In 1999 Alabama joined forces with Lou Pearlman’s teen idols du jour for this single. The cool cats with hits like “40 Hour Week” and “The Closer You Get” were reduced to singing lyrics like “your love is like a river, peaceful and deep/Your soul is like a secret that I never could keep.” And, stealing a page from ‘N Sync’s music video, the band sported color-coordinated outfits in their own video. Alabama’s fine harmonies keep this song from earning a higher spot on this month’s playlist, but it’s still a song to be avoided.
Remember these guys, the ’90s country band fronted by Jeffrey Steele? This song was the closing track on their debut album Welcome to Howdywood. The fuzzy guitars and instantly recognizable riff that made The Kinks’ original cool vanished on this cover; Boy Howdy replaced them with obnoxious drums, ill-advised falsetto, and cornball harmonies. They disbanded in ’96, and Steele is probably using his “What Hurts the Most” money to buy the “You Really Got Me” master tape and have it shot into the sun.
Wills released his cover barely two months after Brian McKnight released the original. They both peaked at #2 on their respective charts. Perhaps bolstered by this success, Wills’ next single was a version of Brandy’s “Almost Doesn’t Count.” Insert your own pithy comment about the current state of Wills’ career here.
Remember when Aerosmith used to be a rock band? Remember when Mark Chesnutt used to be a neotraditional country singer and not a rehasher of overwrought power ballads? It’s okay; everyone falls off the wagon sometimes. He took this song to the top of his charts, but it was his final Top 10 hit. Here’s hoping Outlaws, his upcoming covers album, erases this song from our minds.
Erma Franklin’s 1967 original is one of the best songs ever recorded. Janis Joplin’s cover a year later epitomizes raw, seething rage. On this chart-topper from 1994, Hill kind of misses the point: she seems rather chipper about the whole thing. Want a piece of my heart? Okay! Let me find some festive gift wrap.
Several of the Hillbilly Shakespeare’s greatest works have been transformed into pop hits along the way; Tony Bennett’s early ’50s version of “Cold, Cold Heart” is probably one of the most famous, but there have been many, many others. When it comes to this cover (which, like many others on this month’s list, was rather successful on the charts), Williams biographer Colin Escott says it all: “If Hank’s version of ‘Jambalaya’ made only a passing nod to Cajun music, Stafford’s record didn’t make that connection at all; it was sung incongruously to a mambo rhythm.” (p. 215)
But compared to another horrible Hank cover on this month’s list, Stafford’s “Jambalaya” isn’t half bad.
4. “Hey Good Lookin’” – Jimmy Buffet with Clint Black, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, and George Strait
What’s that sound? Oh, it’s Hank Williams, whirling like a dervish in his grave. Everyone responsible for this should be forced to chop off a pinkie, thus marking them for life.
Our resident historian Paul W. Dennis calls this version of Bette Midler’s song “probably the worst cover of all-time.” Twitty is a repeat cover song offender, having delivered “Slow Hand” and “Three Times a Lady” like the creepy guy at your local karaoke bar.
Licensed to Ill has a new meaning after this horrendous Beastie Boys cover, which finds Big and Rich complaining that mom threw away their best “country mag.” This monstrosity can be found on a charity album benefitting the Imus Ranch. Personally, I’d donate money, time, and a slightly used kidney if it meant I’d never run the risk of hearing this song ever again.
Take a June Carter-Merle Kilgore classic, strip it of all urgency and longing, and this is the finished product. If Wonder Bread could sing, it’d sound like ONJ’s “Ring of Fire” cover. Listen at your own risk.
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.