Uncomfortably numb: In defense of the worst cover bands ever
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Choosing the right cover song can be a daunting proposition for bands and bedroom musicians alike. Is the song in question the right stylistic fit? Has it already been done to death? Is it something Lady Gaga and/or Ellen DeGeneres will likely hear? Then there’s the matter of having the necessary musical chops to pull it off. Sadly, this all-important consideration apparently never crossed the minds of the many ill-fated groups in YouTube’s burgeoning “Worst Cover Band/Song Ever” cottage industry.
Yes, the site that brought you Karmin is overflowing with even more awful, horrendous, and just plain baffling videos of would-be stars butchering the classic hits. In honor of WMSE’s not-awful “Cover Milwaukee” show March 30—in which current Milwaukee bands cover songs from classic Milwaukee bands—The A.V. Club rounds up a few of the “worst cover bands ever,” and explains why they’re maybe-kind-of-sort-of okay. Maybe.
Song: Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”
Cover band: Hush
Why it’s awful: Bad cover bands have a knack for falling apart at critical moments; truly awful cover bands somehow fall apart for an entire song. Enter Augusta, Georgia’s Hush, which became an Internet sensation in 2010 with its less-than comfortable take on a Pink Floyd classic. Out of tune, out of time, and out of sync, it’s a train wreck that could only be wrought by five grown men playing on a makeshift stage outside of a music store.
Why it’s not that awful: Okay, we’re really going to have to work for this one. Well, lead singer Joe Zale gets points for providing his own echo throughout the song. He also doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously: In an interview with the Augusta Chronicle, Zale shrugs off the “worst band ever” tag and boasts, “At least we had the guts to get onstage and try.” Oh, and the pumpkins and hay bales are a nice autumnal touch.
Song: Europe’s “The Final Countdown”
Cover band: Deep Sunshine
Why it’s awful: It makes sense that a lousy band from Sweden would cover a song made famous by another lousy band from Sweden. What doesn’t make sense is how the job could be botched so thoroughly. Deep Sunshine’s now-infamous take on “The Final Countdown” has all of the hallmarks of a terrible cover: questionable rhythm, impenetrable accents, a keyboard permanently stuck on “Fantasy Tone,” and a little kid hauling ass as soon as the band begins.
Why it’s not that awful: Though a staple of countless ’80s “monsters of rock” compilations, “The Final Countdown” is laughably wimpy—has there ever been a dippier synth line in all of rock? As such, Deep Sunshine does its best with the material it’s working with. Oh, and, once again, the singer performs his own echo.
Song: Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
Cover band: Unknown, a.k.a. three shirtless dudes
Why it’s awful: Slash is arguably one of the most influential guitarists of his generation, and his looping, circus-like intro for “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is arguably one of his finest moments. That intro is also trickier than it looks, if this cover version from three shirtless buddies is to be believed. (Pro tip: It’s not that tricky.) Still, Slash’s lead is the least of this band’s problems. Everything is a mess, from the stiff drumming to the fact that each member seems to be playing an entirely different song. And would it kill them to put on some shirts?
Why it’s not that awful: It’s not the Sheryl Crow version.
Song: The Beatles’ “Let It Be”
Cover band: The Black Sea Fleet Orchestra
Why it’s awful: Music may be the universal language, but nothing trips up a cover faster than an incongruous accent. As performed by the Russian Navy orchestra and soloist Evgeny Ustinov, “Let It Be” becomes a glorious, overwrought, post-Cold War mess. Not only that, but the group also gives the song a hideous orchestral gloss that makes Phil Spector’s original hack job seem positively restrained by comparison.
Why it’s not that awful: The Beatles have always been strangely beloved in Russia, so it seems wrong to pounce on this one too much. And let’s face it: Was “Let It Be” all that great to begin with?
Song: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down On The Corner”
Cover band: Unknown, a.k.a. a bunch of creeps on a flatbed trailer
Why it’s awful: Outdoor festivals can be prime breeding grounds for ill-advised cover songs; even worse: outdoor festivals put on by tie-dye-wearing teens. Legend has it that this questionable performance of CCR’s “Down On The Corner” was part of a small Wisconsin high school’s annual “Maystock” fest. The purpose of this strange outdoor hootenanny is unknown (we’re guessing it had something to do with the ’60s), though the members of the band reportedly went on to become professional musicians, chemical biology professors, and local writers who enjoy digging through boxes of old VHS tapes.
Why it’s not that awful: Save for some slightly out-of-tune instruments, the performance comes off rather well. Oh, and the weird kid in the yellow shirt does the “worm” at the two-minute mark.