As well as providing excellent shoes, Dr Marten’s have celebrated their 50th anniversary by asking 10 artists to record a cover version of a cult or classic track representing the spirit of Dr Martens and very kindly making them available free for download. Boasting impressive pedigree with the likes of Noisettes, The Duke Spirit and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, by far the standout track is The Raveonettes cover of the Stone Roses classic ‘I Wanna Be Adored’. In many ways a hit and miss band, what Sune Rose Wagner and Sharon Foo have done here is a shining beacon of how to treat a cult classic. Almost as good (if not better) than the original, this takes an anthemic track and twists it around to make it more mystical, more meaningful, and Wagner’s dreamy guitar hooks transform this song and take it to a level Ian Brown et al could only have dreamed of. Even die-hard Stone Roses fans would have to agree; they’ve done a good job. This lit a bulb above our heads here at The 405 and we thought it would be quite a good idea to have a think about what really are the best and truly gut-wrenchingly awful cover versions out there. It’s a fact of life – bands cover other artist’s tracks, but there are some classic tracks that have been butchered like soldiers crossing No Mans Land and relatively little seems to be said or indeed done about it. So, with that in mind, here is our (slightly tongue-in-cheek) take on the top five best and worst cover versions out there, starting in an optimistic fashion and in no particular order, with the best. 1. Jose Gonzalez - ‘Heartbeats’. A cover of the classic by The Knife, this will perhaps forever be famous as being part of a very pretty Hewlett Packard advert, but credit should go to Jose Gonzalez for maintaining the vibe of the song, and not trying to do anything too drastic. The Knife’s version is perhaps more eerie and more likely to make you stop and think, but Gonzalez did a very good job of showing that the song could have a different, more gentle meaning. 2. Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’. Although originally a Nine Inch Nails song, this in many ways is better. Aside from the politics surrounding it’s release – rumours have it the record company pressured a dying Cash to release it shortly after his wife’s death – this version transforms a haunting, almost scary creation into a beautiful, soulful masterpiece to the point that it almost seems like it should have been his song in the first place. 3. Nirvana - ‘The Man Who Sold the World’. If there was ever a band who know how to respect music, then it was Nirvana. This unplugged version of David Bowie’s classic is perhaps more mournful than the original, which is more upbeat and shouty, and both have their own strong points. The great thing about Nirvana’s version which makes it credible is they respect the song, and the acoustic version they released in 1994 has subtle elements of Nirvana to it which means it doesn’t sound too similar. 4. Jeff Buckley - ‘Hallelujah’. Most are unaware this is actually Leonard Cohen’s track, but even those who are usually prefer Buckley’s version. It just seems to suit Buckley’s voice more, sounds better the way he arranges it, and all in all is probably one of the most beautiful songs ever released. 5. Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Higher Ground’. This track, released back in the late 1980s, when they only had a very small, cult following is arguably the Chili’s at their best. Keeping the jazzy feel of the track whilst also adding some rockier elements makes it more urgent and more modern than Stevie Wonder’s original. It also has the fantastic quality of being impossibly catchy.
Now, unfortunately, for our take on the top 5 worst and most shameless cover versions out there. Again, in no particular order, as they’re all pretty awful. 1. Fall Out Boy – ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Where to start with this one. Aside from the fact that Ian Curtis was one of the best lyricists ever to live and Pete Wentz is a 15 year old kid trapped in a 30 year old’s body, this is a song that just cannot be covered. It doesn’t work without Curtis’ brooding baritone (or indeed the rest of Joy Division), but what Fall Out Boy did to this song is truly awful. There’s no soul, none of the meaning, and is just horrendous in every way. A yardstick upon which to compare other cover songs. 2. Limp Bizkit – ‘Faith’. I’m not a huge fan of George Michael or Limp Bizkit, but it’s just one of the worst things ever made. Starts off ok in fairly similar fashion to the original before it just explodes into unhinged noise and ends up sounding like a motorway car pile-up. It’s that bad. This was only discovered by myself a couple of weeks ago when a friend found a B-sides album in her car. It’s no wonder George turned to drugs. 3. Hilary Duff – ‘My Generation’. Aside from the fact that Hilary Duff in no way represents her ‘generation’ like The Who did, the fact that she released this at all shows that it was just a ruthless and soulless attempt to make some money and nothing at all whatsoever. Enough said. 4. Guns N Roses – ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’. Just all the worst elements of Guns N Roses summed up into one song. Pompous, completely unnecessary over-elaboration (string ensembles, grand pianos etc) and all stretched into a six-minute long slog. How they managed to more than double the length of the song whilst making it less than half as good as Bob Dylan’s original is beyond all comprehension. But then again, it’s Axl Rose. 5. Anything by the Glee Cast. This might just be my struggle to see what the appeal of Glee is, and I do recognise it is very popular, but there’s something about a jumped-up bunch of American theatre school graduates that’s really nausea-inducing. It’s not necessarily that that the songs are bad in themselves, but more the typically American lack of respect for anything that isn’t theirs and the even more typically American arrogant belief that their version should be shoved in everyone’s faces.