Back in December I wrote about a few criminally overlooked cover songs. For music fans, hearing a different artist bring new perspective to a great song is nothing short of sublime. The trouble is, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Often times the original recording, by the original artist, represents the true pinnacle of that songs potential. It’s for that reason that cover songs are a dicey business. Here are a few that never should have seen the light of day.
5 Criminally Bad Cover Songs
Judas Priest “Johnny B. Goode”
Judas Priest recorded this cover of the Chuck Berry classic for the utterly forgettable Anthony Michael Hall movie of the same name (0% on Rotten Tomatoes!). They did this after refusing to allow Tony Scott to use their song “Reckless” in a little movie called Top Gun. There’s not a word in the English language for a string of decisions this bad.
Celine Dion “You Shook Me All Night Long”
Cringe-worthy does not even begin to describe this musical Hindenburg. It’s like watching your mom try to rap along with a Lil Kim song. Traumatizing.
David Bowie & Mick Jagger “Dancing in the Streets”
Even rock royalty isn’t immune. This song could not be more generic and soulless if it was being karaoked by a Mormon youth group. It also has the ignominious distinction of having one of the worst videos of the MTV era.
Guns ‘n Roses – “Sympathy for the Devil”
Generally speaking, if you’re in a rock band, you should probably not cover any songs by the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Just don’t. You can’t pull it off. The originals are too well loved, and believing that you can improve upon them is the height of hubris.
The B-52’s “Meet the Flintstones”
This actually makes sense. It’s awful, but I get it.
Usually when you see that question you expect an interesting answer. Not today. I really just want to know. Here are 3 artists who not only did some amazing work, but could very easily still be relevant today if circumstance hadn’t faded them into obscurity.
Micheal Penn – One of my all-time favorite artists. Michael Penn (yes, he’s the brother of Sean Penn) actually won a Best New Artist VMA in 1990 for the single “No Myth.” He followed that success with several brilliant albums of intelligent, Beatles-ish pop. For reasons that escape me entirely, they were not successful. His most recent offering appears to be the song “The Count of Pennsylvania” which currently has less than 12,000 views on YouTube. It’s every bit as amazing as anything he ever did.
Grant Lee Buffalo – If you were into alternative rock in the mid-90’s and you were also sad a lot, Grant Lee Buffalo’s 1994 album Mighty Joe Moon probably never left your CD player. The song “Happiness” has the distinction of being the most depressing song ever written with that title.
Dada – Their first single “Dizz Knee Land” (spelled to presumably avoid a trademark suit) was a huge hit on rock radio. With good reason. It’s irreverent, sardonic and infinitely catchy. Follow up singles like “Dim” were every bit as good, but never seemed to move the needle.
Calling the music industry “fickle” is far too generous. It’s brutal. Talented songwriters, inspiring bands and worthwhile albums are routinely and unceremoniously cast aside in favor of empty popstars performing glorified commercial jingles. It’s left to dorks like me to carry the flag on this tiny little corner of the internet. WHO’S WITH ME! MUSIC NERDS, ASSEMBLE!
I never really cared for Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever.” The main riff always reminded me of a warped version of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” But that’s not the only reason. Besides being uninspired musically, I could never take it seriously after I found out that Cat Scratch Fever was an actual disease. Of course I’m keenly aware that Ted Nugent wasn’t actually writing about subacute regional lymphadenitis (the less said about his true intent the better). But what if he was? What if The Nuge wanted to draw attention to this relatively benign illness because he felt strongly about raising awareness of it in the public consciousness? What if that trend caught on? What if it became trendy for 70’s rock artists to record songs about relatively harmless medical conditions? Imagine a world where these were real songs…
Rush – “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (parts I-IV)”
It may seem a bit wordy, but it would probably fit right in with their prog-rock 70’s epics.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Halitosis”
They’ve already got a song called “That Smell” so this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
ABBA – “Alopecia”
If anyone could make a song about total hair loss catchy, it’s ABBA. The Broadway musical they’d eventually make based on the song would probably be a hit too.
Kiss – “Gout”
The fact that it also rhymes with the word ‘shout’ makes it a lyrical no-brainer. Perfect for a band that never met a bad lyric they didn’t like.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Conjunctivitis”
Those guys seem like they might need an alternative explanation for their bloodshot eyes anyway.
Blue Oyster Cult – “(Don’t Fear) The Head Lice”
There was a lot of hair in that band. The Reaper was the least of their concerns.
Rod Stewart – “Tooth Decay”
His work did became progressively more saccharine as the 70’s wore on. I imagine that this song would fit nicely on 1978’s Blondes Have More Fun.
Well, that just about does it for this week kids. Be sure and join me next week for What if 80’s Music Videos Only Starred Dachshunds. And be sure to check out my upcoming book, Wild Side: The Sociopolitical Impact of Glam Metal on the 1988 Presidential Election.
– Whenever I get coffee from the vending machine here in the beautiful Rick L. and Vicki L. James University Center, I always pay the extra 10-cents for the “premium” blend. Why do I do that? How much better could the premium blend possibly be?
– There will always be more toes in the world than people.
– It’s not a reunion if all the former members of your band are still alive and active in music, but not part of said reunion. Lookin’ at you Guns ‘n Roses.
– I’m not sure what “molecular gastronomy” is, but I’m pretty sure it would make an extremely unsatisfying meal.
– Is owning a fish tank really worth the hassle?
– I once saw a billboard decrying the evils of rhinoceros poaching. Of course I’m against rhino poaching, but do you think that billboard made a single rhino poacher rethink his position on the issue?
– All CD’s make great coasters, but Matchbox 20 CD’s are the most satisfying.
– These would have made better tweets. Oh well. Follow us on Twitter!
Well, Valentine’s Day has come and gone. I don’t know what your significant other did for you, but I have a pretty good idea what they didn’t do. They didn’t make you a mixtape. That’s a shame. Nothing quite has the nerdy romantic earnestness of being handed a cassette that someone spent hours putting together. You know that hours of thought went in to picking just the right songs. But, it’s more than just song choices. The running order makes a difference too. The fact that each song is a mystery up until the moment it starts playing also matters. Once you’ve received a mixtape from someone you love, each song will forever have a different context. A better context. It’s the perfect gift really.
At least this is what I told my wife when I handed her a cassette tape on Valentine’s Day. She teared up, then correctly pointed out that we haven’t had a cassette player in the house for nearly 15 years. She’s right of course. Good thing too. That cassette was blank.
I’ve written before about the demise of the Album Era, and how music in general has been devalued in the age of the mp3. I make no bones about it, I’m nostalgic for a time when albums mattered. But my melancholy isn’t strictly about the music. One aspect of this tragic shift that often gets overlooked is the death of album cover art. Does anyone even know what the cover of Adele’s album looks like? I certainly don’t. People just don’t care anymore. We may never again experience the kind iconic album art that’s seared into our collective consciousness (Dark Side of the Moon anyone?). But perhaps more importantly, we’ll never again experience the sublime, ridiculous, head-scratching artwork that adorned many album covers in the 70’s and 80’s. Some of it was truly transcendent in its unmitigated stupidity. For example, in 1981 the American heavy metal band Riot released their 3rd album titled Fire Down Under. This was the cover.
The band’s name and the title of the album are clearly expressed, but beyond that, what the hell am I looking at? Is that a human with an enormous harp seal head standing in front of a forest fire? Unless this is a concept album about campfire safety and the dangers of genetic manipulation, I’m guessing this isn’t what the band envisioned. What it is instead is gloriously awful. A bad idea and even worse execution. I miss that.
So, everyone’s talking about the lottery. Again. It seems like every couple of years the Powerball jackpot gets high enough to make it everyone’s favorite small talk topic. What would you do with the money? Did you by your tickets? I never understood this. No matter how high the jackpot gets, I know one thing is absolutely certain. I will not win. Not just because I refuse to buy a ticket, but because I have a rudimentary understanding of the odds. In this case, one in more than 292 million. It’s hard to comprehend those numbers, but suffice it to say, putting any amount of money on odds like that seems foolhardy at best, and dangerously delusional at worst. I won’t win because I won’t buy a ticket. You won’t win either. No matter how many tickets you buy, you won’t win. People don’t like to hear this. They make two basic arguments. First, is the “you can’t win if you don’t play” argument. Technically that’s true. However, I feel very confident saying that you will not win either and I’ll have a few extra dollars in my pocket for tacos. The odds are overwhelmingly in my favor after all. The second argument is the “it’s fun” cliche. It isn’t fun. It barely qualifies as a game. Pick numbers and we’ll see if you get them right. Hooray for guessing numbers!
Of course, if I’m wrong and you actually win, the best way to rub it in my face would be to buy me an expensive house. That’ll show me.
The holidays are wonderful time of year. Or maybe they’re not. I don’t know you or your family. Perhaps this time of year is a nightmarish blur of angry relatives, long car rides and lime jello with carrot shavings in it. But one thing is certain. There are iTunes gift cards burning a hole in your skinny jeans, and if you will indulge me, I have a few song suggestions.
5 Criminally Overlooked Cover Songs
Counting Crows – “Friend of the Devil”
Faithful enough to the Grateful Dead classic, but with just the right amount of Adam Duritz’s signature melancholy.
BulletBoys – “Hang On St. Christopher”
How this forgettable 80’s glam rock outfit ended up covering Tom Waits is a mystery to me, but they absolutely kill it. The version that appears on their 2006 greatest hits collection is raw, restrained and about as cool as the BulletBoys ever got.
Concrete Blonde – “Tomorrow Wendy”
This song actually appeared on Concrete Blonde’s classic 1990 album Bloodletting more than two months before the original was released on Wall Of Voodoo singer Andy Prieboy’s first solo album. It also has the distinction of being the saddest song you will hear all day.
Peter Gabriel – “The Book of Love”
I actually prefer the Magnetic Fields original, but there’s a wonderful raw beauty to Peter Gabriel’s vocals. For my money, it’s the greatest love song ever written.
Sun Kil Moon – “Never Ending Math Equation”
Love him or hate him, Mark Kozelek does what he wants. In 2005 he decided to follow-up his band Sun Kil Moon’s critically adored debut Ghosts of the Great Highway with an entire album of Modest Mouse covers. It worked. That album (Tiny Cities) manages to perfectly mesh the controlled chaos of Modest Mouse with the delicate gloom of Sun Kil Moon.
I have recently come to the disturbing realization that, as a 42-year old music fan, the number of great songs I remember is likely surpassed by the number of great songs I’ve forgotten. I discovered this alarming prospect after I stumbled on to a list of the 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the 80’s. Coming in at #94 (the back end of these lists are always more interesting than the front right?) was “Save it for Later” by The English Beat. I have no idea how many times you’ve heard this song in the last year, but chances are it’s not enough. That’s certainly the case with me. That got me wondering, how many great songs have I completely forgotten about? I fear that the number is shockingly high, and it fills me with a strange existential dread. There are songs that I love that I will likely never hear again. And it’s happening to you too. We’ve all inadvertently become pop culture hoarders. We have a mountain of movies, TV shows, podcasts and music available to us on demand. As awesome as that might seem, it has an ironic side effect. It’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone. There are thousands of amazing songs that you will never hear again because they’ve been buried under a pile of pop culture you only barely care about.
Anyway, here’s The English Beat with “Save it for Later”
The last thing I want to do is weigh in on a matter of public controversy. After all, it would be foolish to take a controversial stand which might alienate some WEAX fans. In fact, whatever the issue is, I want to assure you that WEAX agrees with you. You are 100% correct. That’s why I won’t be writing about Starbucks, red cups or the War on Christmas. Nope. Not this guy. No way.
Instead, I’d like to offer up a hopeful example of common ground; a symbol of the holiday season that makes everyone happy. The Christmas Sweater. Amazingly, against all odds, this staple of the holidays has managed to remain happily inoffensive to everyone. Whether it’s worn with complete sincerity by you grandma or ironically by your hipster cousin, the Christmas Sweater never fails to receive a smile. Imagine a world where everything holiday related, from greetings to coffee cups, elicited the same reaction as the Christmas Sweater. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?