music / Columns

The 8 Ball 01.16.12: The 24 Worst Cover Songs Of All Time, #16 – #9

February 20, 2012 | Posted by Wyatt E.

Whattado, everybody!

I had to make a tricky decision this week, because I came across THIS:

Now, look. MC Hammer is kind of a tool. He’s to rap music what the Ultimate Warrior was to wrestling: had a lot of flash and fanfare in the late 80s and early 90s only to have it slowly dissipate because he wasn’t really good at what he was doing. He devalued rap music by making it more reliant on samples than on any originality, which was thankfully made moot with the rise of gangsta rap. (He’s a good dancer, though!) But I can’t include any of his songs, much less this one, because it’s not a cover. He changed much of the lyrics. He didn’t change them to anything good, but he did do just enough to make this a semi-cover at most. He escapes this list just by a technicality.

So why did I make mention of it? Two reasons. One: Spite. And two: samples don’t count as covers. Yes, people will flaunt samples prominently just to make up for the fact that they can’t be bothered to come up with a hook of their own, and I’m looking at you, Flo Rida, you big herpes sore on the vagina of life. Maybe this is a column for another day.

All right, it’s business time.

The 8 Ball

This Week’s Topic: The 24 Worst Cover Songs Of All Time, #16-#9.

The list so far:

24: “Heroin” by Billy Idol (originally by the Velvet Underground)
23: “I Walk The Line” by Leonard Nimoy (originally by Johnny Cash)
22: Everything from the Sgt. Pepper movie (originally by the Beatles)
21: “Taxman” by Rockwell (originally by the Beatles)
20: “Soul Power” by the Smashing Pumpkins (originally by James Brown)
19: “Stronger” by 30 Seconds To Mars (originally by Kanye West)
18: “Purple Haze” by the Cure (originally by Jimi Hendrix)
17: “Relax” by Powerman 5000 (originally by Frankie Goes To Hollywood)

PULL DE STRINK!!!

16. Anything by Dev2.0 (originally by Devo).

Anyone blocked this from their memory yet? So several years ago, Devo, who in their time were among the best social commentators music had to offer, had the BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRILLIANT idea to donate their songs to a band of children. Yep, Devo collaborated with Disney and unleashed a sanitized, cleaned-up, G-rated version of their music, which was originally filled with dark humor, surrealist imagery, and social commentary so snide it approached nihilism.

There’s something about this whole thing that just feels… wrong. I mean, I know it’s Devo, and the whole thing was probably a really funny idea they thought up when high or something, but did they really think this was going to work? I mean, the songs are structured in a more complex manner than the spoon-feed-us-we-aren’t-ready-to-take-music-seriously crowd that Disney courts. Furthermore, the Devo-tees that’ve grown up all this time with the ninnies and the twits were considerably less than pleased to see their heroes give their music over to the lowest common denominator (that’s Disney!). The real slap in the face for Spuds was the changing of the lyrics, which lessened the impact of the songs. In “Girl U Want,” “I’m a boy with a gun” became “I’m a girl having fun.” In “Beautiful World,” “It’s a beautiful world, for you / It’s not for me” became “It’s a beautiful world, for you / I guess me too.” Are you cringing yet?

15. “Sympathy For The Devil” – Guns N’ Roses (originally by the Rolling Stones).

I have a co-worker that will defend Guns N’ Roses’ to the death. So don’t tell him I said this. This. Cover. Sucks. There are a multitude of reasons I don’t favor Guns N’ Roses as much as most other 1980s rock fans, not the least of which is Axl’s tolerate-it-for-ten-minutes-before-I-get-a-migraine vocals (and I thought Billy Corgan was nasal, jesus christ) but I do think the band was capable of great things on record. This was not one of them. This was not, by the way, from their covers album, The Spaghetti Incident.

Ugh. Terrible. They slow the tempo to the point that the song loses its vitality. The “OWs” sound forced. The spoken-word approach to the verses is just aesthetically bad. Actually, to be frank, this whole song is really, really ill-suited to Axl to begin with. Slash’s solo in the middle is pretty sick, but it does little to save this whole mess. I’ll put it bluntly: there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to listen to this over the Stones’ original, which is one of the best damn songs they ever did. Of note, Axl brought in a new rhythm guitarist to guest on the track, Paul Huge (what a great rock & roll name) whom Slash didn’t think was up to snuff, and when arguments resulted, Slash soon quit the band, followed by Matt Sorum and Duff McKagen. That’s right, this recording was such a bad idea it turned Guns N’ Roses into the bastardized lineup you see today.

14. “Long Tall Sally” – Pat Boone (originally by Little Richard).

No, there’s nothing here from Pat’s infamous big band album made entirely of heavy metal covers. At least that was a joke. There’s nothing funny about this. You see, often in the music business, it’s seemed like there’s been an effort by industry bigwigs to swim against changing tides (the last Ten Deep column is about Album Of The Year awards signaling this resistance). By listening to Pat Boone’s early material, it was obviously an effort by someone high up to make rock and roll music safe for more conservative people. I guess some things never change.

When Little Richard sang “Long Tall Sally,” it was like much of his early material: he seemed like he was shouting out a revolution. There’s a new sound in town, he seemed to say, and a new spirit, and a new attitude, and I’m just the man to show you all of that. When Pat Boone sang “Long Tall Sally,” it was like someone came to Little Richard’s desk and said “Mm. Yeah. We’re gonna have to whiten this up about 50-75%, and if you could just sort of send this song off to Mr. Boone, mmkay, that’d be great.”

So anyway, this song is laughable. Imagine the Jonas Brothers covering NOFX. Better yet, don’t. I don’t want them getting any ideas.

13. “I Saw Him Standing There” – Tiffany (originally by the Beatles).

Boy, the Beatles sure pop up a lot on this list. Probably because botching a Beatles cover is like shooting fish in a barrel. Anyway, here’s a spectacular example. Ahem. Tiffany? Sweetie? I’m not saying this was incredibly ill-conceived, but did you eat a lot of paste when you were little by any chance? I thought the previous entry was corny, but goddamn. And I’m not sure but I think the bassline rips off “Breakthru” by Queen. Argh, bitch, whine, grr.

I think I need to borrow the White-O-Meter from the Nostalgia Critic. God, is this ever white. This is a particularly lighter shade of white. This is a real achievement in whiteness. Look at that video. Not only do we have Tiffany – who’s voguing, no less – inspiring a crowd of thousands 80 or 90 people to… uh… create sort of an outline of what dancing is supposed to look like, but we have this sort of faux-rock arrangement highlighted by a country-sounding guitar lick. Did someone in Tiffany’s camp just decide to make the whitest song ever recorded? And why drag a Beatles song into that mission?? Not that Tiffany can’t sing – actually, for a teenager, she was quite good – but she sounds like such a dweeb when she tries to give a note some grit. This is probably the single dorkiest cover on the whole list. Well…. so far, anyway.

OWW!!!

12. “The KKK Took My Baby Away” – Marilyn Manson (originally by the Ramones).

For Marilyn Manson, covers are an effort by him to expose the depravity behind long-heralded lyrics (with the exception of his cover of “Rock & Roll Nigger” by Patti Smith, which was obviously meant to empathize with the original intent of the song). With “Sweet Dreams” and such, he turned the interpretation inside out, and attempted to do the same for a Ramones song, found on one of their numerous tribute albums. If there’s any band that deserves tribute albums, it’s the Ramones.

Manson blew this one badly. It’s the worst cover of the Ramones I’ve ever heard, and there’s been a hell of a lot of Ramones covers. The song was already dark enough, any further attempts to darken the proceedings would just cross the line from bleak to excessive melodrama. The vocal is awful, even for Marilyn Manson who never had the best voice in the world. The creepy waltz arrangement doesn’t sound right at all. What a mess.

11. Everything from Superstar USA.

In case you ever feel like maybe, just maybe, despite what the cynics say, most humans do have a sense of decency, well, this entry ought to kill that ridiculous notion in a jiffy. Some executive, somewhere in an underground bunker surrounded by dark shadowy figures, proposed the sick, demented idea to make a parody of American Idol where they advanced the bad singers instead of the good ones, and then air the unfortunate result on the WB Network. And so it came to pass that Superstar USA was born. Y’know, call me crazy (“YOU’RE CRAZY!!!”) but while you’d have to pay me good money to sit through a single hour of that Idol stuff, I was there with bells on to see Superstar USA (like I always say, there’s something to be said for a good novelty). Among the unfortunate judges for this landmark event? None other than Vitamin C and Tone Loc. If you’re asking “who are they?” well that should tell you how successful this was.

So much crap, I’m not sure where to start. They found bad vocalists of all walks of life, whether horrendously flat or so far off-key they practically invented notes that didn’t even exist before. There were enough bad covers of classic pop songs to fill up 20 karaoke nights and a William Hung record (oh, we’ll get to him later). The “winner” was Jamie Foss, a big-busted blonde bombshell who sang way, way out of her limited range, and she won because….. well, she had huge tits. Among her amazing feats were covers of “Respect” (yes, that “Respect”), “My Heart Will Go On,” “Like A Virgin” and “Time Of My Life” with fellow contestant Mario Rodgers (poor, poor Mario). Her prize was, I believe, $50,000 and a recording contract for one album, which was never even released. Probably because everyone and their mother figured out by the finale what a horrible idea this was.

10. Pretty much every cover that has ever been done by the Countdown Singers.

You know those really generic, gaudy-looking CDs they sell in truck stops or bargain bins at Wal-Mart? The ones that show a bunch of hits but never really mention the original artists? Well, most of those are by the Countdown Singers, aka the Starlite Singers and a bunch of other stupid names. You ever sit down and listen to one of those things? You ever honestly set aside time to endure what these people have to offer? It’s nasty. It’s like eating dollar store chocolate – if you hadn’t been so cheap, you would’ve gotten the good stuff instead of a bad taste in your mouth.

So, uh, yeah, lots of this is really embarrassing, with cheap production and undistinguished singing. I really doubt any of these albums are worth buying. I remember one of them took a crack at “When Doves Cry.” It was the single worst Prince impression I’ve ever heard. I’m amazed Prince has gotten out of having Weird Al parody his music but he let that go.

9. “American Pie” – Madonna (originally Don McLean).

I realize what a slap in the face it must be to put this song after the Countdown Singers, and I realize that because it is. Note: I almost gave this to her rendition of “Fever” which is also horrid. Madge has only done one particularly good cover, and that’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.”

Gee, I dunno. I’m not making a value judgement here or anything, as I’m sure a master craftswoman like Madonna surely knows what she’s doing at all times. But when you have Madonna covering a song about pop culture from years gone by, as well as the deaths of musicians that represented the youth of the 1950s, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s…….. oh, I dunno…… a little… disingenuous?

What a stupid idea. This is the Material Girl. The woman that emerged out of the plastic world of the 80s, celebrated it in all its glitzy, glamorous glory, and is pretty much single-handedly responsible for pop music’s increased focus on image. (That’s my wacky theory. The entire tabloid approach to pop music roots back to the rise of Madonna. Devolution is real!) Speaking from a marketing point of view, which has always been her modus operandi, this isn’t something that will resonate with her fans, nor will it convert the non-believers or rock fans, who probably retched when they heard this. I’m not saying that she couldn’t have made this work, but it doesn’t. The slow beginning sounds good, but when the perky drum machine starts up, things start sounding… unnatural. The loopy synths and ghostly reverb could work if it was a typical Madonna song, but when she sings about drivin’ her Chevy to the levee, it just feels like a bad joke.

Shameless Plugs

I’m on Twitter.

Oh, and if you’re actually gonna go to that trouble, you should prob’ly follow 411mania itself.

Jeremy Thomas does the 8 Ball in the Movies/TV section…

…while Ryan Byers does his 8 Ball for the Wrestling section.

Colin Mochrie’s Q&A session on Reddit. Well, wasn’t this random!

Thanks for reading. Well, I’ll see you guys later.

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article topics

The 8 Ball (Music), Wyatt E.


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