‘The Star Spangled Banner’ by Jimi Hendrix
Nothing captures the dying spirit of America quite like Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Introduced at Woodstock as the “song that we was all brainwashed with,” it is as much of a protest statement now as it was in 1969. Hendrix described it as “representing the sounds [of] … lost souls and frustration,” the deliberate screeching of the guitar representing the bombs and bullets of the Vietnam War.
Originally written to capture the beauty of the American dream, Hendrix distorted it to reflect the chaotic nature of the real America. His rendition is fuelled by his experiences as a Black man growing up in extreme poverty in Seattle’s heavily segregated Central District. He would carry a broom around to emulate a guitar, was forced into military service at 19, and, in spite of his exceptional talent, had to work exceptionally hard to succeed against white contemporaries in a genre created by Black artists.
Hendrix’s cover lays bare the soul of an American who never felt American – demonised by the white establishment, booed during free Harlem concerts as an “Uncle Tom,” still stereotyped by white fans as a hypersexualised drug-addict. The song illustrates the lie Hendrix had been fed his entire life; “brainwashed” about the American dream in a country that he would never truly be free in.
‘Faith’ by Limp Bizkit
“Faith” by Limp Bizkit is an abomination; two and a half minutes of musical trauma as the group do everything in their power to give you a panic attack. The song opens with George Michael’s well-loved guitar riff, but any sense of familiarity is severed as Fred Durst groans the opening lyric, “well I guess it would be nice.” It’s the musical equivalent to catcalling, Durst’s moans instantly triggering your fight or flight response as he threatens to touch your body.
The lyrics themselves have been changed, the line “not everybody has a body like me,” turning Michael’s bashful lyrics into something that’s just a bit gross. He chucks the odd swear word in too, commanding us to “get the **** up,” a quick reminder to hide the CD from your 90’s suburban mum while you head to high school.
With its sleazy vocals and undeniable vibes of sexual misconduct, it’s hard to find any real positives within the song. However, if you do manage to endure the rap-rock fever dream, listening to the original is like clearing a blocked nose. Those opening chords will fill you with dread, but Michael’s voice quickly restores reality. Despite the song’s shortcomings, no other cover has painted the original in a better light. It’s unique, surreal, fear-inducing: maybe the greatest “bad” cover song of all time.
‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ by Guns N’ Roses
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is a perfect example of a song cover that alters the original in such a way as to surpass it. The genre shift from country to rock works exceptionally: Slash’s iconic guitar riffs create a smooth sound throughout, accompanying Axl Rose’s powerful vocalisations. This impressive sonic symbiosis builds to a crescendo of choral harmonies of arena-rock quality.
The Guns N’ Roses version is also almost double the length, with added guitar solos and a more intense finale. Bob Dylan’s original is slow and contemplative, and while the band retains this tone, they also bring power and controlled emotion to the piece that the original lacks. Some listeners may prefer the melancholy of Dylan, but I think Guns N’ Roses elevate the song’s sentiment far beyond the original.