Courtney Love doesn’t have much of a track record when it comes to cover versions. With her band Hole, she would often play a version of Guns N Roses’ ‘Paradise City’ that she would abandon half way through. Same goes for Depeche Mode’s ‘Hungry Like A Wolf,’ though the band did release a brilliant cover of Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes,’ it has to be said.
When we heard that Courtney Love covered Jay Z’s ’99 Problems,’ though, we feared for the worst. And, sadly, our fears were confirmed. “This either sucks or it’s genius, I don’t know,” she said as she introduced the song at her impromptu Sundance Film Festival set.
Courtney? It sucks.
Sorry. To make Courtney feel better about her massive cultural faux pas though, we’ve had a look at some of the unlikeliest cover versions in pop history, to see how she fares against them.
First up, Rolf Harris, tackling Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven.’ Now, this song is the bane of all guitar shop owners across the globe, who have to listen to amateur versions of the song approximately 756 times a day. Just when they thought the song couldn’t get more sinister, though, Rolf Harris grabbed his wobble board, kitted some sinister looking chaps who look like they may be on some kind of register, dressed them up in white suits and created this bizarre ‘comedy’ version of one of history’s greatest rock songs.
The thing with this ‘comedy’ version, though, is… it’s not funny. It’s just odd.
Welsh rockers The Manic Street Preachers have a reputation for writing fiercely emotional, political songs. Or at least, they did when Richey Edwards was still around. Once James Dean Bradfield was around, they developed a reputation for writing rather bland stadium rock songs about their love of Australia (‘Australia’), or reminding their fans how much they love them (‘You Love Us). Even when they went a bit bland and stadium rock-y though, they always had one foot in the leftfield. Rihanna was never an obvious target for the Manics when it came to choosing a cover version. But that was exactly where they went for an NME covermount CD in 2008.
Our verdict? By golly chaps, this one works! Somehow, the song that – when sung by Rihanna – simply sounds like a song about an umbrella, is transformed at the hands of the Manics and actually sounds like a proper, gut-wrenching love song. Astounding.
Of course, the science of music dictates that it is far easier for rock bands to take on a pop song and make it work. They can do it with an arched eyebrow, a sense of irony, or lend added gravitas. When pop bands try to do the opposite though, it almost always backfires. Step forward, Leona Lewis. We were amongst the first to leap behind the sofa and cower when we heard Leona Lewis was tackling Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt.’ Possibly the blandest pop singer in the history of pop music. Possibly the blandest personality in the history of personalities. Leona transformed Trent Reznor’s cathartic number into dentist waiting room background music, stripping it of all meaning along the way.
Do we think Leona was a Nine Inch Nails fan when she decided to take this on? No. We do not.
Sid Vicious, next. He couldn’t play his bass: legend has it that it was regularly unplugged when he played. He couldn’t really sing. That’s not what punk was about. He was scruffy. He was uncouth. He clearly had struggles with drug addictions. Now, let’s have a look at Frank Sinatra. He was suave. He was sophisticated. He was well respected. He had lovely blue eyes (yeah, we know, that’s irrelevant) and boy, could he sing. Sid singing one of Frank’s biggest hits, ‘My Way’? Should that work? No. Does it work? Yes.
Sid latched on to the sentiment of the song – about not giving a f*** what people think of you. About living a life WITH regret and to hell with those regrets. Who was that song more suited to? The man that aged gracefully, or the one that lived his life adhering to the ‘live fast die young’ creed, offending as many people as he possibly could, along the way?
Yep. Sid wins this one.
Now then – you remember what we told you about pop stars doing rock songs? Remember how we said it never works? OK. Brace yourselves for this. It’s not pretty.
As Jason Orange strums his guitar seductively at the start of this performance, NOTHING can prepare you for what is about to happen. As if the sight of a leather-trousered Gary Barlow ripping his shirt off isn’t bad enough, strutting up and down the stage like a clean-living pop star under the grip of some terrible disease, listening to his terrible impression of Kurt Cobain, in this cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is simply more than we can bear.
Literally the ONLY bit of this performance that works, on any level, is when Gary Barlow is jumping up and down in his shiny trousers, punching the air and utters the words “I feel stupid.” Good, Gary. You look stupid. You look really, really stupid.
If, like us, you're needing something a little light-hearted to erase that traumatic memory from the hard drive in your mind, have a little laugh at David Arquette singing Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing in The Name Of' at a karaoke bar. Full marks for enthusiasm, Dave.