My Top-10 Hit Songs which you didn’t know were Covers!
Damn those modern musical artists. Not an original bone in their body and in a worst case they’ll even steal from artists past their iconic and hit songs. But here’s something that may shock you, many of the Hit Songs of past are often themselves covers of far less well-known renditions of those same songs. It’s funny what sort of shocking discoveries you may make about songs you thought were original, but actually were already performed by someone less famous before.
This list is going to be very heavy on Pop songs since, after all, that’s why they call it Popular Music – but there will be a few genuine surprises along the way from other genres as well…
– Original song: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” by Ryuichi Sakamoto –
Okay, so I’m stretching the meaning of “Hit Song” with this first entry, but it was interesting enough in its own right that I wanted to include it in the list. Also, while the wider world of music lovers may be oblivious to it, the main theme from this Commodore-64 cult hit is widely considered one of the most memorable and finest pieces of computerised music around.
It may even come as a slight surprise that the iconic Asian sounding main theme was actually almost entirely plagiarised from the soundtrack of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, a Japanese-European co-production motion picture, starring another notable musical figure, Mr. David Bowie.
While Hubbard’s version is not exactly a 100% match or faithful cover (with a part of the song playing at a considerably faster tempo than the original) it has however far exceeded the award-winning, but otherwise fairly forgotten movie soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
– Original song: A Mexican folksong made famous by Richie Valens –
If you grew up during the late 80s and early 90s, chances are the version of the song called as La Bamba that you heard the most often, was the one performed by Los Lobos. Ironically, the song which was performed by Los Lobos in promotion for the 1987 movie by the same name, was actually written and first made famous by the person depicted in said film, rock n roll star Richie Valens.
La Bamba has been covered by at least a dozen notable recording artists over the years since Valens recorded the song for the first time in the late 1950s. But the true irony in all this (and in true popular Hit Song fashion) is that Valens is not the person who actually wrote La Bamba in the first place. La Bamba is actually a Mexican folk song, which just happened to achieve massive popularity amongst non-Spanish speakers thanks to Valens and every other artist who since performed the song.
Picking Los Lobos’ cover of the song is a decidedly nostalgic move on my part and I could have honestly picked any version of the song, but it’s worthy to remind ourselves that songs that we know and love may actually be far older than we can even suspect.
– Original song: Super Freak by Rick James –
Who doesn’t love this cheesy Hip-Hop classic from the early 90s? Mr. Hammer may have not contributed much to the world of music beyond his epic pants, but you can be sure to see people getting down with their bad selves whenever this song comes on. You may be slightly surprised to find out that the song actually repeats another famous black artists’ work.
This is really at the very fringe of what can even be considered a cover. It’s true that M.C. Hammer wrote the lyrics to his rap-song himself, but the key element of U Can’t Touch This, its base-melody, was actually borrowed straight from Rick James’ 1981 hit song Super Freak.
Rap artists always borrow from other musical sources, that in itself isn’t anything new or shocking, but its funny to think that U Can’t Touch This and Super Freak share something so integral to both songs, yet are so utterly different. And yes, I do prefer U Can’t Touch This.
– Original song by Hawkwind –
This may indeed be a shocker for all except the most ardent Motörhead fans, but the heavy metal groups self-titled anthem, indeed, was not even a song originally performed by them. The song may not be as well recognised as Ace of Spades, Killed by Death or Bomber – but it’s always shocking to discover something like this. It wouldn’t even seem possible, since wouldn’t it make more sense to name a song after the band and not vice versa.
Well, indeed, “Motorhead” was the last song written by Lemmy Kilmister before he left his old band Hawkwind. Either he liked the song a lot or he was just too lazy to come up with a different name – in the end, he decided it should be the name of the band. Upon releasing their debut album with Lemmy on the vocals, they were widely labeled as “the worst band of all time”.
Some 30+ years later, Motörhead continues to hammer on strong.
– Original song by Buffy Sainte-Marie –
Folk rock singer Donovan’s hit Universal Soldier found massive success in the late 1960s due to its anti-war message, which probably found its audience in the trippy, hippy mentality of the day. And of course, it is an awesome song which continues to be admired to this very day.
However, most probably already know that Donovan didn’t write the song himself, but it was instead first written by the Canadian Cree Indian singer and song-writer Buffy Sainte-Marie. While the original recording is practically forgotten, Sainte-Marie has since taken back some of the credit that she perhaps lost due to Donovan’s more famous cover.
And Donovan no doubt owes a great deal of his own musical success to Sainte-Marie, considering he was labelled early in his career as a “Bob Dylan knock-off”.
– Original song by Cyndi Lauper –
What started as a simple car commercial, ironically turned into one of Celine Dion’s most iconic songs. I’m not even a big Celine Dion fan and even I thought this was a pretty damn good song.
However, Dion did not have anything to do with the original song which was actually written by 80s pop-icon Cyndi Lauper. In all fairness, Dion actually performed the song better than Lauper, but I think both versions are still good in their own right.
Even Roy Orbison has recorded a cover of the Lauper song though it was released posthumously in 1988.
– Original song by Bruce Dickinson –
Iron Maiden are a band not known for aiming for chart-topping singles. Therefore it’s sort of ironic that their one and only chart-topper, 1990’s Bring Your Daughter from their No Prayer for the Dying album, wasn’t even an Iron Maiden original to begin with, even though the person who originally wrote and performed the song was actually in the band at the time.
The band’s singer, Bruce Dickinson, was asked in 1989 to write a theme song for the fifth movie in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Dickinson cleverly used this as an opportunity to get his first solo album Tattooed Millionaire released that same year.
However, in all the excitement, Bring Your Daughter didn’t actually find its way onto the album and so instead Dickinson decided to record a new version with Iron Maiden. The original version of the song can be found on the Bonus CD-reissue of Tattooed Millionaire.
– Original by Tommy James and the Shondells –
Whether you’ve heard of this songs thanks to Weird Al Yankovic’s hilarious parody cover “I Think I’m a Clone Now” or just from hearing the song itself, you should know that 80s pop-idol Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now can be considered another definitive classic Pop number from this period.
Once again, ironically, the 1987 number-1 single is actually much older than it would appear on the off-set. The song already charted high back exactly twenty years before, when it was originally performed by the rock group Tommy James and The Shondells.
In a way, I find it almost sad that this lovely little pop-ditty isn’t the original McCoy, but I think most people now know the Weird Al version even better, so I suppose what goes around comes around.
– Original by Robert Hazard –
If Dion borrowed from Lauper, then it’s worth pointing out that the 80s pop-idol actually owes a lot of her success to a cover song as well. Lauper’s cheery 1983 hit single from her debut album was in fact a cover by another musical artist who had yet to have accomplished serious success at that point in his career.
Yes, the late Robert Hazard originally recorded a rather rock n roll-ish rendition of Girls Just Want To Have Fun using his very distinct vocal performance. To me, it’s not a surprise why this original version of the song never became a huge success similar to the Lauper version.
Robert Hazard was best known for his bizarre early-80s hit songs Escalator of Life and Change Reaction.
– Original by Dolly Parton –
Better known as the theme song to the mid-90s thriller flick The Bodyguard, starring Houston against Kevin Costner, I Will Always Love You is probably one of the most iconic songs associated with the late Houston. Particularly, her ear-drum shattering vocal performance on the chorus has been the butt of many YouTube parodies and the like.
But in all honesty, it is an awesome and beautiful song.
I was rather shocked to discover that the song was actually a cover of an older Dolly Parton number when I finally saw the movie for the first time earlier this year. The Parton version is a lot more low-key but I actually think better to a certain extent, while the Houston version is almost a little over-the-top. However, whichever you prefer, they’re both great renditions of the song.