The best part of my day -- all of my days, really -- is when I am listening to music.

I don’t know if I heard it on Underground Garage or SIRIUS-XM’s ‘60’s channel, but there I was in mah car and up pops one of my FAAAAAAAVORITE songs of ever, “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” by the British group Status Quo. I was thoroughly mental about this song when it came out in 1968. It was one of those tunes that if I even heard a fragment of it playing, I don’t care how little or how far away, I would drop everything, find the source, shoosh everyone, and listen rapturously until it faded into the next song. It is such a cool little piece of poppy psychedelia, with the dumbest guitar lick ever. I love it. It is even stupider than “Smoke On The Water.” I could play it on guitar long before I could play guitar. By god, I think I even played it on a cigar-box/rubber band guitar. Lead singer/guitarist Francis Rossi wrote it in his bathroom, trying to hide from his wife and mother-in-law for a few hours. HA!

Anyway, I am obviously still crazy about the song and I was completely floored to hear it now for the very first time in stereo! All these years, and I had never once, ever, heard it in anything but muddy mono. This was clearly a song mixed for AM radio, still the dominant force in music in 1968. The stereo mix, apparently done for some reissues in the late ‘90s, is really different. It’s fun to hear alternate mixes, all the little pieces that go into making a song. That rhythm guitar sound! OOOOOHHHH! Love it love it love it! I can hear the buzz of the guitar amp at the opening, the harmony vocals are clear and separate. I wish I could find a vid with the stereo mix for you, but instead here is a very cute semi-live performance from back in the day:

More than a little of the movie “Spinal Tap” was taken from the long history of Status Quo. I don’t believe their drummer exploded, however. That may be Lurch on the organ. Let’s say it is.

It gets me thinking about cover versions, as there have been a few of this song since it was a sizable worldwide hit. I’ll say it again: if you do a cover, do it better or do it differently or both.

Sigh. Well, Ozzy Osbourne certainly did it differently, but certainly not better. This is called “deflating the very life out of a song.” It is SO SLOWED that it is almost silly, like dragging an elephant behind a Toyota Tacoma:

Gaahhhhhh. There’s a lot of mess going on in there. I can almost hear that there were some good ideas in there, but they got drowned. Six minutes! Man.

But salvation arrives in the 1989 alt-hit version by Camper Van Beethoven! Now THIS is a cover version! It is so clever and does all the right things, therefore trumping even the original. The use of violin in place of the sitar-y type guitar line is inspired, and the drums are MASSIVE, perfect for the pace of the song. I bought this when it came out, and the needle practically jumps off the vinyl, it’s so loud. David Lowery’s vocals are nicely tongue-in-cheek, and the rest of the arrangement is just so well done, and the playing confident and nuanced throughout – aggressive or quiet where needed. NICE DAMN JOB:

“Matchstick” reminds me of matchstick potatoes – you know, shoestring potato sticks, those little super-intensely-greasy things – which reminds me that I am hungry and should go make some dinner. I will leave the last cover version of “Pictures of Matchstick Men” to the four participants of an Illinois middle-school talent show, featuring two brothers, their dad, and some kid on vocals. Rock on, guys.