You know that feeling you get when a little sibling gets a hold of your favorite CD and starts singing all your favorite songs around the house? Pop culture is my little sibling. I like it when people like the same music as me, just so long as they don’t put it into contexts that completely mutilate the meaningfulness of the song, like an ogre and a donkey did to this first one.
1. Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. Butcher: Shrek.
I will admit that, if it’s possible, Cohen kind of butchered his own song first by drowning its heavenly lyrics in hellish instrumentation. But he can do that because he wrote it. Then came Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright to the rescue, and they both made the song soar for all it’s worth. If you haven’t heard this, quit reading immediately and listen to it. Then imagine the horror of knowing that version first and asking someone if they’ve heard “Hallelujah” before, only to hear, “Yeah! That song from Shrek?” Dreamworks, how could you?
2. Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. Butcher: the army of noobs at Guitar Centers nationwide.
I didn’t know that you could actually get a guitar to make the squawking sounds they make when you flub a note on Guitar Hero. Walk into your local Guitar Center though and give it five minutes, and you’ll undoubtedly hear someone playing “Stairway” like a broken record. Hence the joke in Wayne’s World where the guitar shop puts up a sign that says “No Stairway.” It might be more accurate to say that this song died from some form of suffocation — it never makes it past the intro without being fumbled and started over.
3. Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie. Butcher: Vanilla Ice.
The slight comfort here is that Vanilla Ice settled out of court and paid a lot of money to Queen for his crime here, which was very literally a crime. Even though it’s immediately clear that “Ice, Ice Baby” was blatantly sampled from “Under Pressure,” writing it was credited to Vanilla Ice, Earthquake, and M. Smooth; and special thanks on the album were given to MC Hammer, Ice T, Public Enemy, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Cash Money, EPMD and 2 Live Crew — all of Vanilla Ice’s influences except for the band who actually wrote his song. He didn’t bother acquiring any sort of licensing or permission, which demonstratively answered a question I think all of us were asking — yes, Vanilla Ice could get stupider.
4. Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap. Butcher: Jason Derulo
Again, if you haven’t heard the original, take a seat to one of the most beautiful pieces of music autotune has ever created. If you don’t know what autotune is, it’s a processor that corrects your voice to be on pitch, mostly abused to allow really talentless people to become famous. If you look like a celebrity and are willing to expose yourself in indecent ways, it doesn’t matter if you can’t hold a note to save your life — autotune will do it for you. Mini-rant aside, Imogen Heap uses it to make something truly and remarkably artistic in “Hide and Seek.” Then it was ruined.
These are not the first songs to be overplayed and trivialized to death, and they aren’t the last. If you are in the process of posting a cover to YouTube, please consider what you’re doing very carefully. It’s okay to sound like a dying animal. I do too. Just cover a song that you can’t do any damage to, like “Friday” or “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Leave the really good music alone and let it stay that way, and you could potentially save the life of a song for it to be appreciated for years to come.