Many classic songs we know and love are actually covers, the original versions performed by artists well-known or justifiably obscure. The new versions sometimes outshine the original, taking the lyrics and mood of the song to new levels of profundity. Other times, the new version stinks, and rediscovering the original can be like finding a long lost friend. And sometimes, it's a draw. Here are nine songs for your consideration you probably did not know were covers.
"Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin, originally by Muddy Waters:
Led Zeppelin didn't present the track "Whole Lotta Love" from their second album Led Zeppelin II as a cover, but they should have, since it borrows heavily from the Willie Dixon song, "You Need Love," as recorded by Muddy Waters. Led Zeppelin had already covered and properly credited Dixon's "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" on their debut album, but felt "Whole Lotta Love" was different enough from its source of inspiration to not warrant outside songwriting credit. Dixon and his lawyers disagreed. The similarity between "Whole Lotta Love" and "You Need Love" led to a lawsuit against Led Zeppelin in 1985, which was settled out of court in favor of Dixon. Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant said of the lawsuit, "You only get caught when you're successful."
"Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor, originally by The Family:
Most people know Sinead O'Connor's hit "Nothing Compares 2 U" is a cover, and most think the song was originally performed and recorded by Prince. But that's not entirely accurate. The song, composed by the purple one, was originally recorded by his protégés The Family. The Family was born out of the ashes of another project masterminded by Prince, The Time, who disbanded in 1984 after lead singer Morris Day quit to pursue a solo career. Prince reputedly told the remaining members of The Time, "Let's get some of that Duran Duran money," and quickly created material, including "Nothing Compares 2 U," for the newly christened group featuring lead singers St. Paul Peterson and Susannah Melvoin. The Family recently reformed as fDeluxe and is enjoying success overseas and in major markets here in the U.S.
"Crimson and Clover" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, originally by Tommy James and the Shondells:
The original recording of "Crimson and Clover," released as a single by Tommy James and the Shondells, features James on all of the instruments and vocals. It was, in fact, a "demo" that was bootlegged by a radio station before it was complete, only to become the strangely wimpy piece of bubblegum pop we all know and love. In her much heavier, much more metal version, Joan Jett delivers the song as if she's just kicked James' ass in an alley and stolen his girlfriend. Someone needed to take this song and butch it up a bit!
"I Want Candy" by Bow Wow Wow, originally by The Strangeloves:
Actually, Bo Diddley is the ghost writer for this tune, along with about 75% of the rock songs recorded after 1955. The ubiquitous "Bo Diddley" beat, also known as the "hambone" or "shave and a haircut, two bits," holds together this goofy piece of psychedelic fluff, yet another song that really needed a female voice to realize its potential. Enter Bow Wow Wow, a pop concoction brewed up by former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren. McLaren knew he had a good thing in the then-teenaged singer Annabella Lwin. She had more charisma than singers twice or three times her age, and no issues with posing buck naked for the cover of Bow Wow Wow's debut album (deep breath) See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy. Not surprisingly, Lwin sings "I Want Candy" the way it was meant to be sung, with hunger and just the right amount of petulance. The original version by The Strangeloves sounds tepid in comparison.
"Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley, originally by Big Mama Thornton:
It took some guts on the part of Elvis Presley to tackle this one, no question. Big Mama Thornton's voice and phrasing on "Hound Dog" is pure rock 'n' roll — rock 'n' roll before it was recorded by white singers and broadcast for white teenagers. Further enriching this brief look at race and music, the song was written for Thornton by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, two white Jewish boys located on the West Coast. Her original 1952 recording of "Hound Dog" went to No. 1 on the R&B chart. We love both versions, but next to Presley, Thornton just sounds like someone you do NOT want to mess with!
"Love Hurts" by Nazareth, originally by the Everly Brothers:
Composed by the husband-and-wife country and pop music writing team of Felice and Boudleaux, the original recording of "Love Hurts" by the Everly Brothers suffers from the harmonizing bros dopey, mid-tempo delivery. Enter Scottish meatheads Nazareth, who slowed the song's tempo down to a funereal crawl, broke the chords up into creepy sounding guitar arpeggios, and had lead singer Dan McCafferty scream and howl the verses as if were being bathed in a vat of acid. Does love hurt? You bet it does!
"Downtown Train" by Rod Stewart, originally by Tom Waits:
Sing along! "One of these things, is not like the other." Rod Stewart fans were delighted to hear Rod "the bod" Stewart lend his pipes to what sounded like a song written for the closing credits of a Julia Roberts movie, and Tom Waits fans just prayed Waits got a big, fat check out of the deal. Actually, you can't really say anything bad about either version, and that says as much about the singers as it does the song. We doubt, however, that Stewart and Waits are planning to hit the road anytime soon as a duo.
"Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen, originally by Richard Berry:
The ultimate college party anthem! But really, isn't Richard Berry's quasi-Caribbean version just way cooler? It was the version by The Kingsmen, however, that was deemed subversive by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (no joke) thanks to lead singer Jack Ely's slurred and often completely incoherent delivery of the lyrics, which the FBI believed was Ely's way of covering up the fact that he was actually describing sexual intercourse. Shortly after the version by The Kingsmen was released, the FBI launched a 31-month-long investigation, which involved listening to the record at different speeds, before officially concluding that the lyrics to the song were "unintelligible at any speed."
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper, originally by Robert Hazard:
Yes, Cyndi Lauper's quirky girl anthem was composed and first recorded by a dude, Philly-based new wave rocker Robert Hazard, who originally wrote the lyrics in 1979 from a man's point of view. He approved the changes Lauper proposed, and as a result, got to see his song take off into the stratosphere. In his time, Hazard enjoyed a great deal of local success and since his unexpected passing in 2008, lives on via a website dedicated to his musical legacy.