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.