Pretty much every artist covers somebody else’s song at one point or another. In the right hands, it can lead to a bold new interpretation of the music. But in the wrong hands? Deadly ear poison.
The most surefire way to take a cover song from homage to awful is to tinker around with the lyrics. Under some circumstances, a little lyrical tweak in the name of storytelling isn’t the end of the world. But if you’re making changes because of political correctness, a desire to remain marketable and popular, or an arrogant assumption that you’re just a better writer than the original artist, then you’ve almost certainly fucked up huge.
Here are five musicians who sullied classic songs by toying with the words…
Britney Spears – “Satisfaction”
Vomiting yet? Yes, Ms. Spears recorded the ultimate Rolling Stones song, and treated it with about as much respect as she treats the responsibility of being a parent. Back in 2000, when this song came out, she was still pretending to be a virtuous, virginal role model for young girls, so obviously that icky old people line about smoking cigarettes had to go.
Just like that, “well he can’t be a man because he does not smoke the same cigarettes as me” becomes “well they can’t tell me who to be, cuz I got my own identity.” Right, someone needs to spread that identity to local law enforcement so you can be apprehended and charged with murdering this song. Sneering satire of corporate marketing and conformity, bah. We need more girl power!
By the way: no. You don’t have your own identity. You didn’t when you were a teeny-bop jailbait icon, and you don’t now that you’re washed-up and nuts. Your Dad owns your identity; don’t believe us? Ask the judge.
Big And Rich – “Fight For Your Right to Party”
The Beastie Boys wrote this song as a joke, making fun of douchebag frat boys who lived simply to party and be obnoxious. Nobody bothered to tell Big And Rich this; they take their partyin’ quite seriously, though they wouldn’t want to offend any of the guests while doing so. One of them might complain at the next PTA meeting, and who wants that?
And thus, even though their biggest hit was about having sex with cowboys, they omitted the original line where “your Mom threw away your best porno mag.” Because good ol’ God-fearing country boys don’t look at porn, they look at…pictures of country bands? Apparently so, as the line was changed to “your Mom threw away your best country mag.” Is Faith Hill really that nasty? Because if not, we can’t imagine any Mom would be so offended by a country magazine that she’d throw it away. Unless it had Toby Keith on the cover. That guy is the worst.
Counting Crows Get Their Girl Taken
In the original version of this song, “a big yellow taxi took away my old man.” But, since Mr. Crow here felt the need to remind us that he’s no fairy, the line became “a big yellow taxi took my girl away.” For starters, she probably called that cab because your band sucks. Also, that change completely fucks up the rhyme scheme the entire rest of the song was using (the original rhymed slam with man, which is a hell of lot closer than slam and away). Believe it or not, some people care about petty stuff like that.
It’s not like singing that line as it was originally written was going to make people think Adam Duritz was gay or something.
People would have just assumed he was singing about his father. But this guy’s too busy worrying about his stupid girlfriend to spend time being concerned with his father. What a jerk.
Motley Crue – “Anarchy In the UK”
Some songs should only be sung by certain people. This is one of them. A pissed-off, noisy, lyrically messy song of anarchy and destroying everything is best sung by pissed-off, noisy anarchists who wish to destroy everything and then retire to a life of doing reality TV shows in England. Wait, what?
Whatever, you get the point. This a punk song. Having a corporate glam-metal band with great production and tons of cash in their bank accounts, most of which probably went straight to hairspray and eyeliner, cover this song is no more or less offensive than, say, if Justin Bieber were to cover it. Yes, we just said that. See you in the comments section, fans of shitty hair metal.
For no real reason other than wanting to appear edgy, Motley Crue covered Anarchy in the UK. But, much in the same way Adam Duritz wants to assure us he doesn’t love dudes no matter what his hair may imply, Motley Crue would like you to keep in mind that they are not some highfalutin band of Brits. They’re Americans. So they don’t stop with changing the lyrics, they go right ahead and change the entire song title to “Anarchy In the USA.” You know, because tearing up America is way more patriotic than tearing up England.
Oh, and the final verse where the Pistols rant about the MPLA, the UDA, and the IRA? Well, those are all British agencies, so the Crue name-dropped the PMRC, DEA, and CIA instead. And the line “another council tendency” also went bye-bye, as that just wasn’t rockin’ (or American) enough. Instead, we get “some other fuckin’ country.” Mindless swearing is metal!
Hillary Duff – “My Generation”
One word. That’s all she added. ONE STINKING WORD. She didn’t remove anything; in fact, once you get past the fact that it’s a Disney teenybopper singing a song about nihilism, rebellion, utter chaos and stuttering, you’ll find that it’s a fairly faithful, if poppy, adaptation of the original Who classic.
Except for ONE WORD. And it fucks up EVERYTHING. What is that one word?
Don’t. As in, “hope I don’t die before I get old.”
And just like that, the song is ruined. The whole point of the song was staying young and not wanting to become an old hopeless fuddy-duddy who oppresses the masses and despises the very idea of having fun. What we have here though, is somebody faithfully following a delicious recipe for gourmet tenderloin fillet, and deciding to improve on it adding a big ‘ol scoop of broken, jagged eggshells into the mix.
Now obviously, a teen pop queen can’t sing about wanting to die without offending at least one of her handlers, so why even bother? She should’ve covered “Pinball Wizard” instead. It would’ve been easy for her to ignore the central themes of loneliness and the dangers of idol worship, and just focus on how awesome pinball is and how much everyone loves it.
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