The Beatles, Hendrix, The White Stripes, Cat Power, Aretha ... popular music is strewn with acts for whom a cover song has proven no compromise to credibility. This spotlight proves that popular music in New Zealand is no different. Alongside chart toppers from The Holidaymakers, Tex Pistol and cover queens When the Cat's Away, Crummer does Clapton, Jon Steven goes slightly Jamaican, Head Like a Hole go epic ... and re-make/re-models of the hook-filled 'Nature' and 'Shoop Shoop' gain added guitars.
'To Sir with Love' was a chart topper for newcomer Ngaire Fuata in 1990, after winning unexpected airplay on the ZM radio network. Remade often since Lulu's 1967 original featured in the hit Sidney Poitier movie of the same name, this version pushes Ngaire's winning vocal and a slinky beat. The result topped Kiwi charts for five weeks. The largely black and white video shows Ngaire has little fear of the camera; she had recently begun working in TV, and would later present Pacific news show Tagata Pasifika. Ex-Commodores bassist Ronald La Praed (unseen here) plays on the track.
The first single for short-lived Wellington band The Holidaymakers was a cover of a little-known song by American Bill Withers. It spent six weeks at number one and was the biggest-selling single in New Zealand in 1988. On a low budget director Fane Flaws created a beautifully lit video that captures the song’s infectious brightness and warmth. With a collection of lamps the only concession to props or special effects, nothing detracts from the compelling performances by vocalists Peter Marshall and Mara Finau. Sweet Lovers won Best Video at the 1988 NZ Music Awards.
This muscular early 90s cover of The Fourmyula’s pastoral 1969 classic comes from the first album by Don McGlashan’s band The Mutton Birds. The award-winning music video was directed by Fane Flaws — the first of six he made with the band (after previously working with McGlashan on The Front Lawn’s Beautiful Things clip). Guest vocalist Jan Hellriegel features amongst the battery of kaleidoscopic and psychedelic digital effects used to evoke the joys of nature. In 2001 the original tune was voted best NZ song in 75 years by songwriters’ association APRA.
The video for Tex Pistol's chart-topping, electro-pop tinged remake of 'The Game of Love' is a stylish triumph for budding teenage director Paul Middleditch - and one of the high points of New Zealand music video making in the 1980s. Tex Pistol, aka former member of Th'Dudes Ian Morris, is dressed in black and white with silver tipped cowboy boots and big red semi-acoustic guitar; while the soundstage, covered in a sheen of water, and blacked out except for a handful of spotlights, is all reflective surfaces for Morris and backing vocalist Callie Blood.
K'Lee was just 17 when this song took the New Zealand charts by storm, peaking at Number two. Her self-titled album produced another three hits for the Rotorua-born teenager. She was the first female NZ artist to achieve four top 20 singles off a debut album. The song is a cover of a 1980s ballad by UK band Mr Mister. The video, directed by Greg Riwai, features multiple K'Lees in the same scene, while singing in sync. Further sharply rendered visual effects work sees doves flying out of torn-up photographs.
Sonny Day was a working musician from the late 50s to the early 90s, but recorded infrequently. 'Savin' Up', his first solo single, was a soulful cover of a song Bruce Springsteen gifted to his sax player Clarence Clemons — and an appropriate counterpoint to the glitz of 80s materialism. The video, shot in Auckland's Vulcan Lane plus the legendary Birdcage bar, has Sonny in his element, while performing with a band that includes Neil Edwards (ex-Underdogs), Tama Renata (ex-Herbs) and backing vocalists Annie Crummer, Beaver and Josie Rika.
This big, bright cover of British act Blue Mink's plea for multi-racial harmony and a world of "coffee coloured people" was a chart-topper for all female vocal group When the Cat's Away in November 1988. The self-produced video is heavy on 80s fluoro colours and overexposed whites, while the placement of the Cats around a single mic affords them plenty of chances to interact and enjoy each other's company (they're also seen out and about on Karangahape Road, and at a rugby league test). This cat video before cat videos overran the internet includes an actual cat.
Upper Hutt-born singer Jon Stevens pulled off the remarkable feat of having consecutive number ones on the NZ Top 40 with his first two singles. 'Montego Bay' was the second of them (taking over from 'Jezebel' in January 1980). It was a cover of a one-off 1970 hit for Bobby Bloom, written for the second largest city in Jamaica — but the cut-out palm trees of the studio set were as close as Stevens and band got to the Caribbean. 'Montego Bay' stayed at the top of the chart for two weeks and was voted 'Single of the Year' at the New Zealand Music Awards.
One of the most commercially successful NZ acts of the 80s, all female vocal group When the Cat's Away reformed in 2001 around four of the original five members: Margaret Urlich, Kim Willoughby, Debbie Harwood and Annie Crummer. They announced their return with this electropop reworking of Sharon O'Neill's 1980 ode to the east — and a Rachel Churchward styled music video which used black outfits on a black background to give an Oriental lacquer-like sheen. O'Neill returned the favour when she played with the Cats on a subsequent tour and live album.
This ambitious video for Head Like a Hole's cowpunk Bruce Springsteen cover was shot by commercials company Flying Fish — at vastly more expense than the low budget recording which supplies the soundtrack. There's more than a cursory nod to U2's LA rooftop video for 'Where The Streets Have No Name' (including fake radio coverage from Channel Z). But HLAH get a higher building, and, unlike U2's guerrilla effort, the apparent blessing of the city fathers (with Mayor Mark Blumsky on site). The video marked one of the last appearances of drummer Mark 'Hidee Beast' Hamill.
Creating New Zealand's first local hit involved a lot of trial and error, as a company best known for making radios grappled with how to make records. Sixty-six years later Neil Finn visited musician Jim Carter, whose Hawaiian-style guitar is part of the magic of the original 'Blue Smoke' track. Finn "gently persuaded" Carter to help him record a new version on a laptop in just a few hours. Alongside newsreel shots of WWII soldiers, this evocative clip features footage of two musicians from different generations sharing memories, and making music about saying goodbye.
Sitting in the Rain is a New Zealand pop landmark. One of the earliest music promo clips, filmed for television in 1967 by the NZBC, it is a cover version by a local band that became better known than the original (by UK blues stalwart John Mayall). The Underdogs were a powerful electric blues combo, but with 'Sitting in the Rain' they knew that less is more; the film clip, used to fill TV scheduling gaps, is similarly unfussy. Like a surly, underground Monkees, the anarchic Underdogs don't hide the fact that the performance is mimed.
Annie Crummer came to attention with her cameo in ‘For Today’ in 1985 and she was a member of the high profile late 80s act When The Cats Away — but her debut solo album Language didn’t appear until 1992. This cover of a song originally recorded by Eric Clapton was its first single. It features Pacific reggae band Herbs (with the late Charlie Tumahai as duet partner). Fred Renata’s stylish video is a study in monochrome as it alternates black and white backdrops (and wardrobe for Crummer), and augments them with photos of loved ones and shadow play.
Stephanie Tauevihi (Shortland Street) was vocalist of choice on this cover of Australian band The Church's biggest hit. Strawpeople founders Paul Casserly and Mark Tierney cast themselves in unlikely roles as guitarists, and share the directing duties on this typically stylish video. It captures the song’s sense of emptiness and disconnection in its tale of an astronaut’s love (although the song’s original inspiration was an Amsterdam club, not the astral Milky Way). The woman in spectacles with the mysterious office machine is played by DJ/actor Phoebe Falconer.
This all star cover of Mutton Birds classic ‘Anchor Me’ was made to mark the 20th anniversary of the sinking of Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. After Hinewehi Mohi’s haunting introduction, singers including Anika Moa, Kirsten Morrell (Goldenhorse) Che Fu, and Milan Borich (Pluto) walk towards the camera across a washed out landscape. Nuclear blasts, pollution and Greenpeace vessels can all be seen, while doves pull rainbows across the screen.
This pop-punk version of Monte Video's novelty hit by Wellington band Spacial Verb was the winner of a competition run by radio station Channel Z. The video reprises the original's tale of finding love in all the wrong places, with the station's staff making up the cast and lead roles for breakfast show hosts (and former ICE TV presenters) Nathan Rarere and Jon Bridges. Rarere rings every ounce of lasciviousness out of the already suspect lyrics — and that's Bridges in the pink. Watch out also for James Coleman and Clarke Gayford in the trio of drag queens.
This notorious clip was filmed for Timberjack's appearance at the 1971 Loxene Golden Disc Awards, to accompany their symphonic cover of the song by British band Black Widow. The Wicker Man-esque images of skulls and ritualistic sacrifice would do any of today's "black metal" groups proud — but proved too much for TV1 audiences, who jammed the switchboard with complaints. An alternate version screened a week later with the black and white negative inverted, but proved equally unsavoury and led to an outright ban. Warning: contains nudity and pine needles.
This cover by Ted Brown and the Italians of the 1966 hit for the La De Da's focuses on the rock in the psychedelic rock original. Directed by Chris Jackson (Impressions), the no-frills video is all moody blues and reds, cut together with Brown and the band seen in naturalistic colour through a fisheye lens. Brown had won a Tui NZ Music Award for Most Promising Male Vocalist the previous year. Trivia: the Artie Kornfield and Steve Duboff-penned song was also covered by The Bangles. In 1995 Darryl 'DLT' Thomson remixed Brown’s version as the theme music for TV3 music show Frenzy.
Taken from hit music show C’mon, this short clip has Mr Lee Grant performing his first number one hit ‘Opportunity’. After leaping to attention — and suffering an awkward landing — he recovers quickly to offer a jaunty performance on a psychedelic set, complete with American flag motif. The song (a cover version) charted in May 1967, helping cement Mr Lee Grant’s position as one of the country's premier pop stars. He would top the local charts twice more — and come close another time — before leaving New Zealand in March 1968, in an attempt to conquer the United Kingdom.
The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra's version of Bonnie Tyler's wrenching 70s hit was the title track of their debut EP. In director Tim Capper's video, they manage to take the song to new levels of pathos with vocalist Andy Morley-Hall's quest for a slice of vegan apple and rhubarb tart. The location is a crowded Deluxe Cafe (where the ensemble emerged from informal Thursday morning sessions). Age Pryor contributes the solo and, amongst the group's massed ranks, there's a masked nod to absent member and Flight of the Conchord Bret McKenzie.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, TV presenter Helena McAlpine enlisted a chorus of NZ's most recognisable music voices to cover Chris Knox’s classic love song. McAlpine was determined that mothers, daughters, wives and friends get the message that the “best form of defence against breast cancer is to catch it early”. Directed by Toa Fraser, the video for the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation awareness campaign shows a run of well-known Kiwis holding pictures of women they love, in front of a backdrop of Derek Henderson photos. McAlpine died on 23 September 2015.
Following the demise of Pacific Funk band Big Sideways, vocalist Debbie Harwood launched a solo career with this cover of an Ashford and Simpson song written for Gladys Knight and the Pips. The single was dedicated to recently deceased Dragon keyboards player Paul Hewson, and it won Harwood a NZ Music Award (at a ceremony which provided the impetus for the formation of When the Cat’s Away). The video, produced by TVNZ at Avalon, is a straightforward studio performance, but is notable for the extended, two minute long tracking shot that comprises its second half.
A couple of years before Backstreet Boys ruled global pop charts, there was Purest Form. This 1994 cover of the Split Enz song was the biggest hit for the New Zealand vocal harmony group (who a year earlier had gained amusement park immortality, by lending their smooth sounds to a Rainbow’s End commercial). Co-produced by ex-Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner, ‘Message’ peaked at number two, and won Single of the Year at the 1995 NZ Music Awards. The song’s no-frills music video sees the crooners walk and cartwheel down a beach in a catalogue of 90s fashion.