Maximum Performance

David Byrne Covers Biz Markie's ‘Just a Friend’ at Rally/Concert for Artists’ Rights

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David Byrne

David Byrne busted out a cover of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" Tuesday night at a free concert and rally in New York City to raise awareness for artists' rights.

The gig, held at (Le) Poisson Rouge and titled Artists' Pay for Radio Play, was presented by the Content Creators Coalition of New York City. They're attempting to draw attention to the fact that the United States is the only democratic country in the world where artists who are not songwriters are not compensated when their recordings are played on the radio. A petition for the cause has been posted by the Content Creators Coalition.

Wearing a pair of overalls, the bespectacled, gray-haired former Talking Heads frontman was joined on the tune by Americana artist Tift Merritt and others. Byrne had to glance at a lyric sheet during the performance, but that didn't stop him from burning down the house with his funky take on the 1989 left-field rap hit.

Also performing at the gig was former R.E.M. bassist/keyboardist Mike Mills, who was joined by Mudville's Marilyn Carino on a cover of James & Bobby Purify's '60s hit "I'm Your Puppet." Cake's John McCrea, Marc Ribot and others also played select covers.

The musicians chose to perform to cover songs that weren't written by the artists who made the songs hits, as Bryne explained in an e-newsletter he sent out prior to the show. "Some of us will play songs that are identified with specific performers and bands that never saw money from all the radio play they got (since they didn't write the songs)," he wrote.

In regard to his own song choice, Byrne explained, "Mr. Markie didn't write that tune (although he did probably write the rap). The drum and keyboard loop was lifted from a Freddie Scott recording, but the song was written by Gamble and Huff, the great songwriting team that wrote for the O'Jays and the Spinners. So chances are Biz Markie didn't see any royalties from all the radio play that song got."

Byrne, Mills and McCrea all know a thing or two about having hit cover versions. Talking Heads famously scored their first top 40 hit with a cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River" in 1979, while R.E.M. had a top 20 rock hit in 1986 with a cover of the Clique's "Superman," a song that featured Mills singing lead with Michael Stipe. Cake had a Modern Rock hit in 1997 with their cover of Gloria Gaynor's disco anthem "I Will Survive," which R.E.M. coincidentally also recorded. By the way, for those keeping score at home, Gaynor didn't write her signature song. It was written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris.

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