Have you ever fallen hard for a new song, only to learn years later that it *gasp!* was actually a cover of a song by someone else? This can send you down an internet rabbit hall of fun research. Let’s revisit some of the biggest songs in music history that were originally recorded by someone else.
Cum On Feel The Noize
“Cum On Feel The Noize” is either associated with the British band Slade or the American heavy metal band Quiet Riot, depending on where you grew up. Slade’s song hit #1 in 1973, but it only went to #98 in the U.S. Slade had 17 consecutive top 20 hits in Great Britain, but never caught on commercially in America. Quiet Riot’s cover of the song hit #4 in the U.S. Quiet Riot continued to use Slade as their rocket to stardom, also successfully covering the song “Mama Weer All Crazee Now.”
Salt-n-Pepa’s huge hit “Whatta Man” is actually a cover. No, it’s true, and even crazier, it was first recorded in 1968 by blue-eyed soul practitioner Linda Lyndell. Recording for Volt Records, Lyndell toured with Ike and Tina Turner and had the backing of Otis Redding. Her song reached #50 on the R&B charts in 1968. Salt-n-Pepa sampled the record in 1993.
It’s Oh So Quiet
It’s “Oh So Quiet” seems inescapably Bjork – but it’s not her song. It was originally a German song from the 1940’s which was then recorded by actress, singer, and dancer Betty Hutton in 1951. For those who heard the Bjork version and were immediately transported to the era of the big movie musical of the 1940’s and 1950’s, it all makes sense now.
It’s My Life
No Doubt had a smash hit with “It’s My Life,” which they recorded to promote their greatest hits album. The band was on break at the time so they decided to just record a cover. They picked this song, by the U.K.’s Talk, Talk, which was a modest hit back in the day. It never charted higher than #33 in the US or Great Britain, but it wound up being nominated for a Grammy after No Doubt recorded it.
Red, Red Wine
UB50’s reggae version of “Red, Red Wine” sure seemed like an organic reggae hit, but it was written and performed by Neil Diamond’s second album, “Just For You.” The Diamond version makes clear that he was not celebrating wine so much as pointing out the sad state of drunkenness.
Blinded by the Light
Here’s an example of a song that is associated with a band – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – who is almost forgotten… but was written by a singer everyone knows, Bruce Springsteen. Bruce wrote the song in 1973 after Clive Davis complained that his album, Songs from Asbury Park, didn’t seem to contain a hit record. The song was a bust and didn’t even chart. Just three years later, it went to #1 for Manfred Mann. Strangely enough, despite all his hits, “Blinded by the Light” is Springsteen’s only number 1 single as a songwriter.
Dazed and Confused
Led Zeppelin’s ode to drug use is indelibly associated with the Led Zeppelin sound. But guess what – it’s a cover of a dark folk tune by Jake Holmes. Jimmy Page first heard the song when Holmes was opening for the Yardbirds in 1967. He rearranged it and the Yardbirds performed it on tour. Several years later, when the Yardbirds became Led Zeppelin, they reworked the song into the magnum opus it is today.
What song better represents the synth-happy emo-rock of the 1980’s than Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love?” Well, actually, this song originated in 1964! It’s hard to believe, but soul singer Gloria Jones originated the song. And it sounds damn good with a sixties Motown influence. The song was a flop in 1965, and again in the mid-70’s when she recorded it again. Soft Cell picked it up in 1981 and made one of the most popular one hit wonders of all time.
Natalie Imbruglia had a major hit with the song “Torn,” but it was actually first recorded in Danish by singer Lis Sørensen. The song was recorded in English by the-alt rock band Ednaswap, then yet again in 1996 by American-Norwegian singer Trine Rein.
I Love Rock and Roll
Joan Jett first heard “I Love Rock and Roll” while on tour with the Runaways in the mid-1970’s. The song was written and performed by the American-British band, Arrows. The Arrows have the strange distinction of having two 14-week weekly TV series in the U.K., which resulted in exactly no music being released during the series’ two-year run. A dispute between the band’s manager and producers led to this situation, and the band broke up after a three-year existence. Jtt’s version was #1 on the Billboard charts.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Prepare yourself: one of the most anthemic songs of the 1980’s, Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” wasn’t her song. In fact, it was originally recorded by a man, Robert Hazard, in 1979. The Hazard demo has the creepy connotation of a man singing about girls having sex. Lauper originally was put off by the message, so she tweaked it into a feminist anthem about women having it their own way.
Elvis quite controversially hit the bigtime by taking black music and performing it in his own style, becoming in some eyes the first big crossover artist, and in other eyes, the perpetrator of the biggest musical appropriation in history. “Hound Dog” was written by songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller, and then recorded blues singer Big Mamma Thornton in 1952. The song was #1 on the R&B charts for seven consecutive weeks and sold 2 million copies. Just four years later, it became Elvis’ biggest hit. “Hound Dog” simultaneously topped the American pop, country, and R&B charts in 1956. It was #1 on the pop charts for 11 weeks, a record that stood for 36 years. The song has been recorded 250 times.
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