10 cover versions absolutely hated by the people who originally wrote them

Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten, Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst and The Who’s Pete Townshend
(Image credit: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Tom Hill/WireImage/Patrick Ford/Redferns/Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Everybody loves a good cover version. They can be a tribute to the band or artist who wrote them, or maybe just a fun way of breaking up an album or a live set. Sometimes, they can kick the career of the act who has covered the song to the next level. Occasionally, they even turn out better than the original.

Except bands don’t always get it right. History is littered with bad cover versions, from the unintentionally hilarious to the woefully cack-handed. And sometimes covers – good and bad – are greeted with opprobrium from the people who actually wrote them in the first place. Which is exactly what happened here…

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Van Halen - You Really Got Me (1978)

The Kinks’ 1964 original is often credited as one of the earliest heavy metal songs, thanks to guitarist Dave Davies’ monster riff. But Kinks singer and songwriter – and Dave’s brother – Ray Davies was unimpressed by Van Halen’s flashy version that came out 14 years later. “It was very Middle America,” he sniffily told Classic Rock in 2010. “It was like, ‘Hey man, look at me with my tight trousers! Here’s our version of ‘You Really Got Me’!” Dave himself was equally disparaging: "There's the thing: good art isn't always about having the comfiest technique.”

Eagles – Ol’ 55 (1974)

Tom Waits was a boozy boho singer-songwriter with a couple of so-so selling albums under his belt when country rock princelings the Eagles covered his nostalgic piano ballad Ol’ 55 on 1974’s On The Border album. “I frankly was not that particularly crazy about their rendition of it… I felt like it was kind of flattering that somebody wanted to do your song, but at the same time I thought their version was a little antiseptic,” said Waits, presumably while cashing the hefty royalty check.

Mötley Crüe – Anarchy In The UK (1991)

Note to American bands: leave Anarchy In The UK alone. Megadeth served up a dead dog of a cover, complete with mangled lyrics, though that had nothing on Mötley Crüe’s unintentionally comic version, which left 80,000 people paralysed with laughter when they debuted it at the 1990 Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donnington. No surprises at ex-Sex Pistols singer John Lydon’s reaction: “Mötley Crüe’s version was hilarious. Now there’s a band that’s sold millions and millions of records and they just couldn’t get it right.” Did Lydon object enough to have the cover stopped? Of course not. "I rang up Vince Neil and said, ‘Thanks, you're making me loads of money in the easiest possible way!’”

Limp Bizkit – Behind Blue Eyes (2003)

Limp Bizkit had previous form with divisive covers. Singer Fred Durst claimed that George Michael loved their wilfully obnoxious 1997 version of his 80s hit Faith, while guitarist Wes Borland insisted at the time that the ex-Wham! star “hates it and hates us for doing it.” There was no such ambiguity over their unforgivable version of The Who’s Behind Blue Eyes. “It was an embarrassing effort, and one that discredits a fine song,” said Who guitarist Pete Townshend, likening the violent reaction he had on hearing it to the time “I clubbed [hippie activist and Woodstock stage invader] Abbie Hoffman.”

Peter Gabriel – Street Spirit (2010)

Radiohead have never commented on former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel’s funereal reimagining of their stately 1995 single, recorded for his covers album, Scratch My Back. Luckily, Gabriel himself has ’fessed up to the fact that it went down like a fart in a spacesuit. “It's pretty extreme, I guess,” he admitted. “And I have heard since that the band didn't like what I did with it." The fact that Radiohead subsequently backed out of a proposed Gabriel covers album suggested the intel was pretty much on the money.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Blinded By The Light (1976)

‘Hate’ is maybe too strong a word here, but Bruce Springsteen was definitely disgruntled by what Manfred Mann’s Earth Band did with his 1973 debut single. Not necessarily musically - even the most ardent fan of The Boss would be hard pressed to deny that the Earth Band’s version is better – but lyrically. Specifically the line “cut loose like a deuce”, which referred in the original to a Little Deuce Coupe hotrod but was mangled by Manfreds singer Chris Hamlet Thompson into “wrapped up like a douche”. “One version is about a car, the other is about a feminine hygiene product,” Springsteen snarked, though the Earth Band won this one – their version reached Number One in the US, a feat Springsteen has never achieved with a song of his own.

Megadeth – These Boots (1985)

Dave Mustaine’s decision to record a snarling (and renamed) version of Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ on Megadeth’s debut album, Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good, backfired when the song’s author, Lee Hazlewood, belatedly decided that he didn’t like the raunchier lyrics Mustaine had fitted the song with (in fairness, Sinatra definitely didn’t sing, “You know, bitch, you gotta lot to learn”). Hazlewood demanded the song be taken off the album, though Mustaine wryly noted that he had no problems with trousering 10 years’ worth of royalties before he objected.

Type O Negative – Summer Breeze (1993)

Goth-metal provocateurs Type O Negative were no great respecters of rock’s sacred cows, putting their warped stamp on songs by The Beatles, Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix. Ironically, it would be yacht rock nabobs Seals & Crofts who ended up giving them the biggest headache. The duo objected to Type O mainman Peter Steele overhauling their soft-centred 1972 classic Summer Breeze, renaming it Summer Girl and, more mischievously, changing the lyrics so it referred to pools of vomit, “devil music” and references to his paramour’s “legs spreading out to take me.” One slap on the wrist later, and the original title and lyrics were reinstated. Naughty Type O!

The Pet Shop Boys – Where The Streets Have No Name (1990)

Brilliantly, this one was designed to be hated by the band that covered it. The Pet Shop Boys vs U2 was one of the great forgotten spats of the 1980s, with the synth-pop duo lobbing waspish insults at Bono and co, only for Dublin’s finest to return fire in kind. But the PSB had the last word with this viciously ironic cover, turning U2’s earnest 1987 anthem into a hi-NRG disco tune and rubbing salt into the wound by eliding it with Andy Williams’ easy listening classic Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. The result was truly terrific, though it achieved the desired result. “What have we done to deserve this?” Bono reportedly sighed, a cute nod to another Pet Shop Boys songs, their Dusty Springfield collaboration What Have I Done To Deserve This?.

Weird Al Yankovic – Wings’ Live And Let Die, Weezer’s Buddy Holly, Prince’s 1999

Weird Al is America’s most famous musical parodist, though not everyone is down with his teeth-grindingly ‘wacky’ cover versions. At various points during his career, Al has unsuccessfully tried to cover songs by Wings, Weezer and Prince. Paul McCartney politely refused to let Yankovic turn Live And Let Die into Chicken Hot Pie due to it clashing with the ex-Beatle’s vegetarian lifestyle, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo nixed a brief spoof of Buddy Holly in Yankovic’s The Polka Medley at the last minute, and Prince… well, he was just being Prince. It’s not just rock musicians – Weird Al has fallen foul of Coolio, James Blunt (or at least his record label), and Michael Jackson, who allowed a spoof on Beat It but not Black Or White.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.