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Portishead Turn Disco Classic Into Political Statement

Crazy Covers

British trip-hop pioneers Portishead transformed an upbeat disco classic into a woeful expression of reflection and regret to try and convey a very powerful message. Prior to the June 2016 referendum election, more commonly referred to as “Brexit,” the band released its cover of the 1975 hit, “S.O.S.,” by the Swedish pop group ABBA.


The music video—the group’s first in seven years—was dedicated in memory of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was brutally shot and stabbed to death for her outspoken political views only a few short weeks before the vote. It combines a more modern electronic sound with the subtle nuances of the original, which was the first of 18 consecutive Top 10 hits for ABBA in the U.K. and Ireland. The video ends with a quote from Cox that serves as an apolitical reminder for all humanity, “we have far more in common than which divides us.”

Portishead’s cover of “S.O.S.” was also featured in the 2015 major motion picture adaptation of High Rise, a dystopian thriller by author J.G. Ballard, which centers around a luxury apartment complex with all of the necessary amenities built-in to the tower. The film was directed by Ben Wheatley and stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, and Elisabeth Moss.

Prior to the election, the international humanitarian organization Oxfam announced that it would release Stand As One – Live at Glastonbury 2016, an album of live performances from the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, in memory of Cox, and that the proceeds from the album’s release go towards the charity’s work with refugees.

The video isn’t much to look at, it’s somber tone and the way frontwoman Beth Gibbons reaches out to the audience, really gives this “call to action” a more desperate feel. Even though the original version is still praised for being important in its own right, one could argue the cover is slightly more significant in the grander scheme of things.

Be sure to check out Salute Magazine every Wednesday for more “Crazy Covers,” an exclusive new feature that takes a look back at some of the most unexpected cover songs in music. 



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