlight album. Jon Snodgrass’ whiskey-soaked voice adds a sobering element of sadness, or perhaps better amplifies what Danzig had meant all along. (It’s so hard to tell in a song that starts with “If you want to scream, scream with me,” reflects on what might happen if an unspecified creature rapes you in the noggin, and then melts into “Ooh baby, when you cry, your face is momentary.”) It’s enough to make you wish Johnny Cash had covered this Danzig song instead of “Thirteen,” but even so it might not have topped this version, the first Misfits cover to make it seem like horror-punk is something to cry in your beer about. Plus, the band banter at the end is great: “That song was so scary I can’t believe I’m still in the room.”
5. Papa M, “Last Caress”: Best known for his time with Slint, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and now Interpol, David Pajo is the kind of indie rocker who likes to release a slew of solo material under lot of different names. He recorded this gentle, acoustic version of “Last Caress” sometime in the late ‘90s, and it showed up on his 2004 odds-and-ends compilation, Hole of Burning Alms. With an almost whispered vocal and a starkly plucked guitar, it took acoustified Misfits to a new level: lullaby. The use of such an approach in a song that begins “I got something to say, I killed your baby today” was, by even the most exacting hipster standards, pure genius. Pajo would go on to run the concept into the ground by doing the same thing over and over again on his 2009 Misfits covers record Scream With Me, but he still has his moments, as on his fantastic cover of “Bullet.”