March 16, 2007

"The 20 Worst Cover Songs in Pop Music History."

According to Cracked. Can't trust Cracked? They have the videos to prove it.

Some of these are new to me. For example, I didn't know Hillary Duff sang "My Generation," let alone that she changed the words to "hope I don't die before I get old." Actually, I think Cracked is revealing too much of a distaste for young women singing guys' songs. And not enough of a sense of... odd for Cracked... humor. I think Britney Spears singing "Satisfaction" is pretty amusing. Of course, I'm just watching it once, not having it inflicted on me repeatedly. But I think a bit of a mismatch in a cover song is nice.

And does Cracked have a conservative slant? Read this (about Counting Crows doing "Big Yellow Taxi"):
We absolutely loved the way that lead singer Adam Duritz (the hairy Fraggle wearing the arty-fart Dr. Seuss hat in the video) changed up the phrasing to make it more liberal than the original Joni Mitchell version. Because if there's one thing that Joni Mitchell could've improved on, it was being more liberal. That made all the difference to us. We've since started buying organic apples.
More liberal phrasing? I don't know... You listen to it. I can't.

44 comments:

monkeyboy said...

Disagree on Rod Stewart (Downtown Train), completely agree with No Doubt (It's my Life)

On the related note of "excellent covers" I'm looking to download the cover of "Can't help falling in love with you" by Lick the Tins if anyone knows where I can get one.

Simon said...

Re #11 (the ABitW cover by Korn), that's certainly pretty bad (it's quite an accomplishment to cover a song that hangs around the bass part when your bass player has such awful tone and is accordingly relegated to the very back of the mix), but it is by no means the worst cover of that song (Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) to be precise about it). That honor belongs to a version recorded by by Tom Morello, Layne Staley "and friends" for the soundtrack of the movie The Faculty, a CD that I was given for free yet still felt ripped off for the irrecoverable three minutes of my life it stole to listen to.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Boy, they completely missed Paul Anka doing Nirvana. If Cobain hadn't already committed suicide a dozen years ago, this would have pushed him over the edge.

angieoh! said...

I love that they referred to the Counting Crows guy as a Fraggle. That just cracked me up.

Simon said...

Pink Floyd is by quite some way my favorite band; I find a lot of their material exceptionally beautiful, and some of it almost unbearably moving, to the point that I get damp eyes from The Great Gig in the Sky or Hey You. More, even, than that: This is going to cost me some "made of stone conservative" points, but what the heck, I've occasionally caught myself weeping as the live version of High Hopes reaches its crescendo. You have to, I think, hold yourself open to being reached emotionally by music. The first sign that you're dead inside is when you can watch the video to Tears for Fears Woman in Chains and not feel impaled by the lyric.

Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), moreover, has an extraordinary quality shared by so few other songs (really, only Falling by the Comsat Angels springs readily to mind) of being so beautifully, elegantly simple that you wonder how it hangs together. I must have played that bassline a thousand times, and I've never grown bored of it. Korn's leaden rendition is just horrible. So y;know (directed now at Ann) - imagine how you'd feel if Korn did a thrash version of God Only Knows. ;)

Bourgeois Boy said...

What, no cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by William Shatner. This list is a joke.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" reminds me: David Bowie doing "Across the Universe"

bill said...

The article does lack a sense of humor you'd (I'd) expect from Cracked. Then again, I have a soft spot for covers. Good, bad, bizarre, it's almost always interesting what someone else does with a song. For example, it took Richard Thompson covering Oops...I Did It Again to make me realize what a perfectly crafted pop song it is. Plus the creepy dimension it achieves being sung by a middle-aged English guy.

The list mentions Duran Duran's cover of 911 is a Joke, which is one of my favorite covers because it is so bizarre. The whole thing is such an energetic, full-blown gonzo approach, I can't help but admire it. Like a fat man riding a unicycle--it's just plain wrong and someone's getting hurt--but you can't help but watch.

For covers, it isn't a question of bad or good, but does it work--except for Michael Bolton who is always bad. One that doesn't work is the Gnarls Barkley cover of Gone Daddy Gone. Not much more than a monotone recitation over the original track it offers nothing new. If that's it, why bother?

One that is so bizarre I've never been able to classify is Little Stevie Wonder's cover of the Tennessee Ernie Ford classic Sixteen Tons. In 1966, at the age of 16, Stevie is singing about selling his soul to the company store. Then again, he was recording for Motown.

Ernst Blofeld said...

Wow, I didn't know Cracked was still around. I remember it from my mispent youth as a bad knockoff of Mad Magazine.

For a period of time Mad Magazine was genuinely a great mag for boys of a certain age. It looks like they've been taken over by DC comics now.

Revenant said...

I thought Stewart's cover of "Downtown Train" was fine. Nothing like Waits' version, but what's the point of recording a cover of a song if you're going to sound the same as the original?

Joe said...

Forget his version of "Lucy", William Shatner's "Rocket Man" was so bad, it fascinates.

I was actually puzzled by this list. While not great, some of the covers listed weren't that bad, especially given so many other choices.

Incidentally, while technically not qualified for this simply because it was on purpose is the absolutely fabulous cover of Papa Roach's "Last Resort" by Richard Cheese. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poti9U0xhiE)

Glenn Howes said...

Big Yellow Taxi gives me a nauseated feeling whoever sings it. The mentality behind implying that DDT is only used to prevent "spots on my apples" when the reality is that the banning of DDT has led to the premature death of tens of millions of people in Africa from malaria.

However, I didn't notice any signicant difference with the other versions I've heard. Same old, same old as far as I can tell.

Joe said...

For a different video of Richard Cheese's Last Resort:

http://www.ugoplayer.com/music/lastresort.html

Speaking of Richard Cheese, this is hilarious:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCv2cgIlnHA

Drew W said...

As a dedicated MAD Magazine reader in the '60s (and into the '70s, at least until National Lampoon appeared) Cracked always seemed like an also-ran that no one really needed to read if there was a copy of MAD lying around. (I agree with what Ernst Blofeld said above.) I'm kind of amazed that it still exists in any form today. That said, their list seems to deal only with pop artists who do other pop songs. Fair enough.

Rhino Records cornered the market on non-pop artists doing pop songs with their Golden Throats series. (Forget Dylan singing "And It Stoned Me" -- it couldn't possibly match William Shatner singing "Mr. Tambourine Man" or Mae West singing "Light My Fire.") Of course, for Shatner, having his dreadful pop covers mockingly re-released only paved the way to his revived music career. Without recalling every bad cover song ever known -- as the people on this thread will reliably do -- there is one album that seemed to feature the greatest number of bad cover songs in one place -- and unlike Golden Throats, it was not intentionally embarrassing.

That album was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not the Beatles album, but rather an ill-fated effort by RSO Records to assemble Beatles covers with a cast that prominently featured RSO artists The Bee Gees. (There was supposedly a movie to which this was the soundtrack, but I've never met anybody who ever actually saw it.) Aging British comic Frankie Howerd was featured on such tracks as "Mean Mr. Mustard" and aging American comic George Burns sang "Fixing A Hole." (The comparatively young American comic Steve Martin sang "Maxwell's Silver Hammer.") Peter Frampton sang "The Long And Winding Road" and was joined by the Bee Gees for "Getting Better" and "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight."

Although instantly labeled a fiasco, some redeeming value was perceived in Aerosmith's version of "Come Together," Earth, Wind & Fire's "Got To Get You Into My Life" and Billy Preston's "Get Back," which was a cheat, cover-wise, considering that Preston played on the Beatles' version too.

I seem to recall that Rhino once released a Golden Throats-styled album strictly for awful Beatles covers. (I thought it was called Butchering The Beatles, but that title seems now to belong to a heavy metal Beatles cover set.) The album's Jack Davis-styled cartoon cover -- a parody of the Beatles' never-released "butcher baby" cover for Yesterday And Today -- featured caricatures of the artists on the compilation. But at one side of the picture was also a caricature of Mark David Chapman, the guy who killed John Lennon. Beatles fans were predictably outraged by the joke, and the album was reissued with the Chapman-caricature removed. Now I can't find any reference to the album anywhere, which may be for the best.

Ernst Blofeld said...

Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine have a wonderful, wonderful cover of Down With the Sickness. Doing is as a lounge cover really brings out the nihilistic despair. It makes the original Disturbed version look like a bunch of dumb adolescent posturing. It's used to great effect in the Dawn of the Dead 2004 remake.

NSFW:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?search=&mode=related&v=N3EiHfAQUsw

Simon said...

Re Big Yellow Taxi - I'm kind of fond of Amy Grant's cover of it. The intro has that immense acoustic guitar sound I love from songs like Tangerine and Whatever, songs like that. I'm a sucker for a really arresting acoustic guitar sound.

Invisible Man said...

I hear your complaint about the criticism of women singing male songs, but some material isn't that gender neutral. I don't know if my problem with Sheryl Crow singing "Sweet Child of Mine" has to do with her being a woman or just turning a rock classic into Starbucks lounge music material, but my god does that pain me.

bill said...

HA!

That album was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not the Beatles album, but rather an ill-fated effort by RSO Records to assemble Beatles covers with a cast that prominently featured RSO artists The Bee Gees. (There was supposedly a movie to which this was the soundtrack, but I've never met anybody who ever actually saw it.)

Saw the movie and own the album. And as I consider the Beatles infinitely inferior to the Who and the Kinks, I think the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton did a fine job. I also recommend the performance of Earth, Wind, and Fire and Billy Preston as Sgt. Pepper.

Revenant said...

Peter Frampton sang "The Long And Winding Road" and was joined by the Bee Gees for "Getting Better" and "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight."

Those don't actually sound inappropriate to me, especially the Bee Gees choices -- those songs are in a style I can easily see the Bee Gees doing.

bill said...

For some fun covers, I recommend checking out Space Age Pop Music. In particular, give Ride of the Valkyries as interpreted by Stan Kenton a free listen.

Patrick said...

I think the worst cover songs in pop music history can all be found on one CD. It joins together the William Shatner songs already mentioned with Leonard Nimoy's contributions to music history, including his heartwarming rendition of If I had a Hammer.

bill said...

Then there's Strange Little Girls by TOri Amos:
The album's twelve tracks were covers of songs written by men but reinterpreted by Amos from a female's point of view. Amos created female personae for each track (one song featured twins) and was photographed as each, having been made up by the late Kevyn Aucoin. Sentences accompanying the photos and songs were written by popular novelist Neil Gaiman.

My favorite track is Heart of Gold.

Simon said...

Bill - that's easily the worst Tori Amos album, IMO. Actually, that gives me an excuse to add that I heard some snippets from her forthcoming album, and they're very encouraging. Sounds good, albeit much more like SW than LE.

Drew W said...

bill: YIPES!

I guess it's only fair to ask the obvious follow-up question to someone with such knowledge of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Did you see the movie/buy the soundtrack to the nearly-as-grand Beatles-cover debacle, All This And World War II? (We're traversing some seriously bad '70s pop territory here, folks, so approach with caution.)

bill said...

Simon, worst album is a different argument than worst cover or even interesting cover. I find the whole thing an interesting experiment even though I could do without maybe half the songs. And 97 Bonnie and Clydes makes my skin crawl. I retract what I said about heart of Gold; just listened to Real Men and that's equal to Joe Jackson's original.

bill said...

drew w, you stumped me with that one. But checking the wiki Leo Sayer sings I Am The Walrus.

Let me repeat: LEO SAYER SINGS "I AM THE WALRUS."

That is musical gold. As y'all are my witness I swear I will find a copy of this.

Simon said...

Bill - I'll readily concede that it's an interesting concept, but experience has shown that not every interesting concept has made for a great concept album. ;) I know some folks who like her work enjoy that album, but to me, it's just awful. That said, though, hasn't made a genuinely great album that's enjoyable start to finish in a decade, IMO. The first half of Choirgirlwas okay, the first three tracks on TVAB, IIRC, were okay (Concertina was great, as good as anything she's ever done), and SW has some good stuff scattered throughout but it's patchy.

Peter Palladas said...

I am shaking, I am fevered. I doubt I shall be able ever again to listen to Stoned Me without hearing that horrifying dirge in my head.

Please never post such things in future.

blake said...

I've seen the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the theater. Twice.

Now, before I go curl up in the fetal position. Here are some necessary links.

William Shatner does Rocketman.

Stewie does Shatner doing Rocketman.


Richard Thompson sings "Oops! I did it again"

rtsp://real.npr.org:80/real.npr.na-central/wesun/20031116_wesun_oops.rm?v1st=C112072FF49FBA22&mt=7

Can't hotlink this one 'cause blogger doesn't like RTSP, apparently.

TMink said...

20 worst, I am not so sure. 20 really bad ones, absolutely! I like Sheryl Crowe, and would have liked GNR if they just had poisoned Axl, but Sweet Child of Mine is just sing songy drivel. When Sheryl does pop, like Soak Up the Sun, it is at least interesting and a little varied. The contrast bewteen the quirky verse and the syrup sweet chorus makes it work for me.

But to go 180 degrees off topic, one of my favorite podcasts is Coverville. Check it out from iTunes.

Trey

TMink said...

I am not unconvinced that Richard Thompson could sing the phone book and make it a wonderfully crafted pop song.

Trey

johnstodder said...

Pat Boone did a version of "Enter Sandman" by Metallica.

And on the soundtrack to Tommy, you can hear Ann-Margret singing "Go To the Mirror." That's a grand thing.

There's another kind of awfulness in the works of Barbara Streisand. Her versions of songs by Laura Nyro and Randy Newman might not be as extravagantly bad as these, but they are still horrible. She wanted so badly to be "relevant." Still does.

Jennifer said...

How is it that No Doubt's It's My Life made this list and Faith Hill's Piece Of My Heart didn't!?

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon said...

Sippican - one of my most treasured CDs is one that includes a recording the Gloucester Cathedral Choir did of The Lamb by Taverner - which is a staggeringly beautiful and delicate piece of music - and I can pick my Dad's voice out of it like he was the only one singing. There's something unique about a recording that isn't abstract, that's personal, where you have a real relationship with one of the performers.

Wade_Garrett said...

The funny thing is that, just as Cracked ran its list of the 20 worst covers of all time, The Onion A.V. Club ran a list of cover songs that were better than the original. I would have ranked the Counting Crows' cover of Big Yellow Taxi #1 on the list of worst covers. The covers by Britney Spears and Hillary Duff were soul-less and insincere, but what really made them unbearable was that, for a span of about four months, you couldn't go to a gym, shopping mall or movie theater without hearing them over and over and over again.

It occurred to me that all of the classic American standards have been covered thousands of times . . . who performed the best version of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" or "Someone To Watch Over Me?" Those are all covers, right?

I blogged a little more in depth about the list here.

Pogo said...

Damn, Sippican; funniest story ever.

I have a special fondness for earnest but wretched, sincere but awful performances. From preschool to professional, the performer's reach more often than not exceeds their grasp. The result is simultaneously funny (sometimes achingly so) and sad, something I find endearingly human.

It's the pathos of watching Chaplin films, evoking the response There but for the grace of God go I. So I am grateful for Shatner.

But then there is the truly bad. Not so-good-it's-bad, just ...evil bad. 80's hair band bad. Rod McKuen bad. Gwar, Skinny Puppy, Insane Clown Posse, Limp Bizkit, Jefferson Starship We Built This City bad.

God will not forgive us these trespasses.

Eli Blake said...

I quit reading Cracked when they got rid of 'Nanny Dickering interviews...'

That says a lot about 1. my age, 2. what appealed to me about Cracked and 3. why you never see Cracked at the grocery store anymore.

Question: Did that kid that always had a painter's cap on sideways and often was sweeping something into the trash on the cover of Cracked have a name? I mean, everyone knows who Alfred E. Neuman is, but did that Cracked kid even have a name?

Michael said...

I seem to recall that Rhino once released a Golden Throats-styled album strictly for awful Beatles covers. . . . [A]t one side of the [front cover] was also a caricature of Mark David Chapman, the guy who killed John Lennon. Beatles fans were predictably outraged by the joke, and the album was reissued with the Chapman-caricature removed.

You're confusing two different Rhino releases. The Golden Throats 4 cover art had nothing to do with Mark David Chapman. The front cover with the Chapman caricature is much older -- it appeared on a 1982 Rhino compilation called Beatlesongs!, which collected a bunch of innocuous novelty tunes about the Fab Four. A Google search will get you plenty of background on this LP.

Tim said...

Anybody want to work on a "best covers" list? I'm not sure the Amy Grant "Big Yellow Taxi" makes that list, but I think it is the best cover of that song. Of course, Joni Mitchell, worked with her on that song, even suggesting that Grant update the lyrics a bit.

But my contribution to the "best covers" list would be NIN's "Hurt" performed by Johnny Cash. It exceeds the original version, IMHO.

Timekeeper said...

Cracked magazine's cover boy was named Sylveter P. Smythe.

Worst Covers: How about "I Think We're Alone Now" by Tiffany (the original was a Tommy James and the Shondelles tune)

Nikki French's cover of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (Bonnie Tyler did a much better version in the original)

Johnny Cash's version of "Personal Jesus" is just too scary. Unlike the Shatner and Boone novelty albums, this was a "serious" recording from the same album as "Hurt".


Better covers: "Venus" by Bananarama was a tremendous improvement over the original by The Shocking Blue, although it suffered from a serious gender-inappropriateness ("Venus was his name"? I don't think so...)

The Carpenters did a nice remake of "It's Going to Take Some Time", which Carole King herself thought was better than the original. (She claimed the Carpenters version made her recording sound like a demo submission.)

Jennifer said...

For that best covers list, I'd nominate Save Ferris' Come On Eileen. I think it's better than Dexy's Midnight Runners' original and it's way better than The Clash's remake.

Tuning Spork said...

The Clash did Come On Eileen?! Get!! Out!!! When did did this happen?

Jennifer said...

Ha, well I listened to somebody's remake this morning who apparently wannabe The Clash. But, Wikipedia informs me that it is not The Clash and I am quite embarrassed. :)