Bad covers an underappreciated genre

By Lindsay Carroll

Covers are a hot topic of debate in the music world. Some people love them. Other people… Covers are a hot topic of debate in the music world. Some people love them. Other people think they’re a blasphemy to original source material. Some covers generally succeed — think those of Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan songs — because the originals, though memorable and important, sound kind of bad already. And other artists, like Jeff Buckley, have completely mastered the art of the cover.

Others, however, have not.

My journey into looking for bad covers began as I crawled music blogs for new music. I found a bad-cover gem in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” What was an ’80s anthem became a painfully slow folk ballad.

And then I realized that bad covers are an under-appreciated genre. I began searching for the 10 worst covers of all time. This is by no means a comprehensive list — I left out songs that I had never previously heard, songs by random tribute bands, songs from American Idol and songs that were supposed to be funny (i.e. Alanis Morisette’s “My Humps”).

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But from these bad covers, we can learn something important about music — that a basic part of making a good song is having a deep, personal connection to the words, instrumentation and the overall message of the song.

Without those requisite elements, covers can fail miserably.

10. “Stairway to Heaven” — Dolly Parton (original: Led Zeppelin)

I’ll preface by saying that I apologize for including a Dolly Parton song on this list. Yes, I agree with you that Dolly Parton is awesome. However, as overplayed as Led Zeppelin’s version was, hearing Dolly Parton sing it is kind of hilarious. The song, released on the album “Halo & Horns” in 2002, is overly breathy, melodramatic and contains way too much voice inflection.

The harmony parts are awkward, but the instrumental parts with the guitar and violin, are beautiful — and I am impressed with how Dolly Parton croons “Oo, it makes me wonder.”

This song, admittedly, isn’t as bad as it could have been. But it gets much worse from here.

9. “Walk This Way” — Macy Gray (original: Aerosmith)

I put Macy Gray at No. 9 because I support her for trying. I still think this cover is bad, but doing a pseudo-funk version of this song is at least somewhat interesting.

This, like with the previous song, is another example of a good idea with questionable execution. It features a steady bass line, cowbell and a horn part that are predicatble and lacking in the improvisation that I would expect from a funk song.

I’ve heard plenty of people say how much they hate Macy Gray and her voice, but I’m trying to avoid criticizing artists for the qualities that make them who they are.

8. “American Pie” — Madonna (original: Don McLean)

This song reached the top of the charts when it was released in 2000, but I’m guessing it was because of its novelty and not because the song is good.

Madonna turns Don McLean’s original ballad into a whimsical pop song, completely subduing all of the political and cultural issues that McLean had hoped to highlight. The music video tries (unsuccessfully) to update those issues. Madonna’s vocals are boring and unemotional, unlike McLean’s.

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long” — Celine Dion and Anastacia (original: AC/DC)

I didn’t know who Anastacia was before I watched this video of the duo performing at “Live Divas: Las Vegas” in 2002, but I have never seen someone wear a more stereotypically early-2000s outfit than her.

Not only is the idea that this cover exists hilarious, but the video is also hilarious, as I’m sure you can imagine. I’m certainly not saying that Celine Dion doesn’t have talent — I don’t know who I would rather have sing “My Heart Will Go On” or “Because You Loved Me” — but perhaps I’m not being unreasonable when I say that covering AC/DC is a stretch for her.

6. “Take My Breath Away” — Jessica Simpson (original: Berlin)

Only Jessica Simpson could have made this ’80s love song cheesier.

And only Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson performing the song live on Oprah — on Oprah’s Valentine’s Day show, “Oprah’s Most Romantic Man Search,” because it’s the song they reportedly were listening to when they kissed for the first time — could be any cheesier than Jessica Simpson’s solo version.

I suggest you listen to the Oprah version — which can be found on YouTube — for the full effect.

So far, I have learned that overly emotional versions of songs generally go bad. This is a tragedy, because I think Jessica Simpson has an underrated (and perhaps, under-utilized) voice overall.

5. “Folsom Prison Blues” — Everlast (original: Johnny Cash)

Everlast makes blues music for Kid Rock fans. But this song is a disaster.

The music video, complete with an Everlast-Johnny Cash montage, is also a disaster. It also makes it seem like Everlast is playing to sold-out crowds.

I’m not completely averse to artists sampling beats from rap songs with one of the country’s most famous anthems — in principal. But Everlast, certainly, is not the artist with the creativity to accomplish this successfully.

4. “Dancing in the Dark” — Mary Chapin Carpenter (original: Bruce Springsteen)

The song that inspired my research only makes it to No. 4 on this list. When I first found it listed on the music blog “Star Maker Machine,” I couldn’t stop laughing.

I love folk music, but I also love Bruce Springsteen. This song makes me especially sad, simply because it could have been done so much better.

A friend told me that no female could cover “Dancing in the Dark.” That’s not true. Tegan & Sara did it, and their version was successful because it was cute, creative and fresh.

Mary Chapin Carpenter is a talented artist who can perform both folk and country music, but when I listened to this I just couldn’t stop laughing. Yes, Mary, Springsteen’s tempo of this might mask that it’s actually a very sad song, but there’s no need to make it wispy, overly emotionally affected and exhaustingly slow. This song lasts for more than six minutes.

3. “Dock of a Bay” — Michael Bolton (original: Otis Redding)

I hate Michael Bolton for doing this. It’s painful. I literally cringe when I hear him attempt to sing with the level of emotion that Otis Redding has in his songs.

This truly must be music’s worst nightmare. And Michael Bolton attacked other beautiful songs and penetrated them with his shaggy cheesiness — for instance, he also covered Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

Worst of all, the idea of Michael Bolton covering this seems completely ingenuine. Making this song into a glamorous ’90s power ballad is incredibly sad, and my sentiment is consummated by the music video, which features Michael Bolton singing in a foggy shack of sorts with a shirtless wind instrument player.

2. “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” — Nickelback (original: Elton John)

This is a cheap shot, because I knew anything Nickelback covered would be horrendous. In fact, I didn’t even find Nickelback covers until I told my friend Erik about my project and he suggested looking for them.

“Anything by them,” he said. “Anything.”

And he’s right. This is the most egregious example of their handful of covers (apparently at one concert, the band also covered OneRepublic’s “Stop and Stare,” which is strange). Chad Krueger uses gravelly yelling, as always. And then there is his triumphant yelling of “Saturday! Saturday! Saturday!” It’s horrific.

The biggest problem I have with this song is that somehow, Nickelback manages to make this song sound exactly like all of their other songs (even that one with the Latin rhythm).

So here’s to Nickelback, for completely defeating the purpose of the cover.

God, I can’t listen to this anymore.

1. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” — Britney Spears (original: Rolling Stones)

Who allowed this to happen? I remember owning Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again” album when I was a chubby preteen, but I don’t remember this song. I doubt I knew who the Rolling Stones were back then. The song opens with a slow prelude of the song’s chorus. Spears’ breathy, desperate voice ruins the effect of the song.

It gets worse when the song breaks into a ’90s dance beat, complete with record scratches and synthesizer sound effects. Plus, she replaces some of the lyrics. Instead of that man telling Mick Jagger how white his shirts could be while he’s watching TV, we have “that girl” telling Britney Spears how tight her skirt could be.

I think Britney Spears already knows the answer to that question.

I didn’t include “Behind Blue Eyes” by Limp Bizkit because it terrorized me when it was released in 2003. For years, I couldn’t listen to music by The Who. Jack Ingram’s “Lips of Angel” cover is also not on the list. Not because it isn’t bad. I’m just not sure if Hinder’s version is actually any better.

And finally, but most gloriously, I also left out William Shatner’s “Rocket Man,” which my friend Oliver Bateman over at “The Moustache Column of America” sent to me. It’s definitely bad, but it’s awesomely bad, and who doesn’t think William Shatner is somewhat mesmerizing? Needless to say, it’s a video you need to see for yourself to understand.