Cover songs. They’ve been helping artists break into the music industry for just about as long as there’s been one. But I’m willing to bet that a few of your favorite tunes are covers, whether you know it or not. Don’t believe me? Check out this list of hits you might not have known weren’t the original version!
1) “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
Many people don’t know that one of Aretha’s biggest hits from 1967 wasn’t hers originally. That’s right. “Respect” was originally recorded by love-man Otis Redding in 1965. The versions are the same lyrically, except that Franklin’s version has the added “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” chorus and the “Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me…” refrain. The most interesting part about this story is that the song is a strong feminist anthem when Franklin sings her version, causing Redding’s original sexual euphemism to completely disappear. Franklin ended up earning two Grammys in 1968 for “Best Rhythm & Blues Recording” and “Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female” and was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987 for her cover of the song.
Listen to Aretha‘s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNmEQpy0Wnc
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JGJXmpKGXY
2) “Blue Suede Shoes” by Elvis Presley
Before Elvis gyrated those famous hips to his 1956 hit “Blue Suede Shoes,” country legend Carl Perkins originally recorded the tune in 1955. Perkins wrote the song about a real-life couple in the crowd of a dance he played in 1955. In between songs, he heard the man scold the woman because she had scuffed her dancing partner’s blue suede shoes. Perkins was thrilled that Elvis covered his original song, which increased in popularity following Presley’s cover. In 1999, Presley’s version was certified Gold by the RIAA.
Listen to Elvis‘ version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuqF_LC_U7Y
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2f_eSZgp88
3) “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley
The late Jeff Buckley gave us all the chills in 1994 with his version of “Hallelujah,” but a slower and much more orchestral original version was recorded by Leonard Cohen in 1984. Not so fast—Buckley does not get all the credit for his re-imagination of the song. His cover was actually inspired by a prior version recorded by John Cale. To date, there are over 300 recorded versions of “Hallelujah,” including a Rufus Wainwright cover of the song featured in the animated film Shrek and was included on the soundtrack which was certified double-platinum in the US. The most ironic part of the story? Cohen’s label initially didn’t think the song was good enough and delayed the song’s release. Can you say “bad judgement?”
Listen to Jeff Buckley‘s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8AWFf7EAc4
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIuCwnnDq8k
4) “Crazy” by Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline’s 1962 hit “Crazy” is a country classic, but was first recorded by the great Willie Nelson just a year before. The ballad was written by Nelson early in 1961 before he garnered any real musical success. He initially wrote the song for country singer Billy Walker, who supposedly turned it down because he thought it was “a girl’s song.” Apparently, Walker was right, because Nelson said in a 1993 documentary that Patsy’s cover of “Crazy” was his favorite song of his that had ever been recorded.
Listen to Patsy Cline‘s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QEDb3xzdec
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwS6FL_WgoI
5) “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia
It’s true! Your jam from 1997 by Aussie beauty Natalie Imbruglia was actually recorded in 1995 by a super 90’s LA alt. rock band called Ednaswap. Natalie’s cover was a No. 1 hit in many parts of Europe, the US, and of course, her native land of Australia. A wide variety of musicians have since covered the song, but Imbruglia’s version is still the most successful, given the fact that the singer earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1998.
Listen to Natalie Imbruglia‘s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VV1XWJN3nJo
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFUl3CNuzpE
6) “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper
Believe it or not, the 80’s feminist anthem from 1983 was originally recorded by a man. Country-western performer Robert Hazard first recorded the now classic pop tune in 1979 as a demo for his band, Robert Hazard and the Heroes (The song was never released). When Lauper re-recorded the demo, she changed the gendered pronouns and had her version ready to go. Her 1983 version reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Lauper was nominated for two Grammys, including “Record of the Year” and “Best Female Pop Performance.”
Listen to Cyndi Lauper‘s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIb6AZdTr-A
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aLNwOxPsjg
7) “It’s My Life” by No Doubt
It’s not actually Gwen Stefani’s life. The hit song, recorded by No Doubt to promote their first greatest hits album, was actually a 1984 song from a new-wave synthpop British band called Talk Talk. No Doubt’s version reached number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and remained on the chart for an impressive 28 weeks. The digital download of the cover was certified RIAA Gold for selling over half-a-million copies.
Listen to No Doubt‘s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubvV498pyIM
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISjg71jSnLg
8) “If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce
Turns out Queen B didn’t write EVERY song on I Am… Sasha Fierce. “If I Were a Boy” is the only song that Beyoncé didn’t get writing credit for. So who did write it? A then 20 year-old singer-songwriter named BC Jean who co-wrote the track with producer Toby Gad. Bey’s people supposedly heard BC’s demo of the track from Gad’s people and then wanted it pretty badly. What happened from there is still pretty mysterious. Many different rumors have flown about BC Jean’s feelings about someone else recording and releasing her song, and the terms of the deal she made with Beyonce. Some say that Beyonce and Jean were supposed to record a duet version of the song, which was written from her own personal love life, for BC’s debut album (which was never released). The craziest part is that BC’s version was originally rejected by the record company, and, as her label disbanded, her record deal fell through. What’s even crazier is that Jean hasn’t had much notoriety for the track, nor had much success since Bey’s 2008 version, though she is now engaged to professional Dancing With the Stars dancer and musician, Mark Ballas.
Listen to Beyonce’s Version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWpsOqh8q0M
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdjtO4iKU-A
9) “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder
The funkadelic classic was recorded in 1973 by the one and only Stevie Wonder. But, the song was first recorded by Jeff Beck in 1972. Wonder did write the song to order for Beck, who created the drum beat. But, after Motown head Berry Gordy insisted, Stevie took the song back and recorded what is now one of the most iconic songs of the 70’s.
Listen to Stevie Wonder‘s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CFuCYNx-1g
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xjmpBfk9uo
10) “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
Anyone with a pulse in 1992 knew Whitney Houston’s power ballad, “I Will Always Love You.” What many didn’t realize was that the song was initially recorded and released in 1974 by none other than the larger than life country queen Dolly Parton.
Listen to Whitney Houston‘s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JWTaaS7LdU
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHw62eZpHk4
11) “I Love Rock N Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
We were #blessed with this badass anthem from Joan Jett & The Blackhearts in 1981. But we owe the blessings to a British rock band who originally recorded the song in 1975 called the Arrows. The original song eventually led to the band getting its own TV show in fact! Joan Jett saw the Arrows perform the song on TV while she was on tour in England with The Runaways, and fell in love with the track. Joan’s version of the song became a number 1 hit single in the US for seven weeks and was certified platinum.
Listen to Joan Jett‘s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iC8oP4Z_xPw
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AT_Pbtyid0
12) “Twist And Shout” by The Beatles
The Beatles also recorded their early hit, “Twist and Shout” in one take in 1963 for their first album, Please Please Me. The song was originally written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns and recorded by The Top Notes in 1961. While The Tops Notes didn’t see major success from the song, the Beatles did. Despite the song being a one-taker, recording the song was not as easy as you’d think. “Twist And Shout” was the final song The Beatles recorded for their first album; supposedly producer George Martin knew John Lennon’s voice would suffer from the session: Lennon was sick with a terrible cold. So with only 15 minutes of scheduled recording time left, Lennon, who was drinking milk and sucking on cough drops to soothe his throat, knocked out the song in one take. By then end, Lennon’s milk was stained pink with blood from his vocal chords. Some credit Lennon’s cold with the raw rock n’ roll vocal performance heard on the song.
Listen to the Beatles’ version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-VAxGJdJeQ
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsDpc-8iR8g
13) “Don’t Cha” by The Pussycat Dolls
The story behind The Pussycat Dolls’ debut single is a bit shady if we do say so ourselves. We all remember when “Don’t Cha” took the airwaves by storm in April of 2005. What most people don’t know is that just a month earlier it had been released by the original recorder, a woman named Tori Alamaze (of Outkast fame), as her debut single. When the song failed to gain mainstream attention in March, her label, Universal Records, dropped her. Ouch. But wait, it gets worse! Weird enough, the song’s writer and producer is CeeLo Green, who gave the song to PCD. One month later, The Pussycat Dolls released “Don’t Cha” as their debut single, and as we all know, the song got crazy airplay and reached number 2 on Billboard charts. The PCD version of “Don’t Cha” sold more than 6 million copies worldwide while Alamaze was left in the dust. We know the music industry is cutthroat, but damn.
Listen to PCD’s version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNSxNsr4wmA
Listen to the original version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySE3s-JiUI
Listen to a playlist of these songs, and their covers here.