Perhaps more than any other art form, songwriting is open to interpretation. Even when playing someone else's music faithfully, an artist will typically bring something new in the delivery. But sometimes artists set out to make deliberate changes. Typically, those changes are reserved for the music, while the lyrics are left alone, but every once in a while, an artist -- either deliberately or through sheer carelessness -- will alter the lyrics. On certain occasions, it's great, and I'm doing that article next week, but today, let's explore the five times artists changed lyrics in a way that deserves derision, scorn, and abuse!
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Because I have to get all that hate out before there's room for love.
#5. Bon Jovi Covers the Beatles After Suffering Apparent Brain Trauma
Hey, do you hate Bon Jovi? I do. Why? Well, only because they suck, but as much as I hate them, I also recognize that it's a little too easy to make fun of them, blaming them for every awful '80s junior high school memory when Slippery When Wet ruled the radios.
People used to do this to their hair on purpose.
Sure, their music was uninventive, their lyrics were unimportant, and they brought not one new or lasting idea to music with the entirety of their catalog, but they were a solid bar band. Just rock 'n' roll. "Don't hate us for playing to stadiums full of tone-deaf New Jerseyites, we're just a bar band that made good!" I will accept that defense, but it's also what makes this entry so unforgivable. Many years ago, I was apparently taking a break from my usual New Year's activity of having lots of hot sex with everyone, and I watched Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve like all cool people with too many dates.
And what a treat. Bon Jovi was covering "Helter Skelter" by the Beatles. A solid bar band covering one of the loudest songs by one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands of all time. An institution. And they botched arguably the most famous lyric:
"You may be a lover, but you ain't no dancer" BECAME "You ain't no lover, but you ain't no dancer"
Wow. So whereas the Beatles were cheekily saying, "Honey, you may know how to f*ck, but you don't know how to dance," Bon Jovi is moronically saying "Baby, you're not a lover, oh, and also, you are deficient in dancing. So there are two things wrong with you, really. Both f*cking and dancing. On both counts I'd have to say you are sorely lacking. Also, I'm going to go ahead and use the "but" conjunction to combine these two similar things even though that makes no grammatical sense."
If you're going to play a famous song by the most famous band of all time and you claim to be a bar band steeped in classics, maybe learn the words before going on live TV before millions.
Also, it's all well and good to make fun of Bon Jovi, but in their defense while they totally screwed up covering the Beatles, the totally nailed covering U2 screwing up covering the Bealtes.
#4. The Ataris Lamely Attempt to Alter Don Henley to Seem More Hardcore
Hey, remember the Ataris? I don't. I had to have someone remind me. By the way, if you're trying to remind someone of the Ataris, a good clue is "Hey, remember that band from 10 years ago that sucked who covered Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer"?
Anyway, there's a lot of '80s music that still holds up without holding the taint of the decade. And there are songs that are clearly born of that decade and yet still wonderful pieces of music. Henley's "The Boys of Summer" is in the latter category. All the programming and studio whiz-bangs don't take away from the solid song construction, evocative lyrics, and sensational (and demanding) vocal performance.
What did the Ataris do? Well, they stripped it down, rocked it up, and didn't sing it as well. That's inoffensive enough. It's a solid hard pop rock arrangement, and as mentioned, it's a demanding vocal. But then they did something truly offensive -- not because it was so awful, but so pointless:
"Out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac" BECAME "Out on the road today, I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac"
It seems like referencing the Grateful Dead just wasn't badass enough for this boy band with a distortion pedal. It's like they held a band meeting and said, "Hey, let's cite Henry Rollins' old band instead and I'll make a little troublemaker face when we get to that part at two minutes and 59 seconds in!" Quick tip: If you want to be badass, maybe don't cover solo material from the Eagles' drummer/singer in the first place. And if you do, leave the words the hell alone.
#3. Nirvana Proves That Heroin Impairs Reading/Memorization
I know I'm going to upset a lot of people, so let me apologize right up front: I'm sorry I banged all your moms.
Despite what even some of my friends think, I never hated Nirvana. I just take exception when someone ascribes them a greatness beyond being a talented band that wrote some catchy pop rock songs. And this brings us to their MTV Unplugged cover of David Bowie's 1971 song "The Man Who Sold the World." Kurt says it's one of his favorite Bowie songs before he plays, which is weird, because he clearly has the lyrics and sheet music in front of him for the performance. If you go to any coffee shop in your town, you can hear some insufferable twat play his favorite pop songs for two hours without resorting to sheet music. Why? Because it's his job and he's getting paid to perform, so that's what he's supposed to do.
And if your performance is going to be televised and you're playing one of your favorite songs by a music legend, maybe that's even more of a reason to be prepared. But what do I know? I mean, I also think if all your songs are four chords and under, you shouldn't really need to hire a backup guitarist to copy everything for you.
Hey, I have bills to pay!"
The point is, countless people, including Cracked's own Robert Brockway, have unforgivably extolled the virtue of Nirvana's cover over the original. I still say that anyone who believes the Nirvana version is superior simply heard it first, especially because it's a pretty straight cover. Nirvana performs it with the same chord progression, melody line, bass part, and lead guitar line. There's only two differences: they remove the guiro percussion instrument (which is really weird in an unplugged performance -- like losing the cow bell on an acoustic "Don't Fear the Reaper"), and they play the backing vocals on lead guitar for the fade out.
Oh wait. There are three differences, because despite it being one of his favorite songs and having the lyrics on a stand right in front of him, Kurt screws up:
"... at all the millions here" BECAME "... we must a mwrillion years."
"What's the big deal?" you ask. "Accidents happen, and also he was probably really high on heroin." By the way, that's what you might say, but not Cracked's own Robert Brockway, who, as we speak, is soaking his punching fist in brine to give me the beating of a lifetime rather than saying anything.