Top 5 Worst Covers (by Claire)

Welcome to covers month! Because we are very fast and loose here at Charm City Jukebox about when a month starts!

We’re kicking it off with one of the worst covers experiences: Listening to an artist butcher one of your favorite songs. Here are my top 5 least favorite covers. Agree? Disagree? Have a whole list of terrible covers I need to hear? Leave it in the comments.

“Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac, covered by Best Coast

Best Coast’s cover of “Rhiannon” is a little slip of a song, spindly and sexless. The downward spiral starts with the cheerful, plodding piano riff that kicks it off and plays throughout. Bethany Cosantino sings with a thin, singsong voice and turns a previously sultry, complex song into something more fitting for a family-friendly iPad commercial. Imagine kids dressed up in primary colors, flopping on a bright white couch, a blaring screen held tightly to their chest as a perky voice chirps “Would you stay if she promised you heaven/Would you ever win?”

Rhiannon is a bad ass Welsh witch, here to rock your world and maybe steal your soul. Remember this, artists who want to cover this song, and let it guide your choice as to whether or not you should do a cutesy stutter and add an extra “I” to “Dreams unwind/Love’s a state of mind.” (Note to Best Coast: You shouldn’t.)

“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” by Bonnie Raitt, covered by Bon Iver

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” is ten kinds of sad; one listen and I’m suddenly staring at walls in long ago bedrooms, younger and heartbroken and in need of an empathetic soundtrack by Bonnie Raitt.

Raitt’s warm, tightly wound vocals, delivered with such control and exhaustion you want to send her a drink, are replaced here by a grasping, high pitched whine. I never thought I disliked Justin Vernon’s voice, but it’s hard to bear on this track, especially at the beginning of each verse, when he reaches for high notes that are both impossible and unnecessary. Because it’s such a straightforward cover, it’s hard to ignore how wrong Justin Vernon is for this song—a new interpretation, remixed or redesigned, could’ve maybe worked. His voice is high, but usually not this high, and the whole song is really confusing—what is he striving for, since he’s obviously not trying to sound like himself or to emulate Raitt? Did he want to shatter glass? Is this because of Bon Iver’s ongoing feud with Boyz II Men? So many questions.

“Last Kiss,” by Wayne Cochran, covered by Pearl Jam

Try not to cover terrible songs for no tangible reason. Trying to be funny? Go for it. Want to redeem it? Sure. Offering a salute to the kind of beloved guilty pleasure that makes people simultaneously grin and groan? I’ll take it.

Want the world to remember a terrible and fantastically morbid song, the lyrics of which lay out every single detail of a fatal car accident, followed by an exhaustive description of the guy tracking down his girlfriend who was flung by the car and giving her one last kiss before SHE DIES? Shut it down.

I will never forgive Pearl Jam for the six months in middle school that I spent avoiding this song. I WANT THAT TIME BACK EDDIE VEDDER.

“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, covered by the Counting Crows and Vanessa Carlton

Do you get the feeling that they had no idea what this song was about? It’s that, or this song was sponsored by Concrete Incorporated LLC and intended to be a catchy anthem for embracing new parking lots. (“Museum entry to check out those trees is just $1.50! It’s a steal! Ooh bop bop bop!”)


“I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” made popular by Joan Jett, covered by Britney Spears

Hey, did you know that the Joan Jett version of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” is also a cover? Me neither!

Joan Jett delivers this song like a badass rock chick band leader who picks the jukebox song, picks up the guys she wants, and generally runs the show.

Independence! Personal agency! Rock and Roll! There’s a list of words and terms that are totally divorced from the career of circa 2001 Britney Spears, which made this an odd first choice for Spears’ cover song cannon (which includes a very wise I’m-hot-and-rebellious cover of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”and a screw-all-of-you-and-hey-meet-Kevin-Federline cover of “My Prerogative”).

Punctuated with moans, throaty “owwwws,” and gravely dips mid word—Spears employs all the classic sexy vocal moves.  Still not convinced? (Don’t worry, I’ve never found “owwww”, a sound relegated to sex kitten pop stars and toddlers with boo boos, all that sexy either.) There’s a video for that! It kicks off with close ups of her abs and cleavage while her face is shrouded in shadows, cause I guess all the teen boys love spooky faceless ladies. The she strips a little, does some hand jobby stuff to a microphone, crawls on the floor, and straddles a motorcycle. There are also endless close ups of liquid dripping from a thick wire—like a penis? Like a penis.

Is all of this wrong? Nah, just really over the top. The real problem is that in the pursuit of sexy, Spears delivers a truly terrible, really weak version of this song. I’m not a huge Britney Spears fan, but I’m far from a Britney Spears hater. I think she could’ve done better. At that stage in the midriff baring pop game, it would’ve been cool to see a young Spears kick it Joan Jett style, jump up on that bar in her leather jacket and declare her love of rock and roll in a throaty voice to a spellbound crowd.

Top 5 Album Closers

Claire: We’re closing out our month long amble down record collection lane with album closers. Joshua and I had a long discussion about this post after I admitted that post by post, it’s come to my attention that I skip out on the end of most albums. Even some of my favorite albums contain mysterious final tracks that I’ve never reached. Why? Boredom sometimes, but more often it feels like the rhythm and narrative of the album got lost in the last few tracks, and after the penultimate and pre-penultimate, I can’t sit through another assault on my mini musical experience. Leave your favorite album closers, and closer criteria, in the comments! Maybe this post and your suggestions can end my stint as an album closer novice.

“The Big Country,” by the Talking Heads on Talking Heads 77

The Big Country is the epitomy of a proper album send-off. After a musical smorgasbord, this track winds you down, but not too much, not too fast. Perfectly paced, and still in pace with the album as a whole, with a solid last track length. If I’ve learned anything from our month of album posts, it’s that you never really want to leave a Talking Heads album. Once it’s on, once it gets going, it’s hard to give it up, hard to let it end. The Big Country is so satisfying it’s downright quenching.  And when Talking Heads 77 is done, you’ll probably replay the album (I know, you can’t help it) but if for some reason you couldn’t listen through again—if there was a tornado or some kind of martian landing— you could walk away and be okay. Until you remember Stop Making Sense, and then wipe out your schedule and cozy up to David Byrne, cause you’re a goner.

 “Jackson,” by Lucinda Williams on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Around the time I turned 16, my family spent a week in St. Cloud Minnesota, the town where I was born. We stayed with my parents’ friend Julie’s house, where we shucked corn in the backyard, ate mole off of plates perched on our laps, and flailed our open, stinging palms through the air, swatting mosquitos. It’s strange to say three cities later,  but everyone seemed so much more alive in Minnasota. My dad was on the radio, bonfires sprung up and filled with my parents’ college friends, and my sister and I ran free. I tasted my first beer that week (and developed a lifelong hatred of Leinenkugels), got my ears pierced, and spent the morning of my 16th birthday walking right down the center of an endless, empty road. I picked up this album at a record store called The Electric Fetus and listened to it relentlessly.

There’s a great line in Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, about listening to “I Will Always Love You” over and over again, and crying because she had never experienced that kind of love. During that week in St. Cloud, I felt ready to grow up and be tumultous, adventurous, and achingly heartbroken, as soon as I could, and “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” was my window into a life I didn’t have yet, but could reach out and almost touch.

“Save Me,” by Aimee Mann on Bachelor No. 2 or the Last Remains of the Dodo

I was in the throes of a bad breakup, and bingeing on sad girl music (…like Fergie) and a newly reacquired cigarette habit, when I got introduced to Bachelor No. 2. I remember that summer as being rainy and constantly dark, though looking back it was so sunny that I came home daily with a pink, scabby sunburn. And I also remember this album being a pitch-perfect ode to heartbreak, so personalized Mann may as well have laced my name through the choruses. But it’s not, not really. It’s heartbreak and growing up and being so strange inside that new love, someday, feels unlikely. I think this is where I ended up five years after I had exhausted Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, when I really was heartbroken and a little more grown up, and it was a lot less delicious than I had imagined.

“One Man Guy,” by Loudon Wainwright on BBC Sessions

Loudon Wainwright III is the world’s saddest man. If there were a “Sad, old guy singing sad songs” version of the Hunger Games, he would win in a heartbeat. He would get a walloping score from the Gamemakers, based on a freestyle ode to his lost loves and distant children. He would pull out a guitar and beat Leonard Cohen death, then melt everyone into a depressive heap with his pretty, lowkey songs, rife with death and loss and major life mistakes. (Oh my glob I want to cast the Sad Old Guy Hunger Games. What are we thinking, guys? Neil Young, Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe, wild card from District Experimental, Brian Eno…) (I’m reading the Hunger Games and they’re actually haunting my dreams. And this post, apparently.)

“One Man Guy” is an apt ending to a live-ish album: Loudon in concert is a carnival of kooky facial expressions, quips, and goofy smiles, all working together to cleverly mask some of the wrenching sadness in his songs. This song is an exploration of his lodged-in-his-bones-loneliness, and a quick peek behind his live performance mask.

“Murder of One,” by the Counting Crows on August and Everything After

Murder of One is a great big “things are going to change” song. It’s also solid internal montage music: If you need to imagine that things will change, for the better, in a quick, several scene cuts kind of way (instead of in the usual slow, up and down, un-soundtracked way that life works) this is your song. A nice, almost upbeat ending to a brooding, emotional rollercoaster of an album.

Honorable Mentions

“Rock Me to Sleep,” by Jill Sobule on Pink Pearl: Pink Pearl is the worst kind of album: Heartbreakingly sad, and equally catchy. It’s a lovely hummable type of torture, full of failed heroes and cruel lovers and Mary Kay Latourneau. “Rock Me to Sleep” is a pitch-perfect send off—a song about unbearable loneliness masquerading as a lullabye.

“Stumbling Through the Dark,” by The Jayhawks on Rainy Day Music: Another con—the opening sounds lighthearted and playful, but listen to the lyrics for a second and it’s another lovely ramble on sadness and confusion.

“Montana,” by Frank Zappa on Over-Nite SensationWeird and fun, like this whole album. Makes me miss the “I might be moving to Montana soon/ To raise me up a crop of dental floss” pin I made in high school. It had a green field on it with tiny boxes of dental floss growing out of the ground.

Joshua’s List:

“Lawyers, Guns, and Money” by Warren Zevon, on Excitable Boy

The first line is so good: “I went home with a waitress…the way I always do.” It begins with a count-off. It’s loud, crass, and mean. It’s the perfect way to end Excitable Boy. Oh, and the music is pretty damn cool too. I love big guitars, both as a wall of sound and actual physically big guitars. And I can only assume this song has both.

“Sad Songs and Waltzes” by Cake, on Fashion Nugget

I may have mentioned this song before, but as Cake is one of my favorite bands they’re going to get a lot of mentions. And they actually don’t have very many good album closers, at least none I’d be willing to put on this list. Except for this song, of course. It’s a great cover of a Willie Nelson song, and it fits in perfectly with the whole jilted lover theme they have running through the album. Plus, it’s a nice slow way to end the album, which is my favorite way to end an album. And it’s a ¾ waltz! Who doesn’t like a waltz?

“Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show, on O.C.M.S

Let me preface this song with telling you that I am not a big fan of this band. The album this is on is not very good and the only other standout on the album is a song called “Big Time in the Jungle.” But this is quite possibly the best campfire sing-along song of all time. When I was at St. Mary’s College, it seemed like every single person knew the lyrics to this song and everyone who played guitar knew the key changes. So yeah, it wraps up a bad album, but it does it in one of the happiest ways ever.

“Sons & Daughters” by The Decemberists, on The Crane Wife

I’ve seen The Decemberists three times now, and twice they’ve ended their encores with this song. It’s big, it’s happy, and it’s a sing-along! (Ok, so sing-alongs are a running theme this week.) Every time I hear this song it puts a big smile on my face. It’s the perfect way to end The Crane Wife, which I feel is ostensibly a “winter” album, with the spring peeking out of its hidey hole and giving us hope after a long, dark winter.

“All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints” by Paul Simon, on Graceland

So yeah, I love this album. It’s on three of the four lists we have about albums. But goddamn, this is an amazingly fun song. It’s singy, it’s danceable, it’s balling. Also, props to the many mentions of watermelon. I totally want some after listening to this song.

Honorable Mentions:

“The Hazards of Love 4: The Drowned” by The Decemberists, on The Hazards of Love: Only bumped because of previous mentions and a Decemberists song already on the main list. Otherwise, one of my favorite album closers.

“Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang” by John Lee Hooker, on Live at Café Au-Go-Go: His signature song, and one of the best versions available.

“I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder, on Talking Book: Gets a big positive for closing out the movie version of High Fidelity. But it’s also a crazy good song. Also, the outro is really, really, really funky.

Top 5 Snowed in Songs

JOSHUA’S List

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

This song is what it sounds like – it’s a ten minute guitar solo. I’m not big on them as a rule, but this one is different and a little (and mostly likely apocryphal) backstory is necessary: The guitarist, Eddie Hazel, was sat down in a room with a guitar and given a whole bunch of acid. When he was tripping balls, the band started playing a slow backing rhythm. George Clinton then told Hazel that his mother was dead and to start playing the guitar. Halfway through the blistering, emotionally raw solo, Clinton shouted to Hazel that he lied and his mother was alive. You can hear in the track how the playing changes. Still, it’s an awesome song to be snowed-in to. It’s long, it’s haunting, and if you let it, it will take your breath away easier than that draft seeping in the window.

D’Angelo – Untitled (How Does It Feel)

What do you want when you’re snowed in? I know I want a blanket, some hot chocolate, a roaring fire, and a special someone to snuggle up next to. This song is perfect for that – Snuggle up next to your baby and the fire and put this on. Soon enough you’ll be generating enough heat together to want to put that fire out.

The Band – Acadian Driftwood

This isn’t exactly the happiest song. It speaks of the expulsion of the Acadian people from Canadian islands and the hardships they endured during and after. But the melodies and somber and soothing and the guitar is lilting and strangely powerful. It also has great winter lyrics, my favorite being “I set my compass north; I got winter in the blood.” And the singing of Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson always sets my mind to ease.

Miles Davis – All Blues

I was very close to making this list all jazz. There’s something to be said to huddling around in blankets with the windows covered in snow and listen to Miles Davis or John Coltrane soulfully eek out a wonderfully crafted solo. This song has that in spades. It’s slow-moving and plodding, helped by having a simple blues 1-4-5 chord progression played in a 6/8 waltz feel. The head is an almost dark, muted affair mingling Davis solo with harmonies by saxophone and trombone. This whole album is good for a snowy day, but I find I gravitate towards this song and the lead track, “So What,” namely because their dark motifs remind me of the windows being caked in snow and it being dark, darker than it should be for 2 in the afternoon. Brew up some dark coffee for this one.

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife 1 & 2 / The Crane Wife 3

These are the title tracks the Decemberists’ fourth album, comprising one of their best song cycles. It retells the Japanese folktale of the crane wife. She is found, in the form of a crane, by a lonely peasant, who nurses it back to health from an arrow wound. Once she is set free, she returns as a beautiful women…well, why don’t you just listen to it? It’s heartbreakingly beautiful and impeccably sparse. Colin Meloy, the singer/songwriter for the band, is in rare form in this song cycle. An interesting side note about the songs: “The Crane Wife 3” is the track that opens the album, while “The Crane Wife 1 & 2” is the second to last track. It’s a great choice – “3” sets the tone for the album and piques the interest of the listener, who’s being let into the story in medias res.

Honorable Mentions:

The Decemberists – January Hymn: Disqualified from the main list simply because it’s too on the nose. Otherwise, a beautiful track.

Jamie Cullum – High and Dry: I normally hate Radiohead, but Jamie Cullum’s mournful vocal tone makes one glad you’re not outside.

Rasputina – Snow Hen of Austerlitz (Cellist’s Revenge Mix): Melora Creager’s ethereal, haunting voice only compounds the dark, dark plucks and short bow-strokes of the cellos on this track. Put this one on then watch The Shining. You’ll be terrified of the snow afterwards. And shouldn’t you be?

CLAIRE’S List

Shawn Colvin — “Riding Shotgun Down the Avalanche”

The guitar, at once spare and lyrical. Colvin’s voice, with it’s rising, even-keel alto (also Alison Krauss is music’s version of salt and her voice is the definition of “dulcet tones”). The lyrics, heavy-hearted and restrained. The combination is quiet and haunting, the sonic equivalent of stepping outside mid snowstorm, when everything is silent, and neighbor’s houses and lawns are one endless blur of soft white. The chorus’s request to  “Be quiet tonight, be sure to step lightly, on this mountain of new fallen snow” is fitting. This is the beginning of the storm. This is when it’s still magical, when your home is still warm-bellied and comforting, when the days haven’t passed and the tempers haven’t flared.

Joshua Radin — “Winter”

I don’t love snow. Now that I live somewhere without it, I have a sort of idealized craving for it when I come home for the holidays. I want to watch it flutter in the street lights, I want the soft powdery snow that piles up in the backyard and demands saucer sleds and mittens, regardless of age. This song is when it stops being fun. When I’m no longer barrelling down the enormous hill in my backyard, slicing through the cold air with ruddy cheeks and layers of soaked clothing. When the darkness, cold and still, wraps tightly around my house and the slow sadness of being alone, in the dark, with my thoughts, creeps in. On the nose, to be sure, but Radin’s whispery voice and the lyrics, painfully self aware to the point of melodramatic, exemplify the “I’m starting to wish this storm would end” feeling. Or, as I call it, Day 3.

Sufjan Stevens — “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti”

There are images of writing we all want—ones with big oak desks and low light, with a cigarette clamped in your teeth and a cup of coffee going cold and oily in the corner. The kind of writing that demands typewriters, thick glass tumblers, unbuttoned shirts and pushed up sleeves. You can be that person when you’re trapped inside. I’ve never done it successfully (my snowed in writing process goes like all of my writing processes—get up every 5 minutes, wear pajama pants, become really particular about having a glass of water, or cleaning something, or doing any and all non-writing related things). This is a good writing indoors song. It makes you feel something, though it’s hard to say what, and its got the right energy for being inside, thinking, maybe even productively.

Brian Eno — “By This River”

I used to work at a tiny music memorabilia company called Connected Music. I was there for years, starting in high school, and I attribute my Brian Eno love to that time. (My Top 5 Connected Music bands: Brian Eno, Nick Lowe, Bootsy Collins, Leftover Salmon, Lucinda Williams.) During one rough winter, (personally for me, financially for the business), the three of us listened to Eno, drank black coffee by the gallon, and snuck off for frequent, jittery smoke breaks, the smoke and our breath visibly intertwined in the cold air. A storeroom full of Devo costumes and Aerosmith lunchboxes is a weird place to discover Brian Eno, but there he was, the perfect soundtrack for long cold days in a musical bunker.

Van Morrison — “I Wanna Roo You”

One bright spot in an otherwise dark list. Van Morrison is required listening for snow days. And this song, a bouncey number set on a snowed in day, is perfect. The 23rd of December has come and gone, but may all your snowed in Roo-ing (or snow-less Roo-ing, for that matter) go exceedingly well. Roo away, everyone. Roo away.

Honorary Mentions:

Counting Crows — “Long December”: This song is being fifteen, sad, cold, and terribly deep. Pairs well with red wine pilfered from your parent’s bottle stashed under the sink.

Interpol — “Obstacle 1″: Featured prominently on a mixtape someone gave me in high school, which I listened to relentlessly for years. The first notes always give me the fresh anxiety of driving through a snow storm.

Mama Cass — “Dream a Little Dream of Me”: A good moony, daydreaming song. Snow days can be joyful and lovely. Our lists don’t reflect that (much), but I swear, it’s a possibility that your snowed in day will be all cocoa and old movies, picturesque views and good food. Fingers crossed, and if it is, here’s music for that sort of day. Enjoy it.