Who was Rachel Sweet? Why is she covering The Damned and making the world’s first ever punk single sound like a poppy little bit of mall rock? Why is that such a genius thing to do? This sounds amazing!
This was my reaction to my mate Dom playing me this record some time about 20 years ago. See there was me, not having heard of it or of Rachel… Until I started listening.
OK… Let’s break that down.
Who was Rachel Sweet? She had a hit in the 70’s with a cover of that song B-A-B-Y. The one Edgar Wright got all het up about recently.
She was also the voice of the songs in several John Waters movies, so if you’re a Rock N’ Roller from the wrong side of The Cramps (which is to say the ‘right side’) you’ll know and love her as one of us.
Why is she covering The Damned? Because since finding fame as a child star and having hits that toyed with a Lolita style image when she was very young indeed she signed with legendary punk record label Stiff! (brand moto: If it ain’t Stiff it ain’t worth a fuck!) home of Ian Dury, Devo, Elvis Costello and (YEP!) The Damned.
Why is it such a genius thing to do? New Rose always was a bit of a 50’s rockabilly dressed up as something new. When The Damned recorded it they used a Shangri-La’s reference at the very top of the record with that “Is she really going out with him?” as if to say ‘Punk is just rock and roll given back to the kids’.
This is no more outrageous than Blondie covering Hanging On The Telephone, Sid Vicious doing Something Else or the long line of new owners queuing up to take I Think We’re Alone Now for a spin.
Rachel went back to high school after her first flush with fame and by the age of 26 had been a child star, a country singer, a pop punk princess and a college graduate reading French and English literature.
That was before hooking up with John Waters and making some of the most subversive rock and roll kitsch in the form of the Cry-Baby soundtrack and the theme from Hairspray. Honestly, if you don’t see ‘what went on’ there look again (John Waters was a genius).
As for weird footnotes. She recorded the theme song to Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All and appeared in an episode of Seinfeld. I know not what to do with these little nuggets of information except leave them here above the video link for one of the most joyous takes on one of our most important songs.
“I got a feeling inside of me, It’s kind strange like a stormy sea”