Guest Post: Pop Rocks! One Man’s Cover Song Garbage and Gold

The humble beginnings of a vast media empire.

These days, he may teach writing and blog about nightlife and baseball, but once, not so very long ago, Jay Trucker was the self-admittedly snarkier half of one of the greatest college radio duos of all time.  Picture it: Collegeville (I’m not kidding), 1998. A boy from Monmouth County, New Jersey and a boy from the urban center of Pennsylvania Dutch country revolutionize the long-held mores of an academic outpost on the fringes of Main Line Philly respectability.  They did it with a compelling hot talk format.  With barbs directed at each others’ CD collections. They did it with prescient  WWF vs. WCW analysis at the height of the Monday Night Wars.  They did it with Pat Boone covering 12 Heavy Metal Classics.

Things are different now. Collegeville has a diner. Even a Wegman’s.  WaWa isn’t the great Third Place it once was.  But a friendship forged in a constant amazement of shirtless, nicknamed, drum-kitting roommates, of Kmart runs and starter check fails, of campus protests writ large in sidewalk chalk on every paved surface in the wee small hours before graduation, well, a friendship like that outlasts Eric Bischoff, the Clinton Administration, the 3.5 floppy disk and, as you know, the very foundations of analog media.  These two brazen boys, now slightly less brazen men with slightly, ever so slightly, less hair, resume their media partnership today, here and now.  These two men are Jay Trucker and Chris Cocca.  They present to you a very special The Daily Cocca  guest post feature in two parts.  Jay, thanks for being here.  You will always be the Black Album to my Tragic Kingdom.  The Scott Ian to my Meatloaf.  Actually, that would make you my son-in-law, but you get the point.

Portrait of the Artist as Miss America.

Pop Rocks! One Man’s Cover Song Garbage and Gold
by Jay Trucker, special to The Grizzly The Daily Cocca

Cover songs are forever. My guess is that the second song ever performed was a cover of the first. Some of these cover songs are inspired, many are horrifying. Artists who cover well-known songs are disadvantaged in that they are immediately judged against the original, though the instant recognition of a popular cover song often paves the way for radio play and concert sing-alongs. The best covers may pay tribute or put a new stamp on an old standard. The worst are soul-crushing cash-ins. Here are just a few of my personal favorites and least favorites. Feel free to add your own. But for the sake of my sanity, try not to defend Sheryl Crow.

The Garbage

Five Finger Death Punch – “Bad Company”

Bad Company isn’t a great band and 1974’s “Bad Company” isn’t one of their better songs.  It’s no “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” that’s for sure.  Hell, it’s not even “Shooting Star” or “Ready for Love.”  Still Bad Company’s “Bad Company” from the album Bad Company is a harmless ditty about life as part of a group of badass cowboys (with guitars?), a mediocre song by a mediocre band.  Think of the original as a precursor to Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive,” without the Aquanet.  “Bad Company” is one of those songs you might leave on the radio or you might flip past, depending on whether or not you feel like belting out a country-tinged guitar anthem about life with a six gun in your hand.

Why are you so scared to love us?

From the start, dunder-headed dorks Five Finger Death Punch add modern rock humorlessness to the proceedings, replacing Paul Rodgers’ pseudo-soul with macho poseur bleats from a guy who sounds like Scott Stapp’s even more earnest little brother.  While Death Punch singer Ivan Moody crotch grabs all over the song, nu metal guitar is provided by former Mandy Moore guitarist, current tough guy Jason Hook.  Part of what makes this song so terrible is that a generation of teenagers, not all teenagers mind you, but the ones who like contemporary knuckle-dragging shlock like Shinedown (makers of the slightly less offensive, equally macho-earnest “Simple Man” cover), will mistakenly say this band and this cover is “cool,” “heavy,” and “better than the original.”  It is none of the above, and considering the mediocrity of the first, that is telling.

Sheryl Crow – “Sweet Child ‘O Mine”

Julia child1
Sweet love of mine.

Asking people whether or not they like the Sheryl Crow version of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child” is a good way to pass judgment on them with swift accuracy.  I don’t know what kind of record executive dreamed up this steaming pile of wrong, but unleashing it on an unsuspecting world was cruel, especially given the timing.  Released in 1999, this empty cover was given to a pre-millenial planet still coming to terms with the end of GnR as we knew it.

How did Crow, an artist typically not noteworthy enough to provoke contempt, manage to turn an 80s classic into a pathetic whimper? By removing its innards and adding nothing but sap and ugly.  The original “Sweet Child” manages to be a great 80s power ballad without being considered an 80s power ballad despite its sappy lyrics and goofy guitar chords because it is sung by a sociopath who sounds like he might throw his microphone at the crowd at any minute.  And in fact, he did!  Axl caterwauls “where do we go?” in a demon voice, if ever a demon were to ask a simple question.  Crow, conversely, sings the same line like she is asking if the listener would rather stop at Chili’s or Applebee’s.

Musically, Crow’s version exemplifies that more is less, as she throws in some slide guitar, violin, and some kind of unappealing keyboard, creating a muddled sound that only her Taylor Hanson scream at the end can break through, and not in a good way.  But hey, at least she was able to tweak the arrangement just enough to appeal to both the country demographic and adult contemporary radio.

And no, this doesn’t mean Crow’s version sucks just because it is feminized.  It sucks because it is sanitized, which is the polar opposite of classic era GnR.  Even Fergie Ferg, best known for rap-singing about her humps, does a comparatively much better version than does Ms. Crow, replacing Axl’s edgy wails with sultry swagger that would probably make Sheryl Crow blush.

Every time I hear Sheryl Crow strain to hit the opening lines of this song,  I die a little bit inside.  Then I check the unit prices on Folgers and Maxwell House.

The Counting Crows ft. Vanessa Carlton – “Big Yellow Taxi”

Also what some people call this blog. (Off street parking available.)

The Counting Crows’ version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” manages to commit the very sin that the original is about, an accomplishment that would be impressive were it ironic. Sadly, it’s not. That’s right, Adam Duritz, the “they” who “paved paradise and put up a parking lot” is you, you blissfully unaware, fathead, jerk! [Direct all slander/libel complaints to Mr. Trucker’s legal staff directly. — Ed.]

Mitchell’s folk song about the death of nature in the era of the concrete jungle is pro-tooled and suffocated of its hippie-dippy peacenik vibe and replaced with the Counting Crows’ corporate version of the same. Duritz poses as a 90s version of Mitchell’s love child, but he’s really just a gossip rag fodder with devil sticks. I mean, once you’ve dated two-thirds of the women on Friends, you kind of lose your right to complain about tree museums.

To make matters worse, the Crows’ glossy rendition includes cooing and “oh-bop-bop-bopping” from pop singer Vanessa Carlton. You remember Carlton, right? She comes from the era right after pop stars stopped writhing around on snakes and before they started wearing meat dresses. She had a hit or two when it was trendy for young pretty girls to play guitar or piano while staring at something just above and to the left of the camera. I forget whether she plays guitar or piano. She does neither in the video for this song, nor is there any evidence that she and the band ever met. My guess is they haven’t, and we’re probably all the better for it.  [Fin. Part 1.  Next Issue: The Gold!]

Jay Trucker teaches writing at the Community College of Baltimore County and studies Sociology and Education at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.  He occasionally writes about the Baltimore Orioles for and nightlife for the Baltimore Sun blogs.

[Jay passes hot mic back to Chris].  Thank you, Jay.  I can’t wait for the comments to start coming in.  A reminder to listeners:  “Part II: The Gold” will hit the internet on Monday.  That’s our show for today, friends.  Pat’s gonna play us out like it’s 1998.

Readers Paradise image via David Watson on Flickr. Fair use on the WVOU image. BadCo awesome by I’m Heavy Duty on Flickr.