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Top Ten Songs You May Not Have Known Were Covers | Trevor Croft @ Trevor Croft Media

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“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.”  –  Mark Twain

Today’s Music Monday post comes to us from Trevor Croft, founder of Trevor Croft Media and a music-lover extraordinaire. He’s provided us with a great countdown of popular songs you may not have known were covers. Sit back and enjoy the ride as Trevor takes you on a musical journey to the past and drops some fun trivia—and some surprises—along the way.


Top Ten Songs You May Not Have Known Were Covers | Trevor Croft

You know the scenario: you’re listening to the “oldies” radio station in your car. Suddenly, you hear a song that you were sure was created by your favorite pop star. You then discover the song was originally recorded 30 years ago, and your X-Factor favorite was doing a cover.

It’s all good! Sometimes the later artist’s version is more successful and makes more royalty income for the writer. Sometimes not. Regardless, we’re willing to bet you’ll be surprised by at least some of these songs when you learn they’re covers.


10. “Love Is the Answer”, England Dan and John Ford Coley

In May 1979, Dan and Coley’s “Love is the Answer” was number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. I was 12 years old at the time, and I remember its release. Though we didn’t realize what we were hearing at the time, it was the first exposure of a lot of kids my age to a soprano saxophone. Many of us thought Dan and Colely’s version was the original, but . . .

. . . it was a cover. Written by Todd Rundgren (“Hello, It’s Me”, “Can We Still Be Friends”, “Bang on the Drum All Day”) and originally released by Rundgren and Utopia on the 1977 album Oops! Wrong Planet, Rundgren’s original never received the same airplay as Dan and Coley’s remake, which is too bad. The original recording had the classic Utopia choral sound to it, which gives it the gospel feel it’s famous for. {Reference 1}


9. “Fire”, the Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters recorded Fire in November 1978 on their album Energy. It became a huge hit for them in 1979, rising to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, . . .

. . . Bruce Springsteen wrote it in 1977 and originally released it as a single in 1978. He wrote it for Elvis Presley and sent it to him, but Elvis died in August 1977 and never had a chance to listen.

I was in a band that performed the Springsteen version. One night, at a community concert where we performed for free, a gentleman came up to me after our set and said, “You guys did a great job with that Pointer Sisters song!” Sorry, Bruce. Know that I set the record straight. {Reference 2}


8. “Oye Como Va”, Santana

Carlos Santana’s 1970 recording of this song hit number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1971, and it’s still played today on classic rock radio stations.

The Santana version is, however, a cover. Tito Puente originally wrote and released the song in 1963. He was apparently grateful for the royalties Santana’s cover brought him and for Santana’s introduction of Latin music into mainstream culture. I once heard a National Public Radio interview in which Tito Puente said Santana’s version became the most popular recording. Puente used to make a joke out of it when introducing the song in concert, saying, “Now, we’re going to play a Carlos Santana song, . . ..” {Reference 3}


7. “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”, Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer (“Addicted to Love”, “Bad Case of Loving You”) released this song as the fifth single from his album Riptide. It went to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1986, and the video went to no. 1 on MTV (likely because of the backup singers in black and white dresses, but when something works, it works!) It was much more successful than . . .

. . . Cherelle’s original. After an exhaustive search of Billboard’s website, I could not find evidence that the original charted at all. I couldn’t help noticing that the keyboard riff sounds a lot like Prince’s “1999”, released two years earlier (something Palmer’s arrangement avoids). Even if that was a factor in the song’s average performance, it didn’t affect the decision to use the same instrumental track for Mariah Carey’s 2001 cover for the movie Glitter. {Reference 4}


6. “Spooky”, The Atlanta Rhythm Section

This song was just cool when it came out in 1979: great riff, high production values, and one of the best guitar solos, ever! So far as I knew, the Atlanta Rhythm Section created this one.

But then, one day, I heard a version of it in my dentist’s office with a tenor sax solo, instead of a guitar solo. The recording sounded older than Atlanta Rhythm Section’s version. I did some research, and turned-up the Classics IV recording. Released in 1968, this one actually did better on the charts than the Atlanta Rhythm Section version eleven years later. The Classics IV recording reached no. 3 in the US and no. 46 in the UK (compared to the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s version, nos. 17 and 48, respectively).

Convinced I had found the original, I didn’t think any more about it . . .

. . . until I started writing this article. The original recording, done in 1966, is an instrumental by saxophonist Mike Sharpe. Check it out. Sharpe’s saxophone and flute are great, but the backup singers (who do the “aahs”) are unfortunately off-pitch, especially at the beginning of the piece. {Reference 5}


5. “I’m Every Woman”, Whitney Houston

Whitney Huston recorded this song for the soundtrack of The Bodyguard in 1992. “I’m Every Woman” was the second single released from the soundtrack. The single peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and held a place on that chart for 20 weeks. It was no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart, and topped several other charts internationally.

Okay, you may have known this was a cover because Houston shouts the originator’s name in tribute at the end of her recording: Chaka Khan. I didn’t know this at first, but that’s because radio DJs kept cutting that part off with station IDs and so forth.

Chaka Khan recorded this song in 1978 on her debut solo album Chaka. The song reached no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it reached no. 11 in the UK. {Reference 6}


4. “I Want Candy”, Bow Wow Wow

Despite its mediocre performance on the US radio charts, Bow Wow Wow’s 1982 release of “I Want Candy” had everything: a Bo Diddley beat; a memorable, rockabilly guitar lick; and a gorgeous lead singer with a Mohawk: Annabella Lwin. The song’s endurance over the years has been attributed to the popularity of the music video, which received heavy play on MTV. Even my die-hard metal-head friends would watch that video when they thought no one else was looking. We all thought it was Bow Wow Wow’s original.

It wasn’t. It was written and recorded by The Strangeloves in 1965. The song charted at no. 11 in the US. For whatever reason, it didn’t chart in the UK. {Reference 7}


3. “I Shot the Sheriff”, Eric Clapton

A huge hit for Eric Clapton, “I Shot the Sheriff” went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and, in 2003, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. This is the only version one can hear on most radio stations in the US. But, as a listener, you might be thinking: This sounds like reggae. Clapton never billed himself as a reggae artist.

Sure enough, Clapton’s version is a cover. Bob Marley wrote the original and recorded it with the Wailers in 1973. In a 2012 interview, Marley’s girlfriend said that the lyrics “Every time I plant a seed, He said kill it before it grow” came from a disagreement between Marley and her over contraceptive use. {Reference 8}


2. “You’re No Good”, Linda Ronstadt

“You’re No Good” was a breakout hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1975, soaring to no. 1. When this song is played in the United States on radio stations, it’s nearly always Linda’s version. My friends and I thought she wrote it and recorded it first.

Not so (and not even close!) It was written by Clint Ballard, Jr. and first recorded in 1963 by Dee Dee Warwick (“Suspicious Minds”). There were several recordings after that, including one by The Swinging Blue Jeans, which became the best known version in the UK. The most surprising cover, however, is Van Halen’s:

They included it as the only cover tune on Van Halen II in 1979. This is the most radical adaptation of this song I’ve heard. Most Van Halen fans who I’ve told that this is a cover of a Linda Ronstadt (et al.) song are genuinely surprised. You have to listen through to the second verse before the melody starts to truly register as “You’re No Good”. Check it out! {Reference 9}


Honorable Mention

There are two songs that didn’t quite meet the selection criteria, but still make you go “huh,” nonetheless (or, at least, they made me say that):

“Hurt”, Johnny Cash, Nine Inch Nails

This one gets honorable mention because everyone knows the song was covered, but by whom? Johnny Cash’s 2002 recording received critical acclaim and gets much airplay. It currently underscores the trailer for 20th Century Fox’s movie Logan, released in 2017, starring Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart. It’s a classic, and it is normally assumed that Nine Inch Nails did a cover of a Johnny Cash tune.

But that assumption is incorrect. Trent Renzor wrote the song, and it was first released on the 1994 Nine Inch Nails CD The Downward Spiral. In a reversal of the usual order of events, the classic country artist (Cash) covered the modern, alternative band (NIN), and the result was great! {Reference 10}

“I’m a Believer”, The Monkees

It’s common knowledge that The Monkees were the first to record this runaway hit in 1966 (it remained no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for seven weeks!) What’s not common knowledge is who wrote the song: Neil Diamond. {Reference 11}


And, finally, the number one song you may not have known was a cover:

1. “Muskrat Love”, The Captain & Tennille

People either love or hate this song. There’s no middle ground that I can see. The US, however, generally loved it. The Captain & Tennille’s 1976 recording hit number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Mention the song, and everyone hears Toni Tennille’s voice. Most days, there’s no reason to question whether The Captain & Tennille were first with this song. But wait, you say. You start listening to the whimsical lyrics (e.g., muskrats “[n]ibbling on bacon, chewing on cheese”), and you think: Could it be? Well, maybe
it is!

And one day, you find America’s 1973 recording, which the band included on their album Hat Trick and released as the album’s first single. Their version never gained the traction that The Captain & Tennille’s did (America’s cover ranked no. 67 on the Billboard Hot 100; no. 11 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart). Listening to the recording, however, you realize that, while they aren’t singing about flying alligators this time, they are singing about anthropomorphic muskrats dancing the tango. Hearing these quirky lyrics with America’s signature harmonies, you’re sure you’ve finally found the original.

And you’d be wrong. The song was originally written and recorded by Willis Alan Ramsey in 1972, under the name “Muskrat Candlelight”, and released on his debut album. The album itself got a fair amount of attention, but I haven’t been able to find any information on how well “Muskrat Candlelight” did in the ratings. I noticed, when listening to the song, there’s a severe drop in tempo when the verse goes into the chorus. It happens after both verses, so it’s likely intentional. This is an odd artistic choice, given the pop music norms of that era—and one America and The Captain & Tennille did not follow in their versions. {Reference 12}

I recently heard Todd Rundgren do a cover of “Muskrat Love” live. It was essentially the Captain & Tennille arrangement, complete with synthesized muskrat sounds. Afterward, he gave a rather scathing critique of the song. I was thinking it was a strange programming choice, but then Rundgren started singing Lorne Greene covers, and all thoughts of “Muskrat Love” as an odd song choice flew out the window. 

So, what do you think of the list? Did I miss any cover songs that made you go “huh”? Let me know in the comments, below.

About Trevor Croft

TCMTrevor Croft is the founder of Trevor Croft Media, a media production company that provides quality multimedia for all budgets—from high-powered live video and vector-based animation to quality-but-affordable kit animation and studio spokespersons.

You can check out Trevor Croft over on his site, Trevor Croft Media.

Thank you, Trevor!


References
1. Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100/1979-05-26; AllMusic,
http://www.allmusic.com/album/oops!-wrong-planet-mw0000191579
2. Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100/1979-02-24; Huffington Post,
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/elvis-bruce-springsteen-fire_us_572ac896e4b016f37894c0f7;
3. Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100/1971-04-03; NPR,
http://www.npr.org/2000/09/25/1111466/npr-100-oye-como-va;
4. Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100/1986-11-08; WhoSampled,
http://www.whosampled.com/Mariah-Carey/covers/; 3oneseven.com, http://3oneseven.com/robert-palmer-ididnt-mean-to-turn-you-on/
5. Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/artist/299387/classics-iv/chart; Official Charts (UK), http://www.officialcharts.com/artist/13199/classics-iv/; Zeegrooves,
http://zeegrooves.blogspot.com/2010/10/mike-sharpe-spooky.html
6. HOUSTON—Billboard Hot 100, http://www.billboard.com/artist/431329/whitney-houston/chart?page=1&f=379; Billboard Hot Dance Club Play, http://www.billboard.com/artist/431329/whitney-houston/chart?f=359; Songfacts, http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=14065; Official Charts (UK), http://www.officialcharts.com/artist/22775/whitney-houston/. KHAN—Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100/1978-12-23; Official Charts (UK), http://www.officialcharts.com/artist/17283/chaka%20khan/;
7. BOW WOW WOW—Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/artist/297017/bow-wow-wow/chart; Songfacts, http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=3029; STRANGELOVES—Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/artist/419208/strangeloves/chart; Official Charts (UK), http://www.officialcharts.com/search/artists/strangeloves/;
8. Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/artist/301809/eric-clapton/chart; Songfacts,
http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1648, http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1356; Where’s Eric? http://www.whereseric.com/eric-clapton-news/303-claptons-recording-i-shot-sheriff-becomes-part-grammy-hallfame; National Geographic, http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/bob-marley-i-shot-the-sheriff-wm ; Miami
New Times (for the birth control reference, corroborated on Songfacts, supra),
http://www.miaminewtimes.com/arts/bob-marleys-ex-girlfriend-brings-her-own-marley-documentary-to-miami-6510430;
9. Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/artist/307401/linda-ronstadt/chart; Songfacts,
http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1468; Van Halen News Desk, http://www.vhnd.com/van-halen-ii/
10. Songfacts, http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2727; IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3315342/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1; Loudwire, http://loudwire.com/nine-inch-nails-thedownward-spiral-album-anniversary/;
11. Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/artist/418654/monkees/chart; Songfacts,
http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2135;
12. Songfacts, http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=11568; Billboard Top 100,
http://www.billboard.com/artist/298650/captain-tennille/chart, http://www.billboard.com/artist/278874/america/chart?page=1&f=379 ; Billboard Adult Contemporary (America)
http://www.billboard.com/artist/278874/america/chart?page=1&f=341.

Top Image Source: Trevor Croft


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16 thoughts on “Top Ten Songs You May Not Have Known Were Covers | Trevor Croft @ Trevor Croft Media

  1. LOL my parents love to refer to Linda Ronstadt as the Cover Queen because that is almost all of her entire catalog! I did not know that about Muskrat Love. I did know a bunch of these but it is still so fascinating, especially to see the differences in the original to the covers!

  2. Hold the phone. Hurt was a cover. While Im all for some NIN, Johnny Cash killed it! I also love Clapton but Bob Marley is the man! Im a sucker for a good cover!

  3. Great picks! I love Eric Clapton. <3 I always love hearing covers of other songs. John Mayer's free falling is one of my favorites.

  4. This is such an interesting article! Some I knew the original better than the cover! I love oyo como va btw. Some of these songs are new to me!

  5. I absolutely love cover songs. I didn’t know most of these were covers but I love that! I love listening to a cover that puts a new artistic spin on the original. This is why shows like American Idol or The Voice are guilty pleasures of mine. One of my favorites to come out of American Idol is Phillip Phillips and he always took a great song and put such an artistic spin on it. Whether it was changing the melody or the arrangement, it’s so masterful. I could literally go on for days about how much I love covers and I didn’t even realize it until I was writing my comments! Thanks for sharing and helping me discover this revelation about myself.

  6. There’s something so satisfying about hearing a great cover of a song that you never fully appreciated before you heard it reinterpreted! Case in point – many of my favorite songs were originally Bruce Springsteen songs, but I’ve never loved Bruce Springsteen. I even danced to one at my wedding: “If I Should Fall Behind,” covered by Rose Cousins. Some others are “I’m on Fire,” covered by John Mayer and also The Staves, and “Dancing in the Dark,” covered by Ruth Moody. Some other gorgeous ones that I’ve heard recently: “In My Room,” originally by the Beach Boys, covered by Aubrie Sellers; “Chandelier,” originally by Sia, performed live by Sara Bareilles (you can see that on YouTube); “Exes + Ohs,” originally by Elle King, covered by Anchor + Bell; “Little Lies,” originally by Fleetwood Mac, covered by Anna Ternheim and also Ari Hest; “Wild Horses,” originally by the Rolling Stones, covered by Charlotte Martin; “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” originally by Joni Mitchell, covered by Aoife O’Donovan. That should keep you busy for a while – happy listening! 😉

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