100 best covers: #48 Sleeper “Atomic”

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“Trainspotting” was a film based on a book of the same name by Irvine Welsh and it was released too much critical acclaim and commercial success at the height of Cool Britannia in 1996. I remember going to see it in the theatres with my friend Tim, when it finally crossed the ocean into the North American market and I absolutely loved it. I later followed many of the actors that made up its young cast as they took full advantage of the film as a stepping stone and went on to great successful careers of their own. I had a copy of the film poster on my residence room wall, duly purchased that year at one of the campus Imaginus fairs, and read the Welsh novel during my next break in studies. And yes, you guessed it, I went out and procured a copy of the film’s soundtrack on CD.

Considered by many* to be one of the best film soundtracks ever, it combines classic alternative tunes from Brian Eno, Lou Reed, New Order, and of course, Iggy Pop, with more contemporary music of the day, which of course meant a smattering Britpop and Techno/Electronica. The mix works surprisingly as well as an album listen as it did match the feel and flow of the film. It ignited a resurgence in popularity for Iggy Pop’s “Lust for life” and made Underworld a household name on dance floors all around the world.

Four tracks in on the soundtrack is this cover of the Blondie track “Atomic”, done by a perhaps lesser-known** Britpop act named Sleeper . Unless I am mistaken, this was the very song that was playing during the scene in which Ewan McGregor’s character, Renton is at a club with his friends and he first catches sight of Kelly Macdonald’s character, Diane***. I won’t go any further lest I ruin part of the story for any of you yet to see the film but I will say that this song was seared into me and became one that I would play over and over again.

I had actually gotten into the band already with their debut album, “Smart”, released the previous year, and with “Atomic” fitting right in with their sound, I didn’t immediately realize it was a cover. When I did and tracked down the Blondie original****, I was somewhat tickled at how faithful a cover it was. It was as if the filmmakers wanted to include the original but somehow couldn’t get the rights and found some other band to replicate it almost to a tee. Admittedly, Louise Wener is not Debbie Harry, nowhere near comparable in the vocal category, but otherwise, I’d have a hell of a time telling the music apart.

Blondie fans might call this one sacrilege but I’d call this comparison even and given my fondness for Britpop, I might even give the Sleeper version the edge.


The original:

*Or maybe just me.

**Although at the time, they were quite well-known, scoring a good number of hit UK singles.

***I also had taped to that same residence wall a picture torn from a Select magazine of Sleeper front woman Louise Wener dressed and mimicking the likeness of Diane from the Trainspotting promo shots.

****One of its many versions.

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

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