There must be something in the air this week, because on the same morning that Glee‘s flaccid attempt at Radiohead’s “Creep” did the rounds on various music blogs, World of Wonder reposted Barbra Streisand’s bewildering cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.” This double dose of ghastliness got us thinking about the singular hubris of so many covers that purport to “improve” a song by removing exactly what made it special in the first place. The history of music is littered with these boring renditions of great songs, so for a laugh on a Friday afternoon, here’s a roundup of the most egregious. Try not to throw your computer out the window before you get to the end.
The Cast of Glee — “Creep”
You could argue that “Creep” has been dead for years, but honestly, we’re still partial to it — the fact that it’s been overexposed for two decades and even the band has disowned it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a pretty great portrait of the self-loathing and alienation that come with unrequited love. But still, this may well have been the shotgun salvo that finally blasted the shambling zombie into a shower of quivering lurid giblets.
Barbra Streisand — “Life on Mars”
And, yes, this really happened. Why, we can’t begin to tell you. But it happened.
Neil Diamond — “Suzanne”
There’s always something both amusing and depressing about hearing artists sing words they clearly doesn’t understand and/or that have no significance to them. The general strategy seems to be that they attempt to cover up this fact by emoting like crazy — and so it went with Diamond’s clueless butchery of Leonard Cohen’s classic, which featured on Diamond’s Stones, wherein he also inflicted AOR vengeance on songs by Jacques Brel and Randy Newman.
Sixpence None The Richer — “There She Goes”
See also: chart-topping Christian wetbags Sixpence None the Richer deciding to cover The La’s’ love song to heroin. Oh, wait, you didn’t know it was about heroin? GOD WILL NOT BE PLEASED.
The Corrs — “Little Wing”
The world managed to survive quite happily for decades without Lord of the Rings soundtrack-style reworkings of Jimi Hendrix songs, but this fact didn’t deter professionally photogenic ’90s Hiberno-folk quartet The Corrs. Oh, no. “We’ve been performing this for years,” whispers Andrea or Caroline or Sharon at the start of this video, before they unleash what’s surely the single most limp version of “Little Wing” that anyone’s ever recorded. Even Enya would have made it sound more dynamic.
Sheryl Crow — “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
It’s perfectly possible to do a beautiful understated cover of this song — see Victoria Bergsman’s minimalist interpretation, for instance — but the problem with Crow’s version is that it’s neither one thing nor the other: it strips away the muscular charm of the original, but still tries to “rock out,” in a suitably PG-13 kind of way. The result is a tepid interpretation that pleases pretty much no one (except Sheryl Crow fans, perhaps).
Rod Stewart — “Downtown Train”
Curiously enough, we don’t hate this as much as everyone else seems to — perhaps just because we’re rather partial to Stewart’s throaty roar — but still, this is demonstrably inferior to Tom Waits’ original.
Michael Bolton — “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay”
Perhaps the definitive example of the AOR cover. The original is a soulful, melancholy reflection on homelessness and trying to find some sort of meaning in your life, a song rendered all the more bittersweet by the fact that its composer Otis Redding died before he could finish it (or see it become a global hit). The cover is an overblown, overproduced load of codswallop — and yes, of course, Bolton emotes like crazy to try to demonstrate just how deeply he feels Redding’s words. You don’t have to sing like you’re trying to take a shit after swallowing a bunch of Imodium by accident, Michael.
Counting Crows — “The Ballad of El Goodo”
We’ve confessed in the past to a sneaky residual fondness for Counting Crows’ first album, but there’s really no defending what they’ve done to this highlight of Big Star’s #1 Album. The original is characterized by its lightness of touch, a fact entirely lost on Duritz et al, who stomp through the song with expensive cowboy boots and then settle down on what’s left of it for a self-satisfied artisanal beer.
Take That — “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
No, you’re never going to able to unsee this now. We’re really, really sorry.