If anyone predicted that the infectious Bananarama hit from the summer of 1983, “Cruel Summer,” could be turned into a somber, foreboding cover with the ability to create a palpable nervousness and introspection, said person surely would have been laughed off the MTV sound stage. After all, without MTV, the three London women who made up the pop group would have never become a global sensation. This was the 1980s. Artists didn’t take uptempo songs and transform them into ballads—they took ballads from the previous decade and rocked those suckers out.
Joan Jett paved the way by taking Tommy James & The Shondells’ trippy “Crimson & Clover” and turning it into a rock anthem. By the early ’90s, Ugly Kid Joe were revamping Harry Chapin’s sentimental classic “Cat’s In The Cradle” into a first-rate fist-waver. But the other way around? Not possible. Except, of course, that it was and is.
Check out some anthems from the ’80s and ’90s that were transformed into ballads for some recent TV shows and movies below.
Bananarama – “Cruel Summer”
Let’s use this ’80s staple as a jumping-off point. It’s been reworked before but was used most recently, and to its best effect, for the YouTube Originals’ hit series Cobra Kai. Recorded by Kari Kimmel, chances are you’ve heard her elsewhere and on songs besides this, as her original music has appeared in more than 650 movies, TV shows, video games, trailers and commercials. What lent even more gravitas to the considerably slowed-down, provocative take was the fact that it was being used here, where a huge ’80s film was being revisited more than 35 years later. To be sure, “The Karate Kid” had the cruelest of summers when he first moved with his mom to California. Until Mr. Miyagi, anyway.
Tears For Fears – “Shout”
Though canceled (which still has many comic book and television fans alike scratching their heads), the Freeform series Cloak & Dagger, based on Marvel Comics characters, used this Tears For Fears opus in the most clever of ways—a song with the title “Shout” in which the singer is doing the farthest thing from that. Zayde Wolf, a solo project of Nashville-based producer/musician Dustin Burnett, slows it to a crawl, the need to purge palpable, while helped along by IVESY. Tears For Fears meant for their hit to be about catharsis, and it still was as far as our star-crossed heroes were concerned—it’s just that their catharsis was internal.
a-ha – “Take On Me”
Arguably one of the most popular music videos ever made, a-ha’s “Take On Me” being used on Cloak & Dagger makes sense in just so many ways. The video is quite literally a comic book (character) coming to life and two people falling in love. Sure, the pleading version by duo Wendy Wang and Inga Roberts was also used in The CW’s Legacies, but c’mon, the comic book coming to life is unmatched. Plumbing the depths even further, it’s a man escaping a parallel universe for a woman in another one. If that ain’t Cloak, we don’t know what is.
Tears For Fears – “Mad World”
What makes this classic ditty even more special than simply reworking it as a ballad is twofold: First, it was performed as a band. Divvied up between several performers, the fact that it is a “Mad World” hit even harder—it wasn’t one person declaring this; it was several. So it has to be, right? (No disrespect to twenty one pilots’ cover, which is killer.) Second, the cast members of Riverdale stepped up and did the singing themselves.
Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”
Look, the fact is, the one-hit-wonder that is Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” was a cover in and of itself (which few seem to know). But the ’80s pop group did little by way of reworking it. Maintaining the same beat, they just had better luck with it on the charts (and thanks, again, to MTV, the video was played tirelessly). What everyone does seem to know is that Marilyn Manson took it from a finger-snapping self-pity ditty and made it a plodding, ominous ode to breaking up and put it on the map again. Somehow it still felt like an ’80s rock revisitation, though, so along came Claire Guerreso to give the song the heartache for which it always begged. Turning up first on Grey’s Anatomy, it also got plugged into an episode of Dynasty.
Cyndi Lauper – “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”
Yet another hit with a debt owed to MTV, Cyndi Lauper’s energetic all-around quirkiness would have enabled it to scale the charts anyway. But Lauper, too, was doing something few people know: Covering a song by another singer. Yes, the actual “Girls” singer-songwriter was a guy named Robert Hazard. You’d think taking the fire out of the “ride or die” singalong would be the stuff of heresy, but not when it’s on Supergirl’s behalf. And not when it’s the trio of Charlotte Lawrence, Nina Nesbitt and Sasha Sloan delivering the song in such a beautifully understated way as to render any father helpless to his daughter’s pleas.
The Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”
Billy Corgan mastered seething back in the ’90s. Even on the songs that never fully exploded, such as the hit “Disarm,” you always felt like it was just about to, as the singer’s guttural growl went up notch after notch. But “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” was nothing but explosion, yet Tommee Profitt takes the Smashing Pumpkins rocker down more notches than one would think possible, and no entity benefitted from it more than The CW’s Roswell, New Mexico. Interestingly, while Profitt tackles many genres, his presence is largely in the Christian-rock world. Then again, what is “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage” other than biblical?
Donovan – “Season Of The Witch”
“Witch” was probably the hardest Scottish singer Donovan ever rocked despite being the guy who showed the late John Lennon a unique style of plucking the guitar that the Beatle immediately used on the classic “Dear Prudence.” Many artists have covered the song since, some keeping the punch in place, while others took it way down so the creepy factor would really pop. There was no better place for the latter take than the now canceled Netflix hit Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, even if it was just for a teaser trailer for a new season. And of all the artists to cover it, including Jett, it’s Lana Del Rey who really captures the magic for a version used in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.
Kim Wilde – “Kids In America”
Kim Wilde’s ode to American youth was another song that surely benefitted from MTV overplay. But what a joyous overplay it was. There isn’t a boomer who doesn’t turn it up and sing along when this song comes on the radio, and if their kid is in their car, it’s a solid bet that they join in. But today’s “kids” recently got a version that would perplex that mom who probably danced along to it at the mall in the ’80s. The Valley Girl movie reboot, which finally saw the light of day a few months back, reduced the hit to heartbreak anthem, from anarchy to angst—and it worked. Quite well in fact. The film’s stars Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day) and Chloe Bennet (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) totally delivered.
Gerard McMahon – “Cry Little Sister”
We probably have Manson to thank for the whole “turn an ’80s hit into a torturous, simmering-to-a-boil ballad.” He first nailed it with “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This),” probably causing Annie Lennox of Eurythmics to go into a state of shock. Then he did it again with Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” But the best of the lot just might be his sinister take on “Cry Little Sister” from the hit ’80s film The Lost Boys. Originally used to great effect for the trailer for the latest X-Men movie, The New Mutants, that film has gotten moved more times than an Army brat. Hence, the song was lost in the shuffle. But here it is for you.