When a song achieves great popularity, many often forget or are simply unaware that the new hit they love so much actually originated with another artist and it’s simply been rearranged or modernised.
It happens more often than you’d think. Of course, singing the words and strumming the chords of other songwriters is par for the course in the pop world, but in many cases, the songs you love had lives of their own before your favourite artist touched them.
In the interest of being that person at the party who feels compelled to point out that the song you really like is actually a cover of an obscure European hit from the ’70s (or something), here’s 15 songs you probably didn’t know were covers.
‘You’ve Got The Love’ – Florence + The Machine/Candi Staton
There’s no doubt that Florence Welch’s incredible vocal range does innumerable favours to Candi Staton’s 1986 original of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ (then titled as ‘You Got The Love’) which was then remixed by The Source in 1991 as ‘The Source and Candi Staton’. Though Florence + The Machine’s version values brevity, Staton’s long-winder original clocks in at nearly 7 minutes.
‘Lilac Wine’ – Jeff Buckley/James Shelton
While most would argue that Buckley’s jaw-dropping cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is more or less common knowledge, some might not know that ‘Lilac Wine’ is in fact, also a cover, originally written by James Shelton in 1950. It’s an easy mistake to make, as with ‘Hallelujah’, everything Buckley touched turned to gold.
‘Tainted Love’ – Soft Cell/Gloria Jones
While most would recognise this 80s classic as a landmark song of the decade, it turns out that Soft Cell’s version of ‘Tainted Love’ was none other than a cover, pioneered by American singer Gloria Jones in 1964. Jones’ version has a much more down-to-earth vibe, contrasting nicely with Soft Cell’s need for fancy and theatrical aesthetics.
‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ – Led Zeppelin/Anne Bredon
While the band admits to covering Joan Baez’s version, the original is actually credited all the way back to American folk singer Anne Bredon, who wrote it sometime in the 1950s. Ever since 1990, it has been credited to Anne Bredon as well as Jimmy Page & Robert Plant as Bredon received substantial financial credit in the term of royalty back-payments.
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‘It’s My Life’ – No Doubt/Talk Talk
As much as we admire the injection of personality given from the likes of Gwen Stefani as part of No Doubt, nothing beats the original version of Talk Talk’s ‘It’s My Life’, written and recorded in 1984. The synthpop/new wave sound gave the track a unique liveliness that’s hard to forget.
‘Son Of A Gun’ – Nirvana/The Vaselines
Taken from their 1992 compilation album Insecticide, Nirvana’s take on ‘Son Of A Gun’ was a prominent hit, although Scottish group The Vaselines both wrote and recorded the original version in 1987. Eschewing the indie rock flavour for a fast paced, grunge-tinged formula typical of the genre, Nirvana managed to make the song theirs.
‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ – Björk/Betty Hutton
One of Björk’s most standout hits, best known for its seamless transition to timid, almost whisper-like singing to a huge, prominent theatrical number and back, the Icelandic singer gave a new spin on a Betty Hutton classic. Originally written by Hutton in 1951, you can instantly hear some of the parallels between the two, the major difference being that Björk absolutely revelled in being a loose cannon.
‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ – Buggles/Bruce Wooley
While the popularised 1979 version by the Buggles is the version most people remember, it was Bruce Wooley who originally recorded it a year prior. Written alongside Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes (who would later form as the Buggles), the original is much more straightforward in its approach and lacking the ensuing “Oh-wah-oh” that made the Buggles version so popular.
‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/Arrows
This anthemic and appropriately titled rock and roll number, while made famous and perhaps most well-known through Joan Jett’s powerful vocals, was originally written by English rock band Arrows in 1975. Jett saw Arrows perform the song on their weekly music-television series of the same name during her tour of England with The Runaways in 1976.
‘The Mercy Seat’ – Johnny Cash/Nick Cave
Nick Cave’s gothic ‘The Mercy Seat’ takes a grisly look at the false imprisonment of an innocent man, and in a country voice, the legendary Johnny Cash somehow makes it sound even more eerie and disarming. Cave himself admits to being a huge advocate of Cash’s interpretation. “Like all the songs he does, he made it his own. He’s a great interpreter of songs – that’s part of his genius.”
‘All Along The Watchtower’ – Jimi Hendrix/Bob Dylan
Again, perhaps a little obvious to some, while Dylan’s original of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ remains one of his most well known songs, Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation as it appears on Electric Ladyland has arguably eclipsed it in its entirety, to the point where Dylan himself acknowledges the cover as superior.
‘I Will Always Love You’ – Whitney Houston/Dolly Parton
Perhaps most well-known for appearing in the large majority of romantic comedies and chick-flicks, Whitney Houston actually covered ‘I Will Always Love You’ from none other than Dolly Parton, who wrote it in 1973 – nearly twenty years prior. Houston’s version maintains its popularity as she tears through each triumphant chorus with the utmost elegance and gusto.
‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ – Cyndi Lauper/Robert Hazard
What do you mean it wasn’t written by a girl? That’s right, despite Lauper’s infectious energy she demonstrated on what would turn into one of her most well known songs, the original was written and performed by Robert Hazard in 1979, just four years shy of Lauper’s anthemic interpretation, which still maintains present day success.
‘Mad World’ – Gary Jules/Tears For Fears
Popularised by its appearance in Richard Kelly’s 2001 sci-fi epic Donnie Darko, Jules’ version is much more heavy-hearted and downtrodden, perfectly fitting in with the film’s introspective montage in which it appears. In its original form, Tears For Fears still utilised a fairly dark approach, but the obtuse synth and almost dance-like kick drum used throughout make it seem poppy in comparison.
Maggie’s Farm – Rage Against The Machine/Bob Dylan
Before Rage Against The Machine was doing what they do best by raging against the machine, none other than Bob Dylan was. We could have just as easily chosen any of the other cover songs from 2000s Renegades, but it’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’ that stands tall as one of the band’s most memorable pieces of work. Originally written in 1965 by Dylan, it was categorised as a protest song for its time. Maybe these two artists have more in common than you think.