Careless Whispers & Smooth Criminals: A Tale of 80s Covers Gone Wrong (and Right)

If you’ve known me for more than five minutes, you know how I feel about music from the 1980s. If you’ve known me for more than 5 weeks, you might know how I feel about artists who sample songs from the 80s in their music. (See my Sloppy Seconds of the 80s article on this site.) But probably most of you do not know how I feel about cover songs of 80s music. I actually like hearing new versions of 80s songs…not that I usually like them over the originals, but it’s nice that bands still revere them enough to want to release cover songs. Of course, there were many cover songs in the 80s that became bigger hits than the original releases. I haven’t done the research, but I think it’s safe to say there have not been as many successful cover songs in 90s and 00s, than there were in the 80s.

Over the past 10 years or so, my source for new music is alternative rock radio. During that period of time, it seems the punk, metal, and alternative rock genres have made a run on covering many 80s songs…and not ones that I would have figured!! Let’s explore some of the more popular ones and give them the ol’ thumbs up or thumbs down.

Alien Art Farm “Smooth Criminal” 

Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” turned out to be one of his signature hits. When I heard Alien Art Farm’s version in the early 00s, I laughed. It really wasn’t because the song sounded “bad,” but mainly for the fact that someone managed to successfully cover and release a Michael Jackson track. He is probably one of most difficult music artists to cover just because of his distinctive vocal style. AAF’s version sounds pretty good musically and has a fun music video with Michael Jacksonisms sprinkled in, but the vocals are just plain laughable to me at many points. Drown this ant farm, THUMBS DOWN!!

 

Orgy “Blue Monday” 

New Order scored there first hit in the UK with “Blue Monday” in 1983, which is a great representative for the new wave synthesized sound of the 80s. In 1988, they re-released the song after a Quincy Jones remix calling it “Blue Monday 88.”  Finally, a third official remix was also released and charted in the UK in 1995. “Blue Monday-95” has more of a techno or dance club feel. Orgy’s version is one of the better covers of 80s songs. They’ve managed to take electronic and techno elements from the remixes and then combine them with a power guitar riff for an awesome sound. A musical orgy for your ears, THUMBS UP!!

 

Marilyn Manson “Personal Jesus” 

Where do I begin with this guy? “Personal Jesus” is the third 80s song that Manson has abused in his recording career. The first was “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” in 1995, which was a slowed down, over-dramatic version that I thought was just total crap. Next up was his cover of “Tainted Love” which was made famous by Soft Cell in 1981. This Manson cover was actually the best of the three that he’s done. It had the familiar tempo with his goth and an almost hip hop feel. But then he had to go and cover one of my Depeche Mode favorites. The original song has this almost old west feel with a perfect harmony of guitar, percussion, and techno. Manson basically synthesizes this song until it’s dead and also adds his overdramatic singing. This dope show is not worth the price of admission, THUMBS DOWN!!

 

Ataris “Boys of Summer” 2003

This is another song that’s hard for me to stomach. I’m a big fan of Don Henley’s solo career and it’s very hard for me to hear anyone else but him sing this song. The Ataris, as with the AAF cover of Michael Jackson, really don’t do a bad job musically with the song. The added guitar gives the song a nice edge. It’s the vocals that just shatter the glass for me. Henley’s voice is so unique that it’s just hard to match and the resulting attempt with this song just sounds like screaming. Game over, THUMBS DOWN!!

 

311 “Lovesong” 

Now this, ladies and gents, is a cover song. If I was Robert Smith, I’d be very happy with the decision to let 311 record “Love Song.” Their version is one of those songs that you know is a cover, but just has that new feel to it. You can hear 311’s reggae-type rock and still hear the original song resonating in your mind. Nothing mixed up about this cover song, THUMBS UP!!

 

Disturbed “Land of Confusion” 

This is the second 80s cover that Disturbed has released. The first they did was “Shout” by Tears for Fears, which just didn’t mesh at all with their sound. I do like a handful of Disturbed’s tracks, but “Shout” was a horrible cover that should have never been released on an album. Now, I’m also a huge Genesis fan and “Land of Confusion” fits them much better! The bridge in the original song is definitive of the Genesis sound and it’s difficult for me to get past it in the cover version. But, the Disturbed video is very well done which adds a lot to the appeal and connection with the Disturbed sound. Overall, I think the positives outweigh the negatives on this one. Feel free to be stricken with this cover song, THUMBS UP!!

 

Seether “Careless Whisper”

Even the fun NES-like video for this cover can’t hide the fact that it’s total crap. Another one of those covers that was purely laughable the first time I heard it. It’s almost like Seether said, “Let’s cover something that everyone knows, so we’ll get our name out there better.” I’m convinced that it’s not really worth the effort to cover the iconic songs of the 80s. “Careless Whisper” was so big that it reached #1 in twenty five countries and sold 6 million copies! When a song gets that big, it’s best to leave it alone. No faking here, THUMBS DOWN!!

 

Would love to hear your comments or maybe some other hard rock/alternative covers of 80s tunes that need to be addressed.

 

Jason Gross is a child of the 80s and loves to subject his two sons to cartoons, tv, movies, and music from the decade. Currently promoting a M.A.S.K. live-action movie script (co-writer), he also enjoys freelance writing about 80s music & pop culture. His background includes radio broadcasting and B2B direct marketing. Follow Jason on Twitter @SockOfFleagulls and check out both of his awesome sites:

M.A.S.K. the Movie        Rediscover the 80s

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