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20 Songs You Might Not Know Were Covers

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When a song becomes popular, sometimes people forget (or are unaware) that the new hit actually originated with another artist. The popular cover might be ahead of its time or re-arranged with a fresher, more modern take, but somehow it managed to find a bigger audience than the original. 

1. “Torn” — Natalie Imbruglia (1997) // Ednaswap (1995)

The Cover

The Original

In 1997, pop star Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” was a No. 1 hit throughout Europe, the United States, and her native Australia. But the song was first performed and recorded by Los Angeles-based alternative band Ednaswap for their 1995 self-titled debut.

A number of recording artists throughout the years have covered the song, but Imbruglia’s version is the most successful and popular iteration of the hit single, and it earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

2. “Don’t Turn Around” — Ace of Base (1994) // Tina Turner (1986)

The Cover

The Original

Swedish pop group Ace of Base released a hit single titled “Don’t Turn Around” in 1994. The song reached the #4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the pop group’s third hit song after “All That She Wants” and “The Sign.” Songwriters Diane Warren and Albert Hammond (of “It Never Rains in Southern California” fame) originally wrote “Don’t Turn Around” for Tina Turner and were disappointed when the record label relegated it to the B-side of the single “Typical Man” in 1986.

Neil Diamond also covered the song in 1992, but Ace of Base’s version is the most popular.

3. “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” — Cyndi Lauper (1983) // Robert Hazard (1979)

The Cover

The Original

Cyndi Lauper’s first hit single as a solo artist, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” reached the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983. Lauper was nominated for two Grammys for the song, including Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Performance. Self-proclaimed Country-Western fan Robert Hazard originally wrote and recorded “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” as a demo for his band Robert Hazard and the Heroes in 1979. (Hazard never released his version, though.)

4. “Tainted Love" — Soft Cell (1981) // Gloria Jones (1965)

The Cover

The Original

In 1965, American singer Gloria Jones recorded the original version of “Tainted Love” as the B-side to the single “My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home.” The song was a commercial failure, but gained a small cult following in underground British nightclubs in the late '70s. English synth-pop duo Soft Cell recorded a modern version of “Tainted Love” in 1981. Soft Cell’s version was a No. 1 hit in eight countries, while it reached the No. 8 spot in the United States in 1982.

5. “Respect” — Aretha Franklin (1967) // Otis Redding (1965)

The Cover

The Original

In 1965, Otis Redding wrote and recorded the song “Respect." Two years later, R&B singer Aretha Franklin popularized it, and the song became her signature. Both versions have the similar lyrics (though Franklin's added the "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" chorus to the song), but Franklin’s invokes female empowerment while Redding’s is a euphemism for sex. 

6. “I Love Rock 'n' Roll” — Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (1981) // Arrows (1975)

The Cover

The Original

Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker—the frontmen of the British rock band Arrows—wrote and recorded the anthem “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1975. The song got the band a TV appearance on the show 45, which eventually led to the band getting its own TV show based on their performance of the song. In 1976, while she was on tour in England with her band The Runaways, Joan Jett watched Arrows perform the song on their show.

Then, in 1981, Joan Jett recorded a version of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” with her new band The Blackhearts. It became a No. 1 hit single in the United States for seven weeks and was certified platinum when it sold over one million units.

7. “Nothing Compares 2 U" — Sinead O’Connor (1990) // The Family (1985)

The Cover

The Original

Music icon Prince wrote and originally recorded the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” for his side project The Family in 1985. While the song received little recognition, Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor popularized it in 1990. O'Connor won three Moonmen Awards at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards for Video of the Year, Best Female Video, and Best Post-Modern Video.

8. “Hey Joe” — The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1966) // The Leaves (1965)

The Cover

The Original

While the authorship of the song “Hey Joe” is ambiguous and unclear, the earliest recording of the song dates to 1965, by the California-based garage band The Leaves.

“Hey Joe” was a modest hit for The Leaves, but it was The Jimi Hendrix Experience's first hit single overseas in 1966. It peaked at No. 6 on the U.K. Singles Chart in 1967, but it failed to gain any recognition in the United States. Over the years, the song became iconic; Rolling Stone placed it at #201 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

9. “It’s Oh So Quiet”— Björk (1995) // Betty Hutton (1951)

The Cover The Original

In 1995, Icelandic solo artist Björk released a cover song titled “It’s Oh So Quiet,” which American actress/singer Betty Hutton first recorded in 1951. The song was a B-side to Hutton’s single “Murder, He Says.”

“It’s Oh So Quiet” remains Björk’s biggest hit, peaking at the No. 4 spot in the United Kingdom. The song’s popularity was partly due to director Spike Jonze’s infectious music video that included large dance numbers and sweeping camera movements.

10. “Manic Monday” — The Bangles (1986) // Apollonia 6 (1984)

The Cover

The Original

Prince wrote “Manic Monday” for his female trio band Apollonia 6 for their self-titled debut in 1984. Ultimately, he pulled the song from the album and later offered it to the band The Bangles under the pseudonym “Christopher,” a character he played in the 1986 film Under the Cherry Moon. “Manic Monday” was a huge hit for The Bangles, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 list—just behind Prince and the Revolution’s “Kiss.”

11. “Hound Dog” — Elvis Presley (1956) // Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton (1953)

The Cover

The Original

Songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote “Hound Dog” for Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1953. While Thornton’s original version was a No. 1 hit on the R&B charts for seven weeks, Elvis Presley’s iteration immediately became the most popular after its 1956 release. Presley’s version was a crossover success that spent 11 weeks on the top of country, pop, and R&B charts simultaneously. “Hound Dog” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”

12. “Cum On Feel The Noize" — Quiet Riot (1983) // Slade (1973)

The Cover

The Original

In 1973, British glam rock band Slade released “Cum On Feel The Noize," which went straight to the top of the charts in the United Kingdom and Ireland and was a top 10 single throughout parts of Europe. Ten years later, American heavy metal band Quiet Riot recorded and popularized song in the United States. The single reached the No. 5 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

13. “I Want Candy" — Bow Wow Wow (1982) // The Strangeloves (1965)

The Cover

The Original

American music producers Bert Berns, Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Richard Gottehrer recorded a bubblegum pop tune titled “I Want Candy” in 1965. Donning shaggy wigs and zebra-print vests, Feldman, Goldstein, and Gottehrer took it upon themselves to perform the song as the faux Australian pop trio The Strangeloves. In 1982, British New Wave band Bow Wow Wow released “I Want Candy,” with its music video receiving heavy airplay and rotation during the early days of MTV. Although Bow Wow Wow would have many admirers throughout the years, including Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt, this was the band’s only hit song in the U.S.

14. “I Think We’re Alone Now" — Tiffany (1987) // Tommy James and the Shondells (1967)

The Cover

The Original

In 1967, American songwriter Ritchie Cordell wrote the single “I Think We’re Alone Now” for the rock band Tommy James and the Shondells. The song was a hit, reaching the No. 4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Twenty year later, “I Think We’re Alone Now” was popularized by teen recording artist Tiffany, whose version reached the top spot on Billboard’s list for two weeks. Its music video launched the then-16-year-old into pop music stardom. Interestingly, Tiffany's song was replaced at No. 1 by Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony,” another cover of a Tommy James and the Shondells single.

15. “When The Levee Breaks" — Led Zeppelin (1971) // Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie (1929)

The Cover

The Original

In 1971, British rock band Led Zeppelin re-arranged and popularized the song “When the Levee Breaks” for their fourth album, which is referred to as Led Zeppelin IV. Husband and wife singer-songwriters Kansas Joe McCoy & Memphis Minnie originally recorded “When the Levee Breaks” as a blues song in 1929 about the Great Mississippi Flood that took place a few years earlier. But Led Zeppelin’s arena rock anthem became an iconic piece of music from the '70s, and the song would go on to be highly influential among rock bands and hip-hop artists since its release.

16. “Hard To Handle” — The Black Crowes (1990) // Otis Redding (1968)

The Cover

The Original

Posthumously released on the aptly titled “The Immortal Otis Redding” in 1968, “Hard To Handle” was a fitting single for a legendary musician. While the single only reached No. 38 on the R&B charts, a cover by the Georgia-based band The Black Crowes was their breakthrough single—it reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks in 1990.

17. “I Swear” — All-4-One (April 1994) // John Michael Montgomery (1993)

The Cover

The Original

American songwriters Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers wrote the love ballad “I Swear” for country music recording artist John Michael Montgomery, who released it in December 1993. The single reached the No. 1 spot on the U.S. Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart, and crossed over to the Billboard Hot 100, hitting No. 42.

A few months later in April 1994, the R&B quartet All-4-One released their rendition of “I Swear,” which became a bigger hit than the original. Their version reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 and was certified Platinum by the end of 1994.

18. “Don’t Cha” — The Pussycat Dolls (April 2005) // Tori Alamaze (March 2005)

The Cover

The Original

In March 2005, recording artist Tori Alamaze released “Don’t Cha” as her debut single. When the song failed to gain mainstream attention, Universal Records dropped Alamaze from their label and the song’s producer CeeLo Green gave the song to the girl group The Pussycat Dolls.

Just one month later, The Pussycat Dolls released “Don’t Cha” as their debut single, and the song received positive reviews and reached No. 2 on Billboard. The Pussycat Dolls’ version went on to sell more than 6 million copies worldwide, while Alamaze was all but forgotten.

19. “The Tide Is High” — Blondie (1980) // The Paragons (1967)

The Cover

The Original

The Paragons were a Jamaican ska/rockstead band whose vocal harmonies were influenced by American soul and R&B groups. In 1967, they released a single called “The Tide is High,” written by band member John Holt. Thirteen years later, Blondie guitarist Chris Stein discovered the track on a reggae compilation album he’d bought in England. Blondie recorded it for their Autoamerican album, adding strings and a horn section (borrowed from Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band). “The Tide is High” went on to become Blondie’s second No. 1 single.

20. “Black and White” — Three Dog Night (1972) // Greyhound (1971)

The Cover

The Original

“Black and White” was written in 1954 by David Arkin and Earl Robinson in response to the Brown vs The Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in U.S. public schools. Several artists recorded the tune—Pete Seeger and Sammy Davis Jr. among them—but a British reggae group called Greyhound took it to the U.K. Top 10 in 1971. A year later, American band Three Dog Night recorded the song and topped both the Billboard pop and easy listening charts.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Smart Shopping
This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!


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