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9 Songs So Good You Didn’t Know They Were Covers –

 

Some songs are so iconic that it’s impossible to imagine someone else improving upon them. They’re so personal and specific to that artist, the very idea of another musician trying their hand at it seems laughable. But then every so often that fresh take exceeds expectations and outshines the original by a mile. So much so that people forget that it’s a cover song at all.

Johnny Cash didn’t write “Hurt,” for example, but many people reading this article right now have never heard the original version by Nine-Inch Nails. Because Cash took the song to a whole new level. But then, that’s the beauty of a truly original cover song, if such a thing exists.

For another artist to rewrite someone else’s work and take it to such heights of creativity and/or popularity that it completely overshadows the source material is not only rare, but almost heroic. Any musician trying to re-do someone else’s work is begging to hear choruses of music snobs groaning about its inferiority while pleading with the music industry to stop digging up and mangling the past. And yet some artists prevail in that most unexpected of ways, achieving god-like status for turning what was once just a great song into a quintessential song.

Of course, other musicians can simply pluck a random song from obscurity that no one knew about in the first place and do a decent enough job with it gets them on the radio, and without all that ugly idealism. Popular music isn’t always about grandeur, after all.

These are the cover versions that not only popularized a lesser known track, but revamped them into something brand new and, often, something more palatable…

9. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Blinded By The Light (Originally By Bruce Springsteen)

This is one of those songs that often gets credited to the wrong band. Was this Edgar Winter? Eddie Money? Bachman-Turner Overdrive? Well, whoever it belongs to, it’s certainly not Bruce Springsteen… …Right? Because it would be crazy to think the eternally gruff Springsteen would be caught dead using those spacey keyboards and rat-a-tat drums.

Mannfred Mann (and his Earth Band), on the other hand, had no qualms using every prog-rock trick in the book when he laid down “Blinded By the Light” in 1976. But Springsteen actually did record it first. With his typical hollering, working class, roots-rock fashion, it sounds like pretty much every else he did before Born in the U.S.A. Then Mann came along and jazzed it up about 10 notches, delivering it as the epic ode to revved-up deuces it’s known for today.

8. Bowling For Soup – 1985 (Originally By SR-71)

This mostly unknown pop punk band’s biggest hit was actually a cover of another mostly unknown pop punk band. SR-71, who you might remember from their late turn-of-the-century rocker “Right Now” (if you remember them at all), wrote “1985” just a year before Bowling For Soup’s version started tearing up the charts.

Not that either version of “1985” is groundbreaking by any stretch of the word, but Bowling For Soup was able to transform a modest punk song about random memories into some epic pop nostalgia, which deserves at least a few kudos.

7. Naked Eyes – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me (Originally By Dionne Warwick)

One of the quintessential synth pop tunes of the 80s, (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me sounds like it was birthed directly from the loins of Duran Duran, then adopted by Naked Eyes to be raised in a safer environment. But this prime example of new wave’s softer side was actually passed down from one of the greatest soul songstresses in history.

Written by Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick’s original demo featured nary a single keyboard or synthesizer. Just a few brass instruments and complete vocal domination.

6. Natalie Imbruglia – Torn (Originally By Ednaswap)

If you thought there was nothing edgy about 90s radio darling Natalie Imbruglia…you are very much correct. But at least she and her producers had the good taste to cover a relatively obscure alt-rock song for her first single. Imbruglia drops the crunchiness (and, thankfully, the misplaced phasing effects) of the Ednaswap original, transporting “Torn” out of its grunge confines and onto the pop charts.

Vocally, Imbruglia’s wispiness can’t compare to Ednaswap’s Anne Preven, who sounds like Patti Smith channeled through Melissa Etheridge, but the crisp acoustic guitars give the song some much needed clarity.

5. Amy Winehouse – Valerie (Originally By The Zutons)

Amy Winehouse helped revive vintage soul sounds and bring the R&B stylings of the 50s and 60s back into mainstream music, and would go on to inspire the likes of Duffy and Ellie Goulding before her untimely passing in 2011. Meanwhile, across the pond in Liverpool, The Zutons were busy offering up their own brand of nostalgic rock, meshing the sounds of fellow Liverpudlians the Beatles into 60s Psychedelic and surf rock motifs.

So when the two revivalists collided in Winehouse’s cover of The Zuton’s “Valerie,” the combination was electric. Winehouse’s version, produced by neo-soul expert Mark Ronson, keeps the peppiness while adding a little swing. And it’s utterly fantastic.

4. Jack White – I’m Shakin’ (Originally By Little Willie John)

Since his days in the White Stripes, Jack White has made a career out of reinvigorating long-forgotten styles. From garage rock to electric blues to baroque pop, he’s done it all, often all at once. For his first official solo album, Blunderbuss, White seemingly brought every one of his influences to the table, most overtly in his cover of Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin’.”

Upping the tempo and converting the horn track into a fuzzy guitar riff, White was able to accomplish what so many cover artists before and after him have failed to do, creating a “rock” version of a blues song without losing the soul of the original.

3. Great White – Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Originally By Ian Hunter)

As far as sanitized 80s hard rock about doing the deed go, Great White’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” might be the best. It had enough of a late-Rolling Stones pseudo sexuality to draw in baby boomers while ostensibly falling into the same category as Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.”

But Great White can’t out-sex the original by Ian Hunter. If STDs were transmittable through the auditory system, Hunter would still be calling fans, notifying them to get their private bits checked out by a physician.

The song is practically one long pelvic thrust, accentuated by the occasional butt slap.

2. Ace Of Base – Don’t Turn Around (Originally By Tina Turner)

The commonalities between Swedish pop group Ace of Base and Tina Turner may begin and end with this song, but at least it’s a solid connection. Many artists, including Neil Diamond and Bonnie Tyler, recorded covers of “Don’t Turn Around” between 1986 an 1994, but it was Ace of Base’s danceable take on it that’s become the most recognizable.

Although Ms. Turner’s original doesn’t have the bounciness or hot keyboard action to get heads bobbing like the Ace of Base version, it’s tough to find a more supremely soulful kiss-off than hers. Unfortunately, “Don’t Turn Around” was only used as a B-side to “Typical Male,” and never included on a proper album, thus relegating it to the rarities portion of Turner’s catalogue.

1. Led Zeppelin – When The Levee Breaks (Originally By Kansas Joe McCoy And Memphis Minnie)

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Are you telling me that Led Zeppelin DIDN’T write this, one of their most legendary songs?” you ask, incredulously shaking your fist at the computer screen, not understanding that nobody can actually see or hear you. But no, that’s only partially the point here. Don’t worry, this isn’t a cover song in the traditional sense of the word.

John Bonham came up with the legendary opening drum beat all on his own and Jimmy Page broke out some truly unique guitar effects that were nowhere to be found in the original. But the basis for Zeppelin’s classic, dirty blues track, from the lyrics to the guitar rhythm, is there in the 1929 song by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie.

Of course, anything Plant and the gang touch would likely surpass its source material, as is the case here.

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