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Worst Cover Songs of All-Time

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Since the Earvolution staff put together their list of best cover songs, I thought I might as well get them to list the worst ones. No objective criteria here, but most of these songs either want to make the reviewer turn the dial or cringe when its an otherwise good artist making a mistake. Here goes:

Me (Jeff Davidson):

Zwan – Don’t Let Me Down, Beatles.

Of course, most Zwan songs were pretty bad so its no suprise their cover of this great tune didn’t cut the mustard either.

Limp Bizkit – Behind Blue Eyes, The Who

I’ll be honest – I just don’t like Fred Durst. I tried to like him back in the early days, but I just can’t and therefore turn the channel anytime this overplayed song comes on.

Sheryl Crow – Sweet Child ‘O Mine, GNR

I like Sheryl, but this one just doesn’t cut it. As crazy as old Axl is these days, he rocked this tune and Sheryl’s sweet voice just doesn’t do it justice.

Lori Kozlowski:

Perhaps the worst in recent history that I have heard is:
Uncle Kracker’s cover of “Drift Away.”

The original by Dobie Gray, or even the cover by the Doobie Brothers is so much better. Gray’s voice is soulful. And Uncle Kracker, well… Every time, I hear the cover on the radio, it gets the automatic channel change from me.

Jim McCoy:

Dancin’ in the Streets
Original Artist: Martha and The Vandellas (Released as single, 1964)
Cover Artist: Grateful Dead Terrapin Station (1977)

The original locked up the 40th spot in Rolling Stones’ “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” The cover is scorned by both Deadheads and classic rock lovers alike. As one might expect, the Dead managed to play outstanding versions of the song outside the confines of the recording studio. Check out Dick’s Picks Volume 3 for a tasty version that features lengthy, focused and hypnotic leads by Garcia during a year in which the band was atop its game.

The First Cut is the Deepest
Original Artist: Cat Stevens New Masters (1967)
Cover Artist: Sheryl Crow One Tree Hill Soundtrack (2005)

Although casual music lovers tend to attribute the song to Rod Stewart based on his 1976 studio recording of the tune, the track was actually penned by Cat Stevens and first recorded by female soul vocalist P.P. Arnold in 1967. (Arnold’s album was actually released before Stevens’ New Masters.) The website Catstevens.com lists six artists besides Crow who have covered the tune. If only it could have remained at six. Crow takes a well-written, introspective song and successfully turns it into a pop nightmare. Thanks, Sheryl.

Crimson & Clover
Original Artist: Tommy James and the Shondells Crimson & Clover (1969)
Cover Artist: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts I Love Rock ‘n Roll (1982)

The haunting, tremolo-laced 1969 original seems like an odd choice for treatment by Joan Jett, until one discovers that the Shondells’ keyboard player worked with Joan Jett since the beginning of her solo career. Distorted guitars substitute for the original instrumentation, destroying the very vibe that makes the Tommy James original so appealing. This, however, did not stop Ms. Jett’s version from reaching the Top Ten. The original peaked at Number One.

Paul Dobry:

Madonna “American Pie” (Don Mclean)

Before Madge was British she felt justified in taking on this slice of Americana. While crappy canned beats may have started in America ,hearing any reference to a Chevy over top of them gives you that orange juice after you brushed your teeth feeling.

Rufus Wainwright “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen)

This cringe inducer almost ruined “Shrek” for me. Not only is this a feeble cover of Buckley’s cover, but Wainwright abandons the poetic license meant for the rhyme. He sings “… how to shoot somebody that out drew you.” rather than “… that out drew ya.” Making the title seem out of place.

The Scissor Sisters “Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd)

You have to really hate a song to cover it the way The Scissor Sisters cover “Comfortably Numb.” The song is just recognizable enough to infuriate any one who has ever heard a guitar. A disco beats and trill vocals have no place, well anywhere really but giving that treatment to such a well crafted classic rock standard constitutes fightin’ words. A bad Gap ad waiting to happen.

The Presidents of the United States of America,
“Video Killed the Radiostar” (The Buggles)

This cover isn’t even good enough to warrant biting witty criticism, so instead you get puns. Man this cover is so bad these guys should be impeached. They should be
called the Commanders in Grief. I hope they get assassinated (okay that one isn’t so much a pun as just a statement.)

George Thorogood “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer” (John Lee Hooker)

Thorogood has built a pretty successful career on ruining good Country and Blues
songs with corporate rock gloss. He turns this down-on-you-luck story of heartbreak into a chant for balding men reuniting with their old “frat bros.”

Phil Collins “Tomorrow Never Knows” (The Beatles)

It’s real easy to poke fun at Phil Collins. Some may think he is an unfairly easy target. I happen to love Phil Collins, and air drum with my entire soul to “In
the Air Tonight.” It’s sad that this cover is forced onto the same album as such a schlocky masterpiece. It’s like Hinduism stripped of soul and mysticism.

Limp Bizkit “Behind Blue Eyes” (The Who)

It’s actually quite a nice understated song that speaks of a quiet desperation that is universally identifiable. So, please stop yelling Mr. Durst.

Christopher O’Riley “True Love Waits: Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead”

I couldn’t decide which reworking on this album a hated the most, so I chose the whole muzaky thing. A lot of overzealous Radiohead fans convinced me to buy this (being an overzealous Radiohead fan myself I took the bait.) Trouble is I hate elevator music. This is the perfect record for the office of a dentist who is trying to assert his hipness without offending anyone.

Marilyn Manson “Suicide is Painless” (Michael Altman/ Johnny Mandell)

The original is introspective, fits in perfectly with the film M*A*S*H and given its
context in the film works on at least 12 different levels (it’s melancholy, it’s macabre, it’s hilarious etc.) Manson’s cover fits in with Blair Witch 2: Book
of Shadows because dreadful shite that should have never been made loves company. When subjected to this cover one may view suicide as sweet relief rather than
merely painless.

Beck and Emmylou Harris “Sin City” (The Flying Burrito Brothers)

This one may not be as overtly bad as some of the others, but it just hurts so much more. Beck, Emmylou and The Burrito Brothers are all brilliant writers and performers that are capable of and deserve so much better. The songs falls on its
face as it is stripped of all emotion. Did L. Ron Hubbard put him up to this one?

Rob Dunne:

Satisfaction – Britney Spears covering Rolling stones – how dare she!?!

Sittin’ on the Dock – Michael Bolton covering Otis Redding – how f-ing dare he!?!

Heroes – Oasis covering David Bowie – sounds like a weak tribute band covering Oasis trying to play Bowie. Abysmal.

What’s Goin On? – Bono and Chris Martin covering Marvin Gaye – they just don’t have Marvin’s pain.

Mrs. Robinson – Lemonheads covering Simon and Garfunkel – sounds like a bunch of college shitheads arsing around with their new electric guitars.

Morgan Clendaniel:

Dixie Chicks with Sheryl Crow covering Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi”

It’s hard to even enumerate everything that’s wrong with this. There is the insipid fiddle riff that’s been added. There is the peppy tempo added to what is, essentially, a very sad song. There is the odd mimicking of early Dylan vocal style, even though that’s not the voice that was recorded with. And most importantly, there is the idea that the Dixie Chicks seem to think they can do this song justice just because it’s called “Mississippi” and because they are, ostesenibly, country musicians. Atrocious.

David Schultz:

All Along The Watchtower – Dave Matthews Band covering Bob Dylan

This plodding cover tune has become a staple of every Dave Matthews performance, often as the closing tune. In a misguided effort to duplicate Dylan’s restrained fury, the DMB version is simply dreary and weighed down with by the band’s own sense of self importance. Oh yes, the fact that Jimi Hendrix’ laid the blueprint for the perfect way to play the song doesn’t help.

Heroes – The Wallflowers covering David Bowie

In a bizarre decision, Heroes, a song inspired by an East German tryst David Bowie observed by the Berlin Wall, was selected to be the signature piece for a Godzilla remake. The Wallflowers, who were in their heyday at the time, unfortunately signed on to record a cover of Bowie’s signature piece. Devoid of the passion that the song deserves, the Wallflowers created an unemotional recitation that simply falls flat.

Live And Let Die – Guns & Roses covering Paul McCartney & Wings

Guns & Roses possessed a relatively good track record when choosing songs to cover as evidenced by their relatively restrained version of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. However, on Live and Let Die, the band’s bombastic approach is too heavy-handed and Axl’s screeching is distracting.

Time Will Tell – The Black Crowes covering Bob Marley

The Black Crowes may be many things, but a reggae band is not one of them. Making the odd choice to close their Southern Harmony & Music Companion with a Marley tune, the Crowes attempt a straight cover without bothering to learn a reggae beat. It ends an otherwise solid album on the flattest of notes.

I Shall Be Released – The Band covering Bob Dylan

It is time to finally discuss the elephant in the room by pointing out that Richard Manuel destroys this song with his cracking wheezing voice. Rather than play the song in a key in which he can sing, the Band chooses one that makes it sound like Manuel is having an asthma attack. Instead of an anthem of peace, the Band created the musical equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard.

[JD note: There’s a solid live version of I Shall Be Released on the U2 “Covering Them” bootleg when Bob joined the lads onstage in LA back in 1987. He also sat in for Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, also on that same disc.]

Ripple – Janes Addiction covering the Grateful Dead

Perry Farrell added a host of effects and distortion in a wrongheaded effort to create a trippy version of the Dead classic. The result was a muddled, confused mess. This is a road that no one should travel.

I Got You Babe – UB40 & Chrissy Hynde covering Sonny & Cher

The original version was essentially a novelty tune that worked because Cher was three times the size of Sonny Bono. It neither needed re-recording nor a reggae beat, yet that didn’t stop UB40 from enlisting Hynde in this doomed venture. Even more disturbing, the logistics don’t work out – Cher had Sonny, Chrissy Hynde has what, the entire band?

The Raven – Lou Reed covering Edgar Allen Poe

Lou’s genius takes him many places where the rest of us wouldn’t go. Other times it leads him in directions best left unexplored. Reed’s profane interpretation / adaptation of The Raven ignores Poe’s inventive and intricate wordplay and the result is an angry, vindictive, directionless poem recited over a lackluster guitar beat.

Candle In The Wind (Lady Di version) — Elton John covering Elton John

No one can blame Elton John for taking his wonderfully poignant ode to Marilyn Monroe and regurgitating it with different lyrics for his friend Lady Di. However, we can all blame Bernie Taupin for taking part in this venture. Surely, he should have known better. When John Lennon died, the pair came up with Empty Garden. Had the well run that dry that needed to infringe on their own copyrights? Where the original has poetry, the Lady Di version sounds like a plagiarized assignment for 10th grade English class.

Nutrocker – Emerson Lake & Palmer covering Tchaikovsky

Not wanting to reserve their pretentiousness to solely classical music, ELP thought they could cover ballet as well. Their ill-advised marriage of synthesizers and the Nutcracker Suite fails to conjure visions of sugar plum fairies. Rather, it raises images of the apocalypse and how if it came before the end of the song, it might not be a bad thing.

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About JD

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    How about Jackie Chan and Ani DiFranco doing “Unforgettable”?

  • http://www.earvolution.com Jeff Davidson

    I haven’t heard that one, but it sounds like a “winner”!

  • http://www.utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    Hey, nothing more fun than tearing apart the losers and cover songs is an easy mark. Not bad, a few chuckles but ya blew it right at the end – ELP’s total demolition of classical music on the undeniably rockin’ “Nut rocker” was intentional, thus successful. It was the zenith of the generation gap, maybe ya had to be there.(Also, “Nutrocker” was a cover of the Kim Fowley’s 1961 classic.)

  • http://draven99.blogspot.com Chris Beaumont

    Mariah Carey: Bringin’ on the Heartbreak
    Ugh.

  • http://www.earvolution.com Jeff Davidson

    yeah, that’s pretty bad too.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I disagree with a number of these selections, particularly regarding The Scissor Sisters (which may be one of the GREAT covers of all time) and Thorogood, who is just plain old fun on whatever he does.

    My vote for worst cover of Dancin’ in the Streets ever: David Bowie and Mick Jagger, mid-80s style. Throw in the video if you really want to cringe.

  • http://www.thebeautifullull.com Tom Johnson

    Rufus Wainwright “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen)

    This cringe inducer almost ruined “Shrek” for me.

    In the film, “Hallelujah” is NOT sung by Wainwright but by John Cale. The soundtrack has the Wainwright version. Wainwright’s version may not be up to the standard set by Jeff Buckley’s stunning take on Grace, but if you actually think Wainwright’s version is bad, then I fear hearing what you do think is good.

  • http://www.earvolution.com Paul Dobry

    I am ofcourse not asking anyone to agree with my selections. If for example you managed to find something likeable in the Scissor Sisters’ cover of “Comfortably Numb” please see Earvolution’s list of Best Covers where a fellow writer lists that as a favorite.
    I am aware that Wainright had the version on the soundtrack and not in the film. For the record, yes I actually think Wainright’s version is awful, it was hard to chose between that and his dreadful “Across the Universe.”
    These lists are purely meant for fun, and anything under my name reflects my opinion. They are not meant to be definitive lists that all can get behind.

  • http://www.andrewiandodge.com Andrew Ian Dodge

    That crappy rap version of ‘Cold As Ice’ originally covered by Foreigner.

  • http://damsite.blogspot.com david mazzotta

    How could you miss Blinded by the Light? A transcendently joyous early Springsteen tune that Manfred Mann turned into a song about a feminine hygeine product.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Is there anything not crappy about Foreigner?

    What do y’all Shrek fans think of the Cale version? I kind of like it.

  • Sunny

    Whoever that chick was that tried to do “Boys of Summer” a couple of years ago; that was just horrible.

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    Yeah, Sheryl Crow’s version of “First Cut” is pretty bad.

  • http://tubepinoy.blog-city.com/ Randy P/Tube Pinoy

    Lance’s girl is on here too many times. She needs to really stop doing covers.

  • http://www.magicjunk.com/blog/ Mark Sahm

    311 did a cover of the Cure’s “Love Song” a year or two ago that made me cringe everytime I heard it.

  • godoggo

    No contest: U2 doing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

  • http://www.jarretthousenorth.com/ Tim Jarrett

    Actually, I think the Bono and Frank Sinatra version of “I’ve Got You (Under My Skin)” isn’t bad. I’m unaware of a full band version of that tune…

    Their version of another Cole Porter tune, “Night and Day,” is another story. They hadn’t quite mastered all the club influences they were absorbing while putting together Achtung Baby and the orchestral blasts plus Bono’s falsetto are pretty cringeworthy. Nice drums from Larry on that cut, though.

    And regarding the question from Eric Berlin about Cale’s cover of “Hallelujah,” I’ve always loved it. It was a great closer to the I’m Your Fan tribute album, and its influence on Jeff Buckley’s version is pretty darned clear. That said, I’m not sure it needs to be used for every movie or TV show that has a sad scene, as I seem to see happening recently.

  • Rob

    How About:
    Ozzy, “All the Young Dudes”. I don’t think he can sing anymore. Someone, please take him off studio life support and make him retire.

    G&R, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”. Annoying piece of crap.

    Counting Crows, “Big Yellow Taxi”. What a watered down muzak mess. We are now destined to hear this bland version in every Dentist’s office and Elevator in North America. I really like this band; why did they do this??!!

    Metallica, “Whiskey in The Jar”. I could never understand why this song got so much radio play.

    Motley Crue, “Smoking in The Boys Room”. Didn’t care much for the original either, but The Crue really turned it into cheese.

  • http://strangefax.blogspot.com Bryan Doe

    I can add some truly awful (or maybe the misspelling “offal” might fit) cover versions:

    War, “Nights in White Satin Suite”: This was from their second album, way back in 1971, so it’s much older than what was already listed here, but it’s awful nonetheless, for no other reason than because Eric Burdon CANNOT SING.

    SOS Band, “Who’s Making Love”: Johnny Taylor’s original had a lesson to teach; the SOS Band had space to fill on their album. Nuff said.

    Living Colour, “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing”: I’m not sure which is worse, leaden rhythms or Corey Glover’s tortured attempts at singing.

    Then there are those “inspired-by” songs that are not actually covers, but plainly inspired by songs the artist wish they had the talent to cover, like “Stepping the Stones” by the SOS Band, who apparently had some “Beast of Burden”/Rolling Stones envy issues to work out; “Under a Nouveau Groove,” by Club Nouveau, at the beginning of contempo R&B and hip-hop’s infatuation with all things P-Funk…

    I could go on and on, but I won’t.

  • dyrkness

    Julie London doing “Yummy,Yummy,Yummy” by the Ohio Express.From the chanteuse who created “Cry Me a River”(incidently covered quite bizarrely by Joe Cocker)to a cover of a bubblegum novelty is in my opinion jaw-droppingly terrible.

  • http://www.earvolution.com Paul Dobry

    Yikes, I am kicking myself for not including that terrible “Big Yellow Taxi” that the Counting Crows did with Vanessa Carlton. While I was happy to forget it for a time it should be on my list.

  • Adam

    Something of an aside: regarding “Blinded By The Light”: does Springsteen’s version include, “Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun; but mama, that’s where the fun is”? Regardless, I think this may be the single most comprehensive statement of rock ‘n’ roll ever made. Any thoughts?

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    does Springsteen’s version include, “Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun; but mama, that’s where the fun is”?

    Yep.

  • http://www.geocities.com/immortalpearl Laura

    Avril Lavigne’s cover of “Chop Suey” originally done by System of a Down.

    Jessica Simpson’s cover of Nanci Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” – that’s horrendeous.

    AFI’s cover of “Head like a Hole” (original by Nine Inch Nails) is pretty damn bad.

    I agree that 311’s version of “Love Song” is gag worthy.

    Hilary Duff and Haylie Duff butchering “Our Lips are Sealed” by the Go-Gos and soon to be covering “Material Girl” in the future … ack!

  • http://none.com Bob A. Booey

    I have to stick up for my girl Sheryl. Her version of “First Cut is the Deepest” is way, way better than the original Cat Stevens version.

    That is all.

  • John Carusi

    “I’m A Believer”, trashed by those atonal wannabe tough-boys Smashmouth. Geez, they suck; they have a strangely laxative effect on me.

  • http://www.locomedia.net Aaron

    here are some bad ones…

    jessica simpson destroying “take my breath away” by berlin

    rod stewart “have i told you lately” by van morrison

    i disagree on “big yellow taxi” and “love song”

  • Josh Grisdale

    oh god, please tell me that someone has heard
    1) the bravery’s version of an cat dubh (originally a u2 hit), which should’ve stayed that way… it is butchered by the bands odd usage of synths… ugh…
    2) the killer’s version of ‘ruby, don’t take your love to town’ (originally a kenny rogers song), which is about the soldiers in vietnam’s pain… and i think the band (being young and annoying because of brandon flowers, even though their music is USUALLY great) missed the point of this song and made it into a joke… the band THEMSELVES even laugh at the beginning of the track… hopefully it was at themselves

  • http://smahman.blogspot.com smahman

    Counting Crows cover of “Big Yellow Taxi” is by some distance the most offensive thing I have ever heard. How they can take 2 and a half minutes of shimmering perfection and bloat it into nearly 4 minutes of pomp fest is beyond me. What DID they think they were adding.

    Greatest cover version of all time?
    Jeff Buckley lifted “Halleluiah” a notch.

  • Joyce

    Being a Pink Floyd fan forever…and being that comfortably numb is my favorite song…that horrendous piece of garbage that the scissor sisters call music should be banned from the airwaves!! Who listens to this stuff????

  • Mike Haynes

    What about Scooters version of the Logical song by Super tramp.

    And what was everyones opinion of Dub side of the moon by Easy All Stars

  • ps

    dub side of the moon was good. they also did radiodread, which was apparently good enough for thom yorke

  • Michael Grant Neary

    Video Killed The Radio Star performed by The Presidents of The United States is the worst covern song ever!

    Thev original Piece By The Buggles is a piece of art. Well Produced, with a nifty futuristic sound and a great-GREAT-melody.

    So what do we come up to?
    The Answer…. POTUS` version is a sad display of an excesively primitive and reductionist piece of crap which goes back to the stone age.

  • dan noreen

    sheryl crow destroying sweet child o’ mine. totally disgusting, why ruin a great song

    poison screwing up rock n roll all night

  • Dave

    WTF Britney Spears doing Satisfaction?

    “HOW DARE SHE” is an understatement! She should be thrown into a fire for that.

  • http://www.888warehouse.com pckid888

    My vote is for Celine Dion massacaring ‘you make me feel like a natural woman’ by Aretha Franklin. When I hear Aretha sing it, the sincerity and feeling in her voice is really quite compelling. Celine sings it like she is picking her nose or thinking about her lunch order.

  • http://donaldgibson.blogspot.com/ Donald Gibson

    I’d like to second the previous comment about Celine Dion’s version of “Natural Woman”. And I’d also like to add Dion’s versions of “All By Myself” (originally by Eric Carmen) and “River Deep Mountain High” (done best by Tina Turner).

  • ViciousAlienKlown

    I loved the Joan Jett version of “Crimson and clover” and thought the original lacked emotion and the whole fading in and out of the instruments sucked.

  • moldy

    hilary duff did a cover of “my generation”… she actually had the nerve to change “hope i die before i get old.” to “hope i don’t die before i get old”… bloody wench…

  • daniel daniel

    Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah cover couldn’t possibly have ruined Shrek for Paul Dobry, considering that the version used in the film was John Cale’s. Wainwright’s is only used for the soundtrack, due to licensing issues.

  • Mark

    i cant belive My chemical romance’s cover of astro zombies By the misfits wasnt in there!

  • http://www.mclimits.com clammy

    I guess nobody here has heard Old Dirty Bastard and Macy Gray’s remake of “Don’t go breaking my Heart.” You must find it on youtube… comic genius!!

  • chris johnson

    Bullet For my Valentine-Crazy Train

    this song is not meant to be covered this is ozzy osbourne and randy rhoads song period BFMV ruined it until i hear the real version again

  • MusicGeek

    The cover of Savage Garden’s ballad “Truly, Madly, Deeply…” done by Casandra, was that her name? The original version, the one by Savage Garden, made me burst into tears the first time that I heard it. I thought that it was beautiful then! I still think so! I heard the Casandra cover on YouTube and cringed in absolute discomfort. She took one of the most romantic love songs of the 1990s and turned into fizzy, schoolgirl crush techno.

  • IRISH

    Light my fire by jose feliezano is EASILY the WORST ever!

  • Martin Delgado