Top 20 Songs You Didn't Know Were Covers



Top 20 Songs You Didn't Know Were Covers

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
You'll be shocked when you find out the origins of these iconic tracks! For this list, we'll be ranking popular songs that actually had a life prior to being recorded by a different artist. Our countdown includes “I Fought the Law”, "Torn", “The First Cut is the Deepest”, “All Along the Watchtower”, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, and more!

Top 20 Songs You Didn’t Know Were Covers

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Songs You Didn’t Know Were Covers.

For this list, we’ll be ranking popular songs that actually had a life prior to being recorded by a different artist. We won’t be including instances such as Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” which was written by Wonder but popularized by both him and guitarist Jeff Beck.

Did any of these picks surprise you? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments!

#20: “Got My Mind Set on You”

George Harrison, original by James Ray
The Beatles were no strangers to covering their favorite tunes back in the day. Guitarist George Harrison would certainly echo this years later with this late-eighties hit from his “Cloud Nine” album. The original version of “Got My Mind Set on You” was written by Rudy Clark and sung by R&B performer James Ray back in 1962. And to be honest - it’s just as cool as Harrison’s version. Ray’s rendition is soulful with a little Calypso swing, while George’s solid cover version has that processed eighties’ sheen going for it. There is also a more melodic vocal and two different video clips. Regardless, either song you listen to is a win!

#19: “Hanging on the Telephone”

Blondie, original by The Nerves
Sometimes all it takes is a little X factor to make a good song a great song. In the case of “Hanging on the Telephone,” that X factor was Debbie Freakin’ Harry. Don’t get us wrong, the original version of this 1976 track by The Nerves is a fantastic slice of power pop with great garage rock guitar and an appropriately snotty vocal by songwriter Jack Lee. But once Blondie got a hold of it two years later, it became a certified smash with a new lease on life. Debbie’s vocal is equally snotty, but a bit more monotone, while the actual arrangements remain relatively the same. In short, it’s a simple and direct rock song with a fantastic hook.

#18: “Torn”

Natalie Imbruglia, original by Ednaswap
The history behind “Torn” is slightly complicated, as it was written in 1994 and recorded in Danish by singer Lis Sorensen. Following this, it was performed by the song’s original writers in their band Ednaswap, and then again by Trine Rein. It finally landed in the lap of another singer whom you may be familiar with - Natalie Imbruglia. Imbruglia was attempting a singing career after carving out her name in Australian soap operas. “Torn” achieved its highest chart profile under her watch. The song’s memorable chorus and arrangements were retained, albeit with less of an alternative rock attitude and more of Imbruglia’s pop sensibility. We’re not complaining!

#17: “I Fought the Law”

The Clash, original by The Bobby Fuller Four
You can draw a direct line from the rebelliousness of early rock ‘n roll to the anti-authoritarian snarl of punk rock in the late 1970s. Case in point - “I Fought the Law” from The Bobby Fuller Four. The song was expertly given a new lease on life thanks to an extra helping of aggression by The Clash. While it wasn’t written by Fuller or “The Four,” their recorded version remains a brilliant slice of proto-garage rock. Meanwhile, The Clash’s take was equally important. The punk legends amplified the aggression and the melody with a great lead guitar and a vocal that’s full of spit ‘n vinegar. It’s simply awesome.

#16: “Crazy”

Patsy Cline, original by Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson is a fantastic singer/songwriter who has composed some of the finest songs of his generation. One of those tunes is the morose and rather depressing ballad “Crazy.” But, we gotta admit that Patsy Cline has Willie beat in the vocal department with her rendition. While the Nelson original possesses all the trappings of a traditional country hit, Cline’s haunting delivery is practically otherworldly in its power to bring us to tears. Every. Single. Time. It’s just one of those songs that had the perfect composer, but needed to find its perfect singer to unleash its true calling upon the world. And we couldn’t be more grateful it found its way to Patsy!

#15: “Me and Bobby McGee”

Janis Joplin, original by Roger Miller
Kris Kristofferson is another country legend with an impressive arsenal of songwriting prowess. He also has the ability to compose across multiple genres like pop, blues and rock. Kristofferson wrote “Me and Bobby McGee” in the early seventies, and it was performed by a number of different singers over the years. These included Gordon Lightfoot and Roger Miller, who was the first to record the tune. But, its most famous rendition is undoubtedly by sixties icon Janis Joplin. Joplin’s sultry vocal brings a certain melancholy to the song, while also proving that Janis could balance the established power of her voice with a smoother dynamic. The results are classic rock gold.

#14: “Evil Woman”

Black Sabbath, original by Crow
Black Sabbath wasn’t exactly known for their cover songs, but this was an exception, a certified hit during a time when they were fresh on the hard rock scene. “Evil Woman” was Sabbath’s first U.K. single, a cover of the hard rocking American biker group Crow. It’s a standard bluesy number amplified by Tony Iommi’s devastating guitar, not to mention Ozzy Osbourne’s iconic vocals. It fell in line with Sabbath’s own blues origins under the moniker Earth. Sabbath wisely decided to omit the horn arrangements present on the Crow version, and their take served as a suitable introduction to the future heavy metal legends. Although, in the United States, “Evil Woman” was replaced on the debut album with the track “Wicked World.”

#13: “Mambo No. 5”

Lou Bega, original by Perez Prado
Ladies and gentlemen, “Mambo No. 5!” Perez Prado composed the instrumental “Mambo No. 5” way back in 1949, while Lou Bega would famously sample and cover the track years later in the nineties as a worldwide smash hit that dominated the radio airwaves. Bega’s version is obviously updated with modern production and his vocal recitation of all of his many loves - Monica, Erica and Rita, to name a few. The end result is certainly its own thing, a nice recycling of Prado’s original melodies and grooves with Bega’s undeniable charisma. You know you love it, and we do too!

#12: “The First Cut is the Deepest”

Rod Stewart, original by P.P. Arnold
The magic of a truly great song is often buried deep within its bones and DNA. It can be tapped into by a variety of singers with their own unique perspective. “The First Cut is the Deepest” is one of those songs, a song first recorded by soul singer P.P. Arnold during the same year Cat Stevens laid down his own iconic version. The song would go on to be covered beautifully by Rod Stewart in 1976, before being tackled again to great effect by Sheryl Crow in 2003. The end results are slightly different each time, with the song’s undeniable magic shining bright throughout the years. Who will take it on next? We can’t wait to find out!

#11: “It’s My Life”

No Doubt, original by Talk Talk
The influence of 1980s synth-pop was one that always permeated No Doubt’s music, even back in their earliest, ska-punk days. So, when it came time for the band to tackle a cover song for their 2003 singles collection, “It’s My Life” beat out a couple of other strong contenders. It was a good choice, as the song proved popular with fans and No Doubt absolutely killed it with their own rendition. The bass line is an important part of the song, and Tony Kanal is in total control the whole time. Meanwhile, the original’s otherworldly synth vibe is still there. Gwen Stefani’s vocal approach is less goth-influenced than Talk Talk, instead bringing power, glamour and VIBE. We love it.

#10: “All Along the Watchtower”

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, original, by Bob Dylan
The universal appeal of Bob Dylan’s music has always leant itself well to other bands who covered his material. The Jimi Hendrix Experience certainly put their own creative stamp on Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” turning a relatively mellow folk song into a raging psychedelic rock anthem. In fact, Hendrix’s version possesses so much unbridled power, that it may just be the finest reimagining of a cover song EVER. It’s seriously that good. Jimi’s otherworldly guitar soloing on the track is the stuff of legend, while the rhythm section of Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding hold it down with an urgency that’s missing from the Dylan OG. It’s mesmerizing stuff.

#9: “Don’t Turn Around”

Ace of Base, original by Tina Turner
You would be forgiven for thinking that Swedish pop sensation Ace of Base wrote their hit single “Don’t Turn Around,” but the origins of the track actually date back to the late eighties. It was recorded and released by the legendary Tina Turner as a B-Side to her “Typical Male” single.It would actually be covered by a number of different artists before Ace of Base even touched the track. The inimitable Bonnie Tyler even recorded a version back in 1988! Ace of Base’s rendition is quite good, lathered up in an early nineties production sheen. But, Queen Tina’s OG is an absolute eighties pop-rock anthem!

#8: “Hush”

Deep Purple, original by Billy Joe Royal
Deep Purple may be known today as one of the godfathers of heavy metal, but their earliest days were still largely steeped in the roots of psychedelic rock. It was during this time when Purple scored one of their early hits, a cover of the beat-pop tune “Hush,” originally written by Joe South for Billy Joe Royal. Royal’s version is comparatively more poppy than Purple’s with the latter benefiting greatly from Richie Blackmore’s heavy guitar and Jon Lord’s Hammond organ. “Hush” has been covered countless times since then, but if you want a truly groovy throwback, be sure to check out Deep Purple killing the song on Hugh Hefner’s short-lived variety show, “Playboy After Dark.”

#7: “Nothing Compares 2 U”

Sinead O’Connor, original by The Family
There’s no denying that Sinead O’Connor’s cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” has become the definitive version of this song. But, did you know that the track was originally written by The Purple One himself, Prince? Yup! “Nothing Compares 2 U” was composed and given to a group called The Family. The band was signed to Prince’s new label at the time, Paisley Park Records. Their version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” is very much a ballad and still melancholic, but more indicative of a neo-soul style. It wasn’t until Sinead leant her powerful voice to the track that it truly took on a life of its own. And boy do we love to hear it!

#6: “Tainted Love”

Soft Cell, original by Gloria Jones
It’s remarkable how close the arrangements are between these two versions of “Tainted Love,” recorded twenty-five years apart. The 1964 Gloria Jones version of “Tainted Love” is a straight forward R&B jam with a righteous vocal, superb back-up singer work, and a driving, repetitive back-beat. Soft Cell kept most of this relatively intact in 1981 when they plugged in their synthesizers and drum machines to lay their own stamp on “Tainted Love.” The main difference is Soft Cell’s emphasis on the punchiness of the rhythm. Mark Almond’s vocal is also a bit more dramatic and gothic…in the best possible way, of course.

#5: “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, original by The Arrows
It honestly isn’t too much of a stretch to compare Joan Jett and the Blackhearts with The Arrows, who originally performed the hit, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll.” Both bands possessed a punky, garage rock approach, with a bit of glam influence from the saucy seventies. However, the original “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” wasn’t a huge hit for The Arrows, who remain a comparatively obscure act compared to Jett. Instead, Joan’s version quickly became a defining song for her, thanks largely to her stellar vocal and one-of-a-kind attitude. As cool as The Arrows’ original version, we’ll always associate “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” with the divine Miss Jett.

#4: “Twist and Shout”

The Beatles, original by The Top Notes
Ok, hands up: who doesn’t know “Twist and Shout?” Follow-up question: did you know that The Beatles’ classic performance of the song was actually a cover? Well, the OG “Twist and Shout” was originally performed by an obscure doo-wop/R&B outfit called The Top Notes, before receiving hit status when soul icons The Isley Brothers took their shot. Meanwhile, The Beatles’ version was their only million selling American single to be a cover, and featured John Lennon laying it all out on the table with a raw vocal performance. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the roots of rock ‘n roll burying themselves deep within the cultural zeitgeist. Yep, it’s that important.

#3: “I Will Always Love You”

Whitney Houston, original by Dolly Parton
Here’s some more trivia for you: did you know that two of Whitney Houston’s biggest hits were covers? Although today the origins of the Dolly Parton original for “I Will Always Love You” is becoming more well known, “The Greatest Love of All” was actually a hit for jazz guitarist George Benson back in 1977. The fact that Houston didn’t write either of these songs takes absolutely nothing away from how successful her stamp was on making both songs iconic. “I Will Always Love You” in particular makes an amazing transition from heartfelt country ballad to a soaring pop-crossover smash. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.

#2: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”

Cyndi Lauper, original by Robert Hazard
Musically speaking, both Robert Hazard’s original version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and Cyndi Lauper’s cover are fairly similar. They’re both melodic New Wave jams with quirky vocals and big hooks, although Lauper does slow her version down, making it substantially less hyperactive. The real differences, however, come from the lyrical perspective, with Lauper changing the tone from a face-value tune of sex, love and dating to something more feminist in nature. Today, Lauper’s version is seen largely as an anthem for the movement, while simultaneously being one of the definitive pop hits of the 1980s.

#1: “Respect”

Aretha Franklin, original by Otis Redding
Speaking of feminist anthems, you gotta love that the original writer of “Respect,” Otis Redding, admitted live on stage that Aretha Franklin “stole” this song from him and made it her own. The quote is taken from Redding’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, before he launched into a blistering version of his own. The arrangements in Aretha’s version are smoother and more layered than Redding’s raw R&B soul, while the lyrical and vocal shifts turn “Respect” into a lightning strike of female empowerment that turned Aretha into a megastar!
Honorable Mention: Hound Dog - Elvis Presley, original by Big Mama Thornton