When Good Songs Go Wrong: 35 Terrible Classic Rock Covers
It's not easy to cover a song that's already legendary, but that doesn't stop people from trying.
While some remakes do an impressive job of both honoring the original while finding a way to be distinctive, the vast majority of cover songs fall flat. It's not like an act goes out of the way to remake a tune they hate. They almost always have their hearts in the right place. More often than not, they're performing the song because they have a connection to the track, because the tune itself or the artist who made it was influential in their own career.
Sadly, good intentions do not make a remake any good. Many very talented musicians have failed in their attempts to at cover songs – and the list below proves it. Here are 35 terrible classic rock covers:
Mick Jagger and David Bowie, "Dancing in the Street"
Two rock legends, bringing their incredible musical abilities together. You'd expect something transcendent, but instead, we got a punchline. Mick Jagger and David Bowie's rendition of "Dancing in the Street" has routinely been panned for its general ridiculousness, both for the recording itself and in its excessively campy music video. Yes, the single raised money for charity, and yes, it was popular, peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. But "Dancing in the Street" remains an embarrassing moment in the careers of two undisputed icons, and even their most ardent fans would agree it shouldn't have been made. (As Peter Griffin once said on Family Guy, "That happened and we all let it happen.")
The Cure, "Purple Haze"
A series of well-known artists celebrated the work of Jimi Hendrix in 1993 with the tribute album Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. The liner notes stated that “artists were encouraged to not only record one of their personal favorites but also to place their stamp on Jimi’s songs.” Maybe they should have rethought that second part. The Cure, an incredible act in their own right, went a bit too far with their interpretation of “Purple Haze.” With copious layers of synths, drum machines, samples and ambient noise, the famous song was barely recognizable. Hendrix was reportedly a childhood hero of Robert Smith, inspiring him to form a band. We’ll chalk the Cure’s rendition of “Purple Haze” up as a failed attempt to celebrate their musical idol.
Gal Gadot and Friends, "Imagine"
It was the cringe moment heard around the world. In the early days of the COVID pandemic, actress Gal Gadot took to social media and delivered a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” She recruited a long list of celebrity friends to participate, including Kristen Wiig, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Fallon, Natalie Portman, Pedro Pascal, Will Ferrell and Cara Delevingne. Gadot always insisted the cover was intended to lift people’s spirits, but it instead drew the ire of millions. Common complaints included the vacuous message and that the self-important celebrities seemed woefully out of touch with what was going on with the general public at the time.
U2, "Fortunate Son"
From a thematic standpoint, the idea of proudly socially conscious U2 covering Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic anti-war song “Fortunate Son” made worlds of sense. In execution, however, things fell apart. Bono changed the vocal key, making his rendition far more monotonous than the original. Meanwhile, the Edge’s soaring, arena-ready guitar tone works well on U2’s originals but sounds miscast on the CCR hit.
Cyndi Lauper, "What’s Going On"
Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic took a long look at society – race riots, war overseas, poverty – and asked the simple yet poignant question, “What’s going on?” We find ourselves asking similar questions as we listen to Cyndi Lauper’s 1986 remake: What’s going on here? Why are there so many synths on this song? Is she doing jazz scat? Who thought this was a good idea?
Counting Crows, "Big Yellow Taxi"
Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song “Big Yellow Taxi” took an earnest look at humans’ effects on nature and the environment. In the famous chorus, she notes that industrialization “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” In many ways, Counting Crows’ 2002 cover echoed the song’s themes in the worst possible way: They took something beautiful and made it cold, commercial and lifeless. That didn’t stop the cover from being popular. Despite regularly being listed among the worst songs of the year by critics, Counting Crows’ version of “Big Yellow Taxi” hit No. 42 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold in the U.S.
Motley Crue, "Anarchy in the U.K."
Nikki Sixx has been a proud Sex Pistols fan for decades. Besides singing their praises, he played on Pistols guitarist Steve Jones' 1989 album Fire and Gasoline. Maybe that’s where the adoration should have ended. Instead, Motley Crue covered their classic song “Anarchy in the U.K.” for the 1991 compilation album Decade of Decadence. Motley Crue may be unquestionably rebellious but they are not punk, and the stylistic differences stand out dramatically. Also problematic: Motley Crue’s attempts at changing the lyrics to fit a U.S. audience.
Limp Bizkit, "Faith"
It was the red Yankees hat that launched a thousand ships. Limp Bizkit, a nu-metal rock band that would briefly go mainstream, scored their first hit by covering George Michael’s “Faith.” "I love George Michael and decided to cover 'Faith' for fun. We like to do really aggressive versions of cheesy pop hits," frontman Fred Durst explained to Billboard. The song was released in 1998, the same year Michael was arrested for "engaging in a lewd act" in a public park restroom. "I didn't expect him to get busted in that bathroom but his misfortune actually helped us. We couldn't ask for more of a buzz," Durst admitted. But one listener was not a fan of Limp Bizkit’s cover, which featured screaming, guitar scratching and an excess of aggression. “What we’ve heard from George Michael’s people is that he hates it and hates us for doing it,” Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland said back then. “He apparently really despises it.”
Limp Bizkit, "Behind Blue Eyes"
Yep, they're a second offender. Limp Bizkit covering “Behind Blue Eyes” would be bad enough, but Fred Durst and company took things a step further and greatly altered the Who classic. Limp Bizkit added a new verse, an extra chorus and even made the peculiar choice to use a Speak & Spell – the robotic children’s toy E.T. used to communicate with his home planet – in the song’s bridge. The results received some moderate radio airplay, but were roundly panned upon release.
Sugar Ray, "Is She Really Going Out With Him?"
Of course, Sugar Ray is an easy target. They're a relic of the turn of the millennium, when it was briefly fashionable to have frosted tips. The group's popularity was already beginning to dwindle by 2003, when they covered Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" The original, released in 1978, was a tongue-in-cheek track about gorgeous women shacking up with ugly men, Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath didn’t seem to comprehend the joke. Instead, his vocals were straight ahead and humorless, with backing by acoustic guitar and some incessant record scratching. Swing and a miss.
Puddle of Mudd, "About a Girl"
Another one that went viral for all the wrong reasons. Puddle of Mudd performed an acoustic cover of Nirvana’s “About a Girl” in January 2020 for SiriusXM. Frontman Wes Scantlin clearly struggled with the track, singing off key and straining for the notes. Rather than stop the performance, Scantlin seemed to double down, trying to force even more emotion into his vocals. It sounded painful. The video was circulated all over the world, with many viewers commenting on how bad it was. Scantlin later admitted regret. “I was acclimating and it was a tiring day,” Scantlin told Songfacts, “and I had already performed five or six songs at one time. By the time I got to that one — which I shouldn't even have done because I cannot nail that song — I was a little tired. It looked and sounded like total shit.” No argument here.
Madonna, "American Pie"
Despite being generations apart, Madonna viewed Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie” as a “millennium song.” “We're going through a big change in terms of the way we view pop culture, because of the Internet,” Madonna said in 2000, as the song was released. “In a way, it's like saying goodbye to music as we knew it — and to pop culture as we knew it." Nevertheless, Madonna’s fit definitely felt like a square peg in a round hole.
Celine Dion and Anastacia, "You Shook Me All Night Long"
VH1 continued its popular Divas concert series in May 2002 at Las Vegas with a lineup featuring pop star Celine Dion, country act Dixie Chicks, R&B singer Mary J. Blige and international superstar Shakira. Such an event hardly seemed appropriate for an AC/DC cover, but for some reason Dion deemed it the perfect occasion to break out a rendition of “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Spoiler alert: It wasn’t. The update, which featured an appearance by Anastacia, was awkwardly out of place during the show. Of course, it didn’t help that Dion’s soprano voice was ill-suited for AC/DC’s hard-rock growl.
R.E.M., "Toys in the Attic"
It pains us to put R.E.M. on this list. But why did they have to cover Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic”? The choice was strange and the bands’ respective styles made for uncomfortable bedfellows. On some level, R.E.M. must have known that. The song wasn’t released until the 1987 rarities album, Dead Letter Office. Still, Setlist.fm shows that R.E.M. played “Toys in the Attic” regularly in concert from 1984-86. “If you grew up in the '70s, you liked Aerosmith,” Peter Buck noted in the Dead Letter Office liner notes. “This one is always fun to play live.”
Hilary Duff, "My Generation"
Someone – likely dressed in an expensive suit and sitting in a Disney board meeting – raised their hand and suggested that Hilary Duff of Lizzie McGuire fame should remake the Who’s “My Generation.” Rather than getting fired, that person’s idea was taken to heart, as Duff recorded a saccharine pop rendition during sessions for her 2004 self-titled album. The cover was mercifully kept off the U.S. version, but was included on the LP in Japan and has made the rounds online ever since.
Take That, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Take That covered Nirvana’s grunge anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” during their 1995 set at Earl’s Court in London. Many aspects here make no sense, ranging from the bubblegum pop voices on a decidedly anti-pop track, to frontman Mark Owen’s pre-song question: "Are you ready for some rock 'n' roll?" Nirvana’s mainstream success was sparked by their rebellion against corporate entities – such as pre-fabricated boy bands. This whole cover is the stuff of Kurt Cobain’s nightmares.
Ugly Kid Joe, "Cat’s in the Cradle"
Ugly Kid Joe was one of the more nondescript acts to emerge from the ‘90s. Not quite grunge and not quite metal, their sound was more aligned with angsty-alternative acts of the era. The group’s sophomore album, America's Least Wanted, included a cover of Harry Chapin’s 1974 chart-topper “Cat’s in the Cradle.” While the original was a heartfelt folk-rock classic, Ugly Kid Joe turned it into – you guessed it – an angsty-alternative tune. In doing so, they stripped the song of its soul, but that didn’t stop Ugly Kid Joe’s rendition from becoming a hit. The single peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the most successful single of their career.
Avril Lavigne, "Imagine"
Amnesty International put together an album in 2007 to help those suffering as a result of the ongoing war in Darfur. The project featured an all-star list of musicians covering the work of John Lennon. Incredible material plus a noble cause, what could go wrong? For starters, “Imagine” was handed to pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne. It's not fair to be too hard on her – this was a charity album, after all – but Lavigne’s rendition was so weak and unemotional that it rendered one of the greatest songs ever written totally forgettable.
Orgy, "Blue Monday"
If anyone wanted a Nine Inch Nails-sounding reinterpretation of New Order’s biggest commercial hit, they should have just asked Trent Reznor. Instead, nu-metal group Orgy took it upon themselves to cover the track in 1998. The result, like most of the material from that awkward transition period from the late ‘90s to the early 2000s, is best left in the archives of music no one needs to revisit.
Thousands of acts, both famous and not, have covered the Beatles over the years. No one can do the official math, but it's fair to guess that less than 10% of them actually do the source material justice. Nevertheless, don't give a pass to Rockwell, the one-hit-wonder known for his 1984 single “Somebody’s Watching Me.” It’s not just that his cover of “Taxman” is bad – which, make no mistake, it is. There’s also something even more infuriating about Rockwell, the son of multimillionaire Motown mogul Berry Gordy, singing a song about financial hardship.
Marilyn Manson, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"
It's easy to see what Marilyn Manson was going for here. There’s something undoubtedly shocking about Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" being reinterpreted as a dark and twisted industrial track. Manson’s cover became a breakout hit, earning him substantial radio airplay. Meanwhile, the tune’s nightmarish music video caught the attention of MTV, who put it into their late-night rotation. But all of these things distract from one very important fact: This update isn’t very good. Behind his makeup, costumes and disturbing imagery, Manson is just making noise for the sake of making noise. There’s no purpose, and the juxtaposition of heartbreak and hope that was found in the original is wasted in Manson’s hands.
Cat Power, "I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)"
This was so close to being good. For Cat Power's fifth album, the talented Atlanta singer-songwriter opted for an all-covers release. The opening track was a rendition of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and Cat Power did a valiant job making her version sound different than almost any other cover out there. With a simplistic, slow lilt, she mixed indie rock with a slight country twang, creating an update that was both engaging and a little haunting. So what's the problem? Well, for reasons still unknown, Cat Power chose to leave out the song's famous hook. When listeners get to the point in the song where the chorus should kick in, they are greeted by empty space. There may be no more frustrating cover ever recorded – but, wait, was that the point all along? Does this cover only exist so that no one gets any satisfaction?
Judas Priest, "Johnny B. Goode"
The team behind the 1988 teen comedy Johnny Be Good turned to Judas Priest when they needed an update of Chuck Berry's “Johnny B. Goode.” Priest had made a mistake by turning down a chance to appear on the Top Gun soundtrack two years before, so they jumped at a second chance to be part of a major motion picture. Sadly, the pairing didn’t work. Despite famous cast members Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall and Uma Thurman, Johnny Be Good was a box office flop. Judas Priest’s version of “Johnny B. Goode” wasn’t much better.
Smash Mouth, "I'm a Believer"
You can blame a giant green ogre for bringing this cover into the world. Featured on the soundtrack to Shrek, Smash Mouth’s rendition of the Monkees' “I’m a Believer” manages to be corny and cringey at the same time. Frontman Steve Harwell’s vocals feel completely out of place on the track, and the attempts at a retro sound – something Smash Mouth mined several other times – seem totally phony. It’s like someone grabbed a Casio keyboard, switched the pre-set to “’60s pop,” then hit record. Still, the cover of “I’m a Believer” was a huge success, reaching No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. Mercifully, it was Smash Mouth’s last hit.
The Ataris, "Boys of Summer"
The Ataris pop-punk band out of Indiana updated Don Henley’s 1984 solo hit for their 2003 album So Long, Astoria. This was only intended to be an album track, but when influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ began to play it, the cover soon took off. “Boys of Summer” became the biggest hit of the Ataris’ career, peaking at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Henley admitted he wasn’t thrilled with a lyric change the band made – switching “Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” to “Black Flag sticker.” He also suggested the Ataris were ungrateful for their lone mainstream hit. “They were not very good songwriters — and they put out an album, and the only song that people would want to hear when they did a concert was ‘Boys of Summer,’” Henley told the Montreal Gazette. “And the lead singer apparently got so angry about it that he had a T-shirt made that said ‘Who the fuck is Don Henley?’, or ‘Who the hell is Don Henley?’ or something like that. And he would apparently wear that on stage … and I thought that was really childish.”
Kelly Osbourne, "Papa Don’t Preach"
The Osbournes are, of course, one of the most famous and beloved families in heavy metal history. Still, Kelly Osbourne’s cover of Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” doesn't get a critical pass. Released in 2002 at the height of the Osbourne’s reality TV fame, the update looked to capitalize on Kelly’s newfound celebrity. To that end, it was a success: “Papa Don’t Preach” enjoyed ample exposure in the U.S. and even went Top 5 in several countries. Still, the whole thing felt incredibly forced. Then television executives shoved it down the public’s throat by scheduling a performance during the MTV Movie Awards.
Godsmack, "Rocky Mountain Way"
Godsmack included a cover of Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” as a bonus track on their live album Live & Inspired in 2012. The result was understandbly jarring – like seeing your buttoned-down mom suddenly come home covered in tattoos, wearing a leather dress and spiked choker. Propulsive drums, sludgy riffage, Sully Erna’s guttural howl – none of Godsmack’s elements fit well with Walsh’s classic. At least they kept the talkbox.
Disturbed, "The Sound of Silence"
Simon & Garfunkel were one of the most famous folk rock duos in history, known for their expressive and deeply personal songs. Disturbed is the abrasive metal act whose most famous lyric is “oh, ah, ah, ah, ah” from 2000’s “Down With the Sickness.” Stylistically, the two acts couldn’t be more different, but Disturbed frontman David Draiman nevertheless holds Simon & Garfunkel in high regard. Disturbed's cover “The Sound of Silence” caught a lot of people off guard, especially in concert. “The Disturbed fanbase typically reacted in a combination of elation and shock. Lots of people were very into it. Some people immediately called it a sell-out move,” Draiman told Kerrang, adding that his update “introduced a whole new generation of fans to the brilliance of Simon & Garfunkel.” Disturbed’s version was a surprise hit, reaching No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock Chart and No. 42 on the Billboard Hot 100. Still, its overdramatic arrangement is a little much. Stick with the subtle genius of the original.
One Direction, "One Way or Another"
If this list makes anything clear, it’s that rock songs covered by pop groups rarely turn out good. On one level, One Direction can't be blamed for covering Blondie’s “One Way or Another.” The original is fantastic, and One Direction recorded their version to raise funds for Comic Relief. But this sugary pop version rips out the sultry appeal of the 1979 original. In yet another head-scratching move, Harry Styles’ former group also interpolated part of "Teenage Kicks," a song by the Undertones punk group, into this update.
Britney Spears, "I Love Rock ’N Roll"
“They asked me to sing karaoke in the movie Crossroads, and I’ve actually sung ‘I Love Rock’ ’N Roll’ in a lot of clubs that I���ve been to,” Britney Spears once said, and that explanation actually makes a lot of sense. Her rendition of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’N Roll” absolutely comes across like a karaoke performance. To no one's surprise, Jett refused to listen to the track. “I’ve never even heard Britney’s version,” she told NME. “I mean, I’ve obviously heard about it, but I never understood that whole idea. I mean, people usually cover a song that says something about them, but I doubt she loves rock ‘n’ roll.”
Nickelback featuring Kid Rock, "Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting"
Elton John’s original version of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” was a lively piano-based tune, harkening back to such early rock pioneers as Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Nickelback’s version doesn’t feature a piano at all. That isn’t necessarily the reason for its inclusion, but it certainly doesn’t help. Released on the soundtrack to 2003’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, this update is largely generic and forgettable. Kid Rock makes an appearance, several of the lyrics are changed – because Rock just has to tell us he’s drinking “a fifth of Jack” – and the whole thing is an assault to the senses. Still, the single is almost saved by a blistering guitar solo courtesy of Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell. Almost.
The Used, "Burning Down the House"
Part of what makes the Talking Heads’ 1983 single “Burning Down the House” so appealing is its many layers. The song has elements of funk, new wave and art rock. David Byrne’s lyrics are engaging yet cryptic, inviting repeat listens in an attempt to crack the code. These details help make it sublime, whereas the 2009 remake by the Used emo-punk band has all the subtlety of a Micheal Bay movie. Side note: The cover was released on the soundtrack to Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. What a coincidence!
Paris Hilton, "Do Ya Think I’m Sexy"
Most people don’t connect music and the name Paris Hilton, but the hotel heiress and reality TV star actually released a full-length album in 2006 – titled Paris, of course. It was panned and justifiably forgotten, but the creme de la crap was Hilton’s cover of Rod Stewart’s "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." The 1978 single has long been viewed as a turning point in Stewart’s career, where he abandoned his blues-rock roots to delve into disco. Still, the original "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" seems deeply artistic compared to Hilton’s horrible update, complete with woeful singing and lame production.
5 Seconds of Summer, "American Idiot"
Green Day’s 2004 song “American Idiot” was arguably the loudest post-millennium protest song. Bassist Mike Dirnt described it as “a call for individuality,” while frontman Billie Joe Armstrong admitted it was written in response to George W. Bush-era politics. So, it would make little sense for a boy band to cover the fiery “American Idiot,” yet 5 Seconds of Summer nevertheless did so on their 2014 EP Amnesia. The results certainly could be worse – at least this boy band plays their own instruments! – but 5 Seconds of Summer's cover is missing all of the force of the original.
Rob Zombie, "Blitzkrieg Bop"
Johnny Ramone was approached with the idea of a Ramones tribute album in 2003, as he was in the midst of his battle with prostate cancer. He agreed, under the stipulation that he could have complete control of the project. Ramone then tagged Rob Zombie to be his right-hand man. Together, they co-produced We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones, with Zombie drawing the cover art and recruiting many of his famous friends to contribute – including Eddie Vedder, Metallica, Kiss, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Pretenders, Green Day and more. Unfortunately, Zombie’s own contribution, a cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” is disappointing. He slowed the tune down, turning it into a grinding industrial track. Without the frenetic energy of the original, the charms of “Blitzkrieg Bop” are lost. Kudos to Zombie for his efforts on the project, but perhaps he should have just stayed behind the scenes.
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