Cover versions of iconic rock songs are notoriously hard to pull off. There are just too many obsessed freaks out there and full-time stalkers, waitin' for an excuse to hate. And when your cover of a great song sucks massively, those nutjobs are gonna be gunnin' for ya. That said, when fools rush in and drain every last drop of goodness out of something beautiful and vibrant, maybe they deserve a little soilage in the reputation department.
Not all covers are bad; when you hear Nirvana's version of "The Man Who Sold the World", or Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower", you're know you're in the presence of greatness. But once in a while you hear a great song that's gone all to hell. The reason? Talentless hacks. Let's take a morbid look at these useless pieces of musical crud.
1. Hilary Duff's "My Generation". If you took James Dean, removed his stylish red Harrington jacket, jeans and boots, dyed his hair pink and dressed him in a full-body, cheap velvet sweatsuit with a giant picture of Tweety Bird on, you'd almost have what happened to this song under Hilary's direction. Almost.
Hilary Duff's version of this iconic Who single had grizzled ex-mods (and indeed rockers) shrieking in their sleep disbelievingly. Duff's mis-translation of the youth rebel song left a talentless hack stain all over it that no amount of aural or lyrical bleaching will ever completely cleanse. She is certainly no Keith Moon; Keith would have left a quite different stain, as we all know. Maybe today's kids have different heroes with different agendas. Or simply agendas, period. The infamous line from "My Generation" that provoked an entire er, generation to live fast and die young, was flipped 180-degrees in the opposite direction by Duff, as she turned the song into the total antithesis of what it's supposed to be. Whatever next? People clamoring to watch Katy Perry destroy The Doors' "Break on Through"?! Imagine Roger Daltry sitting in some neon vinyl booth with a couple of groupies on each arm, suddenly smacking himself on the forehead and saying, "What the heck am I doin'?! I'm wastin' me life away, partyin' here with these beautiful birds! I hope I DON'T die before I get old. S'cuse me luvs, gotta run, find a real job an' settle down!"
The irony here, of course, is that Roger Daltrey is almost three hundred years old and still alive, but we'll conveniently ignore that.
2. U2's "All Along the Watchtower". Imagine taking a living, bubbling, technicolor wellspring of energy and stopping it up at the source with cow dung and dog drool, until only a brown, stinky trickle can be discerned. That's better than U2's pitiful attempt at Dylan's "Watchtower". And I'm not joking, so you can take that look off your face.
Old rockers never die (though some look like they already did), which brings us to the cadaverous Bob Dylan, AKA Robert Zimmerman. Dylan's influence is perhaps the biggest in popular music, and his contributions to new forms like Rap and electro-folk are truly immeasurable. Unfortunately there are always misguided fools who think they can turn their hand to a faux Dylan live performance with disastrous consequences. Some people call U2 the greatest band in the world, but then again some people believe in alien UFO bases in Antarctica*. U2 are the guys who pester their broke fans to donate their hard-earned cash to every charity under the sun, while they move all their money to a tax haven in the midst of global recession, leaving their beloved Ireland to sink like a crippled ocean liner. Their cover version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" was, to put it bluntly, very bad. Anyone with half a brain wouldn't, couldn't, endorse this version of a song made famous by Dylan and immortalized by guitar god Jimi Hendrix.
All in all, it's probably best to know your limitations, as Dirty Harry once said. It could prevent a great deal of embarrassment.
3. Weezer's "I'm a Believer". You cool young thangs are gonna hate me for this, but when you cover a song by what is essentially a joke band and your cover is worse than the joke band's, you're a joke squared. And that sucks. Even Shrek himself recoiled when he heard this tune on his movie soundtrack. And he eats bullfrogs. Raw.
Covering a Monkees' song as part of a blockbuster animated ogre movie franchise probably makes you think you have to give the tune a bit of extra oomph. Sadly, "I'm a Believer" is one song that needs no extra anything. Micky Dolenz's breathy vocals captured a timeless romantic thrill, with just the right ratio of cockiness and insecurity. Weezer's version, by comparison, sounded like a nerdy English teacher trying to get down with the kids on a school picnic, eliciting mass cringing all round. And that's not even the cool kids. Smashmouth's version of this song sucked, too, but Weezer's could have literally sucked an anvil through cheesecloth. Thumbs down, Emo geeks!
4. The Grateful Dead's "Dancing in the Streets": Now if you hated me for what I said about Weezer, you're gonna despise me for what I'm about to say about those untouchable "innovators", the Grateful Dead...but anyone who's heard their live version of "Dancing in the Streets" should know exactly what I'm talking about. It was like someone tried to drown Martha and The Vandellas in a polluted lake then forced them to perform their hit song at gunpoint while they panted lifelessly on the shore.
It's ironic that The Mamas and Papas were also able to make such a go of the tune while fellow 60s drop-outs The Dead could only remove its heart and replace it with a cheap tinny clock. This declaration of unbridled joy and freedom was freeze-dried from juicy peach status to insane mutant raisin status. A mutant raisin that made people want to bung up their earholes with rubber plugs until their heads exploded from all that fermentin' resentment! Even Bowie and Jagger managed a better attempt, and let's face it, they weren't being entirely serious. I've always suspected that much of the Dead cred came from what they gave away at concerts rather than anything they created with guitars, keyboards and drums. This track shows these "gurus" tapping away like tiny metal monkey toys, knocking the soul out of one the greatest songs of all time. And don't write me to tell me I'm wrong. I'm never wrong. you should know that by now.
5. Take That's "Smells Like Teen Spirit": Take That, you may recall, were among the earlier "boy bands", i.e. boy bands that are definitely not boys anymore. You'll also recall that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was one of the best songs of the 90s and Curt Cobain probably the last great new talent in music. Take That's "star" Robbie Williams had been expelled from the band - due to running about in his underpants with a pint of beer in his hand once too often - so without their only shot at anything vaguely cool gone, they %$#&*@! butchered one of the best rock songs of the decade.
It wasn't even the sound of this paralyzing horror that made it so insufferable; it was the sight of Gary Barlow waving his puny fist with the kind of gusto that seven year old girls mock, as he bleated out lyrics that had been fashioned on Cobain's black and tortured creative anvil. How I wished I had an anvil at that moment, to launch through the TV screen and make it go away. But it didn't, it won't and it never will. And yes, I know I've mentioned anvils twice now in this article, and for some people that might suggest I have issues, but the sight of Barlow's limp-fisted gesture will haunt anyone who saw it. Forever. That's it. I'm done. Gonna lie down and think happy thoughts. About anvils.
* Probably a bad example as there actually are alien bases in Antarctica.