When cover songs are poorly received, the artist in question could suffer a serious blow to their reputation and the possibility of being immortalised as a music meme.
Following on from a previous article on great covers you might not know, here are five examples of cover songs that, for one reason or another, are not worth a second listen.
Puddle of Mudd – “About a Girl” (originally by Nirvana)
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A case where the vocalist alone is responsible for a cover being a musical trainwreck, Puddle of Mudd’s cover of Nirvana’s “About a Girl” is so bad, SiriusXM (where it was performed in January of last year) had the video unlisted since being uploaded onto YouTube, with the cover taking over three months to gain traction, albeit for the wrong reasons.
Puddle of Mudd frontman, Wes Scantlin, is not what you would call a great vocalist by any means, and his attempts to channel his inner Kurt Cobain do not help him here.
His bandmates also seem completely bewildered in their reactions. They do deserve credit in doing a faithful take inspired by Nirvana’s immortal MTV Unplugged performance, while also not laughing or deciding to simply stop playing.
For obvious reasons, it has since become one of the new great music memes of the internet age.
Duran Duran – “Thank You” (originally by Led Zeppelin)
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The title track to Duran Duran’s 1995 cover album of the same name (widely derided as being one of the worst albums ever recorded) sums up how much of a colossal misfire Thank You ended up being.
For anyone who may be unfamiliar with this deep cut from Led Zeppelin II, “Thank You” is a vulnerable and beautiful folk rock ballad, which Robert Plant wrote as a love letter to his then-wife Maureen (his first song written as Led Zeppelin’s full-time lyricist).
The electric guitar lines in the track’s intro are grating, the effects dilute the core of the simplistic instrumental of the original, and vocalist Simon Le Bon legitimately sounds like he is drunk.
Add in that the final two minutes, which is nothing more than an effect-driven outro, is not only completely unnecessary, but is a borderline insult to John Paul Jones’ tasteful playing of the Hammond organ, which added colour to the original track, and did not try to dominate the soundscape.
Compared to the heights of Duran Duarn’s early years, particularly on the Rio album, this is as much of an insult to Led Zeppelin as it is to Duran Duran’s own back catalogue.
5 Seconds of Summer – “American Idiot” (originally by Green Day)
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When 5 Seconds of Summer were asked to be a part of Kerrang’s tribute album to Green Day’s 2004 album, the idea seemed good in concept, as while the 5SOS’s music is a bit generic in places, they are pretty competent musicians. The track, while feeling a little too polished, starts off reasonably promising, until the chorus comes around.
Who honestly thought that harmonised poppy vocals was a good idea on a mid 2000s cover of a Green Day song, especially as the track is a scathing critique of mass media in the US at the height of the War on Terror?
It is far too jarring for the listener who is familiar with the concept and themes of the American Idiot album, which unfortunately makes the song a relatively poor tribute, as it fails to keep the tone of the lyrics, in favour of turning the track into a care-free singalong.
Outside of this glaring problem, the track is performed well by the group. However, their version is a case of where if 5SOS took a slightly different approach, then it could have ended up being extremely enjoyable from start to finish.
Jim Carrey and George Martin – “I Am the Walrus” (originally by The Beatles)
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This is the only cover here that might be worth a second listen. Jim Carrey’s take on John Lennon’s nonsense masterpiece earns that distinction on this list because it is Jim Carrey completely buying into the absurd erraticism of the idea. As a massive Beatles fan, I never even knew this existed until researching songs for this list.
With the production and band leadership being handled by late Beatles producer, George Martin, the track underneath Carrey naturally sounds great, placing the attention on Carrey himself.
While “I Am the Walrus” is objectively the best cover on this list by some distance, Carrey’s constant and often manic vocal take could easily make it unlistenable to even those who are a fan of the song.
However, with the comedic actor proclaiming that he had “defiled a timeless piece of art” during the outro, only adds to the joke which George Martin was clearly in on. On first listen, it was a moment which left me in stitches after being completely perplexed for the first three and a half minutes.
It’s more of a funny one-off listening novelty than an outright terrible cover.
All Saints – “Under the Bridge” (originally by Red Hot Chili Peppers)
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Any good cover song almost always shows respect, or at the very least tries to show reverence to the intent behind the original song. All Saints’ version of the 1991 Red Hot Chili Peppers’ classic fails on all counts, and it is difficult to decide on where to start describing why.
The vocals sound wispy and vacant, while the instrumental feels almost as watered down and sanitised as a pair of hands after both coming and going from the shop.
The biggest crime that the All Saints’ version commits however, is its desecration to the song’s original meaning, with “Under the Bridge” describing Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis’ struggles and fears about relapsing on heroin into a vapidly vage lyric about… It is actually hard to say what the meaning this version of the song is about.
The band, and Kiedis in particular, denounced the cover, with Keidis remarking that the omission of the final verse, which contains the line “Under the bridge downtown/Is where I drew some blood”, stripped the song of any personal and emotional significance.
It’s an emotionally empty cover, which is barely worth a first listen.