Creating a great cover song is a delicate art. A cover song should make us hear a song in a new way with new emotion and forget we’re even listening to a cover.
Country artists have a rich history of interpreting songs from all different genres, from Johnny Cash’s transcendent “Hurt” to Willie Nelson’s take on Coldplay’s “The Scientist.” Sturgill Simpson’s covers of the ’80s new wave hit “The Promise” and Nirvana’s “In Bloom” are testaments to how an artist can transform an already great song into something entirely different with reverence.
But country artists have also been guilty of using cover songs as a tactic to gain quick notoriety or as a desperate grasp to stay relevant. Here are a few of the most groan-worthy, cringe-inducing country cover songs of all time.
READ MORE: 12 Underrated Covers By Country Artists
6. Alabama “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time on You”
Original artist: NSYNC
Florida Georgia Line may have teamed up with the Backstreet Boys, but Alabama was attempting to appeal to the boy band market way before the polarizing bro-country duo ever hit the scene.
In 1999, the legendary country band covered teen favorite NSYNC’s “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time On You.” The song may have worked for a late ’90s boy band in oversized J. Crew sweaters and frosted tips, but hearing the time-honored country band perform the schmaltzy, saccharine number left some country fans praying they would never have to hear this song again.
5. Mark Chesnutt, “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”
Original artist: Aerosmith
The year was 1999. Armageddon was everyone’s new favorite action movie and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” the love theme from the film, ruled the radio. Naturally, someone thought a country cover of the Diane Warren-penned cheeseball power ballad was in order. And country traditionalist Mark Chesnutt, who rose to fame with honky tonk fare like “Too Cold at Home” and “Blame it on Texas,” was the man to do it.
It turns out that Chesnutt himself was not a fan of the cover. He never wanted to record it. But the Texas troubadour caved to pressure from his label. The song did go to No. 1 on the country charts, which was nice for Mark Chesnutt. But it came at the cost of us all having to hear this song on twice the radio stations.
4. Big & Rich, “You Shook Me All Night Long”
Original artist: AC/DC
We have no problem with a country band covering classic rock legends like AC/DC. After all, bluegrass outfit Hayseed Dixie made a career out of it. But while Big & Rich deserve points for having some fun with it, the cover lacks the oomph to really sell it.
3. Tim McGraw, “When the Stars Go Blue”
Original artist: Ryan Adams
We love Tim McGraw and his decision to cover alt-country hero Ryan Adams’ “When the Stars Go Blue” was inspired. But McGraw’s soulless cover really can’t hold a candle to the original version. Ryan Adams would later do an entire album of Taylor Swift songs, so we’re guessing he understands.
2. Mark Wills, “Back at One”
Original artist: Brian McKnight
Country radio in the mid to late 90’s was all about borrowing. Pop acts covered country songs. Country artists covered pop songs. It was a simpler time. Sometimes these covers worked and sometimes, well, they really didn’t. In 2000, country artist Mark Wills covered the Brian McKnight R&B smash “Back at One.” While “Back at One” is a pretty song that probably reminds you of your junior high school dances, Wills’ dull and lifeless cover is much less memorable.
1. Rascal Flatts, “Life is a Highway”
Original artist: Tom Cochrane
Between professional recording artists and drunk patrons of karaoke bars on Music City’s Broadway, “Life is a Highway” has been covered approximately 7 billion times. Rodeo legend turned country star Chris Ledoux recorded a high-energy cover of the Tom Cochrane song in 1998. Even Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the ubiquitous tune. But by far the most egregious cover of “Life is a Highway” is Rascal Flatts’ obnoxious and cloying recording for the Cars soundtrack. We’d almost rather listen to the Chipmunks version.