Like all of us, musicians are also huge music fans. Before writing their own material they will have been learning the songs of their idols. Often times these famous musicians will go on to record cover versions of songs by their favorite artists and introduce them to a new audience. Sometimes these cover versions have been so successful that many fans believe that they were written by the covering artist. In many cases, the covering artist will have breathed new life into the song and deserve credit for their work, but it should not be forgotten that these songs were originally crafted by another musician.
10. “When the Levee Breaks” – Led Zeppelin (originally by Kansas Joe McCoy & Memphis Minne)
Many aspiring guitarists will try to immediately master “Stairway to Heaven,” as Led Zeppelin are one of the most important and influential rock acts of all time. They were also inspired by those that came before them, and they were very heavily influenced by the blues and folk music (much like The Yardbirds). One of their most famous songs, and a fan favorite, is “When the Levee Breaks,” from their 1971 album Led Zeppelin IV. The song was first recorded by blues duo Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1929, and this was in reaction to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Zeppelin would retain the blues roots, but they would make it their own hard rock blues masterpiece, with a famous drum performance from John Bonham. It has since been covered by many other artists, with the drums even being sampled by hip-hop acts, including the Beastie Boys.
9. “Respect” – Aretha Franklin (originally by Otis Redding)
“Respect” is one of soul and R&B legend Aretha Franklin’s best known songs, and it would win her two Grammy Awards in 1968. It has since been added to the National Recording Registry, and many consider it to be a landmark for the feminist movement. It was originally written and recorded by another soul and R&B legend, Otis Redding, in 1965. This would appear on his hugely popular 1965 album, Otis Blue, but it was Franklin’s 1967 version which is now best known. Interestingly, there were only a few lyric changes, but the story comes across vastly different in the two recordings. Redding’s story is of a desperate man who will do anything to keep his girlfriend, whilst Franklin’s is of a strong and independent woman who demands respect. It would be her re-imagined version which found the most success, but Redding’s original version should not be overlooked.
8. “Tainted Love” – Soft Cell (originally by Gloria Jones)
“Tainted Love” is best known as a 1981 hit by English vocal and synth duo Soft Cell, which would become the bestselling single in the UK for that year. It is widely considered to be an ’80s classic, but it was first written in the 1960s and sounded drastically different. “Tainted Love” was composed by Ed Cobb, and originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964. The song was a b-side to the single “My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home,” which would fail to chart, and the song was consequently relatively unknown. Soft Cell would discover the song when it become popularized in the UK in the ’70s after a DJ used it in Northern Soul clubs, with the Motown-influenced sound fitting in with the style at the time. Younger readers and metal fans will be more familiar with Marilyn Manson’s 2001 version, influenced by the Soft Cell arrangement.
7. “Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley (originally by Leonard Cohen)
Jeff Buckley’s spine tingling recording of “Hallelujah” featured on his only complete album, Grace, in 1994. It is a beautiful song which is performed incredibly by Buckley, and his unfortunate passing in 1997 only makes it that much more delicate and emotive. Jeff Buckley may have perfected it and his version is the most well known, but it was Leonard Cohen who wrote the song and it was first released on his 1984 record, Various Positions. It was a song that he spent many years writing and attempting to get right, but it found limited initial success. It became more popular following John Cale’s cover of the song, and this was the version which would inspire Jeff Buckley to record his own version, which is now in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. The song has since been covered by countless acts, but it all began with Leonard Cohen.
6. “Hey Joe” – Jimi Hendrix (originally by The Leaves)
Jimi Hendrix is perhaps the most instantly recognizable musician of all time, and he had the ability to make any song his own. This is what he did so well with The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s 1966 single, “Hey Joe” (their debut single). This is an important song in rock history and is one of his most famous tracks, but it is known to be a traditional song and was first registered for copyright by Billy Roberts. Like many traditional folk songs, “Hey Joe” is a song which has been performed and altered by dozens of different artists and across a number of different genres, but it is Hendrix’s version which is the most famous. The earliest known recording is by the L.A. act The Leaves, who recorded it in 1965 and again in 1966. Another example of Hendrix making a song his own is “All Along the Watchtower,” originally by Bob Dylan.
5. “Hound Dog” – Elvis Presley (originally by Big Mama Thornton)
The King may have been one of the biggest and most influential acts in rock and roll history, but even he was inspired by artists around him. In 1956, Elvis would release a track titled “Hound Dog,” which would go on to become one of the bestselling singles of all time and one of Elvis’ most popular songs. It is considered to be a song that helped to shape what we know as rock and roll, but Elvis’ version is just one of hundreds of recordings of the track. His happens to be the most well-known recording, but it was first penned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and recorded by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1952, with release in 1953. This would prove to be Thornton’s only big hit, spending seven weeks at the number #1 spot. Unfortunately, this is not very common knowledge amongst some younger listeners.
4. “I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston (originally by Dolly Parton)
Everyone remembers the powerful, epic “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, recorded in 1992 for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard (her film debut). This recording would go on to become one of the bestselling singles of all time and a classic R&B ballad. Some younger readers may be surprised to hear that the song was not, in fact, an original by Houston, and it had already spent time atop the charts in the mid ’70s and again in the early ’80s. It was legendary country music star Dolly Parton who wrote the song, being released in 1974 for her studio album Jolene. She would rerecord the song again in 1984 and it would again top the Country charts, which made Parton the first artist to reach #1 with the same song as a singer (and three times as a writer following Houston’s version).
3. “Hurt” – Johnny Cash (originally by Nine Inch Nails)
“Hurt” was one of Johnny Cash’s last big hits before his death, and it was a powerful and soulful song which many believe that he wrote. Although Cash mastered the song, it was first written and recorded by Trent Reznor and released on Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 album, The Downward Spiral. Reznor reflects—“I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning—different, but every bit as pure.”
2. “Nothing Compares 2 U” – Sinead O’Conner (originally by Prince)
Sinead O’Conner’s 1990 smash hit “Nothing Compares 2 U” topped charts around the world and was the third bestselling single of 1990. It is still a hugely famous and a popular song over 25 years later, and the iconic music video plays a large role in this. The video sees a close-up of O’Conner’s face as she sings the song, including tears rolling down her face towards the end of the video. It is one of the most famous videos and songs from the ’90s, but it was originally written and composed by Prince. This was for one of his side projects, The Family, with “Nothing Compares 2 U” appearing on their 1985 self-titled album (which would be their only release). The Prince version received little attention, and O’Conner would make it her own with her emotional interpretation and unforgettable music video.
1. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper (originally by Robert Hazard)
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” may very much sound like a song by girls and for girls, but this is not the case. The best known version is Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 dance classic, which is an iconic ’80s song (and karaoke classic) that is still frequently played. It is also known to be a feminist anthem but, surprisingly, it was first written and recorded by Robert Hazard in 1979. Hazard recorded it as a demo, and it is a drastically different song which was written from a male point of view. Hazard allowed Lauper to change the lyrics, and this version became a feminist anthem about the roles of women in society. It is strange to think that such a female song was created by a man, but Lauper made it her own by changing the lyrics to become a feminist song and, of course, making it a synthesized ’80s classic.