15 Famous Songs that Were Covers
I’m always a little embarrassed when I find out that one of my favorite songs was actually a remake of an older version of a song. Usually Casey Kasem would set me straight on American Top 40 – “Coming up, our long-distance dedication, but first, up two notches to number 16, here’s the supergroup the Power Station with a remake of the old T. Rex song, ‘Bang a Gong (Get it On)’.” But until recently, I thought that some of the best songs of the 80s were originals. Boy, was I shocked. See how many surprise you:
Famous Songs that were Covers
- “Better Be Good To Me” – Spider (covered by Tina Turner). This is my favorite Tina Turner song. I think with this single, she established herself as a true rock artist for the 1980s. Little did I know at the time that the reason was that it was because the original was done by a true rock band, Spider. And the two versions sound exactly the same.
Sigh. Suddenly, Tina Turner is a little less impressive now. Except her legs. Bonus trivia: Spider also wrote a song called “Change,” which was recorded by John Waite and featured on the Vision Quest soundtrack.
- “Kitty” – Racey (Recorded as “Mickey” by Toni Basil). Whaaaat? Something as fresh as Toni Basil’s cheery song was not her own? Well, Basil was not a singer, she was a choreographer, so it does make sense that her songs would be someone else’s first. But give credit where credit is due; Basil breathes new life into this song, which was originally called “Kitty.”
- “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” – The Arrows (Joan Jett). I almost cried when I found out that this one was a cover, but I should have known; Joan Jett’s follow-up, Casey Kasem informed me, was a remake of Tommy James and the Shondell’s “Crimson and Clover.” But “I Love Rock n’ Roll?” That’s iconic, that’s pure 80s, that’s…a cover of a song by a 70s band sporting some nice mullets. (If any of you are shocked to hear that this was not a Britney Spears original, you have bigger problems.)
- “Alone” – I-Ten (Heart). No way. Surely I’ve gone off my rocker now. “Alone”? The perfect power ballad by the wonderful Wilson sisters? Yep. It was even recorded by John Stamos before Heart got their hands on it. If it’s any consolation, their version runs circles around the original – and John Stamos’ version (duh). It must suck to realize that someone else did your song better than you did. On the other hand, I-Ten is probably really rich now. (I’ve included Stamos’ version just so you can laugh at it.)
- “Tainted Love” – Gloria Jones (Soft Cell) – This one comes courtesy of Any Major Dude With Half a Heart. I knew “Where Did Our Love Go?,” the second half of Soft Cell’s monster hit, was a cover, but I had no idea “Tainted Love” was a cover, not of a single, but of a B-side. Another preconception gone – at least Soft Cell can still take credit for “Sex Dwarf.”
- “The Tide is High” – The Paragons (Blondie). Okay, this one makes sense. Blondie’s hit sounds like a laid-back 60s reggae tune, and that’s exactly what it was originally – a song by the Paragons, a, um, 1960s group from Jamaica. Edge goes to Blondie here.
- “We’re All Alone” – Boz Scaggs (Rita Coolidge). I knew that Coolidge’s smash “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” was a cover, but I didn’t know that her other big hit, “We’re All Alone,” was a cover as well. But when I heard Boz Scaggs’ version…Well, just hear it for yourself. I never realized that Scaggs sounded like Kermit the Frog. Rita, you are forgiven.
- “Hard to Handle” – Otis Redding (The Black Crowes). Otis Redding’s version is not only better, but you can actually understand what he’s saying.
- “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” – Paper Lace (Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods). My friends across the pond may be shocked to hear that there’s a cover of this song; they know Paper Lace’s version pretty well, but it only reached #96, while Bo Donaldson’s version went all the way to #1. I prefer Bo Donaldson’s just because I heard it first, but both sound pretty dated and well, corny.
- “China Girl” – Iggy Pop (David Bowie). David Bowie took Iggy Pop’s “China Girl” and did his very best Iggy Pop imitation. The resemblance is uncanny
- “Red Red Wine” – Neil Diamond (UB40). UB40 took a tired, dreary number from a tired, dreary artist and gave it some life. The result? The only reggae song I’ve ever liked. I don’t care if it was played to death during the 1980s.
- “Bette Davis Eyes” – Jackie DeShannon (Kim Carnes) – Kudos to Kim Carnes or her producer for making this unrecognizable. The original was a rollicking ragtime number, and Carnes turned it into a haunting, percussive tune that took the country by storm in 1981.
- “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Robert Hazard (Cyndi Lauper). Researching a post on how Cyndi Lauper likes to record other people’s songs, I checked the songwriting credits for “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” Surely that was original. Uh uh. Robert Hazard’s version is barely recognizable, but it was recorded in 1979.
- “All Through the Night” – Jules Shear (Cyndi Lauper) – Huh? Another one – from the same album? Yep, poor Jules Shear, a great songwriter who came closest to fame with the #57 single “Steady” in 1985, wrote and recorded this in 1983. Lauper made it a hit one year later with a version that was more touching and personal. (Shear also wrote and recorded “If She Knew What She Wants,” which the Bangles took to #29 in 1986, and “Whispering Your Name,” which Alison Moyet released in the UK. It reached #15. No luck for him.)
- “I Drove All Night” – Roy Orbison (Cyndi Lauper) – I can’t help it. I have to include another one. “I Drove All Night” was first written and recorded by Roy Orbison in 1987, but it wasn’t released until 1992 – three years after Lauper released her version. (This song was also recorded by John Waite in 1986, but he decided not to release it. See what I did there? Brought it back to John Waite. Somehow, everything comes back to John Waite. And no, I have no idea what that means.)
Honorable Mention: Laura Branigan. The late Laura Branigan borrowed several tunes from Michael Bolton, recording two of his songs that eventually became hits: “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” and “I Found Someone.” The latter was not a huge hit for Branigan, but Cher picked it up a few years later and turned it into a monster smash. And Branigan’s first hit, “Gloria,” was first a single in Italy for Umberto Tozzi. The only differences between the two are that one’s sung by a man, the other by a woman; one’s in Italian, the other in English. Other than that, they’re pretty indistinguishable.