The 10 worst cover versions of all time

It had to be done. It has been done, several times actually, but that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’ve always wanted to make a “top ten worst” type list, but up until recently I hadn’t a clue what the subject matter should be. Then it hit me. How about a “worst cover versions” list? Let’s face it, there have been plenty! So, after hours of agonising, psychologically traumatising research via the medium of YouTube, I finally came up with a list I believe to be definitive. I came across many, many humdingers during my exporations through the very bowels of the channel, but after much nervous deliberation I managed to whittle it down to ten, excluding a few which I thought were either too obviously tongue in cheek or just too bloody bland to be considered really offensive. So there you have it, a personal selection of ten of the most mind bogglingly awful cover versions of all time. Ear plugs at the ready, let’s go! In no particular order…….

1. Gene Simmons – Firestarter

Dressed like a 70’s pimp, and surrounded by a clutter of nubile young women, the tongue waggling, bass playing Kiss entrepreneur takes The Prodigy’s incendiary rave/punk crossover track and makes it his own. This, it soon transpires, isn’t a good thing. Bellowing like a WWF wrestler over the original backing track is bad enough; leering over bikini clad young girls probably young enough to be his Grandchildren, whilst looking like a cross between Peter Stringfellow and Harvey Keitel’s character in Taxi Driver is a different kettle of fish entirely, and is enough to make you cower behind the couch in sheer terror, waiting for it all to end. More God Of Methane than God Of Thunder.

2. Limp Bizkit – Behind Blue Eyes

Despite their (not entirely undeserved) reputation as the nu-metal era’s most laughable band, back in the day Limp Bizkit released a few enjoyable rap/rock anthems; helped along considerably by Wes Borland’s crunching guitar riffs, which were amongst the heaviest of the time. By the time they released this cover of The Who’s 1971 classic, however, things were starting to look bad. Borland had left the band, and frontman Fred Durst had lost any credibility he may have had within underground rock circles by attending Playboy mansion parties and allegedly dating Britney Spears. So, in an apparent call for help, Fred decided to lay his soul bare and show a hitherto unseen “sensitive” side to his manly, tattooed public persona. He ditched the guitars, instead opting for a slow, lifeless digital backing track, and decided to ditch the song’s thrilling middle section, essentially just repeating the same verse ad nauseum. With the emphasis on “nause”. He called up his Hollywood pal Halle Berry, persuading her to canoodle with him in the song’s video; he’s still a “ladies man”, after all, is our Fred. Soulless, airbrushed, vacuous, MTV friendly corporate rock of the very worst order, and then some. God knows what Keith Moon would have made of it all…

3. Duran Duran – 911 Is A Joke

In 1995, Duran Duran released a covers album, Thank You, which was jam packed with stunning re-interpretations of songs by some of their favourite contemporary artists. Tracks by Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Sly Stone, and the album’s highlight, a blistering rendition of Public Enemy’s 911 Is A Joke. Originally featured on the epoch-making album Fear Of A Black Planet, it boasted a subject matter that these white, multi-millionaire Yacht enthusiasts from Birmingham could relate to; namely, emergency services in the US failing to deal with black callers effectively. You can practically taste the rage, anger and venom in Simon Le Bon’s vocals as he growls lines like “if your life is on the line, then you’re dead today” and “you can ask my man right here with the broken neck”; he meeeeeeeans it, dude. Can’t think of anyone in rock history who’s stuck two fingers up at the powers that be in such a fashion. Ever. Right on, brother!

4. Motley Crue – Anarchy In The UK

There have been hundreds upon hundreds of crap Sex Pistols covers, but this particular rendition, by everyone’s favourite hairsprayed sleaze rockers Motley Crue, stands out from the pack considerably. Here, “UK” becomes “USA”; “Anarchist” no longer rhymes with “Antichrist”, and “In The City” seems to have acquired a “fuckin'” somewhere in the middle. Megadeth released a remarkably similar, and equally rubbish, version a year earlier, but The Crue’s version just edges it in the shit stakes thanks to frontman Vince Neil’s absurd ad libbing. “Fuck the rat race, MAAAAAN” indeed.

5. George Michael – True Faith

Where do you start with this?? New Order’s euphoric dancefloor anthem is given the George Michael treatment, and the results ain’t pretty. Or even vaguely attractive. Hideous vocodered vocals (what WAS he thinking??), deeply pretentious lyric changes, a dated mid nineties coffee table production and a pace slower than your Great Aunt Nelly nipping to the local charity shop to buy a Jeffrey Archer novel, this is just plain wrong. Yes, it was recorded for Comic Relief, and yes, George seems like a perfectly nice bloke in interviews, but even these factors do not excuse this recording one iota. One for completists (and psychopaths) only.

6. Rod Stewart – Weak

Leaving aside some of the brilliant stuff he recorded in the late sixties and early to mid seventies, both as a solo artist and as lead singer of The Faces, Mister Stewart’s recorded output of more recent times has been a little patchy, to say the least. In 1998, in an apparent attempt to be “down with the kids”, Rod decided to include a few cover versons of some hip ‘n’ happening indie acts, including Oasis, Primal Scream and Skunk Anansie, on his new album When We Were The New Boys. This version of Anansie’s “Weak” has all the intensity of a drunken dad singing karaoke at his indie fan son’s wedding party, to the amusement of all his mates. Hearing Stewart rasping his way through lines like “so what am I now, I’m love’s last home” and “In this weak young heart, am I too much for you” would be hilarious if it wasn’t so damn sad. I blame the cough medicine myself.

7. Ronan Keating – FairyTale Of New York

No list of bad cover versions would be complete without this, Ronan Keating’s unremittingly savage mauling of Shane MacGowan’s timeless yuletide classic. Featuring the normally dependable Clannad frontwoman Moya Brennan on dual vocals, this really has to be heard to be believed. The line “cheap lousy faggot” is changed to “you’re cheap and you’re haggard”, but the most jaw dropping moment comes during this particular section of the song, when Ronan’s voice turns hilariously gruff as if trying to replicate the whiskey and nicotine death howl of Macgowan, and failing miserably. Makes Cliff Richard sound like GG Allin.

8. Simple Minds – Sign ‘O’ The Times

Another band with a bad reputation who have, on occasion, produced some great music, Simple Minds did themselves no favours artistically in covering this Prince track. Originally the title track of The Purple One’s stunning 1987 double album, Kerr and co take the intensity,funk, urgency and bleakness of the original and replace them with all manner of eighties rock bombast; self indulgent vocals, infuriatingly wiggly guitar solos, passionless production, dull musicianship… you name it, it’s almost certainly here. Fans of this sort of thing will doubtlessly love it, everyone else is strongly advised to stay away. Well away, in fact. The nearest you’ll get to approximating the feeling of inhaling asbestos fumes without a protective mask without actually doing it yourself. Probably.

9. Will Young – Light My Fire

Pop Idol puppet, sorry, winner Will Young takes on The Doors’ epic psychedelic rock/pop masterpiece, with predictable results. True, he probably had zero creative say in the matter, but that doesn’t make this insufferably cheesey, ersatz cruise ship from Hell production any easier to listen to. This masters the almost impossible feat of being offensively inoffensive, if you get my drift. Polite, placid pop vocals, a beat you can do the wallpapering to, mildly groovy little finger clicks…. arrrrrggghhh!!!! Make it stop! It also conjures up horrible images of dollar signs flashing in the eyes of Simon Cowell, which can’t be a good thing. Easy target, for sure, but hey……

10. Hylda Baker and Arthur Mullard – You’re The One That I Want

Right. What happens when two ageing, well known British comedy veterans team up to record a version of a Number One single lifted from the soundtrack of the hit musical film adaptation of Grease? Erm, this apparently. This TOTP rendition has to be one of the most unpleasantly funny videos that youtube has to offer. Should be banned.

Okay, that’s it. Hope you enjoyed the piece, feel free to tell me about any glaring omissions that you feel I should have included, I’m sure there are a few. In the meantime, I’ll leave you to argue over/laugh at/sneer at this selection while I go and throw myself off the nearest bridge, all that research was more than I could handle mentally. Painful is not the word, it really isn’t…..

24 COMMENTS

  1. Nothing compared to that horrible cover versions record the bloke from UB40 put out….plus where is Paul Shane’s “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” from Pebble Mill?

  2. If nothing else, they are different from the originals. There’s nothing worse that a cover version that is almost identical to the original… except Paul Young’s version of Love Will Tear Us Apart

  3. Paul Shane is a good shout, Terry, should have it an honorary mention. Pebble Mill is a lost treasure; there’s an eerily funny Gary Glitter interview from this programme available to watch on youtube, wrong on so many levels, yet full of amusing coincidences!

  4. The really good thing about this article is the sacrifice undertaken, you have done it so I don’t have to and I am truly grateful. Paul McShane is worth a punt though, and as Chris De Burgh released his covers album not too long ago I am surprised his definitive reworking of All Along the Watchtower hasn’t made the list, not that I would suggest anyone should listen to it as I am not sadistically inclined.

  5. Paul Young’s shameful cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” managed to strip all the emptiness, regret and despair out of the song and still make the Top Ten.

  6. Abysmal cover by Tatu of the Smiths classic How Soon is Now. Enough to make me cry. Never attempt to cover perfection.

  7. Tom Jones has form for bad cover versions, but search youtube to see him mauling “I bet that you look good on the dancefloor” by the Arctic Monkeys.

    • To quote John Mcenroe “You cannot be serious”. Seriously good cover version. Had my first wedding day dance to The Ramones version of “Baby I Love You”.

  8. Well, I actually think that Baby I Love You by The Ramones was the worst cover version of all time. I love The Ramones, and I quite like The Ronettes, but there really was no need to merge the two!

  9. Hmm an alternative top ten…

    1. Panic at the Disco – Karma Police (Radiohead)
    2. Bono – Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
    3. Rod Stewart – Downtown Train (Tom Waits)
    4. U2 – All Along the Watch Tower (Bob Dylan)
    5. Garbage – Thirteen (Big Star)
    6. Moby – Creep (Radiohead)
    7. Fall Out Boy – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division)
    8. Katie Melua – Just Like Heaven (The Cure)
    9. The Darkness – Street Spirit (Radiohead)
    10. Oasis – Hey Hey, My My (Neil Young)

  10. Hard not to disagree with the selections here. An alternate shortlist:

    *Motorhead by Primal Scream (Motorhead)
    *The Man With the Child in His Eyes by Hue & Cry (Kate Bush)
    *Hungry Like the Wolf by Hole (Duran Duran)
    *Heart of Glass by The Associates (Blondie)
    *She’s a Woman by Scritti Politti/Shabba Ranks (The Beatles)
    *Toys in the Attic by REM (Aerosmith)
    *How Sweet to be an Idiot by Oasis (Neil Innes; they didn’t even get the songtitle right!)
    *Train in Vain by Annie Lennox (The Clash)
    *Country House by Beady Eye (Blur; even worse than the original and a sign Liam Gallagher still thinks it is the 1990s)
    *The Hendrix Medley by Soft Cell (they ruin three Hendrix classics in one swift movement)
    *Tomorrow Never Knows by The Mission (The Beatles)
    *Alone Again Or by The Damned (Love; just pointless)
    *Mama Told Me Not to Come by Stereophonics/Tom Jones (give me the Three Dog Night version or even Randy Newman’s take on it)
    *Trampolene by Deacon Blue (Julian Cope)
    *Smells Like Teen Spirit by Take That (Nirvana)
    *Should I Stay or Should I Go by Robbie Williams (The Clash)
    *Personal Jesus by Marilyn Manson (Depeche Mode)
    *To Love Somebody by Billy Corgan & Robert Smith (The Bee Gees)
    *Days by Elvis Costello (The Kinks)
    *Work is a Four Letter Word by The Smiths (Cilla Black)
    *The Lovecats by Jamie Cullum & Katie Melua (The Cure)
    *Slip Inside This House by Primal Scream (The 13th Floor Elevators)
    *I Love Rock & Roll by Britney Spears (Joan Jett, though that was technically a cover version too)
    *Vietnam by New Order (Jimmy Cliff)
    *Love Will Tear Us Apart by The Cure (Joy Division, actually worse than the Paul Young & New Order versions recorded for XFM)

  11. Celine Dion – You shook me all night long (AC/DC)
    Avril Lavigne – Chop Suey (SoAD)
    David Hasselhoff – Love me tender (Elvis)
    Britney spears – Satisfaction (Stones)

    All four are just so bad, its considered a criminal offence in most country’s to even play them.

  12. That Paul Shane song is awesome. For me it has to be shining light by ash covered by Annie Lennox. Soulless sterile shore. It’s abysmal. In fact any cover version by her. Did she destroy train in vain too?? Paul youngster version of love will tear us apart as well. And the BBC cover of perfect day deserves a mention. Awful.

  13. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Take That (Nirvana)… shudder. Did that actually happen? Glad I never heard it, has to be the ultimate travesty of them all.
    Add to the list the Fine Young Cannibals utterly joyless mauling of Ever Fallen In Love (Buzzcocks) and whoever did Teenage Kicks a few years back, McShit or one of those bands, ugh dreadful.

  14. Not the worst but the most disappointing:

    Femme Fatale by Big Star. Written by Lou Reed, sung by Alex Chilton, Guitar by Steve Cropper. Yet not very good.

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