It’s 1992 and you’re the hottest alt-metal band on the planet. After breaking out of the mid-80s US underground, your last album has gone platinum, you’ve played the MTV Awards and Saturday Night Live, and absolutely everybody is biting your style. What do you do? If you’re Faith No More, you record a straight-laced cover of The Commodores’ smooth 70s soul-pop ballad Easy.
FNM’s breakthrough 1989 album The Real Thing was a glorious mash-up of funk, metal and everything in between. They’d recorded a cover as a bonus track for that album, a faithful version of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs. It looked like an obvious move, but maybe it was too obvious for singer Mike Patton, who would troll audiences by changing the lyrics to: “Generals gathered in their masses/Golly gee, I hate Black Sabbath.”
Follow-up Angel Dust was a reaction to the success of The Real Thing. From fan-testing songs such as Caffeine and the abrasive Jizzlobber to the image of dead animals in an abattoir that appeared on the back cover, it was darker, odder and more unsettlingly perverse.
Most perverse of all, at least on paper, was their version of Easy. The band had played it on their European tour before they went in the studio to record Angel Dust. Live, they would segue from War Pigs into a note for note version of The Commodores song. It didn’t go down well.
“It feels good to have a couple of thousand people flipping you off.” bassist Billy Gould told Billboard in 1993. “Just to see the amount of middle fingers go up when we go into Easy is amazing.”
It was Gould’s idea to record the song during the Angel Dust sessions. “We like the way we played it and we liked the way Mike sang it,” keyboard player Roddy Bottum told Kerrang!.
Aside from chopping the original’s second verse, they played it totally straight and irony-free, capturing the original’s easy-like-Sunday-morning vibe. The only flash of FNM-style mischief was came when Mike Patton offered an exaggerated “EUUGGHHH!” before the guitar solo, though even that was an OTT homage to the original.
The cover was held back from Angel Dust when it was originally released in June 1992, though a live version was included on the B-side of third single Everything’s Ruined. But when the album failed to instantly replicate the success of its predecessor, Faith No More’s parent label Warner Bros, began worrying.
“We recorded it as a B-side,” Bottum told Kerrang! in ‘95. “Then the record company had the brilliant idea to put it out as an A-side.”
It was a last throw of the dice, but it worked. Easy was released on December 29, 1992, as a non-album single, though in true Faith No More style, there was still a refusal to completely play the game. The video saw the band hanging out in a hotel room with a group of drag queens, interspersed with some chaotic live footage. The single cover was a picture of a pair of rhinos having sex.
“I honestly don’t think we’ve got a lot of easy listening fans from that song,” Bottum told Kerrang!. “Maybe it’s the video. Even though the execution of the song is pretty faithful you can see we’re up to something. The tongue is definitely in the cheek.”
Regardless, someone was buying the song. It became their second number one in Australia, hit the Top 10 in New Zealand, Switzerland, Norway and Holland, peaked at a career best No.3 in the UK and was the only song from Angel Dust to chart in the US. Inevitably, it was tacked on to later editions of the album, helping push it to Gold status in the US.
“For our own personal satisfaction, we like to do things that are left field,” Gould told Billboard in 1993. “Warner Bros. has been marketing us as a rock band; we like to think we’re other things too. There was a little hesitancy to put the record out there, but it’s just exploded.”
As committed contrarians, FNM declared soon after that they’d never play the song live again. “It’s a bit like stealing your own gun, and then shooting yourself with it,” Mike Patton told Kerrang!.
Faith No More being Faith No More, they did play it again of course. Since their 2009 reunion, both the band and their audience have embraced it – crowds no longer flip the bird en masse. Even former Commodores frontman Lionel Richie, the man who wrote the song in the first place, has praised FNM’s version. “I was actually quite flattered that much about the song,” he told the Washington Post in 2001. “Yes, I loved it.”