*First off, to get out the way what should be obvious – All “worst music ever” lists are a lie, and “worst cover versions ever” lists are even more so, since chances are the real most horrible stuff ever came from talentless no-name bar bands and coffee-shop strummers from nowhere who deservedly went nowhere — and of course, lots of those performers are full-time cover bands (or reality show contestants), too unmotivated to write their own songs in the first place. Even karaoke counts as covers, right? Which means every night of the year, in whatever town you live in, there are probably cover versions just as wretched as the ones below. But truth is, all those human-jukebox unknowns have every right to be awful, and hence don’t deserve our grief anyway.
Nope, a list like this only makes sense if it sticks to artists who’ve achieved some degree of success or notoriety. In other words, artists who should really know better – which is to say, ones who a listener is perfectly justified in getting pissed off at. Sometimes they’re legitimately great bands having a really bad day or making a really dumb song choice or just sticking around way too long after their sell-by date; sometimes they’re worthless acts who never should have made it in the first place. There are many ways to flub a cover! But some offend more than others.
And there are certainly recurring lessons to be drawn: For instance, if you have no soul (or singing voice, or rhythm section – take your pick), it may well behoove you to avoid r&b songs. If you are trying to be subversive by sonically turning the tables on a ubiquitous multiplatinum pop number that you think your precious underground art is obviously superior to, you are almost definitely deluded. If the only reason you’re covering an oldie is because you think life was cute back in the old days, you are probably ignoring the lyrics’ meaning and will no doubt embarrass yourself and your family. If you suddenly had a big hit cover version and are still regularly releasing cover versions as singles five years later, you are trying our patience. If you are updating a song to keep up with current musical fashions, your version has a very good chance of sounding dorky when those fashions aren’t current anymore (and maybe does already). If you tend to sing like you are nodding off, you could save us all some serious boredom if you actually did. And so on.
This Hall of Shame covers all those bases and more. But the selections that follow do have one thing in common: They all stink to high heaven in ways that’ll make you wonder who cut the cheese, and the artists who did them all owe apologies to music fans and the songs’ originators alike. Be prepared to do some major nose-holding.
50. ELO – “Roll Over Beethoven”: Just a really cheap, obvious joke that’s not half as clever as they pretend it is: They start out playing Beethoven’s “Fifth,” then switch into a completely perfunctory version of the Chuck Berry song (get it, huh huh?), then switch back and forth and stuff – for eight minutes in the long version on Electric Light Orchestra II. And though ELO were one of the great art-pop bands, here they just sound clumsy: All concept, not much fun. (Dishonorable mention: Judas Priest’s “Johnny B. Goode,” a bizarre choice coming from the band whose major innovation was teaching heavy metal the erroneous lesson that it’s possible to rock’n’roll with no boogie in your system.)
49. Robert John – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”: The Tokens’ doo-wop version was a cover itself – the song dates back to at least 1939, when Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds recorded a version (then called “Mbube”) in South Africa. And all sorts of folk revivalists, from the Weavers to Miriam Makeba, did it as “Wimoweh” through the ‘50s before the Tokens topped the pop chart with it for three weeks. But it was high-registered Brooklynite Robert John, who took it to #3 in 1972, who scrubbed every last speck of Africa out of it. By the end, the lion’s not the only one sleeping. He had a thing for covering vocal-group oldies – “Hushabye,” “Hey There Lonely Girl,” “Sherry.” But this one deserves some prize for distance from the original source material. Plus, it paved the way for Graceland!
48. R.E.M. – “Toys In The Attic”: In which one of history’s least rocking major “rock” bands – already a couple years past their pleasant but innocuous jangle-pop peak — offers an anorexic take on one of history’s all-time raving and foreboding hard rock screamers. The same year, Run-D.M.C. covered “Walk This Way,” with Joe Perry and Steve Tyler helping out. But here’s what Perry told me when I interviewed him for Creem in 1987: “If R.E.M. had called us up and said, ‘Listen, you wanna play on “Toys In The Attic”?’, we wouldn’t have done it.”
47. Aerosmith – “Come Together”: Truth is, this might not have technically been the absolute worst Beatles cover on 1978’s Bee Gees-and-no-name-heavy George Martin-produced Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack travesty. But where, say, George Burns’s “Fixing A Hole” and Sandy Farina’s “Here Comes The Sun” kinda came and went, this one kinda stuck around: It wound up being just about the only wet noodle on Aerosmith’s 1980 Greatest Hits LP, for instance. And while it’s not hard to understand why they picked it to cover – the original was slightly funky, after all – it really does, in retrospect, feel like the beginning of the end: One of the best hard rock bands of the ‘70s losing their nasty sense of boogie, and starting to succumb to the de-fanged Tin Pan Alley moves that’d make them richer when they cleaned up in the ‘80s. You can almost hear Steve Tyler’s embarrassing American Idol stint coming.
46. Blues Brothers – “Soul Man”: These latter-day minstrel shticksters started out as a mere Saturday Night Live sketch before their debut album, Briefcase Full Of Blues, wound up topping the Billboard chart and led to an obligatory movie. To be fair, they did provide exposure and work for genuine master soul men like guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Duck Dunn. And their later music was no doubt even more perfunctory. But this was their biggest hit – on actual album rock stations that wouldn’t play black artists at the time, no less – and Dan Aykroyd’s (a/k/a Elwood Blues’s) preposterous low-voiced responses, especially, cannot go unchallenged. Hard to believe John Belushi (a/k/a “Joliet” Jake Blues) (a/k/a Bluto Blutarsky) learned to love before he ate, too. Also, they are probably, in some way, partially responsible for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
45. Mötley Crüe – “Smokin’ In The Boys Room”: “They weren’t smokin’ in that boys room – just taking a quick dump,” Robert Christgau wrote about Brownsville Station at the end of the ‘70s, but he was so wrong! As much as any hard rockers in the early, pre-punk ‘70s, that Ann Arbor band kept alive the stripped-down-dragster greaser ethos of the great ‘60s garage bands, and this song was their pinnacle (though not their only one). It took Mötley’s ‘80s L.A. hair-sleaze dirtballs to carry true poop to the lavatory. Flush twice – it’s a long way to the cafeteria.
44. Cyndi Lauper, “What’s Going On”: Cyndi broke through with cover versions, really good ones: Side One of her smash 1983 breakout She’s So Unusual opened with the Brains (“Money Changes Everything), Robert Hazard (“Girls Just Want To Have Fun”), and pre-superstar-era Prince (“When You Were Mine.”) Creative choices all. But when she followed up with 1986’s True Colors, she was clearly downplaying her “unusual” side. So she did a freeze-dried version of this canonizzzzed soul protest that completely drained out the groove that had made it move in the first place. It was always fairly vague (only the third-best current-events lesson on the Marvin Gaye album named for it); Cyndi made it vapid.
43. The Cure, “Purple Haze”: What better way to lead off a 1993 Hendrix tribute album than with queasy Robert Smith whining that suggests he’s winging it when it comes to the words? Though who knows, that might just be the after-thought vibe he’s trying to put across; he gets most if not all of them right – his timing’s just way off. Guitar (admittedly heavier than you’d expect) seems random, too, and there’s no propulsion to speak off. Overall effect is more or less: Huh? Maybe they were trying to sound “inventive,” but the least they could’ve done is shelled out for a drummer who sounds like a human being. It’s sorta pathetic when the Spin Doctors’ “Spanish Castle Magic” cover blows you out of the water.
42. Phish, “Getting’ Jiggy With It”: An “incomplete” list on their Wikipedia entry tallies over 300 songs Phish have covered over the years, so aficionados may well quibble about whether this is the worst one they ever did, or whether lesser constellations in the jam-band universe have noodled their way into even more wilted oblivion. But it’s certainly bad enough for our purposes. Their six-disc 1999 Hampton Comes Alive alone has Phish hippie-dipping the Beastie Boys, Beatles, Chumbawamba, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, bluegrassers Hot Rize, blues guitarist Son Seals, pot-head novelty act Ween, and Stevie Wonder, along with the erstwhile Fresh Prince. Here, they actually precede their alleged jigginess with a minute or so of passable early ‘70s organ rock, and the bassline sets up an okay groove: their problem’s not that they can’t play; just that their musicianship tends not to come with memorable songs attached. No wonder they like covering other people’s. Anyway, once the rapping starts, all bets are naturally off, and of course seven long minutes pass before they move onto even more aimless types of tedium. Fans with baked brains let you get away with so much.
41. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz In The Hood”: “About to go and damn near went blind/Young niggaz at the path throwin’ up gang signs/I went in the house to get the clip/with my Mac 10 on the side of my hip,” and so on and so forth until the stupid bitch with the nappy ass weave gets pimp-slapped, all sing-songed in the most Weezery white wimp one-modern-rock-hit-wonder-from-college-town (Austin) voice imaginable, with acoustic guitars. A real knee-slapper, right? Placed rather leniently on this list because it actually sounds kind of sad.
40. Power Station – “Get It On (Bang A Gong)”: All the good ‘70s glitter-rock covers of the mid to late ‘80s were by hair-metal bands. The only good “Bang A Gong” dancefloor cover was by the Montreal disco act Witch Queen (who also covered Redbone and Free), from 1979. All of Robert Palmer’s good cover versions ever were of soul or reggae songs. His detached bleating here sounds like he’s auditioning for Duran Duran, the main gig of both Taylors playing bass and guitar. And Chic’s usually banging drummer Tony Thompson seems to be wearing a straightjacket.
39. Pseudo Echo – “Funky Town”: In which four Australians who have serious problems singing in key get considerably less funk out of this new wave disco escape one-shot than Minneapolis one-man-band Steve Greenberg had when he topped the pop chart with it for a month only seven years earlier. Yet Pseudo Echo somehow managed to go top 10 in the States anyway – maybe people were already feeling nostalgic, or they just thought the keytar player was cute. Shame, though, that Treponem Pal’s French nuke-metal version from 1997 never got the chance it deserved.
38. Cher – “Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)”: Backup singers camping things into the gag-reflex zone while she barrels through, throwing ‘bows with her voice even as she insists “that’s just his arm,” all in service of a movie set in 1963 and apparently not really about mermaids, Cher entirely misses the boat on the sweet humor and soul innocence of Mississippi gospel-choir graduate Betty Everett’s original. Heck, even Linda Ronstadt did Everett’s “You’re No Good” better than this. So did Van Halen. And “The World’s A Mess, It’s In My Kiss” by X beat all of them.
37. Bruce Willis, “Respect Yourself”: The video starts out with Bruno tending bar, with a TV in the tavern showing Pop Staples singing in the old days. The owner tells him things are looking dead that night, so they oughta shut down. But before you know it, our action hero is crooning into a billiard cue, and the joint is mysteriously full again, with real-life soul sisters there to help with the lines about how putting hands over your mouth when you cough can solve air pollution problems. Okay, it was never exactly the most environmentally enlightened song, to begin with. But the album this version was on got to #14, then was reissued on CD by Razor & Tie a decade later. Think of the landfills, people!
36. Big Mountain, “Baby I Love Your Way”: As you probably blocked from your memory bank long ago, these were hippie reggae guys. From San Diego. (Possibly less frightening than being hippie reggae guys from, say, Des Moines, but also less surprising.) Covering Peter Frampton. With a sax solo worthy of Kenny G. For a Wynona Ryder soundtrack. Six years after Will To Power hit with a cover of the exact same song. But these guys are no Will To Power. Not even close. (See the “25 Excellent Bad Cover Songs” sidebar.)
35. H-Town – “A Thin Line Between Love And Hate”: Say what you want about the melisma-and-cumshot-addicted r&b acts of the ‘90s and beyond, but most have had sense enough not to highlight their incompetence by attempting to revive soul classics of an earlier, more tasteful era: Amazingly, Jodeci never covered the Stylistics, and Chris Brown does not seem to have recorded any Al Green songs yet. Boot-knockin’, lick-u-uppin’ Houston trio H-Town were the exception, though, and they sound like they’re in pain. Which sort of makes sense given the verse where their jealous wifey lands them “in the hospital, bandaged from feet to head” for getting home at 5 a.m. But it’s doubtful that was their intention.
34. Michael Bolton – “When A Man Loves A Woman”: This hard rock refugee (he’d been in the ‘70s band Blackjack, and his 1983 solo debut near-hit “Fools Game” was actually really good) built an easy-to-scoff-at career out of belting out even-more-gut-busting blue-eyed soul versions of ‘60s soul songs that were generally pretty darn gut-busted in the first place: from Otis Redding, Four Tops, Ray Charles, the usual suspects. This was the biggest of those (#1 for one week), if not quite as big as 1989’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” (#1 for three weeks.) It’d probably be hard to convince you that demolishing a Laura Branigan song he co-wrote counts as blasphemy, though, so I won’t try.
33. Ataris – “The Boys Of Summer”: Indiana pop-punk phonies lacking both discernible personalities or an audible rhythm section stiffen up Don Henley’s dance-oriented-singer-songwriter syncopation, banish the seagulls, and change the Cadillac’s Deadhead sticker to a Black Flag sticker. Which makes historical sense, in a way, though it’s unclear how these dweebs were ever in Black Flag’s lineage, and the way they telegraph that line by suddenly pushing the vocal up in the mix is highly disconcerting. Got them a Top 20 hit, though – bet their mommies were proud.
32. Love And Rockets, “Ball Of Confusion”: Love And Rockets were three guys from goth godfathers Bauhaus who sold out to mere “Modern Rock” in the late ‘80s – one of those “alternative” bands that supposedly didn’t exist on the radio until Nirvana came along, even though they had a #3 hit (“So Alive”) in 1989. Given the mannered way Daniel Ash tells us to “rap on brother, rap on,” this cover of the apocalyptic Motown psych-out they released as their debut single was perhaps their awkward attempt to jump on that new-fangled hip-hop bandwagon they’d heard about. They even snuck in a Reaganomics mention! But mainly they proved that pompous British people should neither try to sing nor be funky.
31. Megadeth, “Anarchy In the U.K.”: Always neck-and-neck with Anthrax in the race to see who could be the hackiest and most ignorable of thrash-metal’s supposed Big Four, Megadeth outdid themselves with this one, decades before Dave Mustaine got born again and turned into a nutso New World Order conspiracy theorist. Says he wants “Anarchy in the U.S.A..,” but sounds rather conflicted about the issue: turns Johnny Rotten’s “I wanna destroy passersby” into a wishy-washy “I wanna destroy, possibly”; then , even better, swaps out “another council tenancy” for “and other cuntlike tendencies.” And this was the 1980s, too – So there weren’ t Internet lyric sites yet to blame all the dumb mistakes on!
30.Ugly Kid Joe, “Cat’s In The Cradle”: Ugly Kid Joe exploded on MTV out of Santa Barbara County in early 1992 with “Everything About You,” a top-ten-pop hate ditty that made them seem like passably dorky fake grunge punks just a couple months after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” broke. So then what did they do for their (only, but also top 10 pop) encore? Cover one of the ‘70s’ most sorry-for-self sap-sucking soft-rock smasheroos, originally composed as a poem by Harry Chapin’s wife – a dad’s lament of being ignored by the grown-up son he’d never found time for all those years. Boo hoo, dudes! And somehow, they managed to make it even worse! On the other hand, it did sort of help invent emo.
29. UB40 – “The Way You Do The Things You Do”: These biracial reggae Limeys started out as a part-time protest group – named for a dole-queue card – and so British that their first couple albums didn’t even come out in the States. But then maybe after taking notes when the English Beat covered “Tears Of A Clown,” they figured out their business plan. They went Top 30 with a not-so-hot cover of “I Got You Babe” with Chrissie Hynde, and then their “Red Red Wine” remake went #1 in the U.S. in 1988, four years after the first time it charted. So they kept at it. Andy Williams was marginally inspired pick, maybe, but their going-through-the-motions Tempts cover was just a Big Chill to pay the bills.
28. Rockwell – “Taxman”: As if he didn’t already make his regressive point by worrying the I.R.S. was watching him in a novelty that climbed to #2 mainly because Michael Jackson sang the paranoid hook, the Motown one-hit-wonder born Kennedy William Gordy chooses to cover the most famous tax-cut demand out there. Not exactly a good look when your daddy also happens to be the C.E.O. of your record label – part of the 1% for sure. Not to mention when your idea of r&b singing is talking in a posh faux-British accent. Hard to imagine even Rockwell’s half-brother Redfoo of LMFAO getting this crass.
27. Fine Young Cannibals, “Ever Fallen In Love”: What was the deal with Roland Gift anyway? Did he use to inhale helium balloons before recording? He had this amorphous falsetto that whistled up through his nasal cavities, and it communicated no emotion whatsoever, even if he did look like the kind of guy who’d haul 45s to a Northern Soul shop on his scooter. He had an okay way with a hook, though – or the ex-English Beaters backing him up did. Amazing to remember, in retrospect, that this limp cover of an archetypal Buzzcocks single-gone-unsteady was on a #1U.S. album in 1988, with three big hits. It was recorded a couple years earlier, though – originally appeared on the Something Wild soundtrack. So maybe the Cannibals just hadn’t eaten dinner yet. (Too bad Total Coelo, of “I Eat Cannibals” fame, weren’t around anymore to eat them.)
26. Bruce Springsteen, “War”: Live at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, Der Bossmeister grunts out this humongous pacifist-funk protest like he’s having a very difficult time on the toilet, getting out what needs to get out. As such, he helpfully readies the nation for Pearl Jam’s version of “Rockin’ In The Free World” – or maybe just for Eddie Vedder (and all the post-Vedders in Creed, Nickelback, etc.), period. Kinda fishy, too, that gay prog-disco Brits Frankie Goes To Hollywood had covered both “War” and “Born to Run” on their debut album, only two years earlier.
25. Insane Clown Posse – “Let’s Go All The Way”: Since Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope change most of the words to optimistic bromides more in line with their IQs or lack thereof (“look at them poor kids, rich kids, all together on the same side!”, “no sickness, nobody has to die!”), it could be argued that this is more an “interpolation” than a cover version, per sé. One-hit hip-hoppish duo Sly Fox’s out-of-left-field ’86 top-ten had lots of “I Am The Walrus” in it, and that’s barely discernible here. But unlike, say, Vanilla Ice’s “Play That Funky Music” or Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations,” I.C.P. don’t really add any additional music. So maybe they just got the lyrics wrong. (And how do magnets work, anyway?)
24. Orgy – “Blue Monday”: It’s not like New Order had a super memorable singer in the first place (their real singer, Ian Curtis, hung himself in 1980), but at least Bernard Sumner and pals sterilized Shannon/Madonna-style electrodance-pop into something obsessive and graceful. The L.A. proto-screamo/quasi-industrial/semi-gnü-metal/whatever mookballs in Orgy, on the other hand, come off like total clutzes: “How! Should I Feel! Tell Me! How! Does It Feel! To Treat Me Like You Do!” And whiners, to boot: They weren’t kidding when they named their debut album Candyass.
23. Big & Rich, “You Shook Me All Night Long”: These Nashville eccentrics came out of nowhere in 2004 with one the best albums of the new millennium’s first decade – hell, maybe the best album, and certainly the best one to merge country, rap, metal, rock’n’roll, gospel, Mexican, techno, and comedy all at the same. But by their third album, they were spinning their wheels, despite scoring bigger than ever with a boring wedding song. On paper, AC/DC doesn’t seem like a bad match – better than for most metal bands these days, to tell the truth. But they turned it into the lazy sort of drawling Hee Haw kitsch you’d expect from Brooklyn alt-country nerds. At least when Celine Dion covered it, she left some rock verve in.
22. BC-52s, “(Meet) The Flintstones”: From the same yabba-dabba-doo soundtrack CD as Weird Al Yankovic’s Chili Peppers spoof “Bedrock Anthem,” an immediate self-parody (from the B-52s, on normal days) that sounds exactly like you’d guess it would, with Fred Schneider doing that thing where you wonder how he never got thrown out of the tour bus for yelling “Let’s….GO TO MCDONALD’s!!” and surfy guitars and, uh, everything. They were probably impressed that it was based on Beethoven. (Just kidding – though not about the Beethoven, apparently.) (And by the way, the only reason the Chili Peppers themselves aren’t in this countdown is that their covers tend not to suck as bad as their own songs.)
21. Duran Duran, “911 Is A Joke”: This is wrong on so many levels – and not only because bush-league quasi-Dylan rhythm-guitar strumming is not the Bomb Squad and 911 doesn’t mean anything in the U.K., where people dial 999 instead. At least when the Durannies feebly covered Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines” on the same album, the subject matter might’ve halfway made sense for them. P.E.’s “911” was mostly a novelty goof (Flavor Flav rapped it, not Chuck D) and a sample barrage anyway, two facts these guys seem entirely oblivious to. The end result sorta sounds like G. Love and Special Sauce crossed with EMF. Bet September 11 gave them second thoughts about playing it live anymore, too.
20. Cowboy Junkies, “Sweet Jane”: Lou Reed allegedly once called this “the best and most authentic version I have ever heard,” but why the heck would you trust him? It is only authentic if you think the Velvet Underground were a middle-of-the-road chamber-folk lounge-snooze group instead of a noisy droning rock band (which is what lots of musicians they inspired apparently believe, but that doesn’t make them right), and also if you enjoy hearing clinically introverted Canadians who forgot to take their depression medication mumble so you can’t make out the words.
19. Marilyn Manson, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”: These latter-day horror-rock hucksters’ first charting album, Smells Like Children, was basically just a hodgepodge of remixes, covers, alternate takes, and spoken-word radio-call-in samples about urine and feces, some of it produced by some moonlighting sicko from Skinny Puppy. This was the MTV hit, with Mr. Manson trying to be subversive and scary by reciting in hushed-then-shrieked tones about people abusing and people being abused, pretending he’s adding something new to a song that always wore its irony and kink on its sleeve from the gitgo. Instead, he just reduces it to a campy cartoon, or maybe an aural warning about improper hygeine.
18. Attack Attack! – “I Kissed A Girl”: Consider this a stand-in for the entire Punk Goes Pop compilation series on Fearless Records, on which interchangeably crappy would-be rock nonentities like Yellowcard and Breathe Carolina and Silverstein and Chiodos – and countless more with even less recognizable names – cover Miley/Britney/Akon/Gaga/Antebellum/etc. songs, almost inevitably making them rock less than they did in the first place but it’s not like I’m gonna check and make sure. (There are also Punk Goes Metal, ‘80s, ‘90s, Acoustic, etc. comps: Branding!) This gratingly Auto-Tuned bubblecrabcore interpretation of Katy Perry’s allegedly once semi-controversial cherry Chapstick commercial seems the closest thing to a Punk Goes “hit.” And yes, the boy singer, having kissed a girl, still says “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it.” Transgressive!
17. Travis – “…Baby One More Time”: Shambling Glaswegian fifth-generation Brit-pop also-rans cover Britney’s earliest Max Martin/teen-pop/Radio Disney hit (…me baby), the original of which had way more vigor and rhythm and gumption to it than any of Travis’s own songs, “for a laugh” — an innovative move only because of all the other “alternative” types who’d “ironically” cover Britney later (for this song alone, you can find versions on youtube by Weezer, Marilyn Manson, Bowling For Soup, Fountains Of Wayne, Type O Negative, and Simple Plan.) The idea is that, by slowing teen-pop down and making it undanceable, you can also bring out its “darkness.” It’s a stupid idea.
16. Mrs. Miller, “Downtown”: There may be thousands of examples of “square” singers taking inept stabs at teenage-music favorites in the ‘60s, and this may or may not qualify as one of those – depends whether teens thought Petula Clark was at all hip in the first place. What set Elva Ruby Connes Miller apart is that even Joel Whitburn’s no-insults-allowed Top Pop Singles 1955-99 reference book refers to her as “tone-deaf.” About that, she leaves no doubt. And like nails-on-chalkboard soprano Florence Foster Jenkins decades before, that was part of her demented appeal. Her first album, Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits, got to #15 in the U.S. – In comparison, William Hung’s 2004 debut only peaked at #34!
15. James Taylor – “Handy Man”: Sweet Baby Sapsucker somehow managed to take this jaunty, spring-stepped r&b number – which Del Shannon actually hit with the definitive pop-rock version of, in 1964 – and inject it full of the gooiest and rolfingest I’m OK You’re OK yoga-mat insect-repellent rubdown oil of the entire Me Decade, so mellow it’s downright slimy. So be careful not to get any on you. Right James, you are “handy” and “busy 24 hours a day” so she’ll “cumma cumma cumma cumma cum cum.” Now if you’ll pardon me, I need to go take a shower.
14. Counting Crows feat. Vanessa Carlton, “Big Yellow Taxi”: Insufferably ingratiating unctuousness that’d make James Taylor proud! Adam Duritz seems cluelessly dead-set on making this jazzy, with all these laughable pseudo-scatty Van Morrison wannabe swingin’ hot spot asides about “why not” and “hey hey hey” and “why you wanna be givin’ it all givin’ it all away.” Then the tempo slows to white reggae, and you really want to choke the twit. Definitely doesn’t help that he’s unaware DDT had been banned in the U.S., on apples and otherwise, since 1972
13. Guns N’ Roses, “Sympathy For The Devil”: For their first few years of existence, they did fine with remakes – Rose Tattoo’s “Nice Boys,” Aerosmith’s “Mama Kin,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” pretty much all of 1993’s all-covers The Spaghetti Incident? (best excavation: UK Subs’ “Down On The Farm”), which in retrospect ties with GN’R Lies as their second-best album. (“Live And Let Die”?? Um…shhh.) But by ‘94 they were imploding – Slash, Duff, and cloddish drummer Matt Sorum soon on the way out, Paul Tobias (whoever the hell) just joined. Axl Rose’s sanity would soon go the way of his falsetto, and after this vampire soundtrack work-for-hire they would not release another single for a half-decade, and would not release another good one ever. No doubt Axl somehow identified with this song’s protagonist, but once you get past the opening tribal drums, his forced “oh yeah!”s and speech-to-screech moves can’t seem anything but perfunctory. At 7:35, it’s interminable.
12. William Shatner, “Mr. Tambourine Man”: Sorry, Captain Kirk fans, not “so bad it’s good.” Just bad. As everybody probably knows by now, Shatner simply over-acts the lyrics á la drugged-out interpretive poetry. Along with “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” this was the centerpiece of an album called The Transformed Man, the awfulness of which soon became legendary. Eventually, he mined a veritable side career out of it.
11. Glee Cast, “Don’t Stop Believin’”: Obviously these gleeple have done more to revive the lost fart of crummy pop-chart covers than anybody else in the past few years, and if this is not technically their all-time nadir, it’s still the one that got their ball rolling downhill. The rendition is less than competent even by real-life high school talent show standards, thanks in large part to all its cloying neat-freak Polyphonic Spree-style a capella church-bell nonsense. It’s actually shorter than Journey’s version, but feels way longer. And there is still no such place as South Detroit.
10. Susan Boyle, “Wild Horses”: People make fun of “bad” reality singing show contestants – your William Hungs and Sanjaya Malakars – but truth is, the “great” ones can be even less bearable. Britain’s Got Talent grande dame Susan Boyle may well “hit the proper notes” here, but why would that be a good thing, when “proper” has nothing to do with this kind of music? The performance at its start is perhaps tolerable in your usual vacant cabaret-interpretation-of-rock finishing-school kind of way. But when she starts getting operatic, prepare for your sinuses to ache.
9. Cat Power, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”: Chan Marshall has the dubious distinction of having put on the two worst live concerts by a name artist that this writer ever saw in New York. As I recall, at the Irving Plaza show, she basically sat down on the edge of the stage and refused to sing while her band got ticked off behind her. And then at the one at the Knitting Factory, which was a claustrophobic and windowless hotbox where people were packed shoulder to shoulder, she kept complaining in this little itty-bitty voice about how cold she was and needed a sweater. I have never so much wanted to throw my beer bottle in the direction of a stage. Anyway, this tuneless if theoretically torchy (I guess) Stones cover has every bit of the lethargy and audience-contempt exhibited in those shows, except she seemingly drank too much NyQuil first.
8. Artists For Haiti – “We Are The World”: The lyric was always self-aggrandizing (“there’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives”??), and no doubt Haitian earthquake relief was a worthy cause. But where USA For Africa were legit world-class talents and musical geniuses reciting their lines with both humble passion and vocal distinction, this one is larded up with industry-pimped B-listers (Justin Bieber! Josh Groban! Jennifer Hudson! Adam Levine! Enrique Iglesias! Nick Jonas! Nicole Scherzinger! Jennifer Nettles!) advertising unearned egos. Not to mention a irritating Lil Wayne/Akon/T-Pain AutoTune Row, a rap section (including no-names Nipsey Hussle and Mann) that’s even worse, Jamie Foxx pretending to be Ray Charles, a zombie Michael Jackson returned from the grave, and Wyclef Jean gargling with salt water.
7. Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink, and Lil Kim – “Lady Marmalade”: One of early disco’s inexorable bangers – an unabashed celebration of New Orleans creole prostitutes getting seductive in French, with a second-line rhythm to match — updated with overbearing what-what’s and yeh-yeh-yehs and performing-arts-school singing that prefers showing off to putting a plot across and a tacked-on rap verse that thinks there’s something remotely interesting about having “expensive tastes,” plus blatant product placement announcements of both the celebrities participating and the movie that contracted with them to do so. Also, sorry, but when Kim says “getting’ love from the dudes,” it really does sound like “Jews.”
6. U2, “Fortunate Son”: Artists from Kid Rock to Sleater-Kinney, from 38 Special to the Minutemen, from Wyclef Jean to Dropkick Murphys have long enjoyed playing this populist anthem to demonstrate that they are regular people and not wealthy hypocrites. In many cases, they are lying, though it was still always an obvious choice to dedicate to Dubya back in the day. At any rate, it’s doubtful any of them ever delivered a less credible rendition than Bono, who miraculously manages to sound simultaneously full of himself and disinterested – exactly the opposite of the blue-collar urgency the lyrics call for. And gratuitous soul singer backup or no, this band does not have a choogling bone in its body.
5. Mick Jagger/David Bowie, “Dancing In The Street”: Impossible to separate this track from its either homoerotic and just plain preening video, in which our two washed-up middle-aged Narcissi flop around down the city avenue in ways illegal in several states while making kissy faces and wearing clothes that don’t fit. Conceived for Live Aid, recently revived on Family Guy, the clip was an all-time MTV car wreck. And between exaggerated phrasing (especially from Bowie, who really had no business singing anything since he misplaced his high register in 1981 or so) and shoutouts to sundry global villages for no comprehensible purpose, the musical performance holds up its end of the bargain as well.
4. Alan Jackson, “Summertime Blues”: In 1958, Eddie Cochran sang this ticking time-bomb of suburban teen angst like a frustrated juvenile delinquent with an oil change in his hair and a steak knife up his sleeve. A decade later, Blue Cheer sang it like the kind of criminals who beat up juvenile delinquents, and invented heavy metal in the process. Then in 1994, Alan Jackson sang it like he was strolling to Sunday school, being very careful not to mess up his freshly ironed trousers. It’s hard to believe he even understood the words, but he topped the country chart with it regardless. As respectable mayonnaise-personality namby-pamby Nashville white-hats go, Jackson’s not the worst – he’s had a handful of okay hits. But the guy really needs to stay away from cover songs, especially ones with “blues” in the title: His “Mercury Blues” is almost as bluesless.
3. Doveman, “Footloose”: Doveman is the project of classically trained pianist-keyboardist-singer Thomas Bartlett, who has worked (in studios, stage, or TV screen) with everybody from Antony & the Johnsons, Grizzly Bear, and the National to David Byrne, Norah Jones, and Laurie Anderson. The folks at World Café and All Things Considered like him a lot. And they especially liked when he covered the entire Footloose soundtrack, as a tribute to a lost loved one no less, in 2008. And why wouldn’t they? Just listen to “Footloose” itself – he not only whispers it; he whispers it really really slow! No hip young person ever thought to do that to a pop hit before! How poignant! How un-Blake Shelton, even!
2. Pat Boone, “Long Tall Sally”: It’s not exactly like the King of Whitebread pulled this boogie-woogie from under Little Richard’s feet – The original had charted one week earlier (April 7, 1956 to April 14), stayed on Billboard’s Hot 100 longer (19 weeks to 15), and peaked higher (#6 to #8). Pat Boone was slightly closer than Little Richard to being a teenager at the time, too – just turning 22, not 23½. Though maybe that helped him – it’s not like Little Richard was the kind of boyfriend you could bring home to meet Mom and Dad anyway. But while it’s hard to believe they could’ve had the same audience especially in the segregated ‘50s, it’s also hard to believe Boone didn’t cut into sales somehow, even if he contributed to publishing proceeds. Either way, this is about as lame-o a laundering as you’d fear; at least when Pat stole “Ain’t That A Shame” (#1 in 1955) and “Tutti Frutti” (#12 in 1956), he sounded like he was halfway trying. Years later, he covered metal songs, and was in on the joke.
1. Limp Bizkit, “Faith”: Those who consider Bizkit’s whipping-boy 2003 take on the Who’s “Behind The Blue Eyes” the ultimate horrible gnü-metal cover offense should perhaps be forgiven their short attention spans. L.B.’s 2005 Greatest Hitz comp has a medley of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” with the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” too, but no matter how hard they tried, they never topped (or bottomed?) their first (rock if not pop)-charting single, 1998’s off-pitch and profane upchucking of George Michael’s Diddley-beat “Faith.” This turd set a mook standard still unmatched (though Korn’s Cameo and Pink Floyd attempts sure gave it the old college try.) And honestly, the only thing more idiotic than indie cover versions trying to sound profound by depleting all the energy are metalcore ones employing meaningless bullying volume and uglification in hopes of sounding angry. There are obviously countless of them out there, too. So maybe let Fred Durst stand for them all.