For most popular songs, the original version is the big hit, and any cover versions that come afterwards are compared to the one that everyone knows. However, there are some songs where the original version is not the most famous, and on that theme, here are ten songs you probably did not know were covers…
1. Madness – It Must Be Love, originally Labi Siffree
It Must Be Love was written and recorded by Labi Siffree in 1971, and was a hit in the UK, getting to number 14. It later appeared on his 1972 album, Crying Laughing Loving Lying. In 1981, Madness covered the song, getting to number four in the UK charts. Like some of their other covers, for example their versions of Prince Buster’s One Step Beyond and Madness, their version of it seems to be the one that everyone knows these days.
2. Joan Jett – I Love Rock n Roll, originally The Arrows
I Love Rock n Roll was initially a 1975 B side for The Arrows before being flipped to an A side. The band ended up with a TV programme on ITV, and whilst Joan Jett was touring in 1976, she saw the show and heard the song. Joan covered it with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, before a subsequent cover with the Blackhearts, that got to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, where it stayed for seven weeks.
In 2002, Britney Spears covered the song, meaning that for a new generation there were now two previous versions to discover. Here are all three recordings.
3. Harry Nilsson – Without You, originally Badfinger
Pete Ham and Tom Evans wrote Without You for their band, Badfinger, in 1970, and it appeared on their album, No Dice. American singer songwriter, Harry Nilsson, was in England recording his album Nilsson Schmilsson, and his cover of Without You was the first song on the second side. Nilsson’s cover reached number one in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.
When Mariah Carey released a cover of the song in 1994, a few days after Harry Nilsson had died, it reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100, and stayed in the top 40 for 21 weeks. It became her first UK number one, and was a huge hit across Europe.
4. Natalie Imbruglia – Torn, originally Ednaswap
US Alternative Rock band Ednaswap released their eponymous first album in 1995, including their song Torn. A version of it had been previously recorded by Lis Sørensen, translated into Swedish as Brændt, but had been written by Scott Cutler and Anne Preven of Ednaswap, with Phil Thornalley.
In 1997, Natalie Imbruglia released her version of the song as her debut singer, being previously known as an actor. The song was a huge hit across the world, and it is Natalie Imbruglia’s recording that is most commonly heard.
5. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper, originally Robert Hazard
In 1979, Robert Hazard recorded a demo version of his song, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. In 1983, Cyndi Lauper’s reworking of the song, complete with its quirky video, launched Lauper on the world stage, and the song has been associated with her ever since.
6. Killing Me Softly – Roberta Flack, originally Lori Lebierman
When the Fugees arrived on the music scene in 1996 with their version of Killing Me Softly, it was frequently said to have been a cover of Roberta Flack’s 1972 song, which was released in 1972. However, Lori Lebierman originally recorded and released Killing Me Softly With His Song in 1971. When Roberta Flack was touring with Marvin Gaye, he asked her to extend her act by one song, and she included her cover.
7. It’s All Coming Back To Me Now – Celine Dion, originally Pandora’s Box
Jim Steinman is probably best known for working with Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler, however, in 1989 he worked with the all female band Pandora’s Box on a concept album called Original Sin, which was not a major hit. However, most of the work on the album has been covered in some way, including Celine Dion’s cover of It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, which was released in 1996, with a video as well as a sound reminiscent of Jim Steinman’s style.
Like much of Pandora’s Box’s work, the song was later covered by Meat Loaf, who recorded as a duet with Marion Raven on Bat Out Of Hell III.
8. Simply The Best – Tina Turner, originally Bonnie Tyler
Another mention for Bonnie Tyler. Bonnie’s 1988 album Hide Your Heart included a song called The Best, written by Mike Chapman and Holly Knight. It peaked at 95 in the UK, but did get into the top ten in Norway. The following year, Tina Turner recorded it as Simply The Best, which became a massive global hit.
9. I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany, originally Tommy James and the Shondells
Tiffany’s tour of shopping malls catapulted her to fame in 1987 with her version of I Think We’re Alone Now, a 1980s classic. However, it was a cover of the Tommy James and Shondell’s 1967 hit. 1987 was a good year for Tommy James, it was also the year that another cover of a Shondells hit, Mony Mony by Billy Idol, charted.
10. Don’t Turn Around – Aswad, originally Tina Turner
Tina Turner may not have originally recorded Simply The Best (see number 8 above) but in 1986 she recorded Don’t Turn Around, which was the B side of Typical Male. In 1988, Aswad’s cover of the song – with a very different sound from the original – reached number one in the UK and gave the band their biggest hit.
Incidentally, just as Tina Turner covered Bonnie Tyler’s The Best, Bonnie Tyler also covered Don’t Turn Around.