I really had to restrain myself from including six or seven exclamation points after that title because really, there are so many truly abominable remakes out there that it's hard not to get rather worked up about it. How can I limit myself to just 15?
But because of the vast quantities of potential candidates there are a few rules here: 1) the group/singer has to be at least relatively well-known with a top-40 song to their credit. I'm very partial to overly-exposed female pop singers such as Jessica Simpson and Lindsey Lohan. 2) it has to be a serious attempt to remake the song, none of this "Tiny Tim sings Sonny and Cher" garbage (and I swear that's not made up). That's just too darn easy, it's shooting fish in a barrel and 3) it has to be a song that is inherently great enough to create a certain level of expectation in the audience. I mean go ahead and remake any song by Paris Hilton, whose going to really care?
In case you're wondering I do have a list of the best cover songs just to, you know, show that I can be kind as well as ruthless.
On with the songs.
1. Britney Spears "I Love Rock and Roll"
Now what really chaps my cookies here isn't so much Ms. Spears' persona, her crazy parenting, her apparent desire to make sure we all know what her stomach looks like or even her complete inability to sing without that helium-induced flagellation of hers--no, what really gets me with this song is the fact that Britney Spears has never ever ever sung rock and roll.
She loves rock and roll? The pop tart queen? Really? Nice try but not likely.
2. Joan Jett "Crimson and Clover"
And I mention this just to show that what goes around comes around. While Joan Jett and the Blackhearts recorded "I Love Rock and Roll" (and here I should take a slight musical detour to mention that it was first recorded by The Arrows in the 70s, then sadly recorded by Jett and some other guy--I forget who--who then finally got her act together and recorded it in style in 1982 with her band the Blackhearts finally showing us how a proper cover is to be done).
Where was I? Oh yes, they gave us this beauty of a song (despite the efforts of Crazy Brit to ruin it: see #1 on list) and those crazy Blackhearts really should have stuck to what they knew best. That is (in case they're unsure) rock and roll.
Not mellow-tripped-out-60s-psychedelic songs like "Crimson and Clover." It's really more suited to Tommy James who originally sung it to chart-topping success in 1968 or 1969. Not that I liked it in it's original form anyway, I would have thought that a re-recording could only improve on this dismal ballad. I was wrong.
3. Elvis Presley "Hey Jude"
In case you were wondering this song marks the point in Elvis' career where he officially and completely "jumped the shark." I would assume his decision to preform this song could be used as evidence in a court of law that he was, in fact, mired in addictions and had lost touch with reality.
"Hey Jude" is so perfect, so exquisite, that even Elvis Himself couldn't touch it and one would have thought that at this point in his career he would have realized that. When you listen to the King's recording not only is it lacking the depth and resonance of Lennon and McCartney's magnum opus but it highlights the toll life was taking on The King of Rock and Roll. He should have just quit after "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You." It was all downhill from there. All kidding aside it's kind of sad if you think about it.
4. Jon Bon Jovi "Respect"
Yup, you read that right. It's one thing to be Elvis Presley and think you can take on a Beatles song. It's completely another to be a long-haired 80s rocker and dare something so bold. One can only assume that this cowboy's steel horse wasn't enough of a thrill and he decided to get in touch with his African American-feminine side when he tried to channel the undisputed Queen of Soul. You know, what cracks me up with this list is the sheer audacity of these singers to think that they can touch what has already achieved perfection.
Seriously--can you think of a song that has been more uniquely and perfectly performed to the point that to even contemplate touching it is pretty much sacrilege? I mean if someone were to even suggest you record "Respect" you just bow, you don't actually start singing.
5. Aerosmith "Come Together"
Have I made it clear yet how I feel about Beatles covers? In case I haven't been firm enough the rule is easy: Don't ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever try to record a Beatles song. It's like re-writing Shakespeare or telling Mozart he missed a few notes. Got it? Well, unless we're talking some of Ringo's songs--a couple of those could use some tweaking here and there.
In fact if you watched American Idol last season and they had two consecutive Beatles nights where the contestants attempted songs from the Fab Four and the best that could be said of any of the performances was that they were "okay ." None could compare with the originals, the best they could hope for was to choose a song that was suited for their voice and then not sing it in such a way as to irritate people enough to get them kicked off the show.
Steve Tyler doesn't really sing anyway, he just kind of shrieks, and while "Come Together" isn't one of the more melodious Beatles songs I can tell Mr. Tyler right now that the only Beatles line he should ever consider singing would be the long shriek at the beginning of "Back in the U.S.S.R." He could do that. And nothing more.
6. Marilyn Manson "Sweet Dreams"
This isn't too fair, Marilyn scares me worse than being chased by a pack of hungry wolves while my pockets are filled with rib-eye steaks. If you look up "daemonic" in the dictionary there's a little picture of him. As a baby. An adult picture would be too terrifying to print.
So it's not a stretch for him to take this classic 1982 Eurythmics' song and twist it into something truly terrifying. Big surprise there. I believe the word for the occasion is: D'uh!
7. Sheryl Crowe "Sweet Child of Mine" and "The First Cut Is the Deepest"
Yes, Ms. Crowe gets double billing at number seven on this list. An interesting thing actually, I was just saying to Andrew the other day that Sheryl Crowe is a mystery to me. I mean, she's quite the rocker, looks great in her jeans, plays the guitar like a pro, is very pretty, dresses pretty slick and in all ways really should be very, very cool. I actually saw her on the red carpet at the Glamour Reel Moments premier last October and she looked amazing.
So why can't she sing a decent song?? The only--and I repeat only--song she has that I like is "Real Gone" which is good but the rest are silly, silly things that tend to annoy despite her capable voice.
"The First Cut Is the Deepest" is an old Cat Stevens' classic which, if you haven't heard you really must go listen to it immediately. Of course I really like Cat Stevens and could go on and on about his tunes but I will refrain. (Ha! What a pun for a music list--get it? Refrain?)
As for "Sweet Child of Mine" while Axel Rose is really a harpy in leather pants and his voice can send me into convulsions of pain Sheryl Crowe's version is creepier still. When he says "sweet child of miiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeiiiiiiiieeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiinnn" he's not really talking about a baby. This isn't a lullaby Sheryl, sorry. Here's a live version she did that isn't so acoustic and lullaby-ish but she sounds pretty off.
8. Tia Carrera "Ballroom Blitz"
This is a song that while originally sung in a falsetto should never be attempted by a female. It's just to forward-driven, too frenzied, too . . . I don't know . . . NOT Tia Carrera despite how she makes me think of Bruce Lee. Sweet's version is a classic and a favorite but this one just makes you think "angry female doing roundhouse kicks" and doesn't satisfy. The tones fall flat, the notes are lost in the percussion and it's just one big smashed-up, bubbling-over-onto-the-stove stew of noise.
Not what you'd call pleasant. I feel like I'm being yelled at for not doing my chores or something.
9. Madonna "American Pie" or the Brady Bunch version, take your pick
I'd actually rate the Brady Bunch's version slightly higher than Madonna's, that's how bad hers is. I'm not sure why the world's favorite, over FIFTY (holy cow!), Anglophile who's been reported to adopt an affected British accent decided that it was time to don a tiara and Wranglers to show people how "American" she is.
I mean I know it's supposed to be ironic but there's a point where the irony is so fat and buttery that it crosses the line and becomes just gross and ridiculous. This version is poppish, maudlin and narcissistic at best while losing all the poignancy of the original amid the massive body gyrations and repeated running of hands over self. Yuck. The video can be found here--if you dare.
Originally a 1971 Don McLean hit, I never much liked the song but just because I didn't like the original doesn't mean I can stand by placidly while someone butchers a perfectly decent ballad. I mean I don't like terrorists or PETA but I wouldn't sit by and clap while they were being tortured to death, right?
10. UB40 and pretty much all of their songs
They probably have an original song in there somewhere but I'm apathetic enough to refuse to look it up.
"Red, Red Wine," originally a Neil Diamond hit, dissolved into a rather coarse Jamaican rum, "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" turns me off and makes me long for the good old days when Elvis didn't make nasty Beatles covers and "I've Got You Babe" makes me utter the words I never thought possible: "Sonny and Cher were better."
According to Wikipedia (see I did bother to look something up!) UB40 refers to the UK's Unemployment Benefits Form 40, the form used for claiming unemployment benefits. Boy if that isn't irony for you I don't know what is. I think this British Reggae band (just typing that oxymoron makes me chuckle) has been using that form since the mid-90s.
11. Jim Carrey "I Am the Walrus"
Throwing this in just for the laughs and although Carrey doesn't have a top-40 song on his resume at one time this man was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. Now people are paying him NOT to sing. I won't rant anymore about people taking on heavyweights such as the Beatles because honestly? I don't know what song I'd suggest in its place for Mr. Carrey. I'm completely and totally without a clue in that department.
If you'd like to know what happens when Ace Ventura meets yellow matted custard just click on the YouTube video here. I double-dog dare you.
12. Puff Daddy "I'll Be Missing You"
All that stuff I said, ranting about how one should never remake Beatles' songs? Ditto that for "Every Breath You Take" by Sting. And a few U2 classics, and "Satisfaction" and most of Simon and Garfunkle's hits. Just avoid them altogether. If you're going to remake something, pick one that can only be improved. Like "Toxic" (which, ironically enough now that I think about it has been remade by Yael Naim with not unpleasant results).
The base riffs at the beginning are just the same as the original (which makes you ask "what's the point?") then it diverges into pure puffiness until it's just a dumbed-down half rap/half ballad that is not only pure evil but enough to make me think that maybe they should license that song. You know, set up some kind of government regulatory agency to require that you have to get a license in order to publicly sing it anywhere outside of one's car or one's shower? That would be a better way to invest those federal bailout dollars. Protecting the world from Puff Daddy.
13. William Shatner "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" or "Rocketman" or ANYTHING
I didn't know William Shatner could sing. Wait. Let me rephrase that . . . I didn't know William Shatner had remade classic songs into Gregorian chants.
It's odd because you hear it at first and you think, "Okay, he's joking . . ." then you pause and you worry, "Right? Tell me he's joking . . . please?"
In fact I'm not entirely sure it's not a joke--and the disturbing thing is (and I hope you're sitting down) Captain Kirk isn't the only Star Trekkian to have made an album. Believe it or not Mr. Spock has joined him in his Grammy campaign and I understand Kirk's been successful enough to push Spock into second place in the bid for the T.V. Characters You Never Want to Hear Sing Award. (Nod to Brady Bunch).
14. Celine Dion "You Shook Me All Night Long"
As artistically bad as William Shatner is, this one takes the cake. I can say without a doubt that this is absolutely the WORST cover ever made, crossing the line from ridiculous to so painful I'd consider any amount of torture preferable to listening to this. From the bizarre costumes, to the wanna-be-AC/DC-one-legged moves to Xena, Warrior Princess who joins in for a wildly androgynous duet it is jaw-dropping awful from beginning to end (are these women singing to each other for heaven's sake??)
At one point the video cuts to a close up of a member of the band and you can't help but wonder if that poor musician is at that moment thinking, "At what point in my life did I sink to this level? I never should have left back-up for Jessica Simpson."
If you like Celine Dion this will make you rethink your feelings, if you hate Celine Dion it will prove quite vindicating. Regardless, I can only think that AC/DC is rolling in the aisles and laughing all the way to the bank because I bet she paid big bucks for the privilege of massacring that classic. I least I hope it cost her something.
Maybe the U.S. ought to look into pulling her VISA.
15. Oh, and as a non-qualifying bonus I'm including this clip of some anonymous guys at a state fair singing "The Final Countdown." Not being a well-known group they didn't fulfill the requirements for making it on the list (who can compete with Celine after all?) but nonetheless they're quite brave for appearing in public and they answer the question: "What happens when guys from Tijuana try dead 80s metal tunes?"