I consider myself kind of a purist. If I hear a really great, and truly timeless song, often times I think “That’s it. That’s the end all right there. That’s the version of the song we are gonna stick with, because it’s awesome, and everybody knows it.” Other people don’t quite see it the same way, thus we have cover songs… And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The way I see it, there have been three different kinds of cover songs throughout history: There are those that don’t change much from the original, but capture or re-energize the spirit and essence of the original so well that it’s an extremely respectable effort. (See Social Distortion’s cover of “Ring of Fire” or Bauhaus’ cover of “Ziggy Stardust.”) Or there are those that take the original in a completely different direction and end up sounding wildly different from the song it’s based off of, and have a unique new take on it. (See DEVO’s cover of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” or Apoptygma Berzerk’s cover of “Fade To Black.”)
I’m not here to talk about any of those though. I’m here to talk about the third kind…songs that miss the mark completely.
I don’t want to incite anger towards any of the artists involved, (But I will anyway.) for all I know the intentions were good. Maybe the musicians and singers in question really wanted to honor the memory of the songs they were covering. Whether that’s true or not, one thing’s for sure: They failed.
10. “Layla” by Eric Clapton – Original by Derek & The Dominos
Some of you might be a bit surprised. First of all let me make one thing clear: It is not the Derek & The Dominos “Layla” with Clapton and Duane Allman’s back and forth guitar dueling that I’m ripping into, it’s 1990s middle-of-the-road Clapton. The Eric Clapton who released an adult contempo album because he was feeling kind of down.
Even with that in mind some of you may be surprised. After all, among music critics, this version is widely considered the worst cover of a song of all time, and yet I’m including it at the very bottom of my list.
Here’s the thing: I don’t consider the 90s version of “Layla” to be a bad song, necessarily. It’s not a style of music I particularly like, and it’s vastly inferior to the Derek & The Dominos original, but as a piece of soft rock it does it job fairly well.
I still include it here for the sheer disappointment it caused on two fronts: It beat out “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the Best Rock Song Grammy in 1992, one of the biggest upsets in Grammy history, and well… It’s Eric Clapton singing soft rock. He went from shredding blues to crooning to soccer moms. It’s like discovering one’s favorite athlete had been using steroids: It just kills you, man.
9. “Tutti Frutti” by Pat Boone – Original by Little Richard
I’m calling it here and now: white evangelical Christians are absolutely shit at entertainment in general. They had their chance, and ultimately what they have to show for it is Amy Grant, Stryper, Creed, and Pat Boone, the crooner who thought that Andy Williams was too racy.
Pat Boone had to have been very lucky to be famous during the 1950s, when American pop culture was at an all-time high for clean, non-threatening entertainment. It was during this time that Pat Boone was persuaded to make a similarly clean version of Little Richard’s maniacally brilliant song, “Tutti Frutti.”
Clean and WHITE. (It was the 50s.)
The end result was a soulless and sterile take on Little Richard’s hit, which had all the edge of a cotton ball. What was truly sickening however, was for all the musical incompetence and disturbing racial white-washing connotations of the cover, Pat Boone’s version became a bigger hit that Little Richard’s version.
To counter this later however, Little Richard sung his next big hit, “Long Tall Sally” at a deliberately breakneck speed, so no white artists keen on making a more family-friendly version of his music would be able to keep up with him.
How awesome is that?
8. “Once In A Lifetime” by The Exies – Original by The Talking Heads
Hands up to everyone who not only remembers, but is still a fan of the Exies.
That’s what I thought.
To the rest of the populace who are confused by my words, the Exies were nothing more than another addition to a growing legion of mopey nu-metal bands that inexplicably became popular during the early-to-mid-2000s. What they offered was the same brand of chugging soft-loud whiny metal that similarly interchangeable artists of the time period offered, with no discernible personality of their own to get in the way.
Oh, and they also recorded the absolute worst version of a Talking Heads song in human history.
The difference in genre couldn’t have been more massive. The Exies were an eyeliner wearing nu-metal band, while the Talking Heads were a quirky New Wave group from the 1980s. The original tune had a catchy beat and was punctuated with David Byrne’s manic rhymes about life and growing old, while the Exies decided that it needed more distortion and irritating amounts of angst.
As I said earlier there’s nothing wrong with taking a song in a different direction in covering it, but this version undergoes such a massive mood swing that it becomes a complete mess. It’s the musical equivalent of Bomberman: Act Zero, or whenever Frank Miller tries to write Batman.
7. “Boys Of Summer” by The Ataris – Original by Don Henley
Truth be told, I think this is one of those songs that nobody can pull off besides Don Henley. He just made it so personal, and the flourishes and touches that he added to it could only be pulled off by the Eagles frontman. That hasn’t stopped people from trying, though.
Two covers come to mind, both were equally retch-worthy. One was a cheesy Euro-beat version by DJ Sammy, but I opted not to include that one because I know DJ Sammy has done far far worse. So instead I offer up a more well-known version by another group who fizzed out without leaving anything of remote importance behind: The Ataris.
Let me frank: I absolutely HATE pop-punk/emo music. There’s few things that make my blood boil more than a bunch of snotty, shrill-voiced kids in skinny jeans whining about cutting themselves, apart from mainstream hip-hop, country, and nu-metal music. I hate this kind of music like Kefka hates espers.
The Ataris aren’t even pleasant to look at, because everything about them is filled with unlikable, shallow, emo kid stereotypes. So why would ANYONE think that they could pull off Henley’s song about loss of innocence with anything approaching subtlety?
One thing that galls me is they change one of the lines from the original, from “I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” to a “Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac.” The band doesn’t look like they were even alive when Black Flag broke up (1986), but they include that anyway.
What kind of pandering bullshit is THAT?
6. Any and all Kidz Bop songs
This seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?
For those of you unfamiliar with the Kidz Bop compilations, some stuffed suit decided that it’d be a neat little novelty to take popular songs and have them sung by pre-pubescent little kids…Because pop songs just weren’t shrill and annoying enough without tone deaf children singing along to them.
Some people might argue that these songs are good because they’re so bad. Frankly I don’t subscribe to that philosophy, because that gives them too much credit for making already bad songs sound even worse.
Not to mention giving too much credit to a compilation that professes to be family friendly for the kids, but covers songs that cover material far from being appropriate for kids. Do the people who come up with these things realize that songs like “Feel Good Inc”, “Beautiful Girls”, and “Tik Tok” are about anti-consumerism, suicide, and being a whore that gives away their services for free? (Prove me wrong on that last one.)
5. “Everybody Hurts” by DJ Sammy – Original by R.E.M.
“Everybody Hurts” was a hit song by R.E.M. from the 1990s about depression and suicide from their acclaimed album Automatic For The People. It was punctuated by solemn guitars and a string section arranged by none other than John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. In short: It’s a sad song.
DJ Sammy however, an opportunistic DJ from the 2000s, decided to make a quick dance charts buck off of R.E.M.’s well-crafted ballad, and remixed it into a lifeless Euro-beat song with a generic female vocalist. It was cheesy, forgettable, and extremely poor in comparison to original, which is like comparing Taco Bell to real food.
If there’s a line to cross as far as remixing goes, I’m calling it right now: This is the line. No remixing somber 90s alt rock songs. Okay?
4. “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” by Macy Gray & Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Original by Elton John
Listening to it, I’m beginning to wonder if ODB was ever a legitimate rapper to begin with, because he sounds more like he got into the Wu-Tang Clan as part of a community service program that lets mentally deficient people be rappers for a day, and he forgot to leave when it was over.
The original version by John and singer Kiki Dee was already a fairly silly song in and of itself, and I guess it makes sense that someone wouldn’t go into covering this too seriously, but it’s one thing to be silly, and it’s a completely different thing to be completely annoying beyond human measure, which is what Ol’ Dirty Bastard is, who doesn’t necessarily “sing”, so much as “yammer like a hobo on free soup day.”
Oh, and Macy Gray’s there too, singing so hoarsely she sounds like she kicked back a bottle of Buckfast before recording it into a karaoke machine.
3. “Ring Of Fire” by Olivia Newton-John – Original by Johnny Cash
Speaking of people who weren’t a great loss to the musical landscape, I don’t think anyone with a working brain is too hung up that Olivia Newton-John’s star never took off to a great degree…well no one except stark raving Grease fans. (But I DID say people with working brains, after all…)
What is the best way to do a cover of a song by Johnny Cash- a legend in country music- justice? Why by turning it into a disco song, of course! But just to be sure that we don’t alienate the potential market there is to be had from fans of the original, which was an outlaw country tune, let’s throw in some twangy southern guitars and a harmonica, loading it down with incessant amounts of cornball.
So instead of the outlaw country song from the 1960s with its stylish horn section, we have a freak-show hybrid of excessive, 1970s disco, and country music filled with all the silly clichés that “Ring Of Fire” previously discarded.
Rightfully so, this cover remains drenched in obscurity, because the album it was on (Ironically titled Making a Good Thing Better.) sold dismally. For good reason, too. Whatever you think of Olivia Newton-John as a singer or whatever else, I once again defer you to my previous point that certain lines are not meant to be crossed.
In fact that’s a new one. No disco covers of outlaw country songs.
2. “Behind Blue Eyes” by Limp Bizkit – Original by The Who
The main problem with expecting people to like a cover of a sad-sounding song like “Behind Blue Eyes” (Even if it’s ironic sadness) is that generally most people can sympathize with the singer in question in the original version. I don’t know ANYONE who’d feel bad for Fred Durst, a pinnacle to egomania.
As far as song covers go, this is a particularly dismal one. Not because it sounds sad, but because Durst seems to go out of his way to deliberately disrespect the memory of The Who’s original tune, from the heavily processed yet shrill and thin vocals, to the vastly out of place synth noises, to the complete removal of the bridge, only to replace it with a generic, down-tempo hip-hop beat, and… Uh… Text-to-speech vocals??
The only explanation I can think of is that Durst was trying to earn back some sympathy points after pissing them all away by acting like an officious prick for the majority of his musical career, and wanted an emotional song to sing. Only problem? “Behind Blue Eyes” isn’t actually a sad tune. Not with lyrics in the bridge like:
If I smile, tell me some bad news / Before I laugh and act like a fool
That’s my guess. That Durst was trying to earn some sympathy points, but instead everyone just rolled their eyes.
1. “My Generation” by Hilary Duff – Original by The Who
It’s official. Nothing is sacred.
The original by The Who is the prototype punk rock song. It’s about rebellion in it’s purest, simplest, unfiltered form…A subject that a Disney tart like Hilary Duff couldn’t fake without an instruction manual.
Duff’s irritating pop princess voice ruins vocals that were meant to be screamed and shouted amidst rock guitars and drum solos. Oh, but there’s no drum solos or rock guitars either. In fact the only thing resembling drums we get at all is a generic pop beat that sounds like it came from the same drum machine that every other pop star got it from.
The most inexcusable part however, is the way it handles the song’s classic line about teenage rebellion.
How did it go again? “Hope I DON’T die before I get old”?
There aren’t enough desks in the world for me to bang my head against.
I am willing to allow for leeway for anyone reading this who liked any of the previous songs, but there is no compromise on this one. If you like this cover, then that means you like empty wastes of space. That is the only thing this song could possibly be characterized as.
In short: it’s beyond awful.