14 famous songs you didn't know are covers
The internet was in shock this week over a reminder that Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” is a cover, but the 1997 smash is far from the only popular recording that eclipsed its original. Sure, you might already know that “I Will Always Love You” was released by Dolly Parton way before Whitney Houston made it one of the best-selling singles of all time, but did you know that Cyndi Lauper’s career-defining female-empowerment jam “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was actually written and first recorded by a man? Read on for more surprising covers, some of which have had Reddit users talking.
1. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper (Originally by Robert Hazard)
Cyndi Lauper launched her solo career in 1983 with a synthesizer-backed ode to a woman’s desire to just have fun without any deeper purpose. Written and recorded by Robert Hazard in 1979, the rock-leaning song originally had a male perspective. With his blessing, Lauper added her special, game-changing touch.
2. “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell (Originally by Gloria Jones)
Though synonymous with ’80s synth pop, the British duo Soft Cell’s enduring 1981 hit “Tainted Love” was actually first released by American singer Gloria Jones decades earlier in 1965.
3. “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash (Originally by Anita Carter)
“Ring of Fire” highlights Johnny Cash’s signature deep-throated rasp and earnest delivery, making one of his most iconic hits seem autobiographical or at the very least written specifically for him. Earlier in 1963, Cash’s sister-in-law Anita Carter released the original version of the song, which she co-wrote with Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash.
4. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin (Originally by Otis Redding)
Otis Redding originally wrote and recorded “Respect” in 1965 as a plea from a desperate man, but Aretha Franklin made it a feminist anthem with her 1967 cover. She added the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” chorus and the “Sock it to me, sock it to me” refrain, now considered the most infectious parts of the song.
5. “Red Red Wine” by UB40 (Originally by Neil Diamond)
Neil Diamond wrote and recorded the song as a ballad about drowning your troubles for his second studio album, Just For You (1967). Following interpretations from Peter Tetteroo in 1968 and Tony Tribe in 1969, UB40 made it a classic in 1983 with their reggae celebration of the titular substance.
6. “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone (Originally in the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd)
Before Nina Simone made “Feeling Good” a jazzy standard on 1965’s I Put a Spell on You, the song was an operatic show-stopping ballad in the second act of the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd.
7. “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley (Originally by Big Mama Thornton)
Elvis Presley’s music was heavily influenced by the rich work of black R&B musicians, and one of his most famous songs, “Hound Dog,” is no exception. Written for blues artist Big Mama Thornton by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952, “Hound Dog” became a sensation after Presley recorded his own version in 1956. It became one of the best-selling singles of all time. (The song’s role in the controversy over white artists re-recording black blues tracks is referenced in the musical Dreamgirls).
8. “Power of Love” by Celine Dion (Originally by Jennifer Rush)
“The Power of Love” is one of Celine Dion’s most popular songs and was a No. 1 single in 1994. Nearly 10 years earlier, it hit the top of the charts in the U.K. with Jennifer Rush’s version. Fortunately, Rush co-wrote the song, and Dion’s success meant a payday for Rush.
9. “Whatta Man” by Salt-n-Pepa and En Vogue (Originally by Linda Lyndell)
It’s common for artists to rework songs, and that’s exactly what Salt-n-Peppa and En Vogue did in 1993 with “Whatta Man,” a remixed version of a 1968 track from Linda Lyndell, who performed with James Brown and Ike and Tina Turner.
10. “The First Cut is the Deepest” by Sheryl Crow (Originally by Cat Stevens)
Cat Stevens originally recorded an upbeat pop-rock version of “The First Cut is the Deepest” in 1967. Sheryl Crow got the melody back on the radio in 2003 with her emotional, slowed-down recording.
11. “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Björk (Originally by Betty Hutton)
Björk’s hit — off her second album, 1995’s Post — is actually a cover of a 1951 B-side from American singer and actress Betty Hutton, who herself was reinterpreting a 1948 German song.
12. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Fugees (Originally by Lori Lieberman, famously covered by Roberta Flack)
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” earned the Fugees the 1997 Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, but only Roberta Flack can say she took the song to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. In total, Flack’s version five weeks atop the chart in 1973.
13. “Mad World” by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for “Donnie Darko” soundtrack (Originally by Tears for Fears)
Before it was a haunting ballad on the Donnie Darko (2001)soundtrack, “Mad World” was a synth-heavy dance song released by Tears for Fears in 1982. (Honorable mention: We’re still not over Adam Lambert’s iconic cover of the track on American Idol, arguably one of the show’s greatest performances ever.)
14. “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia (Originally by Lis Sørensen)
Originally performed by L.A. alt-rock band Ednaswap in 1993, “Torn” got a second life when Danish singer Lis Sørensen recorded it later that year. Americans will instantly recognize the melody and bones of the song, with which Natalie Imbruglia launched her music career in 1997.