Jesse “Boots Electric” Hughes is well known for his irreverent approach to his art. Despite their name, his band Eagles Of Death Metal are neither a country nor a death metal band, and their leader freely admits that music of all genres rocks his world. Confirming Hughes’ laissez-faire relationship with his muse, his best friend and EODM co-founder, Josh Homme, once described the band’s sound as an unlikely combination of “bluegrass slide guitar mixed with stripper drum beats and Canned Heat vocals”. It’s no surprise, then, that the group’s new covers album, EODM Presents Boots Electric Performing The Best Songs We Never Wrote, takes in a wide range of influences from Guns N Roses’ ‘It’s So Easy’ to Steve Miller Band’s ‘Abracadabra’ and George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’.
“The reason why I chose to do a covers album is I love what I do,” Hughes explains. “I love show business and I love rock’n’roll and when I love something, I hold it in such high regard. This collection of songs in this covers album are the ones that made me want to make music. I guess this is my love letter to everyone that ever inspired me.”
Track-by-track through EODM Presents Boots Electric Performing The Best Songs We Never Wrote, Jesse Hughes reveals why he chose to record these 13 songs from the “vast array of songs that actually motivated me to do what I do”.
Listen to EODM Presents Boots Electric Performing The Best Songs We Never Wrote right now, and scroll down to read Jesse Hughes’ track-by-track commentary.
‘God Of Thunder’
First appeared on: KISS’ Destroyer (1976)
KISS’ first platinum-selling album, Destroyer was given a sophisticated sonic sheen by producer Bob Ezrin, who added strings, choirs and a variety of studio techniques to help transform the fast-rising glam-rock contenders into global stars. One of its key tracks, ‘God Of Thunder’, became Gene Simmons’ “theme song” of sorts and has famously been performed live with blood-spitting and a bass solo. Closer to the more uptempo live version from Alive II, EODM’s anthemic, fist-pumping cover ensures that … The Best Songs We Never Wrote blasts off in style.
Jesse Hughes: “I wanted this to be the first song on the record because the first album I ever bought was KISS’ Destroyer. I bought it at K-Mart in August of 1976 with my dad. I spent three weeks’ worth of allowance on it. I just sat, mesmerised, listening to ‘God Of Thunder’ on repeat, on this record player my dad bought for me with lights that pulsated to the music. So now I wanted to take the song back, just for fun. I wanted to ‘kiss’ it my own way.”
‘It’s So Easy’
First appeared on: Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction (1987)
One of a glut of fabulous, swaggering rockers from GNR’s legend-enshrining, multi-platinum debut album, ‘It’s So Easy’ is given a radical makeover by EODM. Hughes and co home in on the song’s groove and, with help from some seductive female vocal contributions, the results conjure up images of The B-52s if they’d signed up to record a Desert Sessions album.
Jesse Hughes: “Appetite For Destruction is, in my opinion, one of the last true, dangerous rock’n’roll albums that we have. After that, everything got a little, you know, safer. I also wanted to record the song because I invited all the girls from a place called Jumbo’s Clown Room [in LA] to come and sing back-ups on it because I wanted to make it fun and sexy again. It did get Duff McKagan’s approval, so I feel like that’s better than bad. It’s good!”
‘High Voltage’/‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll)’
First appeared on: AC/DC’s High Voltage (1976)/TNT (1975)
‘High Voltage’ and ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll)’ are highlights of AC/DC’s Bon Scott years. Both songs are also highly distinctive rock anthems, with the latter fearlessly combining the use of bagpipes with hard rock instrumentation. Notably more dancefloor-friendly, EODM’s inspired medley works beautifully, with the tracks blending seamlessly and Hughes’ team adding plenty of the fuzzy psychedelia that often informs their best work.
Jesse Hughes: “I was at [Josh Homme’s studio], Rancho De Luna, and we were having sort of an impromptu desert party, as will happen. I got into this friendly argument with this friend of mine over what makes a good song. I was taking the position that artists really can make the same song over and over again. I brought up Ramones as a case in point and he brought up AC/DC as another. I countered with, ‘I’ll bet I can pick any two AC/DC songs that I could record a medley without even changing the key.’ He picked those two songs and turned it into a beautiful challenge for me.”
First appeared on: Love And Rockets’ Love And Rockets (1989)
Love And Rockets’ biggest US hit (No.3 on the Billboard 100), ‘So Alive’ also featured on the band’s self-titled fourth album. Seductive and radio-friendly, the original is a sophisticated slice of David Bowie-esque machine funk, but EODM invest it with a glam-rock makeover which has swagger to spare.
Jesse Hughes: “Love And Rockets and [their predecessors] Bauhaus are both among my favourite bands and I’ve always loved that song because I loved the way a band could go from being goth-punk into mainstream. I also believed Love And Rockets when they told us in their interviews that they always wanted to be T.Rex. When you listen to ‘So Alive’, you think, how does this want to be T.Rex? So my approach to it was to take it back to formula and pretend I was T.Rex covering the song. I tried to make it sound a little more provocative, but I may have failed in the attempt.”
‘Beat On The Brat’
First appeared on: Ramones’ Ramones (1976)
It’s hard to imagine the history of rock’n’roll without Ramones’ self-titled debut album, a record that can credibly stake its claim as having kick-started punk. One of its many celebrated mini-masterpieces, the wonderfully cartoon-y ‘Beat On The Brat’, is a thrilling adrenaline rush in its original guise, but EODM’s version – while still faithful – slows it down and allows the song to breathe a little.
Jesse Hughes: “If you want to be a rock’n’roller or a performer of quality in the modern age of pop, then you need to have a healthy dose of Ramones in your DNA. ‘Beat On The Brat’ is like almost every song on any Ramones album – it’s effectively the same song over and over, totally badass each time. I thought that as Ramones were fast, the obvious thing is to slow the song down. When I did, I gained this artistic insight into just how beautiful and well-written Ramones songs are. The song is like doo-wop, they just sped it up.”
First appeared on: Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra (1982)
Long since accepted as classic-rock royalty, Steve Miller’s seemingly effortless ‘Abracadabra’ was omnipresent during the early 80s when it topped the charts around the world, launching the platinum-selling album of the same name. For his cover, Jesse Hughes drafted female vocalist/actress Shawnee Smith in to help him realise his svelte, sexy’n’suggestive reimagining of the track.
Jesse Hughes: “I’m of the belief that in our business there are magicians and wizards. There are a whole lot of magicians and they’re doing incredible tricks and they look pretty good. But a wizard does real magic, and I feel Steve Miller – who’s one of my favourite artists – is a real wizard because he’s literally saying ‘Abracadabra’. Also, I got to sing it with the amazing Shawnee Smith, best known for her role as Amanda Young in the Saw films. The song’s one of my favourites and I got to perform it with another artist and share that mutual reality recording it. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.”
First released on: Wham!’ Make It Big (1984)
Though the song was co-authored with his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley, ‘Careless Whisper’ became George Michael’s first major solo outing and – outside of the US – it was credited as such. Instantly recognisable due to its sublime saxophone part played by session musician Steve Gregory, this sensual love song sold over six million copies worldwide and is widely regarded as one of the greatest pop songs of the 80s. It’s been radically overhauled by EODM, with Hughes and company eschewing the sax part in favour of a gritty, glam-esque stop. Against the odds, it works a treat.
Jesse Hughes: “‘Careless Whisper’ is probably the one that would seem the most out of left field here, but it’s one of my favourite songs. It’s summed up every guilt sensation I ever had in a relationship so perfectly that it is truly a song that has that transcendent reality of being on the level of a Poet Laureate or have something of that calibre. If you interpret a song with respect and honesty, you cannot screw it up. In its way, ‘Careless Whisper’ is one of the toughest, most punk rock songs I have ever heard, and George Michael is one of my biggest heroes.”
First appeared on: Mary J Blige’s No More Drama (2001)
Written in collaboration with several high-profile hip-hop luminaries, including Dr Dre, Mary J Blige’s celebratory ‘Family Affair’ was a triumphant blend of hip-hop and R&B, but it was also laced with a pop sensibility which ensured it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for no less than six weeks during the winter of 2001. Playing it surprisingly straight and true, EODM tackle the song admirably, respecting its groove but adding an otherworldly flavour all their own, which ensures their version comes up trumps.
Jesse Hughes: “You might think ‘Careless Whisper’ is the track here that’s furthest from my field, but in reality I feel ‘Family Affair’ is one of those songs that has that awful preconception which says a rocker can’t do it as it’s a hip-hop/soul song. Mary J Blige, though, is one of my all-time absolute fan-crush favourites. I spent a couple of weeks getting ready to record it as I didn’t want to screw this song up, because she sings [the original] so flawlessly. It’s also the first song I’ve ever recorded where I don’t use the trick of doubling my vocal tracks to hide any imperfections. In my opinion, it’s the proudest moment of my career.”
First appeared on: The Distillers’ Coral Fang (2003)
Before they split, in 2006, recently-reformed LA punks The Distillers were on the verge of a mainstream breakthrough with their third album, Coral Fang, which spawned the smouldering, Nirvana-esque ‘The Hunger’. EODM’s take on the song, however, strips it back and adds a Beck-style freewheeling pop mentality, with loops and synth thrown in for good measure.
Jesse Hughes: “My heroes of strength and leadership tend to be women. Brody Dalle is one of those fearless, amazing, uncompromising talents we have, and The Distillers are one of the toughest punk rock bands that you’re ever going to hear. Brody has been a role model for me in rock’n’roll, and also in my approach to how to be tough and how to demonstrate strength in a way that’s positive. ‘The Hunger’ is definitely the song that I loved best from that era of The Distillers.”
‘Long Slow Goodbye’
First appeared on: Queens Of The Stone Age’s Lullabies To Paralyze (2005)
Recording a QOTSA song is something of a labour of love for Jesse Hughes, as the much-acclaimed Californian alt.rockers are the domain of his best friend and EODM co-founder, Josh Homme. Consequently, Hughes and company play ‘Long Slow Goodbye’ straight down the line, tapping into the original’s insistent, drone-y, psych-rock vibe.
Jesse Hughes: “I love that song and it means a lot to me, because I saw what was required to write it and I also want to show everyone how much I love my best friend, Josh Homme. Again, I approached this by taking it back to formula, staying true to the original and respecting it, so I couldn’t go wrong. As I already said, it proves that a song that’s unparalleled in its writing standards and its quality can’t be screwed up even by the worst of us redneck hillbillies.”
‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)’
First appeared on: Mickey Newbury’s Harlequin Melodies (1968)
On paper, few would expect country legend Kenny Rogers to have enjoyed a huge hit with a counterculture-era song commenting on LSD use, yet when he formed The New Edition and signed to Reprise Records in 1967, his band scored some major chart action with their cover of Mickey Newbury’s portentous yet irresistible psych-flavoured pop song, which peaked at No.5 in the US. EODM’s version of the song is slightly more punky and energised, but no less compelling for that.
Jesse Hughes: “The Big Lebowski is one of my favourite films and Kenny Rogers & The First Edition’s ‘Just Dropped In’ features strongly in it. Also, as it happens, their version of the song was recorded in the very same studio I was recording this album [Valentine Studios in LA], and we used some of the same instruments and the same vintage gear to record ours. It was a challenge to cover it, because, like ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’, it’s a song everyone knows through it being in a popular movie. But I like a challenge and I also know it’s a song written about the drug experience by a person who’s never done drugs in their life, which I think is hilarious.”
First appeared on: Cat Stevens’ Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
Cat Stevens’ career got off to a meteoric start with a brace of well-received hit singles and the UK Top 10 album Matthew & Son. However, the young singer-songwriter struggled with the pressures of fame and wrote a number of the songs for his third album, Mona Bone Jakon, while recovering from tuberculosis and a collapsed lung. In tribute to Stevens’ original, Hughes’ version is initially plaintive and stripped back, though his band later stamp their authority on the track.
Jesse Hughes: “Cat Stevens is a hero to me and someone that I hold in high regard. Also, Harold And Maude [which includes ‘Trouble’ in its soundtrack] is one of my favourite movies. It’s a film that helps define and speak to an entire generation of freaks and weirdos. ‘Trouble’ itself is a powerful song about a very simple theme of personal trauma. I experienced an event in Paris [a horrific terrorist attack at a 2015 Eagles Of Death Metal gig at the Bataclan, during which 89 people died] that was very traumatic and this became my go-to song. It was the song I listened to every day that summed up the experience.”
First appeared on: David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars (1972)
David Bowie’s breakthrough album, loosely based around the fictional, androgynous bisexual intergalactic rock star Ziggy Stardust, fired the youthful Jesse Hughes’ imagination, just as it did for most discerning teens on either side of the Atlantic during the early 70s. An irresistible slice of glammed-up pop in its original guise, the album’s third track, ‘Moonage Daydream’, has been radically stripped back by EODM, whose version sounds like it could have been beamed in from the pre-World War II American landscape of pioneering Delta blues musicians such as Robert Johnson and Charley Patton.
Jesse Hughes: “It’s one of the first songs I remember hearing from my childhood when my mother and father played the grooves out of their copy of Ziggy Stardust. To me, ‘Moonage Daydream’ is beyond comfort food, beyond a hymn, almost. It’s part of the fabric to me, so I wanted to record it like it came from the times of Robert Johnson. Jack White has this recording machine at his studio in Nashville from the 30s which allows people to record a two minute, 50 second song directly to disc. I bought my whole band and we recorded it crowded round this bizarre single microphone. We sang the song and the cracks and pops are exactly the way it was recorded direct to a vinyl disc.”
Eagles Of Death Metal’s EODM Presents Boots Electric Performing The Best Songs We Never Wrote is out now and can be bought here.