Stephen is a lifelong music lover and worked as a professional DJ, operating his own DJ service in the 1980s and '90s .
We've Got That Covered...
There are a lot of cover songs out there. Pretty much every song that has ever been recorded has been covered by someone. There are bands and artists that can take another's song and make it something special, almost, or even every bit as good as the original. Sometimes even better. The White Stripes cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene", and Johnny Cash's version of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt," for example, fall into this category.
Then there are those covers that are, to be kind, slightly less than great. These are the ones that the world could have done without. The 10 songs that follow are examples of covers that fall into this category. It must be borne in mind, however, that what is good and what is bad is highly subjective, and every cover is sure to appeal to someone, even if it is just the person or group doing the covering. Music, after all, is in the ear of the beholder.
1. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - William Shatner
William Shatner is best known for his role as Captain Kirk on the original Star Trek television series. A man of questionable acting ability, he leaves no question about his singing ability with his cover of the Beatles hit "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", from his 1968 album The Transformed man: a combination of Shakespearean recitations, spoken word performances, and popular song covers. Shatner performs his rendition of Lennon and McCartney's musical masterpiece with the same painfully halting style of speech that he brought to the role of Kirk, and as terrible as it is it isn't even the worst cover song on this album.
2. Stairway to Heaven - Dolly Parton
There is no denying that Dolly Parton is a fantastic entertainer, and a legend in the country music world. In addition she is an actress, author, record producer, businessperson, and philanthropist. Dolly has a beautiful, and very recognizable singing voice, and is an accomplished musician on several instruments. In all fairness her cover of "Stairway to Heaven" is not terrible but it is somewhat comical. In this live version it is easy to tell from the inflection in her voice and her pantomime during the performance that she takes the song far too seriously, and when the song revs up and that banjo kicks in... Just the same she deserves a nod for bringing the greatness of Led Zeppelin to country music fans.
3. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Devo
What this Eighties new wave band has done to this iconic rock song is borderline criminal, from the absence of its signature riff to the techno-pop sound. If not for the lyrics it would be completely unrecognizable. Unless you are a cover band playing bars where the patrons want to hear songs played as close to the originals as possible, the idea when covering a song is for an artist or group to bring its own style to a piece, but sometimes it just does not work. This is one of those times.
4. Something - Telly Savalas
Who would have thought that Kojak could sing? well, sort off. Telly Savalas is not the first actor to take a kick at the cover song cat (see number 1), nor the worst one (again,see number 1), but something (pardon the pun) about this lollipop licking, tough guy actor taking on this Beatles' Ballad just feels wrong.
5. Hotel California - Cat Empire
Cat Empire is a ska band from Melbourne, Australia. A fusion of Calypso, American Jazz, and Rhythm and Blues, ska has a very reggae sound, and is actually a precursor to that style. Cat Empire has been very successful in this genre, and bring their considerable musical talents to their cover of this classic Eagles song, which appears on a cover album entitled Like a Version, featuring cover songs by artists who had appeared on the Mel Bampton morning show, Mel in the Morning. Though quite a shock to the system the first time you hear it it is actually not bad, and kind of grows on you. Also, it is sung in French. And is that lead melodica we hear?
6. Comfortably Numb - Scissor Sisters
This is just plain awful. What this New York-based glam rock, nu-disco, electroclash band has done with this Pink Floyd great is actually painful to listen to. During the intro one feels almost compelled to break into "Eye of the Tiger". This is quickly replaced by frightening flashbacks of Deney Terrio and Dance Fever, circa 1979. You just want to pull at your hair with both hands and rock back and forth while screaming "get out of my head" over and over. Ok, maybe its not quite that bad, but its bad, and one can not help but ask the only question that is brought to mind: WHY?
7. You've Got a Friend - Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
Set in part to the tune of the Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, a punk rock group out of San Francisco, is responsible for this punk cover of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend", and takes it from a touching balled about friendship, to a getting s**tfaced with your buddies song. Not necessarily a bad thing, though it is unlikely to bring a tear to the eye with its heart wrenching tenderness, or be covered by Kermit the Frog on Americas Got Talent.
8. Smoke on the Water - Pat Boone
Yes, you read that correctly. Pat Boone, the pop sensation from the 1950's and early 1960's covered Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water". It was actually just one track on an entire album of Metal Covers by Boone. The album, In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, recorded in 1996 and released in January of 1997, features Pat Boone with his rendition of twelve popular metal songs including Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train", and Alice Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy". In truth the entire album of Boone's Jazzy covers of these metal favorites could be included here. Though one almost wonders, or maybe just hopes, that perhaps the entire project may have been meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek.
9. Fortunate Son - U2
This cover of John Fogerty's famous anti-war anthem is proof that even the best of the best, like iconic rock legends U2, can sometimes make an error in judgement and release a really bad song.
10. My Way - Sid Vicious
What ever possessed the late Sid Vicious, former bassist for the 1970's English punk rock band the Sex Pistols, to take on this Paul Anka classic is a mystery. This beautiful ballad, made famous by crooner Frank Sinatra, about living life on one's own terms, has been covered by countless artists over the years but this cover amounts to nothing short of musical homicide. Sid Vicious was way out of his depth here, and so far out of his element he could have been on another planet. Cover songs just do not get any worse than this. Sid should have just left this song alone.
Everybody loves a bonus track, so here it is. And the nod goes, once again, to William Shatner. As mentioned in number one "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" is not the worst cover song on Shatner's album. That distinction goes to his rendition of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man". Brace yourselves.
The songs featured here are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bad cover songs. Bad covers are, in fact, fairly common. Fortunately these are far outweighed by the good, and sometimes even great, ones.
© 2017 Stephen Barnes