Don't Play It Again, Sam: More Terrible Remakes Of Great Songs (By The Original Artists)
Rocks Off covered Eric Clapton's "Layla" and several other awful updates in January.
Sometimes an artist hits it big with one great song. Real big, real fast. Before they know it, they're the hot-button item, on the lips of the hip and influential across the world.
Of course, a sudden rise to fame is usually followed by a meteoric collapse, and if not that then a much more gradual but no less saddening decline. Just taking an example from this very list: Nobody in their right mind could say that Motley Crue was a one-hit wonder. Yet once grunge killed the hair-metal excess of the '80s, the Crue tried everything they could do recapture the heat they had in their heyday. Quite unsuccessfully, might I add.
Now, obviously they're still hugely successful and can pack a stadium full of nostalgic suburbanites, but do you even know if the Crue are still writing and recording new music? Do you care? I had to look it up, and it's kind of my job to know that shit. (Yeah, I know, Craiggers: you're eagerly awaiting Saints of Los Angeles Part 2. Yes, I'm sure the 2008 album is underrated. Just go with the premise here.)
So what do you do when the natural cycle of rise and decline has you yearning for the days of relevance? Why, you go back to the well, of course. You dig up a big hit, hopefully your biggest, and update it for a modern age. Hey, people loved it once, why wouldn't they love it again?
Here are several reasons why they wouldn't.
6. Motley Crue, Shout At the Devil '97: "Hey, you know what would be great? If Motley Crue took 'Shout At the Devil' and redid it with electronic drums, crunchier guitars, hip-hop bass, and a quickened rap-rock tempo so that Vince Neil has to shriek all of his lyrics really fast and in such a high register that it all bleeds together in a pseudo-industrial millenium-rawk mess. That would be very relevant to my interests, as a disaffected teenager in the year 1997." -- No one.
5. Chicago, "25 or 6 to 4 (Remake)" Everyone recognizes the original, even if you never memorized its music-nerd title; it's a common staple on classic-rock radio, and also an old standby for marching bands whose instructors want the kids to think they're still cool after all these years, man.
As much crap as Chicago gets for having turned into a middling adult-contemporary act in their later years, this track really does kick ass. Horns that don't sound cheesy in a barn-burner like this are hard to pull off, but it totally works.
The remake, done minus ex-singer Peter Cetera and sung by Chicago's bassist, is a good example of pretty much everything that went wrong with Chicago -- and most other hard-rock acts in the 80's, come to think of it. It's got synths instead of horns, walls of laser-y business going on in the background that would have struck Van Halen as excessive, and a much slower tempo that bogs the whole thing down, making what was a smoking '70s road song into something that would play over the closing credits of a little-seen Philip Michael Thomas cop movie.
4. David Bowie, "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)": In the 1970s, a phenomenon grabbed hold of the nation that transformed the face of contemporary rock and pop virtually overnight. That phenomenon was: cocaine. And in direct correlation, disco also became nightmarishly popular.
Artists trying to stay relevant, or who simply had a desire to experiment, all released at least one disco song, and unfortunately the Thin White Duke is no exception. What began as a simple, catchy British Invasion-influenced pop tune became a droning, bloated ruin of a song.
Unnecessary backup singers and saxophone solos were added until the thing grew to seven minutes in length. Once disco became irrelevant, so did this remake. And probably before that.
3. The Police, "Don't Stand So Close To Me '86": The Police were already broken up in 1986, but they re-formed just long enough to slap together this overdone heap of garbage. Once again, we see a classic pop arrangement buried beneath a wall of synthesizers, a plodding drum-machine beat, and the addition of unnecessary backup singers -- though this time they appear to simply be an army of overdubbed Stings.
It takes everything that was fun and spontaneous about the original and wrings the holy bejeezus out of it with overproduction. Kind of like the last few Radiohead albums, actually. Damn, the Police really were pioneers. This remake turned out so bad that the Police, although they did reunite for a tour, have still have not written or recorded any new music together since.
2. Violent Femmes, "Blister 2000": Odds are you've never heard this version unless you were one of the people who owned both volumes of the Grosse Point Blank soundtrack, so if you were blissfully unaware of this remake until now, I am so, so sorry.
The original, of course, is a masterpiece of quickstep folk-punk, the sound of which new indie artists are still trying to emulate today The updated version, however, adds what has to be the most obnoxious, flatulent horn section that wasn't specifically engineered to sound that way by Spike Jones.
The tempo has been slowed down to a lethargic crawl. That, plus the odd clink and clank of extraneous percussion -- and a fiddle out of nowhere because, at this point, why the fuck not -- come together to make the remake sound like something in the repertoire of a terrible lounge act.
If the Femmes ever up and performed this on a street corner for a laugh, no one would believe it was them. And odds are, they'd be justifiably pelted with refuse until they agreed to stop ruining a once-great song.
1. John Parr, "Tim Tebow's Fire: Okay, settle down. We'll get there. First, though, we must acknowledge that, for the theme to a film about spoiled yuppies dealing with various bullshit existential crises, the original song is pretty damn catchy. It almost makes us care about these gorgeous, whiny twats.
And really, the arrangement for the new version has stayed pretty much the same. Hell, even Parr's voice has held up surprisingly well. So why is it terrible? Well, it's a fanboy tribute to famously penitent NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.
If I was Tim Tebow, I'd be really uncomfortable with this song. Is this old guy trying to piggyback onto my fame and thus reignite his career, or -- worse -- does he kind of have a thing for me? Is this crass commercialism, obsessive man-crush, or some unsavory mixture of both?
I'm not being homophobic; If Tim Tebow were secretly gay, he could do way better than John Parr. The first time I heard this, I couldn't believe this was actually Parr himself. I thought it was the work of Denver morning-zoo radio hacks.
But then again, it's got us saying the name "John Parr" again, so that's good, right? Although we might be talking about him in a more positive light if he'd simply been caught smuggling a crate full of child porn into the country.
Did we miss any godawful remakes by the original artist? Leave 'em in the comments.
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