We’ve looked at some of the good covers of the 1980s before – but how about the stinkers?
Reader: I’m pleased to report that finding them was not an easy task. A quick Google survey of ‘worst covers of all time’ will not reveal many from the ’80s (no, Rockwell’s version of ‘Taxman’ really isn’t that bad…).
But the variety of crap covers is worth noting. In the 1980s, anyone was liable to produce a shocker, from the ageing chart regular to the littlest indie.
Some took them to the toppermost of the poppermost – indeed most of the below were big hits. But of course familiarity breeds contempt… Most of these efforts, though, smack of both desperation and a dearth of material. The net result is usually a kind of audio shrug. And hey, there’s also that other reliable, recurring theme – the overproduction of post-1985 offerings…
18. Club Nouveau: ‘Lean On Me’ (1986)
Swing-beat-flavoured travesty of the Bill Withers classic.
17. Tin Machine: ‘Working Class Hero’ (1989)
Pointless cover which is one of several fillers on the ‘difficult’ second side of Bowie’s rather good band debut.
16. The Power Station: ‘Harvest For The World’ (1985)
Interesting to hear Robert Palmer challenge himself range-wise but the band’s rather limp arrangement remove all of the majesty of the Isley Brothers original.
15. Simple Minds: ‘Sign O’ The Times’ (1989)
Desperately tries to be hip but instead comes across as a bit desperate. Kerr’s irritating vocal intrusions don’t help (‘Yeah!’).
14. Aztec Camera: ‘Jump’ (1984)
Why oh why, Roddy? Some grotty Linn drum programming and an insipid vocal on a pointless Van Halen cover which takes away all the fun of the original. Maybe that’s the point.
13. The Communards: ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ (1986)
I’m reluctant to diss the brilliant Jimmy Somerville but this cover of a Philly classic just drove one to distraction, not helped by the desperately upbeat video.
12. Yazz: ‘The Only Way Is Up’ (1988)
A ghastly version of Otis Clay’s 1980 post-disco classic which seemed to stay at #1 for an eternity…
11. The Housemartins: ‘Caravan Of Love’ (1986)
The concept is a good one – Isley Jasper Isley’s brilliant original was an electro/gospel mashup crying out for an a cappella – but Paul Heaton’s lead vocals and a very unadventurous arrangement scupper this UK #1 from the start.
10. The Flying Pickets: ‘Only You’ (1983)
Yes, it’s the other a cappella song to hit UK #1, but where to start? How about: out-of-tune vocal stacks (and a very unsubtle use of Fairlight vocals) and a chronically unhip bunch of guys? Oh, and it also came out too soon after the Yazoo original.
9. Pet Shop Boys: ‘Always On My Mind’ (1988)
Effective but gross cover, and of course another UK #1 single. Like gorging on cream cake, there’s a brief rush but then a lingering nausea. It’s also arguably the point where the Boys became an ’80s brand rather than a unique songwriting force.
8. Dave Grusin: ‘Thankful ‘N Thoughtful’ (1984)
Sly & The Family Stone’s gospel/funk classic becomes a robotic downer in the hands of the smooth jazz keyboard maestro. Even Marcus Miller’s bass playing can’t save this.
7. Bomb The Bass: ‘Say A Little Prayer’ (1988)
An on-the-nose, in-your-face curio which never convinces. The vocals just set my teeth on edge right from the off. But it still got to #10 in the UK.
6. Bananarama: ‘Venus’ (1987)
5. Rick Astley: ‘When I Fall In Love’ (1987)
This was the 1987 Christmas #2 and, to be fair, it was only Rick’s third single. But it was asking a lot of the lad to take on Nat ‘King’ Cole. And whose idea were the horrible fake strings?
4. Kim Wilde: ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ (1986)
See 6 and 9.
3. Gary Numan/Leo Sayer: ‘On Broadway’ (1984)
This is so bad it’s almost good. But only almost. You can’t help but feel sorry for these two gents whose careers had gone properly arse-over-teacup by this point. Numan fans in particular must have been hiding behind the sofa.
2. Band Aid II: ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ (1989)
Stock Aitken & Waterman were tasked with updating this one, coming up with a pointlessly-reformatted, boil-in-the-bag cover without any of the original’s musical grace notes, though singer Matt Goss gives a good account of himself.
And…badly-played drum roll…the worst cover of the ’80s is…
1. Thompson Twins: ‘Revolution’ (1985)
The Twins go rawk, with disastrous results. It was also the point where they started to believe the hype – always a bad move. Tom Bailey’s lead vocal is a travesty and it’s also a bum note in Nile Rodgers’ production career.