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 song they're enjoying actually originated with another recording artist. The popular cover song might be ahead of its time or re-arranged in a more pleasing way, but ultimately, it’s good enough to find a bigger audience than the original. Here are a few of them.

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

The Cover

The Original

In 1997, pop star Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” was a #1 hit song 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, which would earn her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

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

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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 Wanna Have Fun” — Cyndi Lauper (1983) / Robert Hazard (1979)

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The Original

Cyndi Lauper’s first hit single as a solo artist, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” reached the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list in 1983. Lauper was nominated for two Grammy Awards for the song including Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Performance. Self-proclaimed Country-Western fan Robert Hazard who originally wrote and recorded “Girls Just Wanna 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)

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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 #1 hit song in eight countries, while it reached the #8 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States in 1982.

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

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The Original

In 1965, recording artist Otis Redding wrote and recorded the song “Respect." Two years later, R&B singer Aretha Franklin popularized it with her version. While both songs have the same lyrics, Franklin’s version invokes female empowerment, as Redding’s song is a euphemism for sex. Aretha Franklin’s version also added the "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" chorus to the song.

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

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The Original

Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker—the frontmen of the British rock band Arrows—wrote and recorded the rock 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 “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” 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, which became a #1 hit single in the United States for seven weeks. The song was a certified Platinum Record that sold over one million units.

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

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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 “Nothing Compares 2 U” 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)

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The Original

While the authorship of the song “Hey Joe” is ambiguous and unclear, the earliest recording of the song dates back to 1965 and is 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 in 1966. It peaked at #6 on the U.K. Singles Chart in 1967, while it failed to gain any recognition in the United States. Over the years, the song became iconic; Rolling Stone Magazine placed it at #201 on their list for 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 #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)

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The Original

Prince wrote “Manic Monday” for the band Apollonia 6 for their self-titled debut in 1984. Ultimately, he pulled the song from the recording and later offered it to the rock band The Bangles under the pseudonym “Christopher,” a character he played in the film Under the Cherry Moon, in 1986. “Manic Monday” was a big hit for The Bangles, reaching the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list with only Prince and the Revolution’s “Kiss” in its way at the #1 spot.

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

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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 #1 hit song on the R&B charts for seven weeks, Elvis Presley’s iteration of “Hound Dog” is 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)

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The Original

In 1973, British glam rock band Slade released “Cum On Feel The Noize," which went straight to #1 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 “Cum On Feel The Noize” in the United States. The single reached the #5 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

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

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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 suits, Feldman, Goldstein, and Gottehrer took it upon themselves to perform the song as the 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, “I Want Candy” was the British band’s only hit song in the U.S.

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

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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 #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 #1 spot on Billboard’s list for two weeks. Its music video launched the then-16-year-old into pop music stardom. The song was later ousted from the #1 spot 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)

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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.

Led Zeppelin’s version is an arena rock anthem and an iconic piece of music from the '70s. The song would go on to be highly influential among rock bands and hip-hop recording artists since its release.

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

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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 and performer. While the single only reached #38 on the R&B charts, a cover version from the Georgia-based American rock band The Black Crowes was a breakthrough hit single—it reached the #1 spot on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks in 1990.

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

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The Original

American songwriters Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers wrote the love ballad “I Swear” for country music recording artist John Michael Montgomery in 1993. The hit single reached the #1 spot on the U.S. Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart, and crossed over to the #42 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

A few months later, American pop group All-4-One released their rendition of “I Swear,” which became a bigger hit than John Michael Montgomery’s original. The single reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a certified Platinum record in the U.S., selling more than 1 million records in 1994.

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

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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 Cee-Lo 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 the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The Pussycat Dolls’ version of “Don’t Cha” 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)

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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 #1 single.

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

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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, U.S. super group Three Dog Night recorded the song and topped both the Billboard pop and easy listening charts.

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October 28, 2013 - 10:15am
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