The Things You Think Are Precious I Can’t Understand: Cover Versions That Miss The Point

In which introspective, personal studies of human frailty and despair are turned into vacuously bouncy dancefloor bangers, metal misfires and saccharine pop show tunes.

We’re big fans of cover versions here at The Reprobate, even some of the oddball and eccentric covers that everyone else seems to hate. There’s a curious joy in hearing the familiar rendered unfamiliar by radical and unusual reinterpretations – and nothing is quite as dull as the ‘faithful’ cover that simply feels like a forgery. If you are going to take someone else’s song, at least make it your own.

There are plenty of terrible cover versions – some compulsively bad, some painful assaults on the senses. There’s probably an entire piece to be written about punk and metal bands ‘ironically’ butchering pop songs and one day, we might get around to that. Then, there are the odd, eccentric novelty cover versions that have littered the charts for decades – and endless lazy karaoke-level copycat versions cranked out on talent shows by famous-hungry, dead-eyed nobodies trying to impress judging panels made up of the worst people in the world.

But there are those cover versions that don’t so much reinvent a song as spectacularly miss the whole point. It might be in interpretation, it might be in stripping a song of everything that it meant or it might simply be the clueless hubris and lack of self-awareness involved, but some cover versions just leave you slack-jawed and quietly outraged that such things could ever be allowed to happen.

Here, then, are a handful of covers that feel like acts of cultural vandalism akin to book burning or the destruction of statues. As ever, we accept that this is the tip of a very deep iceberg and of course encourage your own suggestions in the comments.

DJ Sammy – Boys of Summer
Don Henley’s 1984 masterpiece is a haunting study in growing old and frightened, looking back at happier times and wondering what if, realising that “those days are gone forever, I should just let ’em go” but never quite being able to because there is nothing to look forward to. It’s pretty bleak and it takes a special sort of moron to translate that as “yay, summer”. Enter DJ Sammy and some anonymous warbler, both of whom who look as though considerations of mortality – or, indeed, any other thoughts – have never crossed their minds, as they reduce the track to a plastic Eurodisco Summer anthem that has been stripped of any emotional connection and sounds like something from a children’s TV tune.

Britney Spears – Satisfaction
Oh, the irony of having the lyrics to the Rolling Stones’ most famous track changed to become an anthem of individuality and non-conformity that is performed by a woman whose involvement in the record consisted of simply turning up when told to and singing the songs that she was instructed to perform for records that were all produced and polished within an inch of their lives to sound not only identical to each other but to everything else out there. Satisfaction is a much-covered song but this is the most howlingly bad version you’ll ever hear, tweaked, polished, sanitised and cynically packaged almost as much as Britney herself was.

Donny and Marie Osmond – Reelin’ In The Years
You have to wonder how some people see song lyrics when they are written down (because I think we can safely say that it’s unlikely that either Osmond had heard Steely Dan’s song). Donny and Marie might as well be singing in a foreign language for all the sense you get of them even considering what Reelin’ in the Years might be about. I’m guessing that in the act of phonetically memorising the words, there was no time to consider the meaning because this brain-crushing version of a song wallowing in cynical and bitter nostalgia reduces it to little more than easy listening bounce, all dance routines and big teeth. This one is almost admirable in its sheer gall, the classic guitar solo replaced with the introduction of gurning guest stars on their TV show.

Duran Duran – 911 Is A Joke
OK, I’m not going to lie – there is something oddly compelling about this, if only for the sheer audacity behind the idea of a bunch of ageing white British New Romantics covering a Public Enemy political protest song. This is, after all, the bland band best known for shooting videos on yachts while dressed in pastel suits and seemingly representing everything awful about the early 1980s culture of greed and excess. Yet here they are with a blues-flavoured version of a song that – no matter how you want to stretch it – speaks to a reality that is beyond anything that they could ever understand. I’ll give them some credit because I can’t believe that there isn’t some self-aware irony at play here – but then again, who knows?

Hilary Duff – My Generation
“Hope I don’t die before I get old” sings the aptly-named Disney brat Duff on this emasculated cover and that is probably all you need to know about how much she actually understood this classic slice of teenage frustration.

Madonna – American Pie
There was a brief point in Madonna’s fascinating career when it seemed as though she was about to grow old gracefully, putting aside the passing fads of fashion for a more mature individuality where she would just be herself – but that didn’t last and she was soon back desperately trying to be down with the kids. Of course, like a lot of pensioners, she no longer really knew what the kids are into and so came this soul-destroying, cynically soulless dance version of Don McLean’s po-faced history of rock ‘n’ roll. There’s something fascinatingly awful about this emptily generic version of McLean’s God-bothering ditty where, to add insult to injury, half the song’s carefully constructed narrative is junked – because who actually cares about lyrics, right? Even Madonna seems embarrassed by this one now, which is saying something given the stuff she’s done since.

The Scissor Sisters – Comfortably Numb
For reasons that remain baffling even now, the Scissor Sisters decided to take Pink Floyd’s tale of an overdosing and suicidal rock star being brought back from the brink and shoved on stage by his entourage of enablers and turn it into a dance tune that is, ironically, every bit as emotionally dead as the character in the song. The song doesn’t even lend itself to this treatment easily – the verses are painfully crowbarred into the beat and it just feels awkward and forced.

Megadeth – Anarchy in the UK
Anarchy in the UK is a song that is so tied to a time and a place that almost any cover version could be here – but Megadeth’s lumbering version stands head and shoulders about the rest in terms of sheer fucking cluelessness, as Dave Mustaine attempts to rework the song for 1988 America but presumably doesn’t know what the UDA and IRA are, and so leaves the now irrelevant references in. At least Mötley Crüe’s version of the song had a certain tongue-in-cheek self-awareness – this is just a humourless, awful mess.

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  1. I’ve been a huge fan of Leonard Cohen and Steely Dan (or Becker and Fagen) for decades. Fortunately, their songs aren’t much covered, apart from Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, which is good because no fucker that does cover them seems to have a clue what they’re about. I’ve seen the Osmond atrocity before, and I believe they should be shot for crimes against music.

    Scissor Sisters, on the other hand, knew exactly what they were doing with ‘Comfortably Numb’ (Floyd are another of my favourite bands). It’s camper than Christmas, and more knowing than a street gang. They manage to squeeze every disco cliche in there – did you notice ‘Supernature’? It’s the perfect antidote to the turd of an LP it first appeared on, The Wall.

    It would have gone down a storm at Studio 54.

    1. Not sure that you were quite hard enough on the Osmond’s. Probably everyone associated with this abomination should be air dropped into the Taliban controlled southern part of Afghanistan and left to rot.

  2. All Saints – “Under the Bridge” (the original was pretty fucking awful as well).
    Literally anything that U2 have turned their shriveled claws to….
    While we’re on the subject, can someone start a petition (or war, either way I’ll sign up) against those thenthitive piano covers of upbeat pop/rock classics that litter almost every ad break on TV? Slowing down to funereal speed and playing with one finger does not imbue a song with more meaning.
    Just waiting for a plinky-plonky version of ‘Lust For Life’ overlaying an ad for funeral plans and I will have achieved the highest level of wisdom this planet has to offer….

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