While some might say, “Hey, that’s just the industry,” I say, “Hey, let’s give credit where credit is due.” There are songs that artists create and bring into this world, but for some reason or another, they just don’t make much of an impact.
And then an artist or band comes along, takes that song, and makes it into an unforgettable hit. The cover song then becomes way better than its original. And that’s fine! Like Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you.” Who knew that was a cover?
So, anyway, my point is that the original artists deserve a nod, right?
Elvis Presley – ‘Blue Suede Shoes’
Original version by Carl Perkins
Like many of Elvis Presley’s early hits, his weren’t the first, but they were definitely the best. Carl Perkins, a fellow Sun Records artist, is the man behind the original. He got the idea for the song after seeing a dancer get upset with someone for scuffing up his new shoes.
Considered one of the first rockabilly songs, the song was later covered by Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and others. Then RCA asked Elvis to record “Blue Suede Shoes” at a time when the Perkins release was still hot. But, they delayed the cover version (which Elvis considered a tribute to his friend, Perkins) until the original started to fall from the charts.
David Bowie – ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’
Original version by The Rolling Stones
While The Rolling Stones’ naughty and playful little number was a poke at prudes everywhere in 1967, David Bowie’s shinier and raunchier glam rock version came from the future.
His version was infused with gender-bending sexual bravado. You know, the stuff David Bowie was pretty much known for. And hey, the Stones have enough rock hits to hold on to.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Dazed and Confused’
Original version by Jake Holmes
While most cover songs don’t end up in court, this one did. American singer-songwriter Jake Holmes released “Dazed and Confused,” the song about a breakup, in 1967. It was soon covered by the British band The Yardbirds.
Jimmy Page took the tune further with his follow-up band, Led Zeppelin. Page then recorded it using a violin bow on his guitar. Holmes later reported copyright infringement in 2012. The case was dismissed, though, when a settlement between parties was reached out of court.
Amy Winehouse – ‘Valerie’
Original version by The Zutons
Amy Winehouse wasn’t able to make it to the set for the taping of her music video for “Valerie.” You can only assume why…
So producer Mark Ronson had to be creative and chose three women to stand-in instead. While it worked out well, her absence is kind of haunting. Let it be known, however, that The Zutons were the original ‘Valerie’ creators.
Jimi Hendrix – ‘All Along The Watchtower’
Original version by Bob Dylan
Here’s the thing: Jimi Hendrix’s version is simply rowdier, louder, and a punchier electrified take on Bob Dylan’s classic song. So Hendrix made it famous and thus mistakenly known as the creator of the song.
Released in 1968, the hit blew, even the original songwriter away. “It overwhelmed me,” Dylan later said in a 1995 interview where he spoke of hearing Hendrix’s cover for the first time.
Whitney Houston – ‘I Will Always Love You’
Original version by Dolly Parton
Here’s a song that many people are shocked when they hear it’s actually a cover version. And that’s probably because when you think of Whitney Houston, you hear ‘I Will Always Love You.’ She basically became synonymous with the song.
While she sings the song like no other, the credit here really goes to Dolly Parton, who wrote the song. Here’s another fun fact: it was Kevin Costner who first suggested to Houston that she cover the song for ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack. Best suggestion ever?
Cyndi Lauper – ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’
Original version by Robert Hazard
Before Cyndi Lauper dropped this party anthem hit for all girls and women alike to dance around and shake their hair all over the place, this song was already in existence. It just wasn’t a hit single as only Cyndi could make it so.
The song actually belonged to the new wave musician Robert Hazard, who was a hot name in the Philadelphia club scene in the ’80s. He recorded this song’s demo.
UB40 – ‘Red, Red Wine’
Original version by Neil Diamond
UB40’s beloved reggae-flavored song that we all love to hear and move our bodies to was actually a rendition of the song’s origin. So the next time you listen to this song while drinking a glass of vino, you can tell your friend or lover this:
That UB40’s major hit is actually a cover of Neil Diamond’s original, which appeared on his sophomore record ‘Just For You.’ Diamond’s version was also a lot more somber. UB40 spiced it up and basically claimed the song as theirs.
Soft Cell – ‘Tainted Love’
Original version by Gloria Jones
We all recognize and love the hit “Tainted Love” as the dark synth-pop smash by Soft Cell, but did you know that it’s a cover? That’s right.
The song first entered this world nearly 20 years prior by Gloria Jones and writer Ed Cobb. Jones recorded the song in 1965, but it wasn’t until Soft Cell’s version that the song got the fame it deserved.
Salt ‘n’ Pepa – ‘Whatta Man’
Original version by Linda Lyndell
Before Salt ’N’ Pepa and En Vogue stole rocked the music industry in 1993 with their hit ‘Whatta Man,’ gospel and soul singer Linda Lyndell had already brought the song into this world.
She recorded the song way back in 1968 but didn’t perform the song until 2003 due to threats by the Ku Klux Klan when the song was released. Crazy, huh?
Lenny Kravitz – ‘American Woman’
Original version by The Guess Who
It was back in 1970 when Canadian rock band The Guess Who came onto the pop charts with “American Woman,” which they claimed was a love letter written to the women of their country.
And then Lenny Kravitz came along and turned it into a powerful, updated version. His song won the award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance in 1999. The original did, however, re-emerge in the film ‘Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me.’
Bonnie Raitt – ‘Angel From Montgomery’
Original version by John Prine
Bonnie Raitt’s heartfelt version of a song about a middle-aged woman trying to escape her situation became one of her most prominent and most famous recordings.
But it really belongs to John Prine, who released the song in 1971. This track has actually been covered by many, including artists like Old Crow Medicine Show, John Denver, Carly Simon, Tanya Tucker, and Johnny Diesel.
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – ‘Blinded by the Light’
Original version by Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen’s first song, and single, from his 1973 album, Greetings from Asbury Park, was “Blinded by the Light.” The thing is it never made the charts until Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released their own version in 1976.
It was Springsteen’s only songwriting credit to get to the top spot. Its lyrics were widely misunderstood in Mann’s remake. The lyrics “Cut loose like a deuce” (referring to deuce coupe hot rods) were changed and misheard as “wrapped up like douche.” Springsteen later said that it was Manfred Mann’s reference to a feminine hygiene product that made the song famous.
Eric Clapton – ‘Cocaine’
Original version by JJ Cale
Eric Clapton insisted that his 1977 hit, which sounded like a love song to an illicit drug, was actually just a cleverly disguised anti-drug message. Umm, sure.
Anyway, the B-side to the single “Tulsa Time” became one of Clapton’s main hits and one of a few JJ Cale songs that he recorded. He also did a version of “After Midnight” in that substance-soaked era.
The English Beat – ‘Can’t Get Used to Losing You.’
Original version by Andy Williams
Andy Williams’ original hit from 1962 was reborn reggae-style by The Beat on their 1980 album “I Just Can’t Stop It.” It came at the height of Jamaican musical influence in the UK. Released as a single three years later, it became their highest-charting hit.
“The bass line translated into a reggae feel effortless,” Wakeling said. “The pizzicato strings became guitar skanks, and the melody floated over the top.”
Urge Overkill – ‘Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.’
Original version by Neil Diamond
You probably know this tune from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Tarantino is credited with re-energizing this remake by Urge Overkill, the indie rock legends, when he put it on the movie soundtrack.
This remake created a whole new fan base for the song. Tarantino claimed, rather pompously, that the remake is “even better” than Neil Diamond’s original.
Patti Smith – ‘Gloria’
Original version by Them ft. Van Morrison
Patti Smith’s guttural voice comes undone with the words “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” (which are actually an excerpt from “Oath,” a poem disavowing her Jehovah’s Witness upbringing).
Anyway, she steadily builds up-tempo, transforming Van Morrison’s garage band classic into a full-on punk blast.
Jeff Buckley – ‘Hallelujah’
Original version by Leonard Cohen
Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” is by far the most memorable rendition of the beloved song, to the irritation of Leonard Cohen fans. Buckley’s song is something of a secular take on Cohen’s hymn.
Buckley’s song, which reflected on the fleeting nature of life, was made ironic when the singer’s untimely death-by-drowning happened on June 4, 1997. It was well before the song was released posthumously in 2008. It was the singer’s first number-one Billboard chart-topper.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Higher Ground’
Original version by Stevie Wonder
It’s hard to believe that anyone could beat the legend that is Stevie Wonder, but The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Higher Ground” was one of their biggest hits.
It became the Chili Peppers’ first hit single with their new guitarist John Frusciante, and the song won the group’s first Grammy nomination in 1991 for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’
Original version by Nine Inch Nails
Nearing the end of a legendary career, Johnny Cash recorded one of his most memorable songs ever, which was produced by super-producer Rick Rubin.
Cash’s version is transcendent as he made Trent Reznor’s (from Nine Inch Nails) dark lyrics into his own. Cash passed away after seven months of the song’s recording.
The Clash – ‘I Fought the Law’
Original version by Bobby Fuller Four
The smash-hit was originally written by Sonny Curtis of The Crickets, who was Buddy Holly’s replacement after his tragic and untimely demise.
The song was covered by Hank Williams, Jr., The Dead Kennedys, and others, including the Bobby Fuller Four in 1965. The Clash’s version was their first single in the U.S., which quickly became a punk anthem and put the band on the map.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – ‘I Love Rock N RolI’
Original version by The Arrows
Joan Jett’s signature hit was originally recorded by a lesser-known English band called The Arrows. Jett was already a master at covering other bands’ songs. She did “Crimson and Clover,” “Love is All Around,” “You Don’t Own Me,” “Do You Want to Touch Me,” and “Love Stinks.”
But she made “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” her ultimate statement, and the song went platinum after topping the charts for seven weeks in a row in 1981.
Bow Wow Wow – ‘I Want Candy’
Original version by The Strangeloves
Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” is a pure pop-punk hit with an infectious Bo Diddley shuffle and a primal beat. But let it be known – the original was by The Strangeloves.
The tune came from the fruitful mind of Malcolm McLaren, the creator of the Sex Pistols. The ’60s bubblegum classic was reborn with singer Annabella Lwin, who was a young 15 years old when the hit started going into heavy rotation on MTV.
The Fugees – ‘Killing Me Softly’
Original version by Roberta Flack
It should be mentioned that Roberta Flack’s original song is flawless, but it’s Lauryn Hill who turned this classic ’70s ballad into a new piece altogether with her creamy vocals and reggae- instilled soul.
The Fugees’ version hit number 2 on the U.S. charts in 1996. But it became the top-selling single that year in the United Kingdom. And I gotta say, it’s for sure one of my personal favorites.
Grace Jones – ‘La Vie En Rose’
Original version by Edith Piaf
Jamaican singer Grace Jones turned this old school French song into a hard-edged, urban sound that became one of the coolest acts in 1977.
Jones’ adaptation of Édith Piaf’s signature song (from 1945) displayed her softer, jazzier side, making “La Vie En Rose” (translated to Life in Pink) an international hit.
The Kingsmen – ‘Louie Louie’
The original version was written by Richard Berry, and originally performed by Rockin’ Robin Roberts and the Wailers
“Louie Louie” is on another list as well – the one-hit-wonder list. The Kingsmen recorded the hit single in under an hour in poor circumstances. And when it was over, the group unanimously agreed that the result was awful.
Despite all that, the song rose to number 2 on the national charts. Then Indiana banned it after outraged parents’ complaints to Robert F. Kennedy, which even launched a two-year FBI investigation! They were trying to figure out the lyrics, convinced the song was communicating in code to teenagers.
Donna Summer – ‘MacArthur Park’
Original version by Richard Harris
Donna Summer took Richard Harris’ original tune and repurposed it to make it a hit with some of the most charming lyrics ever.
The song is about an expiring love affair. Producer Giorgio Moroder, dubbed the Father of Disco, inspired the gifted Donna Summer to reach multi-million platinum status in September of 1978.
Gary Jules and Michael Andrews – ‘Mad World’
Original version by Tears for Fears
English New Wave duo Tears for Fears create the original, which was their first big hit. It was actually written as a response to Duran Duran’s major hit, “Girls on Film.”
Then 20 years later, the song was then re-imagined by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews to become a heavy yet beautiful version and piano ballad for the 2001 cult classic ‘Donnie Darko.’
Janis Joplin – ‘Me and Bobby McGee’
Original version by Kris Kristofferson
The song brings to light the melancholy and wanderlust of the era, telling a tale of young people hitch-hiking across America.
Janis Joplin’s version of the track gave it wings to create the anthem for a generation. Amazingly, this famous song was recorded only days before her death at the age of 27. The song was released posthumously on her 1971 album, “Pearl.”
Sinead O’Connor – ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’
Original version by Prince
“Nothing Compares 2 U,” which is an undoubtedly monster hit, is probably up there as one of the basic breakup songs.
But did you know that it was written by Prince for one of his side projects? O’Connor took it to a much deeper and emotional level, though.
Tina Turner – ‘Proud Mary’
Original version by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Tina Turner nailed it down from the start: “We never, ever do nothin’ nice and easy. We always do it nice. And rough.”
Turner then goes on to rip the song to shreds. Ike and Tina’s is credited initially to Creedence Clearwater Revival. But Turner made it into a tune that makes you want to get up and dance.
Aretha Franklin – ‘Respect’
Original version by Otis Redding
“Respect” became a call for feminism that still resonates today. Interestingly, and in contrast, Otis Redding’s 1965 original, which had Booker T. Jones and Isaac Hayes on keyboards and piano, was actually a plea from a man who was desperate to keep his woman.
The song put Franklin on the map as a major force in pop music. And thanks to the legendary producer Jerry Wexler, Aretha was brought back to her gospel roots.
The Honeydrippers – ‘Sea of Love’
Original version by Phil Philips
Robert Plant, the former Led Zeppelin frontman, sung a faithful rendition of the 1950s R&B classic by Phil Philips. Plant, along with his band The Honeydrippers, created an all-star lineup of musicians.
“Sea of Love” became Plant’s best-selling single in the post-Zeppelin era. He later joined bluegrass-country singer Allison Krauss on the 5-time Grammy-winning platinum album, “Raising Sand.”
Cowboy Junkies – ‘Sweet Jane’
Original version by The Velvet Underground
The Cowboy Junkies’ most-loved track came from their influential album, “The Trinity Session.”
The song was recorded in one day and around a single microphone in a Toronto church. Margo Timmins delivered a dreamy and also drowsy take on The Velvet Underground’s 1970 classic.
Talking Heads – ‘Take Me To The River’
Original version by Al Green
David Byrne wrote that the hit ‘Take Me To The River’ is “a song that combines teenage lust with baptism.”
The track-only reached number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, yet it still established the band as a powerhouse in pop music. At the time, there were at least three other covers of Al Green’s original.
The Beatles – ‘Twist and Shout’
Original version by The Top Notes, but it became a chart hit as a single by The Isley Brothers in 1962.
Right before The Beatles broke up, Paul McCartney had said that, despite all their experimentation, they were fundamentally a “really good rock ‘n roll band.”
Similar to how Elvis and The Rolling Stones did it, The Beatles started out by making cover songs of pioneering Black American artists, such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry. ‘Twist and Shout’ was recorded in a single take. John Lennon was suffering from a bad cold.
Metallica – ‘Whiskey in a Jar’
Original version by Thin Lizzy
The heavy metal band Metallica got some ideas from very non-heavy metal music.
This track was taken from an old Irish folk song, recorded by Dublin’s Thin Lizzie back in 1972. But Metallica took it home and made it into a wild, borderline camp version.
Van Halen – ‘You Really Got Me’
Original version by The Kinks
To Van Halen’s disappointment, Warner Brothers debuted a cover song to signal the arrival of its new mega-group. As awesome as The Kinks’ original was, it was eclipsed by this over-the-top cover version.
At the time of Van Halen’s release, The Kinks were touring America. Kinks’ frontman, Dave Davies, was pissed off. He recalled: “Some kid came up to me after one of the gigs and said, “‘I like your cover of Van Halen’s ‘You Really Got Me.'” Ouch.
Linda Ronstadt – ‘You’re No Good’
Original version by Dee Dee Warwick
11-time Grammy winner Linda Ronstadt was one of the most prolific hit song makers in the 1970s.
As it turns out, many artists have recorded Dee Dee Warwick’s pop jingle, but none of them come close to Ronstadt’s hit, which was the number one chart-topper in February 1975.
Bruce Springsteen – ‘Because the Night’
Original version by Patti Smith
Bruce Springsteen actually co-wrote the song with Patti Smith, and the song was a hit single from her 1978 album Easter.
But then Springsteen went ahead and changed the lyrics for his version, which he described as going from just another love song into an introspective journey in search of the truth.