I’ve made no secret about my love of Warren Zevon. As a song-writer, Zevon remains unmatched in his ability to combine heartbreaking sincerity and with a vicious sense of humor. Warren’s career, like the roots of a gnarled tree, is a rat’s nest of odd choices and strange left-turns. One of the stranger oddities in Zevon’s catalogue is the HINDU LOVE GODS album. The Hindu Love Gods was basically Warren and alt-rockers REM sans-Michael Stipe*. The band had “existed” for a couple of years before finally coalescing around Warren’s 1987 album SENTIMENTAL HYGIENE.
The story goes, after playing a smattering of live gigs in the early 1980’s with Zevon (as The Hindu Love Gods) REM agreed to serve as his back-up band on the his latest record. Zevon, a notorious party-animal/man with a serious substance problem, got soused with REM and in between recording the “official” record also wound up recording a collection of covers. Eventually, this raw, unusual collection of mostly blues covers was released by Giant Records as HINDU LOVE GODS.
The band recorded two two tracks by legendary bluesman Robert Johnson (“Walkin’ Blues” and “Traveling Riverside Blues”), a song by Muddy Waters (“Mannis Boy”), and a Woody Guthrie cover (“Vigilante Man”). The songs are all really well done, and Zevon’s growly voice is perfectly suited to the blues. The album’s country number, “I’m A One-Woman Man” is probably the album’s biggest joke (Zevon was a well-known womanizer), but it’s also a solid-cover. All-in-all, HINDU LOVE GODS is a faithful blues record recorded by two unique musical entities.
Except that’s not “the end.” You see, in the middle of all these odd-but-logical blues numbers, Zevon & Co. also cover Prince and The Georgia Satellites(?). Even if you’re not a fan of the blues (shame on you!) HINDU LOVE GODS is something you should check-out just for “Raspberry Beret” and “Battleship Chains.” I‘m not a huge Prince fan, by any stretch, but The Hindu’s version of “Raspberry Beret” is pretty badass, taking the slower-groove of the original version and injecting what can only be described as “drunken urgency.” There’s something to be said about the art of the cover song: it’s one thing to do a song justice, it’s another thing to completely change the way the listener regards the original. I also think that a truly great cover will renew or add to your appreciation of the original. And that’s just what The Hindu’s cover of “Raspberry Beret” does.
The band’s cover of The Georgia Satellites’ “Battleship Chains” doesn’t re-invent the wheel nearly as much as the cover of “Raspberry Beret,” but has a charming bar-band intensity that the original southern-rock version lacks. What on Earth made them choose Prince and The Georgia Satellites? There couldn’t be more diametrically opposed acts (at least in my mind).
These two songs lower the album’s seriousness and raise the screw-ball factor. Instead of a reverent, back-to-our-roots blues tribute (á la late period Eric Clapton), these two songs clue the listener-in on just how wild and wooly these recording sessions were. No doubt Zevon and REM have a reverence for classic blues, but HINDU LOVE GODS is really just a couple of dudes having tremendous fun in a recording studio. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander: HINDU LOVE GODS is an entertaining curiosity.
*Stipe would appear briefly on SENTIMENTAL HYGIENE and did play with The Hindu Love Gods live.