Giorgio Moroder ft. Britney Spears - "Tom's Diner" (Craig Vanity / Dimitri Vegas / Martin Garrix Remix) (2015)
Recently, the editor of this website sent me a link to a strange thing - the Britney Spears cover version of Suzanne Vega’s "Tom’s Diner". It was so bad, it was good. Well, no - it wasn’t good but it was catchy. It sent me into a hopeless downward spiral of terrible covers that I hadn’t heard in years and so of course, I must now put you through the same pain.
Autotune at its best with a manic club-ready beat and a speed which makes my head spin. Giorgio Moroder is the man behind Donna Summer’s "Love to Love You", Blondie’s "Call Me", and the soundtrack of Scarface - and the godfather of EDM - is putting out an album of electronic music with the likes of Kylie Minogue and Britney.
The Ataris - "Boys of Summer" (2003)
I find this cover absolutely manic - I admit, I’ve shaken my head violently to it many times in a studio while inflicting it on listeners. Though sadly, there is an entire generation out there that thinks this is the real thing - an entire generation out there that thinks "I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac" is the actual line. It’s strange that The Ataris thought they needed to change that line at all, presumedly updating it for their fans. The original Don Henley line of course is "I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac" and I did not know what a "Deadhead" for many years and it did not stop me from loving this song. Basically, kids these days, bah.
Henley’s track was about the end of innocence, of growing older, of moving on. The Ataris version - well, it's so manic it makes you feel like it’s about the end of… everything. And the video - wow, I don't know. Why is everything sped up? Oh yeah, manic. No, that teeny ladybird wont make anything calmer.
Meanwhile, the Don Henley 1984 original version had style. It was just so, so slick - even the video, directed by French fashion photographer and director Jean-Baptiste Mondino was all sorts of effortless cool. A French fashion photographer! Who does that? Well, many rock stars did in the 80s. All moody black and whites, pretty people being bored, the beach, serious drumming, serious posing and look! There are even people looking back when that little voice inside your head says don’t look back, you can never look back.
Corinne Bailey Ray - "I Wanna Be Your Lover" (2011)
Admittedly, this one is pretty catchy. Not just because, of course, the original Prince track is a complete earworm, but also because Corinne Bailey Ray’s version is just so… pretty. She’s turned it into a sweet little pop princess ditty.
This may have been an early, less dirty on the surface, fun track from Prince’s 1979 eponymous album, but back in those days you couldn't keep Prince away from raunchy if you drowned raunchy in Lake Minnetonka. Somehow Ray takes the sly "I wanna be the only one who makes you come... runnin’!" and makes it into something sweet and that's preposterous. And what’s up with the little star-burst synth sounds? It sounds like something out of My Little Pony.
Cake - "I Will Survive" (1996)
This was still a big hit with the proto-hipsters when I was at university. What I’ve never understood about this is why it’s so damn depressing. Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 version was meant to be an anthem - uplifting, empowering and disco. The Cake version is a real downer.
I suppose it was meant to be ironic although I have yet to understand why we needed an ironic version of an iconic song that remains an anthem decades after it was first released. Were were so, so, jaded in the mid-90s that we would let an ironic version hit the charts? It seems so.
According to the always reliable Wikipedia, Gaynor does not like the Cake version because of the profanity. There are a number of small changes in the lyrics though, which also irritate me because really, what makes you think you can improve on the Gaynor version, dude?
Jessica Simpson - "These Boots Are Made For Walkin’" (2005)
I hadn’t seen this video in years. It must have been longer than I thought because the Jessica Simpson in this looks like a sexualised teenager. The whole thing makes me seriously uncomfortable - what is the point of this Bret "X-Men: The Last Stand" Ratner video? Were videos always this overtly exploitative of the singers body/sexuality? What was she thinking? What was Willie Nelson thinking? What was the point again? Oh no bikini what what what. The most famous thing about this video (other than the nakedness & crotch dancing) was that Jessica Simpson went on some crazy diet to look that way. Was it worth it, Jessica? Was it worth it?
Moving on from the video, let’s try and focus on the song itself. The thing is, what you can’t tell is that Jessica Simpson can sing. She’s from that gospel-singing background and actually has decent range. She could have done this song so well, even if it had to emerge from that terrible Dukes of Hazzard remake. But then Jessica Simpson went ahead and rewrote most of the lyrics to work for her character in the movie, added a bridge and some stuff about how her body will get out of trouble with the law. Not quite what Nancy had in mind, I first thought, but then rumour has it, Nancy Sinatra was told by writer Lee Halewood to sing the song as if she were a "16 year old girl who fucks truck drivers". I don’t even know where to go with that.
The Jessica Simpson version oddly has some serious street cred when it comes to the producers though, with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis producing the track. The duo have worked with Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Usher, Mary J Blige, Chaka Khan and yeah, Prince. Which makes me wonder what Prince thinks of Jessica Simpson.
Here’s Nancy Sinatra, with a video that probably was just as exploitative back when it came out. Those back up dancers are basically in underwear, right? It’s a strange song, though.
Britney Spears - "I Love Rock & Roll" (2001)
Did you really think Ms. Spears was only going to come up once on this list? Even the music in this sounds like it’s been wrung through the auto-tune - was any of what we’re hearing at all performed by actual humans? Still, this was Britney at her her peak and I don’t just mean her waistline. The fact that it lacks any imagination at all - well, yeah, it ain’t no "Slave For You", is it?
Best part of Spears covering this song? And by that I mean the worst part of course, is that when promoting the single, darling Brit credited the song to Pat Benatar and not Joan Jett. So yeah. She may well have put women in rock back a few decades with this, since this basically has no soul at all.
Here’s 1975 original by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts to cleanse your palate. Yeah, you can’t buy that attitude, Brit, no matter how much fancy leather you wear.
Counting Crows featuring Vanessa Carlton - "Big Yellow Taxi" (2002)
Look, when you cover a Joni Mitchell anthem, you’d better be serious, okay? And this is as serious as serious gets. I don’t know what this petulant Vanessa Carlton woman is doing there though. She had a hit song around that time, right? Her and a piano in the middle of the road, maybe? I assume they thought she was there to stay and now they probably have to Google her name too. The track was initially recorded by just the Counting Crows and Carlton was added to it - and to the video - later, when the song was picked up as part of the soundtrack to the film Two Weeks Notice.
The thing is, the Joni Mitchell original is pretty serious too, as upbeat as it may sound - Mitchell’s environmental concerns are clear, whether it’s with the refrain "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot" or "hey farmer, farmer put away that DDT now". But somehow it’s still a fun song. The Counting Crows version? That’s just a whole other level of earnestness.
Girls Aloud/Sugababes - "Walk This Way" (2007)
I absolutely loathe this. No one in it can sing, no amount of auto tune can save them and it is a complete mess of a song - I’m pretty certain it would have killed at least half the members of Aerosmith had they not been zombies already when this came out. I’m not even a big Aerosmith fan but have nothing else to say about this mess.