"Rock On," by David Essex (1973) and Michael Damien (1989)
OK – this is pretty simple. David Essex’s original “Rock On,” is one of the coolest songs ever recorded. Michael Damien’s cover is not.
Want more? Fine. Essex comes just after the heyday of psychedelia and a few decades before the emergence of synthpop, but his song is a perfect amalgamation of both. Herbie Flowers, who played the iconic bass line on Lou Reed’s “Walk n the Wild Side” a year earlier, matches it with one of the biggest earworm bass lines of all time. Essex doesn’t sing so much as intone meaningless lyrics, somehow vaguely related to rock and roll. It is legendary. It cracked the top ten in the US. Essex would never get close again. No matter. He was basically a stage and TV actor who had this one glorious moment of rock stardom.
Michael Damien was also a tv actor. He was on “The Young and the Restless” for a million years. I think he is still on “The Young and the Restless.” But he was also a decent musician and singer, and he was very good-looking. (I think that may be why he was on “The Young and the Restless.”)
Unfortunately, his “Rock On” captures none of the cultural zeitgeist that Essex had found in the early ‘70s. It’s just kind of there – a straightforward version of a song that doesn’t have much going for it beyond style and attitude. Of course, Damien made it to number one with the homogenized version.