When it comes to popular music recordings, cover versions of songs are generally looked down upon in favor of the original. There are exceptions of course, as you won’t find many people who prefer Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” over Jimi Hendrix’s epic re-imagining but in general, it’s hard to forget the artist who first made a song popular.
However, there have been quite a few instances where cover versions have eclipsed the original recording to such a degree that the song is falsely attributed to the covering artist. These are the songs we want to cover (pun intended) today, as you may not have known that the following 12 famous singles are not the original versions.
12. “Twist and Shout” (1963) – The Beatles
The Beatles’ debut 1963 album, Please Please Me, is nearly split between original tracks and covers, but one of the record’s biggest singles, “Twist and Shout,” is often thought to be a John Lennon original. In fact, the song was recorded several times before The Beatles got a hold of it. “Twist and Shout” was written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns in 1961 and first recorded by the Top Notes. It then became a hit single for Isley Brothers in 1962 before being released by the Fab Four the following year.
The song was later released as a single in the United States, where it became the only million-selling Beatles cover record, though it failed to hit #1 because the Beatles already had the song “Can’t Buy Me Love” occupying the top spot.
11. “Hey Joe” (1966) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The downbeat song “Hey Joe,” which tells the story of a man fleeing to Mexico after shooting his unfaithful wife, was an early hit for Jimi Hendrix and is easily the most popular version. The song itself was an American staple by the time Hendrix recorded it, though there is some dispute whether Billy Roberts, who copyrighted “Hey Joe” in the United States in 1962, was the original writer.
The earliest-known commercial recording is from the Leaves, who the song as a single in late-1965 and has been covered by the likes of Patti Smith and the Red Hot Chili Peppers over the years. However, Hendrix’s version remains the most well-known by a long shot.
10. “Respect” (1967) – Aretha Franklin
R&B legend Aretha Franklin released the song “Respect” in 1967, reaching number-one on both the R&B and pop charts. “Respect” is now regarded as one of Franlkin’s signature songs and was considered both a feminist and civil rights anthem. What many may not realize is that “Respect” is an Otis Redding original and was first recorded two years earlier in 1965, though musically and even lyrically the songs have their own distinct styles.
9. “Hush” (1968) – Deep Purple
Appearing on their 1968 debut album Shades of Deep Purple, “Hush” was British rock band Deep Purple’s first hit single (peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 100) and has since become an iconic song associated with the Vietnam War.
However, the song was not a Deep Purple original, as it was written by Joe South and first recorded by Billy Joe Royal a year prior. Deep Purple re-recorded the song in 1988 as part of their 20th anniversary album Nobody’s Perfect, only this time with longtime lead signer Ian Gillan on vocals rather than Rod Evans.
8. “I Fought The Law” (1979) – The Clash
One of The Clash’s most recognizable songs, “I Fought The Law” epitomizes the punk band’s anti-establishment, protest-heavy ethos, so it’s ironic that the song was actually written by a group of stodgy-looking early-60s rock & rollers known as the Bobby Fuller Four. The song actually reached the Billboard Top 100, but the group was sadly unable to capitalize on the single’s success after singer-guitarist Bobby Fuller was found dead from asphyxiation in his mother’s car in July 1966 at the age of 23.
As legend has it, The Clash’s Joe Strummer and Mick Jones first heard the song playing on a jukebox in 1978 and wound up recording it for their EP The Cost of Living, released the following year.
7. “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” (1981) – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Rock singer and guitarist Joan Jett’s most famous song is arguably her 1981 hit “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” which became the number one single on the Billboard Top 100 for seven weeks. That being said, the song was not a Joan Jett & The Blackhearts original, as “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” was Alan Merrill and recorded with his band the Arrows in 1975.
A little rougher and rawer than Jett’s cover, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” scored favorable reviews for the Arrows but saw little radio play, which helps explain why Joan Jett was able to give it a second life. Jett saw the Arrows play the song live on the band’s weekly UK television series while touring with the Runaways in 1976 and recorded her first cover in 1979 with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols before re-recording it with the Blackhearts.
6. “Tainted Love” (1981) – Soft Cell
“Tainted Love” is a song that’s been covered by many different artists, including versions from “Madchester” band Inspiral Carpets and Marilyn Manson. However, while many assume that these covers are based off of the famous 1981 single from English synth-pop duo Soft Cell, that version itself is in fact a cover.
“Tainted Love” was originally recorded by American singer Gloria Jones back in 1965, though it wasn’t until the mid-70s that the song started to catch on. Jones even rerecorded it in 1976 with her boyfriend Mark Bolan, singer/guitarist of the rock band T-Rex, producing. Sadly, Jones is more closely associated today with tragedy than her famous song, as she was driving the car in the accident that killed Bolan in 1977.
5. “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (1983) – Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper’s breakthrough hit, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a worldwide hit throughtout late 1983 and early 1984. It was the first major single off of Lauper’s debut album She’s So Unusual and remains her most popular song, becoming a feminist anthem in the process.
Ironically, the song was written by a man, as Robert Hazard first recorded it in 1979. Hazard’s version was written from a male perspective and Lauper was actually reluctant to record it at first because of this. As such, her version of the song was meant to emphasize that women could have just as much fun as men and many would argue that the song now belongs to Lauper (even if it doesn’t in a legal sense).
4. “Cum On Feel The Noize” (1983) – Quiet Riot
Quiet Riot were already a veteran heavy metal outfit by the time they released their biggest single in 1983, with founding guitarist Randy Rhoads having quit the band in 1979 to join Ozzy Osbourne’s band (Rhoads passed away tragically in a plane crash in 1982 at the age of 25). Nowadays, the song “Cum On Feel The Noize is so closely associated with the band that many don’t realize that it was written and recorded by the British rock band slade a decade before Quiet Riot made it a hit. In fact, Slade’s original version was a hit in its own right, reaching No. 1 on the UK charts.
Despite Quiet Riot actually being reluctant to include the song on their album Metal Health – primarily because lead vocalist Kevin DuBrow wanted every song to be an original – the band called up Slade to secure permission to record it. Several members of Slade have complimented Quiet Riot’s cover over the years, though Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali has claimed that Slade was bitter that his band’s version proved much more successful.
3. “Got My Mind Set On You” (1987) – George Harrison
George Harrison scored a late solo career hit with 1987’s “Got My Mind Set On You,” which is significant for being not just Harrison’s final #1 hit but also the last #1 from any ex-member of The Beatles. The song was not written by Harrison, however; in fact, it dates back to 25 years earlier when it was first recorded by James Ray in 1962 (writing credts go to Rudy Clark).
In hindsight, the fact that the song wasn’t Harrison’s should have been obvious, as it lacks any of the religious themes of his two previous #1 hits, “My Sweet Lord” and “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).”
2. “Don’t Turn Around” (1993) – Ace of Base
Swedish pop quartet Ace of Base were flying high when they released “Don’t Turn Around” for their 1993 US debut album, The Sign. The song has gone on to become one of the band’s most popular songs and its close association with Ace of Base can attributed largely to the fact that it sounds quite different from the original version.
First written for Tina Turner in 1986 – whose record company subsequently released it as a B-side – “Don’t Turn Around” was then recorded by British reggae group Aswad in 1988. Believing that Aswad’s version was too upbeat, Ace of Base recorded a minor key version (according to Ace of Base’s Jonas Berggren, they felt that the song was “too much in major”). The key change proved to be a hit with critics and the song went on to reach No. 4 on the Billboard Top 100.
1. “Torn” (1997) – Natalie Imbruglia
Australian pop singer Natalie Imbruglia scored her biggest hit with the song “Torn,” off her debut album Left of the Middle, but she wasn’t the first to record it. Originally written by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven, and Phil Thornalley in 1993, “Torn” was recorded in Danish the same year by singer Lis Sarensen. Two years later, Cutler and Preven recorded a version with their American alternative rock band Ednaswap, while American-Norwegian singer Trine Rein also recorded a version in 1996.
Thornalley actually worked with Imbruglia for her version of “Torn” and the song went on to earn her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, as well as becoming the most-played song in the US for the remainder of the 1990s.
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