Let’s start this post off on a positive note. There are a lot of good cover songs out there. The formula for creating a good cover song is simple. Take the original song, transform it minimally, and voila, recycled music. If you look at some of the greatest covers ever, you come up with a list of artists who covered other artists within the realm of a similar genre. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, but with said exceptions the cover artist is usually quite talented (i.e. Johnny Cash covering NIN’s ”Hurt”) and the song itself can be stripped to its bare bones and sound good (i.e. Johnny Cash covering NIN’s ”Hurt”). Or, on the other hand, a song already bare, with let’s say solo acoustic backing, can be spruced up a bit and made into a fuller, more extraordinary piece (i.e. “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, from Bob Dylan).
With covers, though, one thing generally remains essential. The performer covering the song is not only talented, but also a multi-faceted artist. One-trick ponies perform miserable covers. So, when, for example, a screechy rock band covers a folk artist (see below) or a voluptuous country star covers a rock band (Dolly Parton doing “Stairway to Heaven”), things can go bad. And like spoiled milk, when a cover goes bad, it’s really bad.
And, despite the fact that most bands have been guilty of it (see song two sentences ago), we are not talking about musicians who steal music and rearrange it because of creative laziness, musical greed, or unconscious “My Sweet Lord” moments (sorry George). That’s not a cover. That’s theft.
With this all in mind, I am going to provide you with five examples of vomit-inducing music covers, and I want you to tell me what is the worst cover of all time. Are there other awful covers? Yes. Many. Including some truly miserable Miley Cyrus “inspiration” covers that includes one of “Smells like Teen Spirit” which is mind-blowingly terrible, but I am going to let that sit there and age a bit before we conclude whether that was just a bad joke. If you like a cover song on this list, I apologize for verbally defecating on a song you enjoy. This is clearly just my (and many other’s) opinion. But I urge you, tell me why the cover is good. Seriously, because I think it is awful and destroys the original. A full list of the songs with some unflattering descriptions is below the poll jump. Read and vote! What’s the worst?
Britney Spears (The Rolling Stones) – “Satisfaction”
You know, for the first 30 seconds of the song it isn’t that bad. Remember, we are talking historically bad here so not that bad is still awful. There just isn’t much there. In a way, it seems like she is going to turn the song into one of her modern-day libidinous sex-slave pieces that paint her out like she is a voracious nymphomaniac. And then the song passes the 30 second mark and, well, listen. Why? Britney? Why? Did Mick Jagger insult you? The cover eliminates Keith Richards’ uber-famous riff and turns the famous rock song into a pop debacle that is not even good for Britney Spears standards. Have you stopped listening yet? The song somehow is more than four minutes long. I’ll never know how it ends.
Madonna (Don McLean) – “American Pie”
Madonna and Don McLean go together like Cheerios and jalapeno peppers – they don’t – yet the pop diva with the hilariously fake British accent decided to take on this American classic. By take on, I mean burn. In a similar manner to Spears’ awful cover of “Satisfaction,” Madonna’s “American Pie” starts off decently, with only a slight echo effect on her voice. And then, what the hell is that synth. Look, I totally understand changing up a song, and you don’t have to sit down with only an acoustic guitar and bang out the entire hit, but a synth only makes a song that deserves so much more sound like an 80′s sunshine track mixed with creepy Eiffel 65-like echoes and monotone Madonna plugging away at only one damn verse and the beginning and ending. I guess we should be thanking the Kabbalah that she didn’t record anymore of this washed-down piece of a junk cover.
Limp Bizkit (The Who) – “Behind Blue Eyes”
This one is more difficult to hate on at first, because Limp Bizkit doesn’t ruin it until later. The song is one of the Who’s most raw works, and the initial shock that Limp Bizkit, who, if you remember correctly, told us to shove a cookie up our collective yeah, would actually cover a serious song is odd enough. But initially the song is quite stripped down and actually halfway okay. It’s not a great cover. The vocals are nothing special. Vocal effects make it sound better, but, hey, everyone does that now’a'days. And then 2:30 comes along and you just shake your head at what the hell the band was thinking when they decided to put a robotic voice over an eerie whistle. They actually destroyed their already pretty bad cover.
Guns N’ Roses (Bob Dylan) – “Knockin on Heaven’s Door”
Guns N’ Roses’ cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” comes to us with more than eight million views on YouTube and more than 30,000 likes. Statistics like that make me question my faith in our population of music listeners. I’ve talked about why Guns N’ Roses’ cover of Dylan is overproduced garbage in the past. Allow me to copy and paste my thoughts on this from an article I wrote that you can view here.
“In 1987, the prototypical hair metal band decided they would start using it in their live sets. The song was then poisoned by the melodramatic, hyperbolic fingers of Axl Rose and a song loved for its downtrodden seriousness became the toy of unnecessary and cocky bedizenment. Guns & Roses destroyed a perfectly good song. Rose’s horrendous voice is so drawn out and fake it kills the song’s wonderment. “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is somber. Guns & Roses’ version is an arena rock hugger-mugger that is vomit inducing.”
Shakira (AC/DC) - “Back in Black”
Shakira’s ”Back in Black” is one of the worst things I’ve ever heard. There, I said it. She gyrates her way to an over-indulgent, incomprehensible, sheep-like, faux-jazz to power rock anthemic version of AC/DC’s hit. Now, don’t get me wrong, AC/DC was every bit difficult to understand, but their rock saturated original is purposeful. Shakira sounds like she just took seven shots and got up on a stand-up table at a bar/grill to sing and dance without music while her poor friends stare on in pain. Well, there goes Shakira again – someone should probably tell her to stop stepping on the nachos. And every time she sings black she sounds like a lamb out to slaughter. Stop it. Stop putting on the fake quiver in your voice. Your vibrato sounds like a farm animal. If she is back in black, I want to be as far away from her as humanly possible.
Have any other horrible covers in mind? Let us know about them in the comment section!