Artists’ Hit Songs You Didn’t Know Were Covers

Caroline Gawlik | June 14, 2019 7:27 pm

There are some songs that are hard to imagine anyone else singing. “Ring of Fire” is truly a song that needs Johnny Cash’s voice to pull it off. And “Respect” is now completely synonymous with Aretha Franklin. But would you believe that neither of them was the original singer or songwriter on their top hits?

Many musicians borrow styles, tunes, and in some cases, they take entire songs from others and play it in their own style. It’s so common that many people don’t realize their favorite singer’s hit songs are actually covers.

"I Will Always Love You" – Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston
Phil Dent/Redferns
Phil Dent/Redferns

Whitney Houston’s version of "I Will Always Love You," has been described as an anthem of the 1990s. She recorded it for the 1992 film, The Bodygaurd, and it proceeded to spend 14 weeks on the No.1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Her version is also the best-selling single by a woman in history.

The song was originally written and recorded by Dolly Parton in 1973, in which it charted at No.1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart twice. Once in 1974 and again in 1982 when she re-recorded it for the film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

“Twist And Shout” – The Beatles

The Beatles
Unknown/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
Unknown/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Even though the Beatles are considered to be one of the most influential bands of all time, it doesn’t mean that all of their hits are original. “Twist and Shout” appeared on the group’s first UK album Please, Please, Me, and released as a single in 1964.

Although the Beatles version is the most popular, they’re actually the third band to record the song. The first was the Top Notes in 1961, yet the Everly Brothers made it a No.1 hit with their cover of the song in 1960.

“Girls Just Wana Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

To this day, Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” remains one of the most popular female anthems out there. Just about everyone knows Lauper’s rendition one way or another, so it’s surprising to learn that it was actually written and recorded by Robert Hazard in 1979.

Lauper released her cover in 1983 as her single for her debut album She’s So Unusual and peaked at No.2 on the Hot 100 chart. Her version went on to receive Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

“Hound Dog” – Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Although “Hound Dog” has been recorded over 250 times, the most popular version by a long shot is Elvis Presley’s. Recorded in 1956, it became one of the best-selling singles of all time and is considered to be one of the most important songs in rock and roll history. Topping the charts for 11 weeks, it set a record that lasted for 36 years.

The song was actually written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and then recorded by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1952. It turned out to be the biggest song of Thornton’s career, selling over 500,000 copies.

“Tainted Love” – Soft Cell

Soft Cell
Fin Costello/Redferns
Fin Costello/Redferns

Soft Cell began performing “Tainted Love” at live shows before they decided to release it as a single in 1981. The song went on to become the best-selling single in the UK of that year and spent a record 43 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.

However, Soft Cell cannot be credited for the song. It was first written by Ed Cobb and then recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964. However, her version of the song remained relatively unknown until it re-emerged in 1976. She then re-recorded the track in hopes of it gaining attention, which it did by Soft Cell.

“Red Red Wine” – UB40

UB40
Ebet Roberts/Redferns
Ebet Roberts/Redferns

In 1983, UB40 came out with “Red Red Wine,” a light reggae track which topped the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the UK Singles Chart. Although they were not the first group to cover the song, their version had the greatest impact.

Neil Diamond was the writer and the first person to record the track back in 1967. The song was then covered by Peter Tetteroo of Tee Set, which was a hit in the Netherlands. Tony Tribe then released his own rendition which added some reggae, in turn influencing UB40.

"Downtown Train" – Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart
Rick Diamond/Getty Images
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

In 1989, Rod Stewart released the track "Downtown Train" as a single which soon peaked at No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song also charted No.1 in Canada and in the top ten on the UK Singles Chart in 1990. Stewart even received a Grammy nomination for Best Male Vocal Pop Performance for the song that same year.

Yet, the song was a cover by Tom Waits, who released the track on his album Rain Dogs in 1985. This wasn’t the only original song by Waits that was beaten out by covers. Others include "OI’ 55" by the Eagles and "Jersey Girl" by Bruce Springsteen.

"I’m A Believer" – Smash Mouth

Smash Mouth
Paul Natkin/WireImage
Paul Natkin/WireImage

After the release of the film Shrek in 2001, Smash Mouth’s version of the song "I’m a Believer" became an instant hit among the youth of the time. It peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 although did better in other countries. The song was originally composed by Neil Diamond and then recorded by the Monkees in 1966.

The Monkees version remained at No.1 on the Hot 100 for seven weeks and was the best-selling record of 1967. With so many pre-orders, the song went gold within two days and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

"Ring Of Fire" – Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash
Gai Terrell/Redferns
Gai Terrell/Redferns

Although “Ring of Fire” is one of Johnny Cash’s most well-known and praised songs, it was actually written by his wife June and Merle Kilgore for June’s sister Anita. The Carter Family then recorded it in 1962. After not much success, Johnny Cash tried his hand at the song a year later.

It appeared on his 1963 album Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash, topping the chart of the Billboard Hot Country Singles. Rolling Stone later named it the No.87 on their 500 Greatest Hots of All Time and No.27 on their list of the 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time.

"Mickey" – Toni Basil

Toni Basil
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

One of the 1980s most iconic music videos featured Toni Basil dancing around in a cheerleader uniform to the song “Mickey.” Basil released the song as a single in 1981 in the UK with no luck, only to re-release it in 1982. It then reached No.2 on the UK charts and No.1 in Australia.

When the song finally made it to North America, a year and a half after its original release, it topped the charts in the US and Canada. The original song, “Kitty,” was released in 1979 by the UK group Racey for their debut album Smash and Grab. Basil changed the lyrics to Mickey to make the song about a boy.

“Respect” – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin
Ron Howard/Redferns
Ron Howard/Redferns

Released on her 1967 album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, “Respect” grew to become one of Aretha Franklin’s most popular songs. It was at the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart for two weeks and eight on the Black Singles chart. It became her staple song, winning two Grammys and is considered one of the greatest songs in R&B history.

Yet, the song was originally written and released by Otis Redding in 1965, as a song about a man who wanted respect from his wife for his hard work. Franklin changed some lyrics, added her own pizzazz, and created the song we know today.

“If I Were A Boy” – Beyonce

Beyonce
Larry Busacca/PW18/Getty Images for Parkwood Entertainment
Larry Busacca/PW18/Getty Images for Parkwood Entertainment

Appearing on her 2008 album, I Am…Sasha Fierce, “If I Were a Boy” managed to make it to the top ten on twenty-five different singles charts internationally. The song peaked at No.3 on the Hot 100 and to this day is Beyonce’s best-selling single in the United Kingdom. The track was written by BC Jean and Toby Gad and recorded by Jean.

However, her record company rejected her record, so Beyonce took it over. Jean was angered when she learned Beyonce was releasing it as a single, but they later reached an agreement.

"I Love Rock And Roll" – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

Joan Jett
Taylor Hill/Getty Images
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

The rock band the Arrows released "I Love Rock and Roll" in 1975, their take on the Rolling Stone’s hit "It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)." Although it was first recorded as a B-side it was later re-recorded to achieve A-side status.

Joan Jett saw the Arrows perform the song on their weekly UK television show and loved it. So, she eventually recorded a cover of it with her band The Blackhearts, and their version was No.1 on the Hot 100 for seven weeks. Billboard went on the ranked the song as the No.3 song of 1982. In 2016, Jett’s cover was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

"Blinded By The Light" – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

Manfred Mann's Earth Band
Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Included in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s 1976 album, Raring Light, "Blinded by the Light " went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the Canadian RPM charts. While most people know the Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s version, not everyone knows that it was initially written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen.

The song was a single and first track for his 1971 album Greetings from Ashbury Park, N.J. Numerous other groups have ridden on Springsteen’s coattails for hits such as Patti Smith, The Pointer Sisters, and more.

"Killing Me Softly" – The Fugees

The Fugees
Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

"Killing Me Softly" is quite the song, as it has been successful three times by three different artists. The song was first recorded by Lori Lieberman in 1971 where it achieved minor success. However, when it was covered by Roberta Flack in 1973, it became at No.1 in the United States and Canada.

However, the third time was the charm when the Fugees did their own rendition in 1996. The song went No.2 in the US and topped the charts in the UK, becoming the country’s best-selling single of 1996. The also won a Grammy in 1997 as well as an MTV Music Video Award.

“Don’t Cha” – The Pussycat Dolls

The Pussycat Dolls
M. Caulfield/WireImage
M. Caulfield/WireImage

“Don’t Cha” was released on the Pussycat Dolls debut album PCD in 2005. Although some rebuked Busta Rhymes’ appearance on the track, the song reached No.2 on the Hot 100 and No.1 on the US Hot Dance Club Play and Pop 100 charts.

The track was initially recorded by Tori Alamaze as her first single, yet was relatively unsuccessful and disappointing for the label. So, Universal Music Group decided to pass it on to The Pussycat Dolls which proved to be the right decision.

"Hey Joe" – Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix
David Redfern/Redferns
David Redfern/Redferns

Described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as "arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music," Jimi Hendrix left a mark on music even though his career was just a short four years. During that time, he had numerous hits, one of them being his iconic 1966 rendition of the song "Hey Joe."

Although the song was one of his Top Ten hits and still one his most popular today, the earliest known recording of the song was by the Los Angeles-based garage band the Leaves in 1965. Although the Leaves’ version received some attention, it was overshadowed by Hendrix’s cover.

"Gloria" – Laura Branigan

Laura Branigan
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“Gloria” is an original song by Italian singer Umberto Tozzi who recorded it in 1979. Just a few years later, Laura Branigan’s producer encouraged her to do a cover of the song. They made some changes to the track with Branigan claiming she and the team “gave it the American kick and re-wrote the lyrics, and off she went.”

The track was released as a single in the summer of 1982 and became a hit among disco and music fans alike. It reached No.2 on the Hot 100 and earned Branigan a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance. It then remained in the Top 40 for 22 weeks and is still a hit today.

"Drift Away" – Uncle Kracker

Uncle Kracker
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

In 2003, Uncle Kracker released the song featuring Dobie Gray on his album No Stranger to Shame. Although it peaked at No.9 on the Hot 100, it was at the top of the Adult Contemporary chart for a record-breaking 28 weeks. However, Uncle Kracker’s version was the third cover of the song.

It was first recorded by John Henry Kurtz in 1972 and was later given to Dobie Gray and Greg Reilly in 1973 who turned it into an international hit. It made it to No.3 on the Hot 100, officially becoming Dobie Gray’s most successful song.

“Dazed and Confused” – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin
Ian Dickson/Redferns
Ian Dickson/Redferns

“Dazed and Confused” is a track that has had two notable covers since its inception in 1967. The original song was written and recorded by Jake Holmes as a folk/rock song about a girl’s indecision to end a relationship. At the time, Jimmy Page, still a member of the Yardbirds, heard the song live and decided to rework it and produce it with the band.

It was a hit for the Yardbirds, but when Page moved on to Led Zeppelin, he brought the song with him. Led Zeppelin’s cover soon became one of their most popular tracks and is the most well-known of the three.