7 Pop Music Remakes That Never Should’ve Happened
It’s easy to guess what might motivate an artist to create an entirely new version of a hit song, often many years later. Maybe they didn’t feel like they got it right the first time. Maybe, like Def Leppard, it’s about sticking it to your publishing company. But nine times out of 10, these re-creations smell like desperate grabs at past glory. It’s a seemingly surefire plan, right? Just take the thing that people loved the first time around and do it again, maybe even giving it a bit of a modern update.
Canadian reggae-rapper Snow surely knows what it’s
like to watch fame slip away. He had just one hit, but it was a doozy: “Informer”
spent weeks atop the charts in 1993, and 12 Inches of Snow, his debut
album, sold millions of copies worldwide. A quarter century and a handful of
not-as-successful (to put it mildly) albums later, Snow just dropped “Informer
2018,” a thoroughly unnecessary update that swaps out the original’s
loping hip-hop beat for something slightly more modern, and removes the guest
verse from MC Shan that originally ended the song. He’s just the latest onetime
hitmaker to reach into the past and rewrite history, but who ended up just
scribbling some new notes on pages that would have been better left alone. In
his honor, here are seven more songs that were unnecessarily and/or poorly
remade by the original artists.
Bon Jovi, “Prayer ’94”
Bon Jovi have racked up plenty of hits in 35 years, but none as world-beating and band-defining as 1986’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Say what you will about the song or the cheese-metal era that it defines: It has a huge chorus and incredible staying power. So why, for the 1994 hits collection Cross Road, did the band decide to re-record it as a mushy, slowed-down dirge? Was it a play for respectability in a post-grunge world or merely an attempt to bum out fans who had their lighters all ready to lift up high? The remake’s biggest sin is changing the vocal melody in the chorus, stripping the song of its greatest strength.
Buck 22 and Billy Ray Cyrus, “Achy Breaky 2”
By 2014, Billy Ray Cyrus had long since transformed
from global pop-country phenomenon into “Miley’s dad.” (And, to a
slightly lesser degree, “actor.”) He always seemed to have a sense of
humor about the whole thing, which makes “Achy Breaky 2” a bit less suspect than
some other entries on this list. That doesn’t make it good, though: Most of the
remake is taken over by rapper Buck 22, whose off-the-cuff lyrics mostly amount
to “Look, I’m doing ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ with Billy Ray Cyrus, isn’t that
weird?” In the video, which features Larry King and nearly naked alien women,
Cyrus plays along good-naturedly, perhaps sensing that this version wouldn’t
have quite the cultural impact of the original.
Cyndi Lauper, “Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun)”
On her 1994 best-of, the excellently named Twelve Deadly Cyns … and Then Some, Cyndi Lauper included two versions of her massive 1983 hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” There was the classic, of course, but it appeared alongside “Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun),” a newly recorded version that added a splash of reggae and two words. (In case you couldn’t guess, those words were “hey now.”) In a nod to her increasing interest in the world of LGBTQ rights, the new video featured a fun cast of drag performers, but even they couldn’t save the slightly slowed, far-less-fun version of the song.
The Police, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86”
Sting was already off making jazzy solo records when
the Police reconvened to try and make new music together in the mid-Eighties, and
the only thing the band’s final studio sessions yielded was snoozy versions of
a couple of classics. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86” slowed down
(and Stinged-up) the original, which had only come out six years earlier,
adding big Eighties drum machines and synths. It’s not awful, really, but it doesn’t
hold a candle to the spunky original. The two videos highlight the difference:
In the 1980 version, the trio goofs around in costumes, looking like fun-loving
young lads; in the very-Eighties update, they’re mostly surrounded by slow,
swirling computer graphics and shooting serious looks. The Police gave “De
Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” pretty much the same treatment during the same
sessions, but had the sense to keep that one under wraps for years after the
Prince, “1999 (The New Master)”
Prince’s career was a mess in 1998. He was still using the glyph – sorry, “Love Symbol No. 2” – instead of his name, and he had finally broken free from his record label after a long battle. Warner Bros. took the opportunity of the impending year to re-release the iconic “1999,” which had originally been released in 1985. Prince had other plans to mark the occasion, specifically a mostly new version of the song that he clearly hoped would supplant the original. Though credited to Prince and the Revolution, “1999 (The New Master)” doesn’t keep much beyond his former bandmates’ vocals. At first it’s fairly indistinguishable from the original, but then there’s a bit of scratching and, oof, a tacked-on rap by Doug E. Fresh that instantly dates this recording. “This is the party of the century/and the Artist’s in the house with the NPG,” he proclaims. It’s no wonder this version is virtually impossible to find online.
Vanilla Ice, “Too Cold”
Vanilla Ice guilelessly claimed his realness from the beginning, even as his image and music identified a bandwagoneer and cultural appropriator of the most extreme variety. That didn’t stop “Ice Ice Baby” from being the first-ever hip-hop song to top the Billboard pop charts, or stop Vanilla Ice from achieving cultural omnipresence before a quick descent into punchline status. In 1998, he tried to hop aboard the rap-rock train with Hard to Swallow, an album that was savaged by critics and ignored by the public. That’s a shame, because at least one track could’ve provided some schadenfreude or comic relief: “Ice Ice Baby” was remade under the name “Too Cold,” and it basically sounds like Korn on a bad day. All of the original lyrics remain intact through the generic riffs and beats, though Ice does add the line, “Throw your hands in the air/Let me know you’re out there.” You can imagine the empty arena looking back at him.
Violent Femmes, “Blister 2000”
The first few seconds of the first song on the first Violent Femmes album is still the most famous and memorable thing the band has ever done, which is surely a little bit frustrating. But for the remake of 1983’s “Blister in the Sun” – made at John Cusack’s behest for the movie Grosse Point Blank, but not actually used in the movie – the trio chose to recreate the song’s iconic guitar intro with a saxophone. That’s not the only place that “Blister 2000” stumbles. It also slows the tempo significantly, adds some unnecessary strings, and makes room for a skronky sax solo where an acoustic guitar and spare drum set once stood. It’s the same guys playing the same song, yet inferior in pretty much every way. No wonder the Grosse Point soundtrack included both versions.
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