38 thoughts on “Question of the Week: What are the worst cover songs?

  1. Truly awful covers:

    1. Behind Blue Eyes – Limp Bizkit
    Fred Durst deserves a black eye for this.

    2. Knocking On Heaven’s Door- GnR
    Axl makes sure that the world knows that he is whining oaf.

    3. Comfortably Numb – Scissors Sisters
    Put them against The Wall, take aim and let them wet themselves.

  2. best…
    1. David Bowie/Wild Is the Wind

    2. Jimi Hendrix/All Along the Watchtower

    2. Isaac Hayes/Walk On By

    3. D’Angelo/She’s Always In My Hair

    4. The Isley Brothers/Hello, Its Me

    5. The Brothers Johnson/Strawberry Letter 22

  3. Best:

    There’s Gonna Be A Showdown – New York Dolls
    I Fought The Law – Clash
    Trapped – Bruce Springsteen
    Que Sera Sera – Sly And The Family Stone
    Ticket To Ride – Husker Du
    The Israelites – Richard Thompson
    This Magic Moment – Lou Reed
    Just like Heaven – Dinosaur Jr.
    Jolene – White Stripes
    Black Diamond – Replacements

  4. Three of the Worst:

    “It Ain’t Me Babe” by Johnny Cash & June Carter
    “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer
    “Dancing in the Streets” by Jagger & Bowie

    Four of My Favorites:

    “All That Heaven Will Allow” by The Mavericks
    “Hey Jude” by Wilson Pickett
    “First We Take Manhattan” by R.E.M.
    “Suspicious Minds” by Dwight Yoakam

  5. Best:
    Mudhoney “Revolution”
    Husker Du “Eight Miles High”
    The Byrds “Mr. Tamborine Man”
    Jimi Hendrix “All Along The Watchtower”

    Motley Crue “Anarchy In The U.K.”
    David Bowie & Mick Jagger “Dancing In The Streets”
    Will To Power “Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird”
    Disturbed “Land Of Confusion”

  6. I was actually going to list this as one of my favorites!:

    [i]Will To Power “Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird”[/i]

    A hell of a lot more fun (and more beautiful) (and less boring) than Hendrix’s “Watchtower,” for Crissakes.

    Not sure what else — probably a few Mitch Ryder and Boney M tracks. Among other things. Several versions of “Jet Boy Jet Girl”/”Ca Plane Pour Moi,” “The Mexican,” and “Whiskey in the Jar,” no doubt. Maybe even a “Louie Louie” or “Gloria” or two.

    But yeah, David Bowie & Mick Jagger “Dancing In The Streets” definitely does belong on the stinker list.

  7. Oh yeah, Dictators’ “California Sun” belongs in the plus column too, I think, And Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood.” And Santa Esmeralda’s Animals covers. And the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” cover. And a version of “Hey Joe” or two, probably. And maybe a couple Elvis *Sun Sessions* tracks. (And Tiffany’s “I Saw Him Standing There* should be way up there somewhere, too, if only to piss off Beatles fanatics, right? I’m sure you agree.)

  8. And the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout”. And Guns N Roses’ “Down on the Farm.” And Nazareth’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown” (Nazareth did *lots* of cool cover versions.) Honestly, this would take months of research to narrow down. (The worst-covers-ever list would be even harder, but the research wouldn’t be as much fun.)

  9. Not sure “I Fought the Law” would be my favorite cover by the Clash, either. It’s pretty great, but I’d probably pick “Police and Thieves,” and “Police on My Back” and “Armagideon Time” might be up there, too. Though I’d probably take the Anti-Nowhere League’s “Streets of London” (though not Metallica’s cover of Anti-Nowhere League’s “So What”) over any of those.

    Joan Jett and Girlschool have lots of great covers, too. And consideration have to be given to Jett’s “I Love Rock N Roll,” along with Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,’ as Great Cover Versions That Aren’t Even Thought Of As Covers Since Nobody Ever Heard The Originals.

    What else? Montgomery Gentry’s “Just Got Paid.” (And yeah, Girlschool’s “Tush.”) Thin Lizzy’s “Rosalie,” The Stories’ “Brother Louie.” Earthquake’s “Emma.” Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” (Jazz has TONS of great covers, now that I think of it, And classical music is almost ALL covers by now, right?)

    As for the worst covers ever, I’d guess that a huge plurarity of my bottom hundred would be covers by deluded punk bands pretending they were making great pop and rock hits more “intense” by speeding them and draining all their life out, and/or by dumbass indie rock bands slowing them down and doing ditto in deluded hopes of making them “ominous”. Not saying I’d nominate them per se’, but I swear a lot of blame here has to go to the Replacements, who as I recall wrecked perfectly good songs by Foreigner, Bad Company, etc, back in drunk *When the Shit Hits the Fans* days. (Did they ever do a GOOD cover? No, that Kiss one doesn’t count, sorry.) I do like the Pop-O-Pies versions of “Truckin’,” though. And Afghan Whigs’ cover of TLC’s “Creep.” So it doesn’t ALWAYS not work.

    Man, curses on whoever got me to start thinking on this stuff…

  10. A hell of a lot more fun (and more beautiful) (and less boring) than Hendrix’s “Watchtower,” for Crissakes. Either you’re being sarcastic or there’s something wrong with you. The solo after “the hour’s getting late! Hey!” is a thing of beauty. Radio fatique has pretty much numbed the song for me, but I’m not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Points deducted for actually admitting that you find a song thrown together by a coked-up top 40 dj out of Miami as “fun” and “beautiful.” Sounds like someone needs to change the adult contemporary station in their minivan.

  11. [i]coked-up top 40 dj out of Miami [/i[

    You left out the Nietzsche stuff. And the guns. (Said DJ is a scary looking guy named Bob Rosenberg, if anybody’s wondering.)

    Actually, Will to Power’s *Journey Home* (second album, where they cover “Boogie Nights” instead) might be my favorite ( = the best) album of the ’90s, period. But the debut’s pretty great, too.

  12. You are right, though, about Jimi’s guitar in “Watchtower” having some beauty to it. It’s just that the song’s such a slog to actually *get through* that I almost never last long enough to hear what makes it good. (I’ve never been a huge fan of Dylan’s version either, to be honest. Neither ranks among their best tracks, to my ears.)

  13. Tangentially related topic: How, while Creedence’s covers of “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Susie Q,” and “Proud Mary” clearly don’t rank among the “worst cover versions ever,” they DO rank among the least exciting well-known Creedence tracks ever. (Only real competition: Any song where they sing about rain.) I just really don’t understand those guys as a jam band.

  14. Still slackjawed about the Will To Power, but I’ll leave it at that.
    With the exception of an utterly pointless take on “Johnny B Goode,” Judas Priest has provided some good covers.
    Baez’ “Diamonds & Rust”
    Spooky Tooth’s “Better By You, Better Than Me”
    Pete Green’s “Green Manalish”

    Now, Peter Tosh’s take on “Johnny B Goode” is a personal favorite.

  15. First off, kudos for making it past the ‘spam queue’ (a big relief, for me & I’m sure others @ least). Second, sorry for the absence of interaction… killer flu going on from some sneezer whom I don’t have the energy to vex.

    ‘nyhoozle.. two points for possible sub-discussion: certain versions of songs. Could a preference be more intimate rather than critical? Like, if for example, someone heard Dylan’s ‘Watchtower’ during a certain point in life where the song just took on the meaning of the listener – who may be in a particularly emotionally open state? Heard @ a different time in their lives they might not catch the same feeling.

    And secondly, somewhat ot, do guys seem to have more of an affinity with Credence than women do? Again, this may have to do turning points b/c as a young kid I recall really digging them in light of social/political times, but later, just not as much (unless, for some reason, over AM radio, driving late on a summer night). Yet, many of my musician/critic guy pals hold them closer than other bands. As said, it’s only a mild observation & could hold many explanations.

    With that in mind, factor the flu in as appropriate. (wince/wink)

  16. I wish I could think of what the worst was. Sort of along the lines of what Chuck was referring to (though I COMPLETELY disagree in regards to the Replacements; some of those covers from *Shit Hits the Fans* are pretty great, incl. the ones that last 20 seconds) but more specifically on the smarmy side, like Lords of the New Church’s belching and crude version of “Like a Virgin,” for instance (I do like the Ciccone Youth Madonna cover, though, even though they may also be mocking).

    Greatest ever (since we’re on Dylan here): Bryan Ferry’s “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall”

  17. Good points, A.C.. I don’t know that Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” is one of my fave cuts, even in Jimi’s own canon, but on the other hand I never mind hearing it again when it pops up. As you note, it’s that “emotionally open” association at work. I recall Hendrix’s “Watchtower” being a radio hit in the fall of 1968, when I was 21 years old, had just graduated from college, and was contemplating the prospect of going to jail if I refused induction into the Vietnam War. The song’s paranoid tone fit my life perfectly then and still calls up my most Kafkaesque year ever.

    Timing is everything. I discussed this with Chuck a few years ago, that he seems to have signed on for life to the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” because of first hearing it at the impressionable age of eight (1969.) When I was eight (1955), the radio staple that really stuck with me was Frank Sinatra’s “Young at Heart”. Sure it’s schmaltz, but Proust-like, it forever calls up for me working on my stamp collection in the Circle Avenue dining room. By 1968, of course, targeted by the man for being young at heart, I really needed “Watchtower”‘s paranoid depths instead. “Sugar, Sugar”‘s near- contemporary popularity made me feel that the Hanna-Barberians were at the gate of pop music, something else to regret if I went into stir. Ah, timing . . .

    Many thanks, A.C., for bringing up the $64-dollar Creedence question. CCR were good liberals first of all (weren’t we all?), and made good records as such, but I’ve always found their endlessly heavy rotation on all the oldies shows way out of proportion to the their lack (for me) of a real rock’n’roll EDGE. Something I’ve wondered for years: Are there ANY Creedence originals about SEX?!? (“Suzie Q” doesn’t count, that’s a cover of Dale Hawkins.) It seems to me that all their big songs come not from the sensual realm, but from a sepia photo hanging on Greil Marcus’s American Studies office wall, and a lot of Guys evidently prefer that no-touching sociolgical playbook. (Not me, baby, 7 & 7 still IS.)

  18. Was Ridin’ along side the highway, rollin’ up the country side.
    Thinkin’ I’m the devil’s heatwave, what you burn in your crazy mind?
    Saw a slight distraction standin’ by the road;
    She was smilin’ there, yellow in her hair;
    Do you wanna, I was thinkin’, would you care.

    Sweet Hitch-a-Hiker,
    We could make music at the Greasy King.
    Sweet Hitch-a-Hiker,
    Won’t you ride on my fast machine?

    Cruisin’ on thru the junction, I’m flyin’ ’bout the speed of sound,
    Noticin’ peculiar function, I ain’t no roller coaster show me down.
    I turned away to see her, Woa! she caught my eye,
    But I was rollin’ down, movin’ too fast;
    Do you wanna, She was thinkin’ can it last.


    Was busted up along the highway, I’m the saddest ridin’ fool alive.
    Wond’ring if you’re goin’ in my way, won’t you give a poor boy a ride?
    Here she comes a ridin’, Lord, She’s flyin’ high.
    But she was rollin’ down, movin’ too fast;
    Do you wanna, She was thinkin’ can I last.

  19. Still, Richard has a point! I just checked my CCR albums (I have, like, three, plus *Chronicles* — all on vinyl, none on CD) and outside of that one, they *do* seem generally devoid of sex songs. Not sure how come I never noticed that before. I gotta say, though, that they’ve never *sounded* particularly sexless to me. But I can see how, if I was ten years older, maybe I would have thought of them as a stodgy folk-museum band since they wore flannel instead of hippie clothes (but jeez, they sure as heck had catchier and less snoozeful songs than the Band or the Dead, right? Not to mention, I dunno, Los Lobos decades later. All of whom beat the heck out of most alt-country etc.) Lately I prefer to think of CCR as the roots of Nazareth (even more than Janis was.) (Their big cover versions ARE mostly snoozeful, though, like I said. And I’d forgotten “I Put A Smell On You,” as useless as those other three.)

    I agree with Scott about Ciconne Youth’s “Into the Groove(y).” (In fact, I think I had a silly theory once that *lots* of Sonic Youth’s less boring songs were covers — of not just Madonna, but the Carpenters, Plastic Bertrand, Shonen Knife, Crime, um….okay, maybe not the Stooges. Didn’t they also cover Venus and the Razorblades or somebody like that once, on an *Evol* B-side?)

  20. Thanks for the research and the “Sweet Hitch-Hiker” lyrics, Chuck — I’ll rest easier tonight knowing that Iron John Fogerty wrote at least ONE tune featuring a woman.

  21. Granted, it’s not the most straightforward lyric in the world, but isn’t “Proud Mary” at least to some degree about sex?

  22. Chuck Eddy Says:
    September 25, 2008 at 7:16 pm
    Sure, but Richard stipulated “Creedence *originals*…

    …unless Mr. Eddy’s got some proof otherwise, “Proud Mary” counts:


    …I certainly consider CCR one of the All-Time Great Bands, right up there with Beatles, Stones, Velvets, and Talking Heads. I never noticed the lack of sex angle. Could it be, that, like Roy Orbison, Fogerty stayed too consumed with the impossibility of belonging, to wonder much about what would happen if he actually belonged?

    Elsewhere in Chuckdom:

    “Actually, Will to Power’s *Journey Home* (second album, where they cover “Boogie Nights” instead) might be my favorite ( = the best) album of the ’90s, period.”

    Hold it, holditholditholditholdit*hold it*–better than Stacey Q’s “Boomerang”? “Hot Wire” *or* “$how Bu$ine$$” by Kix? “Fresh!” by Gina G.? (You want me to believe it’s better than “Fresh!” by Gina G., you’re gonna have to get hard on the sell…)


  23. *unless Mr. Eddy’s got some proof otherwise, “Proud Mary” counts*

    Nah, you got me on that. But I am not ashamed to say (well, maybe I am, but who cares at this point in life) that, until this very second, I swear I had no idea that Fogerty wrote that song. Guess I should’ve checked. I’ve just always assumed otherwise for some reason == though Ike and Tina’s far superior version did come *later,* huh? Duh. (To be honest, I’ve also always assumed it was about a boat.)

  24. Funnily enough, me too, on both points.
    Also, ‘Sweet Hitch Hiker’ is about the only female sexually charged song I recall, as well. Big go-go dancing one, among those who did so in their teen bedrooms. To me it recreates a time when kids did hitch hike, however briefly and idealistically, and the prospect of picking up a young, unspoiled one.

  25. Chuck asks:

    “Did [the Replacements] ever do a GOOD cover? No, that Kiss one doesn’t count, sorry.”

    Of course, they did, Chuck. Many GREAT covers, as a matter of fact. From “Hello, Dolly” to “Takin’ Care of Business” onstage. From “I Think I Love You” to “Cruella DeVille” to that version of “Route 66” with Dickinson killing on piano in the studio. In fact, I saw them do a version of “Johnny B. Goode” in Ann Arbor at the Michigan Theater (with an usher they recruited to fill in for the missing Bob Stinson) that couldn’t have been any better/dynamic/exciting if it had been the Stones playing it in ’66 or Chuck himself playing it in ’57. And we’re talking “Johnny B. Goode” here, for godssakes.

    Oh, yeah, and all of you naysayers are wrong about Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” too. One of the best Dylan covers ever. And one of the most dramatic, “cinematic” rock songs ever, too. I believe that next to the covers Elvis did of his material (especially “Tomorrow is a Long Time”), Dylan also appreciates that one more than all the others.

    As for best and worst, yeesh. I love cover songs and could fill up a book with my choices. But let’s just start with Hank Williams’ version of “Lovesick Blues” (though I do prefer Patsy Cline’s even feistier version). Jerry Lee Lewis has always been a covers king; he makes every song his own. Also Sarah Palin’s “If I Only Had A Brain”…

  26. I have a tape somewhere of the Replacements performing “Heart of Stone” that borders on collapse. I’m not sure if it’s just the quality of the dub or what, but I swear you can hear a fan — not an audience member, but an actual cooling device — whizzing in the background as Stinson takes a guitar solo that sounds like his guitar is completely broken and he’s trying to piece it back together. It’s a complete trainwreck, but really amazing as Westerberg keeps kicking it back into gear.

    On that note, I might be the only one to like this, but I believe it’s the Stones at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ, 1978 and they do a beautifully sloppy version of Just My Imagination that also sounds like it might collapse at any given moment.

  27. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes have made a damn career out of bad covers.

    Clapton covering himself on the MTV Unplugged version of “Layla” sucks the life out of the song. It’s got me on my knees.

    On my list of the best:
    The Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
    The Them’s wailing “Turn On Your Love Light”
    Creedence’s “Midnight Special”. That’s right, I said it.
    Joe Cocker’s “Let It Be.” I never felt this song until I heard Joe emote on it.
    Wilson Pickett – “Hey Jude” and “Sugar Sugar”
    Aretha Franklin – “Border Song” and “The Weight” – bringing rock back to gospel
    Gram Parsons – “Love Hurts”
    Johnny Cash – “I’ve Been Everywhere”
    Ike & Tina Turner – “Come Together” – puts the groove in “groovin’ up slowly”
    Any Otis Redding cover, such as “Day Tripper”, “Try a Little Tenderness,” etc.
    Eric Burdon & the Animals – “Bring It On Home to Me”
    and any of the great R&B numbers the J. Geils Band breathed new life into on their 70s live albums.

  28. Re the CCR sexless theme, it was Christgau in his book from the early 70s (Any Old Way You Choose It) that mentioned that CCR songs mostly avoided the typical love/sex lyrics. And in the context of the predominantly male fanship, its ironic that one of the best rock essays on CCR was by Ellen Willis. It mentioned how she tired of Jagger and leaned more to CCR at the tag end of the 60s – I forget the reasons why, I read it about 25 years ago – but it’s good writing. Maybe it was to do with Jagger poncing around and playing games (and people realising maybe he really wasn’t anti establishment) whereas Fogerty was straight ahead, stripped down (maybe like the early Stones??). The essay is in the Rolling Stone History of R’n’R.

  29. I’m adding this comment so that everyone will be forewarned. We won’t put up with name-calling here, nor is this a place for hype guised as long self-serving diatribes. If that turns out to be the case, expect that posts can be edited or deleted altogether.

  30. Alex Chilton “The Rubber Room””, Television “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” & “Fire Engine”; Neil Young “My Back Pages”; John Coltrane “My Favorite Things” if jazzz isn’t cheating

  31. Like Chuck said, this is one big can of worms…
    More greats include Chilton reinventing KC&the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” and “Waltz Across TX” & the MC5’s “Rambling Rose” & the Stooge’s Louie, Louie” & Will Rigby doing Merle Haggard “I Can’t Hold Myself in Line”.

  32. I didn’t see this question for MONTHS…. skimming thru – I’d have to add their cover of “Love Hurts” as one of Nazareth’s great choices of covers and brilliant interpretations…

    too many bad covers to even start a list…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.