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In the process of being horrified by a song I previously thought to be infallible, I realized something important about the Motown sound: Everyone loves it. That means every no-talent bucket of contagious hate has to produce a rendition of a classic Motown song. As a result, the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have an inexorable soundtrack for their stay.
Here are the five worst covers of “The Tracks of My Tears.” Proceed with caution.
5. Johnny Rivers
Astonishingly, this actually outperformed the Miracles’ version on the Billboard Hot 100, hitting number ten (the Miracles’ version only made it to number 16). For all those people who think the 60s were some magical era, I hope you go back in time to that decade and stay there, so that you can listen to Johnny Rivers’s reedy voice desecrate this beautiful song for eternity, singing over a version that would make Scott Walker wince in embarrassment. Does Smokey Robinson know that Rivers’s version actually charted higher? Whether or not he does—Smokey, I hereby volunteer my services to slap Johnny Rivers in the face. Just say the word.
4. Gavin DeGraw
This song appeared on the NBC show American Dreams. More like “American Nightmares.” In the show, Gavin DeGraw plays the song in a cabaret club for a small audience. Did the crowd immediately go home and drill holes into their brains? That’s the question on my mind. DeGraw hams it up to no end over sparse piano chords, stretching out words, stuffing lyrics into his glottal, trauma-inducing larynx, and adding a totally unnecessary and tacky “Yes it is” after the chorus. The video posted here was uploaded by a user named “sblxi.” The description they write for the video is, “Gavin singing on 'American Dreams'. Best version yet!” Fuck you, sblxi, you piece of shit.
3. Go West
If you consider yourself an Anglophile, you may want to check out what a bunch of Brits do with “The Tracks of My Tears”—which is bad enough that for a moment I doubted my love for the original. I think artists like Chris Isaak and Julee Cruise can be brilliant about taking 90s cheese and making it arty and interesting. Go West can’t do that—all they can do is make a commercial for Guess? Jeans. The video is too much, shot in black-and-white at what looks like a bar at a train station, camera panning over drinks, a dog, and a spilled saltshaker. I hope it gave Go West bad luck for eternity.
2. La Toya Jackson
This was the opening track off La Toya’s final album, Stop in the Name of Love, a collection of Motown covers. It was also the opening to the seventh circle of hell. At this time, the Jackson family had enough money to buy multiple mansions. Couldn’t they buy multiple producers to actually make this sound decent? Instead, there’s chintzy drum machines and keyboards, and even if they had gone into the future and brought Auto-Tune back to this recording session, it couldn’t have salvaged La Toya’s voice, which sounds like a baby. Rosemary’s baby, to be specific.
1. Peter Andre
I had never heard of Peter Andre before I found his performance of “The Tracks of My Tears.” Unfortunately, now I have. In case the gelled, parted hair, white undershirt, and the “I’m looking at you, baby” pose didn’t already clue you in: Everything about this is awful. There’s the trying-to-be-hip-hop music, with lame record scratching, a horribly programmed beat, and a drop of Audio Two’s “Top Billin.’” Audio Two, if you were sampled and never received credit, please sue this guy. I will go to law school and become an accredited attorney, I will represent you, and I will do everything in my power, Grisham-style, to win this case. Because, Peter Andre, you are an awful singer. Seriously, if you’re still singing, stop. It’s not a falsetto, it’s not a “breathy sigh.” You sound like a fart. And not one of those rippling, loud farts, but the high-register whimpering ones. Please take this down, YouTube, for everyone’s sake.
Honorable mention: Half Japanese
Also my honorable mention for the five best cover versions. In both cases, I mean it as a compliment.