Ten of the Worst Song Covers and Remakes
Last week we looked at ten of the best cover songs in music, songs that were successful in paying homage to the original recordings while making it their own. Now is the time to take a look at ten more songs, but this time focusing on the renditions that made fans and critics look at the singer and say, “What were you thinking?”
To check out the original version of the song, just click the link under each entry’s title.
‘Pure Imagination’ by Maroon 5
The most iconic song from 1971’s ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Pure Imagination’ was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley specifically for the film and sung beautifully by star Gene Wilder. In the 43 years since its release it has been covered repeatedly, both successfully and terribly, by the likes of Lou Rawls, Mariah Carey, and the cast of ‘Glee’, but its the Maroon 5 rendition that makes this list.
A fairly good adaptation for the most part, this cover makes the list primarily for the instrumental portion (starting around 1:50), where auto-tuned harmonies lead into a guitar riff that sounds like the lead guitarist had a seizure while playing and just started grinding on the cords. A beautiful song with a beautiful message is harshly interrupted by an virtual assault on the listener’s ears.
Don McLean’s 1971 classic reached #1 status in the states and stayed there for a month, even hitting #2 on the UK charts. McLean’s song recounts “The Day the Music Died”, a term coined by McLean describing the 1959 fatal plane crash of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper, and the aftermath in the nation and the music industry. A much beloved song, its McLean’s best-known hit that has been parodied to brilliance by Weird Al and covered by many, including Madonna.
Madonna’s 2000 cover was a major success, being critically and commercially praised, even being praised by McLean. However, fans have been highly critical of Madonna’s version, criticizing her adapting of a classic folk song into a dance club hit, diluting the song’s impact and meaning. Her music video also received a great deal of controversy for depicting a lesbian couple kissing and Madonna exposing the crack of her butt while dancing.
Nirvana’s hit from their 1991 album ‘Nevermind’, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a critical success, ushering alternative rock into the forefront of the music industry. Widely considered one of the greatest songs in the history of rock, many stars have remade it in their own ideals, none being anywhere near the level of Cobain’s original masterpiece. It has been remade in the tunes of jazz, a cappella, swing, and even entrance music for pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page.
But it was Miley Cyrus’ rendition that seemed to upset music fans the most. Incorporating the song into her stage act in 2011, Cyrus claimed Nirvana inspired her and she hoped to be the same inspiration to her fans (I highly doubt that). But as the videos of her performance hit YouTube, fans responded in the resounding negative, criticizing Cyrus’ mainstream style as exactly what Cobain hated about the music industry and what is wrong with music today. Her cover was even voted the worst cover of all time by the reader of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine. Then again, destroying this song is probably not as bad as her current stage act, which includes performing sexual acts on inflatable dolls.
The 1971 hit from The Who, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ is considered a rock anthem for the decade and a staple of The Who’s catalog, being rereleased by the band and even adapted by Pete Townshend in his solo career. The song has been covered and praised by other iconic rockers, including Crosby, Stills, and Nash who has incorporated it into their live show and said its a song they wish they had written.
Limp Bizkit covered the song in 2003, and though it was a financial success for the group it was heavily criticized for its slow pace being outside of Limp Bizkit’s range and the incorporation of a Speak and Spell toy during the bridge.
‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ by Jessica Simpson
The 1966 #1 single for Nancy Sinatra, ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ has a unique place in history being a staple of the Vietnam War. The song was popular amongst the marching infantrymen in Vietnam, being adopted as their unofficial anthem and resulting in Nancy Sinatra making two trips to Vietnam to perform for the troops.
While many would be shocked that a group like Megadeth would cover a song like this, it was Jessica Simpson who received the most criticism for her venture. Covering the song and even rewriting some of it to coincide with her new film ‘The Dukes of Hazard’, Simpson’s song and film were both criticized for remaking a classic while abandoning everything that made the original great. While the song was certified Gold, it had limited play on the radio. And while the song was criticized, the video was the focal point of critics’ ire, mainly for the highly sexual nature, which included Simpson performing a lap dance. Due to the nature of the video, it was banned in many Middle Eastern and North African countries.
While some would call this a case of sampling the Stevie Wonder hit ‘I Wish’, the chorus is a definite rewriting of the song and lands it on this list as a remake. The original Stevie Wonder classic focused on his youth in the 50s and 60s, and is regularly used to lament the joys of days gone by.
While Will Smith is known almost purely as an actor these days, we can’t forget the time where he tried to balance his previous singing career with his acting gigs, singing the theme for his big-budget summer hits. And for a time, most of his songs were covers/sample/remakes, such as ‘Men in Black’ being a reworking of ‘Forget Me Nots’ by Patrice Rushen. But while that song was a Grammy-winning hit for a good movie, ‘Wild Wild West’ was a heavily criticized disaster from an even worse film. Aside from not living up to the song it sampled, Smith’s song was panned as improper for the genre, incorporating R&B into an Old West setting. The song won the Razzie in 2000 for Worst Original Song.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ by Britney Spears
Released in 1965, the Rolling Stones hit is widely considered one of the greatest songs ever recorded. It ranked #2 in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine’s “The Greatest 500 Songs of All Time” in 2004 and was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2006.
For her second studio album, ‘Oops… I Did It Again’, Britney Spears covered iconic song and sang it at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2000. While some critics praised the song as the best of the album, others slammed Spears for her slowing of the tempo and not living up to the musical quality or spirit of the original recording.
Britney Spears gets another song on this list, this time covering a cover. Originally released in 1975 by the band Arrows, ‘I Love Rock n’ Roll’ was a B-side song (a song released on a 45 on the opposite side of the intended hit single from the album), and didn’t receive a great deal of attention until it was covered in 1982 by Joan Jett and became a Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit for nearly two months. Its this version that almost everyone is familiar with, and the version Spears covered in 2002.
Used as a tie-in for her film ‘Crossroads’, Spears was heavily criticized for her version of the song, first for incorrectly citing the song to Pat Benatar instead of Joan Jett, and then performing a song that praises rock n’ roll but performing it in her usual pop-princess style.
Inspired by a line from the movie ‘Young Frankenstein’, Aerosmith’s 1975 single ‘Walk This Way’ is a rare song where the original and its cover are both considered pinnacles of their respective genres. While the original is considered a classic from one of the greatest rock bands of all time, their 1986 collaboration with Run DMC for a cover is praised as the bridge between rock and hip-hop and helping to expose hip-hop to the mainstream audience.
However, Macy Gray’s 2004 cover of the original song is a version that will likely never be uttered in the same breath as those two hits. Originally available as a download only song, Gray’s cover of ‘Walk This Way’ has been released on her subsequent greatest hits album. While Run DMC’s style was apt for a rock crossover, Gray’s R&B and soul styling doesn’t mesh with the rock riffs the song is known for and is even recreated in this version, creating a song that feels like two different songs playing at the same time.
The Who released ‘My Generation’ in 1965, going on to be one of the biggest hits for the group and being considered one of the greatest rock song ever. It was #13 in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine’s “The Greatest 500 Songs of All Time” in 2004 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
But in 2005, Hilary Duff began incorporating the song into her set list at the suggestion of her manager, and included it on her self-titled third studio album. While the original was an anthem for a generation in England who was frowned upon by the social elite in power, Duff’s rendition was criticized for being a generic pop song that failed to capture any of the strife and intensity of the original recording. Years later, Duff would criticize her own performance of the song, citing record label control over her work and wishing she could have performed the song in a more rock n’ roll style.