Interview by Lauren Harris of http://www.vh1.com
Track By Track: Poison Infect KISS, David Bowie and the Stones
Bret Michaels walks us through Poison's latest batch of classic rock covers
Putting together an album of cover songs presents a few problems, as Bret Michaels, lead singer of '80s rock gods Poison, can attest. Hard choices about the tunes have to be made so all band members are pleased with the final result. That kind of consensus can be hard for four individuals who have been on and off the road -- and on and off speaking terms -- for over 20 years.
"What happened is that me and [bassist] Bobby [Dall] got into a huge fight on stage, so after the fight, we're buddies, [but] we decided that rather than go in and start by arguing about what material we're going to write and play, we should get a legendary producer like Don Was and do a really good covers record," says Michaels in a flurry of explanation.
In addition to chops and the producer of their dreams, Poison had one other key ingredient to creating something memorable: respect. "You want to add your own flair," said Michaels, "but you don't want to go in there with an attitude that we could have written this song better -- we looked at it and said we wish we could have written it!"
He gave us a run-down on the tunes that knocked him out.
1. "Little Willy" (originally performed by Sweet)
Sweet opening for Foghat was my first experience of a true rock concert. "Little Willy" was their second song, and I remember looking around, thinking, "I need that guy's gig." I knew at that moment that I had to make it. Rikki [Rockett] brought it up, and it just refreshed me. We tried it a few times. It's a tough song to sing because it goes from really low and then jumps up a whole modulation in the chorus. It was a great challenge. I feel like I nailed it.
2. "Suffragette City" (originally performed by David Bowie)
That's an awesome rock tune. It's just a straight-ahead rock song, which is why I love it. It's cool. And that song live, it's going to be in our set this year. It's so cool to do that song live, it just makes you feel rock star-ish.
3. "I Never Cry" (originally performed by Alice Cooper)
He was the coolest shock-rock guy. I always thought "I Never Cry" was great -- he had some beautiful ballads. We're actually friends. I don't know that he's heard the version, but I'd love to send it to him and see what he thinks.
4. "I Need to Know" (originally performed by Tom Petty)
This was a combination of me and C.C. [Deville]. It's such a straight-ahead, great rock song. I think we did two takes of it all the way through, and I sang it in two takes. I think we made it a little dirtier, and a little more raw, maybe. Tom Petty is one of the great American legends. You really can't d*ck with [his songs] a whole lot.
5. "Can't You See" (originally performed by the Marshall Tucker Band)
We rehearsed it a few times, and this is no lie, we went in and did one take. I may be the first guy in history in a long time who actually recorded my guitar and vocal at the same time. It just fell together. It's such a simple, beautiful song. C.C. got the chance, and not a lot of people know this, but he's such an unbelievably great blues player. He can really play that soulful guitar, he just doesn't do it a lot. He did, and it sounded really good.
6. "What I Like About You" (originally performed by The Romantics)
We used to cover this song when we were starting out. When the bar owners felt that we may have been losing the crowd at the Metron on a Tuesday night during our third set, we would throw this in, and it would always get the crowd dancing. We had so much fun playing it again. It's really raw and ballsy sounding, and not one that people expect from Poison. It was the first song I think we rehearsed, and it's a very fun song to do, and good energy.
7. "Dead Flowers" (originally performed by the Rolling Stones)
Anything by the Rolling Stones I'm intimidated [by], because they're one of my all time favorite bands. It was a tougher song for me to do, because Mick has a sound. I wanted to be me on this song, and [producer] Don [Was] said just do what you do. I feel I did a pretty respectful version, without being a caricature. C.C. plays all the pedal steel on it. He'd never really done that before, and it sounded amazing.
8. "Just What I Needed" (originally performed by the Cars)
I made a demo of the song and brought it to the guys because I knew it would get shot down. I completely rearranged this song. I started playing guitar, took the beginning part and put it in the middle. I thought it came out pretty cool. We have to f*ck this up a little bit. Once the band heard the demo, everyone's like, "If we do it like that, it will rock." It's arranged exactly like I had arranged it. If Bobby brought in "Just What I Needed," it would have been accepted immediately because the three of them gather together. If the singer brings it in -- it's the singer versus the band at all times. I've embraced it though.
9. "Rock and Roll All Nite" (originally performed by KISS)
If there was ever a song that I wish I would have wrote, or even sometimes claim that I did write when I had to lie, that is one of the songs that we should have written. We did that song for the Less Than Zero soundtrack. We went into the studio and literally thought we were jamming just to loosen up for the song. Next thing we know, Rick [Rubin] goes "We're pretty much done," and we're like, "What?" I was just d*cking around, thinking we're warming up. We recorded it in a day and a half, and we're done. The only regret I have is that I wish we could have spent more time on it, but the magic may be that the energy of the live version is what made it sound pretty cool.
10. "Squeezebox" (originally performed by the Who)
It's such a great rock song. When you're a kid and your first bar chord songs are Who songs, when you're kicking in, you live for that. This is one of the great songs that you can jam to -- one of those songs that's just a great undiscovered Who song. It was a combination of Rikki and myself [who brought it in].
11. "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" (originally performed by Jim Croce)
I've been a big Jim Croce fan. I just thought some of the music he wrote was incredible as a songwriter -- a guy with an acoustic guitar, writing a song and telling a story. It was really awesome to do this song. We recorded it for Look What the Cat Dragged In. We recorded this song in 1986. You're hearing it unfinished. It's cool as a piece of history for our fans to know that you're hearing a board mix of this song that we did as we ran out of money making our first record. We may break this one back out on the tour.
12. Your Mama Don't Dance" (originally performed by Loggins and Messina)
This is a song that we took and completely Poison'd. It was a well written song, but we did this back in the day as a cover song and we just grabbed it. We hit it with the guitar and it just rocked. It ended up being a huge hit from Poison -- this is the recording we did in '88. Live, it goes over amazing.
13. "We're An American Band" (originally performed by Grand Funk Railroad)
I love this song. It's one of the songs we covered all the time. When we'd come out for a second encore and we would do it, the place would go nuts. It's just a great American anthem rock song. I think we did a cool version -- we eliminated the drums at the front and just jumped right into the song. There's this weird percussive vocal breakdown. We gave it a Poison flair. It was really fun to do on the record.