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deep dives

The 'Punk Goes…' Series Sucks and I Love It

Adam Lazzara covering Cyndi Lauper shouldn't be this good but just is, don't fight it.

by Lauren O'Neill
14 July 2017, 10:52pm

Photo via Fearless Records

Have you ever heard a cover of a song from the radio that makes it sound like it's been minced by a vengeful Ghost of Pop Punk Past? If so, you probably have the Punk Goes… series to thank (blame). Real heads will know but if you're not familiar then let me explain:

In 2000, Californian label Fearless Records released Punk Goes Pop – a compilation album featuring classic pop songs such as "I Want It That Way" and "...Baby One More Time" covered by bands like Yellowcard and The Starting Line. People kind of liked hearing radio hits repurposed with mosh parts ("mainstream, but make it breakdowns"), so the series continued, with variants over the years like Punk Goes 90s, Punk Goes Classic Rock, and, for shame, Punk Goes Crunk – an ill-advised rap covers album which features, amongst other stains, Say Anything doing an ODB cover.

Aside from Max Bemis "oh baby"-ing his way through "Got Your Money" on Punk Goes Crunk, the series tapped into something important: the power of the "pop" side of pop punk. Pop punk is traditionally structured and built around huge choruses in much the same way as regular pop, so it makes sense the novelty of tongue-in-cheek remakes of mainstream pop songs would do particularly well with the sort of people who enjoy to yell "fuck the mainstream!!!!" a lot, but whose favourite band is Paramore.

Seventeen years on, the market for reinventing iconic songs as abominations that people with anchor tattoos will aggressively drunk-kiss to is booming: today Punk Goes Pop 7 – volume seven – is released. Over the years, the series has been a weird soundtrack to my life, and thus I am faced with the conundrum of both understanding its innate badness and loving it anyway, via a combination of nostalgia and my immediate, visceral instinct to headbang whenever I hear a breakdown – even if it is slapped on top of a cover of Bieber's "Boyfriend." Anyway, to celebrate this loveable mess of a series, and at the request of absolutely nobody except me, here are some of the most notable (some good, some bad, some… both) Punk Goes… covers in the series' long and illustrious history:

Cartel – "Wonderwall" (Oasis cover)

Despite its inception six years earlier, the Punk Goes... series only properly got going on 2006's Punk Goes 90s. Why? Because Cartel covered the most fundamentally British song ever written (except for this) and treated it with utter, magnificent disrespect. Liam Gallagher's drawl replaced with a moneyed whine; a breakdown wedged into the chorus; school-hall riffs – there's a level of sheer belligerence here, one you imagine could make Oasis proud on some level, before realising that if Liam Gallagher were to ever actually hear this, Cartel would get called "a bunch of trust fund kids in eyeliner who need to go outside or kiss a girl" on Twitter, followed by a knockout "AS YOU WERE LG X" blow.

Set Your Goals – "Put Yo Hood Up" (Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz cover)

You haven't known real stress until you've seen six white dudes from the Bay Area rocking up with their literal hoods up, screaming at the crowd to "represent your shit motherfucker!" I know this, because I have seen Set Your Goals play live upwards of ten times and they would frequently come onstage to "Put Yo Hood Up". Past me… loved it? Future, present me? Let's move on.

The Secret Handshake – "I Wish" (Skee-Lo cover)

This atrocity is also from Punk Goes Crunk, which we've already established as the worst album in the series. I saw the now-forgotten (IN SOME CIRCLES) MySpace band The Secret Handshake play this live at a Bring Me The Horizon concert once, only to be booed away by an ocean of bloodflow-stopping jeans and studded belts more interested in circle pitting than in a skinny weirdo in a New Era doing a synth-heavy Skee-Lo cover. It was sad, but, unfortunately, ultimately deserved.

Mayday Parade – "When I Grow Up" (Pussycat Dolls cover)

This fully slaps because Mayday Parade took an already excellent song and didn't fuck about with it too much, which is the mark of the tasteful covers artist. They did, however, take it into a minor key, which is enjoyable because: emo.

Escape the Fate – "Smooth" (Santana ft. Rob Thomas cover)

There is something almost perverse about hearing "Smooth"'s iconic opening guitar lick met with the raw pop punk squeal of a "wooooah" but I think that is why, against my better judgement, I actually sort of love it. Obviously there's no improving on perfection, so Escape the Fate keep the familiar "ba-da-ba-ba-baaaa-ba-ba-ba-ba-da-badabadaaaa," adding some heavier instrumentation around it and sticking a percussion-shaped rocket under the arse of the chorus which, I'm sure you'll agree, at least triples its potential for drunk yelling (surely like, 90 percent of the reason these compilations exist). 10/10 for effort, and an excellent showing from 2009's Punk Goes Pop 2, from which the above Mayday Parade song also comes.

NeverShoutNever – "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Queen cover)

NeverShoutNever was another MySpace phenomenon and he is best described as a sentient emo fringe with a ukulele. This is disgusting and that's all I can say about it other than I am so sorry, Freddie.

For All Those Sleeping – "You Belong With Me" (Taylor Swift cover)

Truly and simply the most off-its-tits piece of music you will ever hear. This is the structure of this song: faithful-to-the-original guitar picking ---> transitional beatdown ---> full on pig squeals ---> back and forth between more pig squeals and some nasal pop punk fuckboy singing ---> oddly conventional and jovial chorus ---> punishing guttural yowl ---> SYNTHS??? ---> as in actual proper Eurotrash synths, am I high? ---> more back and forth, complete with the lyric change "I wear Toms [the height of sophistication] and he wears sneakers / He's banging your friend underneath the bleachers" ---> same chorus again ---> good-natured whining ---> ABSOLUTELY FUCKING MASSIVE BREAKDOWN ---> chorus with clapping and gang vocals ---> the merciful end. All of this happens in three minutes and 50 seconds. Every time I hear it I feel like I have had a horrible, Taylor Swift-themed acid dream.

The Maine ft. Adam Lazzara from Taking Back Sunday - Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper cover)

The thing with the Punk Goes… series is that it is largely perceived as Bad (see: a number of the songs above), but for nostalgia reasons, it is much-loved regardless of this. However every so often, it births a cover so objectively good that it reminds you of the exact sort of magic this series, enormous clusterfuck that it is, can achieve. That is the case here. Think of it like an equation:

  • if x = "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and x is objectively good
  • if y = Adam Lazzara from Taking Back Sunday, and y is also objectively good (fucking fight me)
  • x + y = objectively good

What I'm saying is how could "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" played in the style of Taking Back Sunday, imbued with all Adam Lazzara's personal angst and longing, ever, ever be bad?

Thank you Punk Goes… You are beautiful and you are terrible.

You can find Lauren on Twitter.