The story behind every cover version on Ghost’s new Phantomime EP

Ghost’s Tobias Forge, Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris and Tina Turner and Mel Gibson
(Image credit: Chris Walter/WireImage/Press/Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Ghost have always had a thing for covers, as well as following up their full-length albums (since 2013’s Infestissumam at least) with release-valve EPs. They’ve previously recorded songs by rock and pop megastars like Metallica, ABBA and The Beatles, as well as more cult acts like Swedish rockers Imperiet and former 13th Floor Elevators frontman Roky Erickson.

Now they’ve released a full covers EP titled Phantomime. The likes of Genesis, Iron Maiden and Tina Turner might make for strange bedfellows but once more provide a peek into the influences that helped shape Ghost and their iconic mainman Tobias Forge. Here’s what you need to know about every song on Phantomime

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See No Evil (originally by Television)

New York’s Television are often cited as one of the bands that served as punk rock progenitors in the early to mid-70s. They certainly had a raw live presence and were instrumental in convincing Hilly Kristal, the owner of the CBGB nightclub, to let it morph into the punk haven and breeding ground it became. ‘But Ghost aren’t punk!’ we hear you cry. And neither, really, were Television. By the time they released debut album Marquee Moon in 1977, the Sex Pistols were poised to unleash anarchy in the UK, ushering in a welter of sweary and unrefined 3-chord oiks. Television, meanwhile, traded on comparative complexity, poetic vision and the wonderful melodic interplay between frontman and guitarist Tom Verlaine and fellow six-stringer Richard Lloyd.

Speaking of the writing of See No Evil, Lloyd told journalist Damian Love: “Take my part out, all you’ve got is, ‘duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh…’ The thing is, I don’t get any songwriting credit. But I was willing to give that up for the sake of the band. We had arguments about it, for a couple of years. But Tom can be very stubborn, very willful, very paranoid, and there’s just no fighting it.” Whatever the origin of the song, it served as a wonderfully addictive album opener and introduction to the band. With its wiry energy, sinuous melodies and Verlaine’s lyrical take on self-destructive urges, it fits right into the Ghost ethos.

Jesus He Knows Me (originally by Genesis)

The polished and poppy Phil Collins-led Genesis of the 1980s and beyond was a far cry from the experimental prog-rockers that had emerged in the previous decade. They still had the odd barb though and showed it on Jesus He Knows Me, which featured on their 1991 album We Can't Dance and released as a single the following year. Far from being a religious song, it skewered the then burgeoning phenomenon of televangelism during a period when many of its biggest name including Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton and Jim Bakker were under scrutiny for behaviours ranging from sex scandals and having their fingers in the till. The accompanying music video Collins as an unscrupulous televangelist trying to raise $18m over a weekend because the Lord told him to. The song reached number 20 in the UK charts and number 23 in the US.

Ghost released their own NSFW video for the cover on Easter Sunday. Forge told Australia’s The Music that the song now seems relevant again in a way it didn’t when Ghost first started touring a decade or so ago. “It’s frighteningly horrible. It’s easy not to laugh about the accuracy in which Phil Collins wrote a lyric that ten years ago felt almost dated, even outdated, which now feels so contemporary and important,” he said.

Hanging Around (originally by The Stranglers)

Hanging Around by UK punks The Stranglers is another song mixing religion with tongue-in-cheek humour, which is very much up Ghost’s nave. The song rides Jean-Jacques Burnel’s pulsing bass riff and Dave Greenfield’s distinctive swathes of organ while the lyrics detail some of the characters who used to hang around the clubs the band played in. The chorus, meanwhile, features the lines: ‘Christ he told his mother/ Christ he told her not to bother/ Cos he's alright in the city/ Cos he's high above the ground/ He's just hanging around.’

In the book The Stranglers: Song By Song, frontman Hugh Cornwell explained: “The title of the song reminded me of a joke I'd heard, which I thought was funny. What a great way to spend Easter, hanging around on a cross. It's very flippant. I find that references to God and Christ are very emotive. For a long period of time I loved hanging around churches. There's something fascinating about the power of religious belief. I'm not necessarily a very religious person, but I'm fascinated by the regalia and everything connected with it. I love using references to religion in the creative process because it's so emotive and controversial. You get people who strongly believe and equally strident non-believers."

Phantom Of The Opera (originally by Iron Maiden)

The centrepiece of Iron Maiden’s 1980 debut album, Phantom Of The Opera was the first of many Iron Maiden epics, clocking in at 7 minutes-plus and featuring a multi-tempo structure that bassist and writer Steve Harris assembled section by section. It was also the first of many Harris compositions inspired by literary and historical figures, based as it was on the 1911 novel of the same name by French author Gaston Leroux.

It could apparently have sounded quite different. Former guitarist Dennis Stratton told Rock Candy that at one point he added “a load of harmony guitars and falsetto vocals to our basic recording”. He continued: "But when we were listening back to the track [manager] Rod Smallwood came up behind me in the control room. I didn't know he was there and at the end of the song he said, 'You can get rid of all that. It sounds like fucking Queen.' So it never made the cut.”

We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) (originally by Tina Turner)

We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) was written by songwriting duo Graham Lyle and Terry Britten, who had previously provided US singer Tina Turner with another huge hit in What's Love Got to Do with It. It appeared in the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which starred Mel Gibson as the titular Max and Turner as Aunty Entity – the ruler of a post-Apocalyptic town. The Thunderdome of the title, incidentally, was a gladiatorial arena in which combatants fought to the death.

The music featured the singer in her character’s chain mail gown, although she told Q that "Aunty Entity was not as fierce as I wanted her to be”. She continued: "I wanted her to go back into the trunk and pull out the clothes that she was wearing when she built that city, because she built herself up from nothing and she definitely wasn't wearing that chain dress and those high-heeled shoes."

Bonus trivia: the song also features a choir from King's House School in Richmond, London. One of the young choristers was future England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio.

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer