From sampling, to ghostwriting, to cover songs; since the creation of music, artists have depended on one another for inspiration and influence. In most cases, nothing beats an original, but there have been many notable examples of artists successfully taking past productions to new heights. So which of these smash-hit cover songs had you thought was the original all along? Read on and find out.
1. “Respect” – Otis Redding & Aretha Franklin
“Put some respect on his name!” That is exactly what crooner Otis Redding, were he alive, should be saying to fans of this classic. Though the two renditions of this famous song are musically different — most notably Franklin’s addition of the chorus where she spells out R-E-S-P-E-C-T — much credit is due to Redding, who initially cracked the top five on Billboard’s Black Singles Chart with “Respect”.
Another difference is the perspective of the singer. Redding’s version is sung by a desperate man not caring much about his woman’s actions, so long as he gets respect for earning a living. Franklin re-imagined it, and made the song a ballad for women’s rights and civil rights. Her version became one of the most popular songs of the ’60s, as well as the last century.
2. “Lady Marmalade” – The Eleventh Hour & Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mýa, and Pink
Music fans will note that “Lady Marmalade” was made majorly famous in a raucous version by Patti LaBelle, although not before the song’s original writer, Kenny Nolan, released it with his band, The Eleventh Hour, in 1974. Inspired by women working the streets in New Orleans, the song is best known for its provocative French chorus.
Although responsible for LaBelle’s breakout success, and eventually being inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mýa, and Pink, would hold the top Billboard spot longer than LaBelle for their 2001 rendition. The all-star girl collaboration for the Moulin Rouge! film soundtrack made history, making “Marmalade” the number one song of the year, selling over 5 million copies.
3. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” – Robert Hazard & Cyndi Lauper
Ever heard of Robert Hazard and the Heroes? While Cyndi Lauper and her ever-unusual style and thick Queens accent took ’80s audiences by storm, Hazard is actually the songwriter behind one of her biggest hits. Born in Springfield, Pennsylvania and the son of an opera singer, Hazard and his group were once lauded by well-known music critic Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone.
Similar to “Respect”, the song differs markedly in its two perspectives with regard to gender. Lauper, of course, made the song into a girl-ballad for the ages. Her remake topped the charts of 1983 and earned her several Grammy awards. Ironically for a song so associated with the free female spirit, credit is due to Hazard, who originally composed and recorded this bop.
4. “Hey Joe” – The Leaves & Jimi Hendrix
Former fraternity brothers and classmates at Cal State University Northridge, in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, The Leaves taught themselves how to play music while in college and started playing local parties. They went on to play shows on Hollywood’s famed Sunset Strip, but never quite achieved notoriety beyond their local audience.
Though The Leaves recorded the earliest known version, the origins of “Hey Joe” are shrouded in a bit of mystery. The Jimi Hendrix Experience simply took the song to a whole new stratosphere. Blessed by one of the most talented and riveting guitarists of all time, Rolling Stone named their version the 201st best song of all time. Notably, it was the song Hendrix used to close out his performance at Woodstock in 1969.
5. “I Will Always Love You” – Dolly Parton & Whitney Houston
Dolly Parton wrote and released the original, country version of “I Will Always Love You” to much commercial success. The song hit number one on country charts twice; once in 1974 and again in 1982 when it was re-released on a movie soundtrack. Coincidentally, Whitney Houston re-recorded the song in a far more dramatic performance for The Bodyguard soundtrack, starring alongside Kevin Costner in the film.
Often considered to be Houston’s signature power ballad, “I Will Always Love You” sat at the top spot on Billboard for over 14 weeks, her longest run at number one and an all-time record in its day. Dispelling rumors of bitterness, the two gleamed over one another, publicly crediting each other for contributing to the song’s success.
6. “Feeling Good” – Cy Grant & Nina Simone
British singer and actor Cy Grant first performed “Feeling Good” for the on-stage musical, The Roar of Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, which first appeared in UK theaters in 1965. In the same year, both jazz legends John Coltrane and Nina Simone would cover the song, although it would take almost three decades to become popular.
After appearing in a Volkswagen commercial, the song hit number 40 on UK singles charts. Since then, the song has been sampled by any number of big-name artists, including Jay Z, Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, and Avici, and covered by the likes of Lauryn Hill, Michael Bublé, Muse, and The Pussycat Dolls. How can you forget those trumpet blasts?
7. “American Woman” – The Guess Who & Lenny Kravitz
Canadian rockers The Guess Who released “American Woman” on their album of the same name in 1970. Surprisingly, the song was completely improvised in an onstage performance, when guitarist Randy Bachman spontaneously began fiddling with a new rift mid-show. Singer Burton Cummings added some off-the-cuff lyrics poking fun at ladies from south of the border, and “American Woman” was born (albeit on stage in Ontario).
Kravitz’s hard-rocking 1999 version of the song was originally written for the first Austin Powers film and gained popularity thanks in part to an arresting cameo from the film’s lead actress, Heather Graham. The cover won mass appeal, a Grammy award, and became a staple for Kravitz, whose version has been featured prominently on-screen in film and television.
8. “Valerie” – The Zutons & Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse
Originally, that song your one friend always has to sing at karaoke was released by British indie rockers The Zutons in 2006. In an interview with The Scotsman, lead singer Dave McCabe said that he wrote the lyrics in the back of a cab on the way to visit his mother. Another later interview with Vice revealed the real-life identity of Valerie as celebrity makeup artist, Valerie Star.
Ronson and Winehouse’s version appeared first on Ronson’s 2007 album Version before being released as a bonus on Amy’s Back to Black. Searching for new ideas for his album, Ronson initially suggested the cover to Winehouse, who at the time was not listening to any music created post-1967. The song was a hit, peaking at number two on UK charts.
9. “Dazed and Confused” – Jake Holmes & Led Zeppelin
“Dazed and Confused” was recorded first by Jake Holmes and then by English rockers The Yardbirds, before being passed on to Led Zeppelin. Influenced by psychedelic rock of the era, Holmes, who wrote the song, swears that the song is about a girl, not about a bad trip as some have hypothesized.
When The Yardbirds disassembled, their famed guitarist Jimmy Page brought the tune to his newly-formed group, Led Zeppelin. It appears on the band’s self-titled debut album, with heavy chords, a blistering solo, and live shows where Page used a violin bow on his guitar to create spooky sound effects. Despite multiple lawsuits over copyright infringements between Holmes and Page, it is clear that under Zeppelin the song gained much more widespread recognition.
10. “Set On You” – James Ray & George Harrison
By the time “Set On You” came out, former Beatles guitarist George Harrison had been enjoying a steady solo career with a string of soulful hit singles. However, one of his better-known songs was actually not his own; young Washington D.C. area singer James Ray recorded “(I Got My Mind) Set On You” long before Harrison covered it in the ’80s.
Ray’s original version did well, but hardly reached the level of critical success that Harrison’s cover achieved — several weeks at number one on Billboard charts. Fun fact: this isn’t the only Beatles cover of a James Ray song, if we count solo acts. They performed Ray’s “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody” live, as a tribute, following the musician’s untimely death in 1962.
11. “Hound Dog” – Big Mama Thornton & Elvis Presley
Originally released in 1953, “Hound Dog” is the soulful, larger-than-life Big Mama Thornton’s only hit song, selling more than half a million copies, and spending seven weeks as the number one song in the US. The song has been re-recorded a whopping 250 times, the most popular of which is, of course, Elvis Presley’s cover from 1956.
Elvis doubled Thornton’s chart performance, making “Hound Dog” number one for fourteen straight weeks, a record that stood for over thirty years. Its popularity has unsurprisingly put the song at the center of several copyright lawsuits. In popular culture, “Hound Dog” has been featured in films such as Forrest Gump, Grease, Lilo and Stitch, and the Indiana Jones series. Another Big Mama tune, “Ball and Chain”, would find new life through Janis Joplin.
12. “House of the Rising Sun” – Bob Dylan & The Animals
A well-known American folk tune bemoaning a life rotten from beginning to finish, “House of the Rising Sun” makes the list alongside “Lady Marmalade” as another ballad depicting the underbelly of New Orleans. Though its traditional origins are shrouded in a veil of mystery, Bob Dylan did make the song popular on his debut album in 1962.
The Animals first recorded their electrified version in 1964 in just one take. It became a hit in both the UK and US, and one of the most identifiable songs of the ’60s. Bob Dylan was so excited when he first heard The Animals’ remake, he jumped out of his car, and decided right there to start recording with an electric guitar as opposed to his trademark acoustic.
13. “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” – The Exciters & Manfred Mann
Originally written by prolific songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, “Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy” was picked up by the Exciters in 1963, who had earned widespread fame from their release of hit-song “Tell Him” one year earlier. Shortly after “Do-Wah-Diddy-Diddy” released, it was covered by British R&B group, Manfred Mann.
Troubled by the poor performance of what they knew was a hit, the song’s original writers, Barry and Greenwich, blamed United Artists for not properly marketing the song. Eventually Manfred Mann’s cover spent weeks at number one, and earned the band a place among legends of the historic British Invasion movement of the ’60s.
14. “Louie Louie” – Richard Barry & The Kingsmen
The story of a Jamaican sailor returning home to see a woman, “Louie Louie” was first released by Richard Barry in 1955 as a B-side to his version of the classic, “You Are My Sunshine”. Music historians have noted that it is the world’s most recorded rock song, with estimates that it has been published between 1,600 to 2,000 times.
The Kingsmen’s cover in 1963 was by far the most popular, peaking and holding steady at the number-two Billboard spot for six weeks. Upon Berry’s initial release of the song, the FBI launched an investigation into the lyrics for supposed obscenity. For that reason, The Kingsmen famously slurred some of the lyrics, although accusations over the years have proved baseless.
15. “Red Red Wine” – Neil Diamond & UB40
An ode to drinking a glass of vino to forget the woes of the day, Neil Diamond first recorded “Red Red Wine” in 1967. The song reached number sixty-two on singles charts and was covered many times before being remade by UB40 in 1983.
Wait, you mean that “Red Red Wine” isn’t a Bob Marley song? For the musical ignoramuses out there, it may come as a shock to learn that the reggae version does belong to UB40, despite being (far too often) accredited to the Lion of Zion himself. In contrast to Diamond’s somber tone, the airy reggae version was much more well-received by music fans.
16. “Sepheryn”/”Ray of Light” – Curtiss Maldoon & Madonna
Madonna’s smash 1998 hit “Ray of Light” proved she was well-prepared to exit the ’90s with just as much fervor as she’d entered them. Yet it isn’t widespread knowledge that the electro jam is in fact a cover of an obscure 1970s indie-folk song. British duo Curtiss Maldoon initially released their track “Sepheryn” in 1971.
Madonna first came across the Maldoon record by way of William Orbit, who co-wrote/co-produced her album Ray of Light. Orbit had just been working with British singer, Christine Leach, the niece of Dave Atkins — i.e. Dave Curtiss of Curtiss Maldoon. While Leach also recorded vocals over her uncle’s old instrumental, Madonna and Orbit created an altogether different version, making it one of the most successful cover songs ever.
17. “Waiting For Tonight” – 3rd Party & Jennifer Lopez
Known for their dance hits “Can You Feel It” and “Love is Alive”, “Waiting For Tonight” was first composed by Maria Christensen (along with Michael Garvin and Phil Temple) for her girl group 3rd Party. After the group disbanded in 1997, an up-and-coming Jennifer Lopez swooped in and picked it up two years later.
Lopez’s cover appeared on her first album, On the 6. The upbeat, Latin-inspired rendition of “Waiting For Tonight” was the album’s hit single and a marked shift in tone from the techno-flared original. Despite initially disliking the song, it launched Lopez’s music career, and with its release at the end of 1999, secured its place as a club anthem for the new millennium.
18. “It’s In His Kiss” – Merry Clayton & Betty Everett
Merry Clayton is perhaps best known for her vocals on “Gimme Shelter”, one of the most famous Rolling Stones songs ever recorded. Throughout her career as a backup singer, she provided vocals for some of the biggest names in the business including Ray Charles, Carole King, and Neil Diamond.
Clayton first recorded “It’s In His Kiss”, also known as “The Shoop Shoop Song” in 1963. In the same year, Betty Everett would cover the song, taking Clayton’s original all the way to number one (Clayton’s version didn’t even chart). Though redone multiple times, including a 1990 cover from Cher, Everett is credited with making this song famous.
19. “The First Cut Is The Deepest” – P.P. Arnold & Rod Stewart
Written in 1967 by Cat Stevens, and released in the same year by P.P. Arnold, this classic has been a hit record for six different artists, including Keith Hampshire, Dawn Penn, Papa Dee, and Sheryl Crow. Cat Stevens actually recorded the song himself, but it was a flop, and so he sold the track to Arnold for £30.
Rod Stewart recorded the song in Sheffield, Alabama for his album, A Night On The Town. Upon release, it spent four weeks at number one on UK singles charts, and debuted at twenty-one in the United States. It is also notable that in the music video, Stewart sports a blonde mullet shockingly similar to that of Tiger King‘s Joe Exotic.
20. “Ring Of Fire” – Anita Carter & Johnny Cash
Written by The Man in Black’s second wife June Carter Cash for her sister Anita, this song initially appeared on a Mercury Records compilation album, Folk Songs Old and New in 1963. After experiencing a dream in which he heard the song accompanied by Mexican horns, Cash told his sister-in-law that he planned to do a cover.
Adding in those famous horns and his signature style, Johnny Cash made the song a hit. Though no one ever achieved the top status earned by Cash, multiple artists covered “Ring of Fire” and earned success in their own right, notably Eric Burdon and the Animals and Alan Jackson.
21. “Unchained Melody” – Todd Duncan & The Righteous Brothers
Remember that steamy clay-molding moment in Ghost? This song actually started with another film. Appearing on the soundtrack for the little-known prison film Unchained, Todd Duncan performed vocals for the original version of “Unchained Melody” in 1955. Along with “Louie Louie”, the song is one of the most recorded in history, with over 1,500 credits, by 600-plus artists, in multiple languages.
Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, and Roy Hamilton all made the song a top-ten hit, respectively. None gained the critical success earned by the Righteous Brothers, whose definitive version of the song became an international success. According to sources, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley both wanted to cover “Unchained Melody”. Hatfield won a coin toss, and the rest is history.
22. “Saving All My Love For You” – Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. & Whitney Houston
A married couple, McCoo and Davis became the first African-American husband and wife to host a television show, The Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. Show, which aired on CBS. They also sang together. Despite having cracked a top-ten spot on Billboard for a different song, the duo’s version of “Saving All My Love” never took off.
After witnessing Whitney Houston performing one of his songs at a club in New York City, the song’s original writer, Michael Masser, teamed up with Houston by way of her record label, Arista. It was Masser who suggested she do the cover, which would later lead to a hit single and Grammy-win for Whitney.
23. “Doggie”/”Who Let The Dogs Out” – Anslem Douglas & Baha Men
“Doggie” is the most famous hit from the Trinidad and Tobago-born artist Anslem Douglas. He recorded the song after playing mostly locally around his island home, both as a member of his church and later during a stint in the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard.
After hearing Anslem’s song on the radio, on the other end of the Caribbean, the former manager of the Bahamian group Baha Men immediately recognized the potential for a successful cover. Initially reluctant to record the song due to its negative stance towards men, the group finally caved to management. It was a huge success, despite being named as one of the most annoying songs by Rolling Stone.
24. “Emotion” – Samantha Sang & Destiny’s Child
Born and raised in Australia, singer Samantha Sang teamed up with fellow Aussies The Bee Gees for 1978’s hit “Emotion”. For Sang, it would be her only hit single, peaking at number three on the Billboard Top 100. The Bee Gees would later release their own version of the song in 1994.
Destiny’s Child released a slowed-down version of Sang’s song on their third album. Though more well-known, their cover did not outperform Sang’s original. Upon the song’s release in 2001, following the death of R&B songstress Aaliyah and in the aftermath of September 11th, Destiny Child’s version was widely used as a tribute song, earning it widespread recognition.
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