6 Covers By Musicians Who Didn't Understand The Original
It's one thing to cover a song and just suck at it -- shitty, drunken bar bands and delusional, tone-deaf YouTube kids do that all the time. But there's something way worse out there: professional musicians taking somebody else's tune and perhaps playing it functionally, but missing the point and butchering the original song's message so completely that it would've been more fitting if they replaced all the lyrics with hand farts. These covers display such an angry disregard for leaving things the way they are that you'd swear they were created by Windows 10.
ZZ Top Covered A Song About Selling Crack
ZZ Top has exactly as much hip-hop cred as you'd expect a bunch of old white Texans to have. It's a surprise that they even became popular musicians, considering that they look less like a rock band and more like a group that would chase Hobbits out of the Misty Mountains. Not that this stopped them from covering DJ DMD's 1998 anthem "25 Lighters," despite clearly having absolutely no clue what everybody was rap-hopping about.
Spoiler: It's crack. Lots and lots of nutritious crack.
Here's the DMD original, in all its late-'90s Biggie block party glory.
And here's ZZ Top, turning it into the musical manifestation of a tiny turd that clings to your asscrack hair and refuses to drop, no matter how much you toilet shimmy. It's a song that just won't go away with any method that lets you keep your dignity.
Dear ZZ Top: This song isn't just about having money but rather how you got it. And you got it by being a hardcore drug dealer -- those "25 lighters on dresser" aren't filled with butane, no sir, but rather crack. You're going to empty them out, clean them, refill them with rocks, and then sell them to people who smoke crack. That's how you get paid, not just because you're awesome and your rims are super-shiny.
How did Top think their protagonist made "25 mill" and could afford "25 fly diamonds in ring" -- by selling low-grade weed? Did they even think about it that much? My guess is, since they only vaguely mention the "toil of a ghetto hustler" when talking about the song, they didn't consider exactly what he was hustling, only that he was. It would certainly explain the title change. After all, who gives a fuck about a bunch of 40-cent plastic Bics when there's money and cool-ass cars and women wearing just enough clothing to satisfy the legal requirement? You know, despite those lighters being the song's entire point.
DJ DMD needed the money to finally upgrade to CDs.
Hip-hop is all about authenticity, and three rich white dudes pushing 70 unknowingly yakking about street-selling hard drugs seems the exact opposite of that. Unless, of course, ZZ Top's secretly breaking bad and we don't know about it. After all, staying sharp-dressed ain't cheap, and nobody buys music anymore. But plenty still buy drugs! It's either that or be totally out-of-touch and irrelevant -- when you're a rock star, I'm not sure which is worse.
Big & Rich Completely Missed The Joke In "Fight For Your Right (To Party)"
Satire is hard. Especially when you forget to include the wink-nudge punchline that lets other people in your Facebook feed know that, haha, the joke man is making the jokes again. This is exactly what happened with The Beastie Boys and their ode to both partying and parentheses spamming, "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)." You probably have it stuck in your head already, but fuck you, now it's in your head double:
As we've mentioned before, the song actually mocks frat-boy assholes who throw wild parties and act like ignorant shitheads to anyone who isn't them, especially if they have icky girl cooties. So what happens when nobody gets your joke? Assholes like Big & Rich take it dead seriously, as evidenced by their straight-ahead cover of "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)".
Part of the issue is The Beasties played their part too well. They acted like perfect little pricks in their video, obscured the joke by writing an entire album of songs just as juvenile and stupid as "(You) Gotta (Fight) For Your (Right) (T)o Party," and forgot to first earn a reputation that would make anybody conclude, "Oh those silly Beasties, they're doing a gag." It's like if Jonathan Swift actually ate a baby before mockingly suggesting everyone else do the same.
Big & Rich, meanwhile, absolutely had a pre-song reputation: They were good ol' party-down country boys who would not rest for an instant until every horse was saved and every cowboy ridden. There's no sly aside to why they fight -- when they say they want to PARRRRRRRTYYYYY, they mean it.
Holy shit, is that Beetlejuice?!
They didn't change many lyrics, but the few they did change showcased just how badly they whiffed The Beasties' point. Most egregiously, they edit the line "Your mom threw away your best porno mag" to "Your mom threw away your best country mag." Which actually makes us side with the mom. Country magazines shouldn't exist, and if your kid has one, you should throw it away immediately, set the garbage can on fire, and move to a country that has no country magazines.
This "safe" lyric change is proof of how far from the joke they truly were, a point further evidenced by how they sang the follow-up "busted" line. While The Beasties did it as a semi-audible poke at their friend who just lost their wank book, Big & Rich sang it loud and sang it proud: BUSTEEEEEDDDD. This cover is the song that paranormal investigators would play if they were trying to rid a house of Johnny Cash's ghost.
As Mike D said in a 2011 interview, "There were tons of guys singing along to 'Fight For Your Right' who were oblivious to the fact it was a total goof on them." Big & Rich covered "(((((())))))))" just the year before. I'm guessing Mike heard their pathetic bleating and felt he had to finally clear the air about their Immodest Party Proposal before it spread any further. So, how many frats and assholes we still got out there?
Oh, that many?
Sorry Mike, you tried.
Rockwell Covered The Beatles' "Taxman" Like He Isn't Super-Rich And Protected By Obscene Tax Breaks
It's tough to be a rich rock star and convincingly complain about the evil IRS taking your money. Because, and I mean this in the most poetic way possible: Shut up. If you make $10 million a year and the government wants half of that, you're still left with $5 million, every year. Shit, even a million would leave you with 500 grand to play with. Forgive me if I don't let you weep on my shoulder, especially since you're probably too cheap to pay for my dry-cleaning afterward.
But when The Beatles gripe about it with "Taxman," it's at least understandable. No matter how rich you are, it sucks to fork over 95 percent of your income to suits who might use it to build roads, but also might use it to buy whipped cream to cover prostitutes in.
Then, on the other end, you've got Rockwell, a guy who sucked so hard he had to hire the greatest singer of all time to save the only song of his that anyone liked, whining about the exact same thing and making us root for the IRS while doing so.
Never mind the song itself (which trades hard-and-dirty guitar for muted synthesizers, and pissed-off vocals for gargling with Quaaludes) -- what made Rockwell think he knew anything about being overtaxed? He's the son of Berry Gordy, the absurdly rich founder of Motown -- no matter how hard Rockwell failed (and boy, did he fail hard), he wasn't going to struggle with money at all. Just because he fears the IRS watching him (it's at the end of "Somebody's Watching Me" long after everybody checked out of that song, so don't feel bad if you don't remember him saying it), it doesn't mean they actually are.
Creepy shirtless serial killers, sure, but not some measly accountant.
But let's pretend for a second that the born-rich son of a disgustingly rich man pays taxes like you and I do. Even if he were totally honest about his income (which, by now, is probably 50 bucks in royalties plus whatever LMFAO money his half-brother gives him because he feels bad), his problems weren't even in the same universe as The Beatles', thanks to Reagan and Friends. In the '80s, nobody was paying 95 percent tax, or 85, or 75, or even 55. By 1984, when Rockwell was actually popular, the most money-making people paid 50 percent tax at worst (it had been 70 percent as recently as 1981). Just three years later, the highest rate was 38.5 percent. Even if he forked over every penny that he owed, he wasn't giving the government virtually his entire paycheck. I'd tell him to shut the fuck up, but he's done exactly that since 1986, so ... keep shutting up, Rockwell. You're good at it.
Alan Jackson Turned "Summertime Blues" Into A Good-Ol'-Boy Barbecue Ditty
In 1958, Eddie Cochran gave us "Summertime Blues," an angry, defiant song about a pissed-off kid forced to work his ass off all summer, after 10 months of school-related drudgery. Sadly, if the song was released today, a thousand people would write articles about how it spells doom for all millennials.
In 1994, Alan Jackson took that iconic ode to angst and devolved it into the uncoolest three minutes a walking dadstache like him could possibly make.
Remember when Pat Boone turned loud, angry heavy metal into smooth old-man swing? This isn't that, because Pat Boone was clearly in on the joke. Alan Jackson, meanwhile, couldn't have been further away from it. If I thought Jackson had an ounce of cleverness to him, I'd say he was mocking kids for complaining about having to work, by stealing their anthem and filming a video where he did everything but work. But this is a guy whose keenest observation is "It's 5 o'clock somewhere," a witticism he didn't even invent.
Look at that fucking video. Adulthood sure screwed him out of the time of his life, huh? He and his buddies drive their trucks through the mud, get into mud fights with pretty girls, and Jackson surfs while wearing his stupid cowboy hat to hide his even stupider hair. Unless Jackson stops the video to say, "The mud covering us is a metaphor for self-doubt," I'm going to assume that he's not very "blue." Just because "summertime" is in the title doesn't mean it's automatically happy. What if it was "Momma Got Ax-Murdered (And They Can't Find All Her Pieces) In The Summertime"? You still going to go mudding then?
"'Summertime With The Nazis,' yeehaw!"
Then there's the actual song, which absolutely needed somebody getting off their tuckus and writing new words. Jackson didn't change a syllable, meaning a 35-year-old man is singing about his parents making him get a job so he can use the family car. Plus, he's singing it in exactly the laid-back, toothless way you'd expect from a light-country guru trying to win the panties of every housewife bored with day-dreaming about George Strait's rough (yet gentle!) hands. Imagine some frat boy strumming and cooing "Anarchy In The U.K.," give him an ugly hat, and you've got Alan Jackson whatevering about working all summer.
In the final blow to his legitimacy, Jackson gets so rootin'-tootin', gosh-dang mad about work that he petitions the U.N. -- except this 35-year-old man is suddenly "too young to vote." How is it possible to say so many words and not know what any of them mean? Because when Cochran sang about being too young to vote, he actually was. He was 19, an age that wouldn't get to vote until 1971 -- this wasn't a 30-year-old Chuck Berry pretending to be a teenager with no rights -- this was a teenager with no rights. Jackson lazily singing the same line sucks enough on its own, but when you realize how genuine the original lyric is, Jackson's take immediately nose-dives from "Really?" to "Oh toss off, you clueless fucking disgrace to mullets."
And now you know why he never takes that stupid thing off.
Rascal Flatts Missed Every Memo On What "Born In The USA" Actually Means
I once thought there were three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and that everybody knows "Born In The USA" is a pissed-off rant about how poorly the U.S. treats its veterans. Ronald Reagan took it as a generic patriotic anthem, Springsteen told him to fuck off with that shit, we read the brutally depressing lyrics and realized Bruce was right, and that was that.
Thirty years later, Rascal Flatts proved the "two guarantees" crowd right all along. Some people still don't know "Born In The USA" is angry, and here's three of them closing out every show of their 2005 tour with an upbeat, flag-drenched, absurdly patriotic take on the tune. Unfortunately for this article, but fortunately for civilization, Flatts has not officially recorded "Born In The USA." All we have to prove this travesty happened is fan footage shot on presumably Super 8 cameras. Still, with their powers combined, it's enough to turn Rascal Flatts into a cautionary tale of what happens when music people don't study music history.
Here we have Flatts performing in North Carolina, like it's a goddamn party. A soldier party at that, with proud Marines chilling onstage like the song totally isn't about how they'll return from war broken, beaten, and facing a nation that doesn't give a shit about them if they're not actively killing anyone. You can tell the band doesn't understand the song at all because they've replaced half the lyrics with "Ladies and gentlemen, THIS GUY *clap clap*." And what lyrics they do sing, they're way too proud of. When Flatthead #1 sings They sent me off to a foreign land / So I can kill that yellow man, he does so all self-congratulatory-like, basically bragging that he gets to kill people who look different from him. Because if there's one thing we want in a soldier, it's the ability to murder without remorse.
Peep that giant flag backdrop, because how could being born in the USA possibly be a bad thing, no matter what the guy who wrote the song insists? And, like before, they change at least one verse to be about them -- it's no longer Went down to see my VA man / He said, 'Son, don't you understand. Now it's Me and Julie and Rascal Flatts / blah blah VA MAN. Chronic unemployment? Denial of benefits? Long-term homelessness? Not in our America, no sir! If George W. Bush had come out on stage, strumming on a guitar shaped like a bald eagle, nothing would've seemed out of the ordinary.
Finally, we hit Iowa.
Mostly, they pull the same bullshit: flags, rah-rah, "We're a band yay," etc. Except this time they really fuck up the song by going super racist. Remember when Springsteen sang "yellow man"? He did so from the perspective of an old soldier who was raised to think of them that way, but who now realizes what a mistake he made. Hell, his Army buddy fell in love with a Vietnamese woman; how bad can they be?
Flatts? They change the line to "towel man." And they don't fucking feel bad about it at ALL. And neither does the crowd, who goes crazy for that line and probably voted for Donald Trump once and will eagerly do so in November if the Apocalypse truly insists on arriving.
And here I thought "Life Is A Highway" was the worst thing these assholes ever did.
Duran Duran Covered "911 Is A Joke" ... No, Seriously
Quick note to fellow white people, not that it's sunk in the first million times you've heard it: Just because you think you know what minorities go through, doesn't mean you do. It's the difference between thinking it sure must suck to get punched in the face, versus actually being punched in the face. Every day. For the rest of your life. While everybody around you denies it ever happened, while accusing you of trying to start drama over some face-punching epidemic that's all in your head. You damn face-punched justice warrior.
OK, now that all the true assholes have stopped reading and moved on to complaining, let's talk Public Enemy's "911 Is A Joke," an angry spitfire of a song about how paramedics don't give a shit about them because they're black.
And now, here's Duran Duran -- the whitest band ever aside from maybe The Archies -- singing the same song, note for note, about how paramedics don't give a shit about them. Because they're black.
The music itself is bad enough, in that Duran Squared listened to hard, driving, fuck-you hip-hop and concluded it would sound better as a warmed-over Beck outtake. But the lyrics? What on God's black planet made Double Duran think they knew anything about 911 not doing their job? When Flavor Flav raps I dialed 911 a long time ago / Don't you see how late they're reactin' / They only come and they come when they wanna / So get the morgue, embalm the goner, there's a real good chance he's either experienced that himself or personally knows someone who did. It's pretty damn authentic coming from him, or any minority forced to deal with a life-saving system that doesn't believe their lives are worth saving because they don't look like the Cleavers.
And no, their point isn't lessened by having Chuck D play a paramedic.
Now, contrast that with Duran Duran -- whose most personal song was about how they're basically horny wolves -- tossing us not only that line but truth-bombs like With an autopsy ambulance just to dissect ya / They are the kings 'cuz they swing amputation / Lose your arms, your legs to them it's compilation / It all adds up to a funky situation. Never mind that Duran One and Duran Two wouldn't know funky if George Clinton Matrixed it into their brains -- unless Rio got too much sand in her lungs and died because 911 was too busy cracking jokes to save her, they have absolutely no idea how 911 could possibly be such a joke. And how could they? They're simply too white.
Whiter than even Jesus. Except Jesus wasn't white. Boy, they can't get anything right.
But if you really can't live without The Law Offices Of Duran, Duran, And Duran co-opting black hip-hop, there's always their cover of Melle Mel's "White Lines (Don't Do It)." It's about cocaine. Duran Duran was an '80s band. They get it.
What do Chuck Norris, Liam Neeson in Taken, and the Dos Equis guy have in common? They're all losers compared to some of the actual badasses from history whom you know nothing about. Come out to the UCB Sunset for another LIVE podcast, April 9 at 7:00 p.m., where Jack O'Brien, Michael Swaim, and more will get together for an epic competition to find out who was the most hardcore tough guy or tough gal unfairly relegated to the footnotes of history. Get your tickets here!
Listen to some covers that are better than the originals in 5 Cover Songs That Stole the Show from the Originals and find out Celine Dion's worst cover that she's ever performed in The 20 Worst Cover Songs in Pop Music History.
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