Everybody loves the 1980s, especially bands. The Yuppie Decade is the go-to era for any musician who wants to show that, yeah, they’re down with synths, drum machines and hi-gloss pop production. Maybe it’s an exercise in nostalgia for those musicians who grew up watching multi-million dollar videos on MTV, or maybe it’s just down to the fact that pretty much anything went when it came to music back then, whether it was good, bad or utterly nuts. Either way, this is what happens when metal bands cover 80s pop songs and get it right.
Korn – Word Up
Jonathan Davis and co never met a cover version they didn’t like, giving the Korn treatment to everything from Metallica’s One to Poison’s Talk Dirty To Me. And then there’s their take on Cameo’s 1986 robo-funk megahit Word Up. Korn manages to give it a nu metal makeover without losing the original’s off-kilter weirdness, although Davis thankfully opted not to copy Cameo singer Larry Blackmon’s penchant for snug-fitting red codpieces.
Rammstein – Stripped
Oh, Rammstein, with your ironic juxtaposition of Depeche Mode’s oiled-up 1986 electro-pop banger and footage from Nazi film-maker Leni Riefenstahl’s 1936 documentary Olympia. Predictably, the latter caused a mid-sized shitstorm, but the song itself fit Till Lindemann’s stentorian, fetish-adjacent aesthetic like a bespoke cock ring.
Limp Bizkit – Faith
Yeah, we’re going there. Limp Bizkit started as they meant to go on, with a divisive cover of George Michael’s 1988 hit. People either loved it or hated it, up to and including the band themselves – guitarist Wes Borland said he was “totally sick of it”. But the haters got it wrong – Bizkit’s version is an absolute slammer, Durst fully leaning into his role as the Brat Prince Of Nu Metal with way more self-awareness than anyone gave him credit for. Shame about the flood of godawful covers it inspired.
Celtic Frost – Mexican Radio
Swiss thrash visionaries Celtic Frost were so far ahead of their time that they were covering 80s pop songs before the 80s were even finished. Their staggeringly brilliant second album, 1987’s Into The Pandemonium, opened with a cover of a 1982 hit by new wave oddballs Wall Of Voodoo. Chief Frostie Tom G Warrior swaps the original’s tinny twitchiness for a wall-of-fuzz guitars and sung-grunted vocals. Plus the line “Eating barbecued iguana” will be stuck in your head for days.
Within Temptation – Running Up That Hill
The Dutch band were way ahead of the curve when it came to Kate Bush, covering Running Up That Hill a full 19 years before it appeared in A Netflix Series That We’re Getting Bored Of Mentioning. What Within Temptation’s version lacks in mid-80s weirdness, it makes up for in operatic drama, proving that Bush’s influence on the entire symphonic metal movement runs deep.
Fear Factory – Cars
Poker-faced synth-pop android Gary Numan’s futuristic ode to social anxiety dovetailed perfectly with cyber-metal kingpins Fear Factory’s dystopian paranoia – so much so that it was a no-brainer for the LA band to turn in a respectfully faithful cover of the 1981 hit as a bonus track on their 1999 album Obsolete. They got Numan’s blessing and more – Gazza himself turned up to trade vocals with Burton C Bell.
The Amity Affliction – Love Is A Battlefield
Hats off to The Amity Affliction for swerving the obvious and opting to cover 80s pop-rock queen Pat Benatar’s greatest three-and-a-half minutes instead. The Australian metalcore vets laid the synths on thick on their 2008 version, capturing the original’s tense, heartbeat throb.
Deftones – The Chauffeur
Duran Duran were an unlikely influence on nu metal’s founding fathers – Korn’s Jonathan Davis was a huge fan, as was Deftones singer Chino Moreno. So much so that both have covered the eerie, slightly pervy closing track of the British new romantic titans’ 1982 album Rio. Only Deftones actually recorded it, though, swapping out the original’s icy synths for Stephen Carpenter’s electric-current guitar. Full marks to Chino for his absolutely spot-on impression of Duran frontman Simon Le Bon. Sidebar: the ‘Tones version of Sade’s soft-focus 80s ballad No Ordinary Love is worth checking out too.
Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal
Alien Ant Farm were nu metal’s wacka-wacka wing – a bunch of gurning dingbats whose biggest (well, only) hit was this rocked up cover of Michael Jackson’s 1987 single. Sure, it had the whiff of novelty about it, but that jagged opening riff could fill a 2001 rock club dancefloor in less than half a second.
Disturbed – Land Of Confusion
Throw a dart at Disturbed’s back catalog and chances are you’ll hit a cover version. U2, Tears For Fears, Judas Priest – they’ve all received the David Draiman treatment. Sure, that version of Simon & Garfunkel’s 60s classic The Sound Of Silence sweeps all before it, but the best of the Chicago band’s 80s pop covers is their tremendous, moshpit-ready take on Genesis’ yuppie-era hit. We’re still hoping that Phil Collins returns the favor and gives Down With The Sickness a shot.