There is a saying that once a musician puts a song into the world, it doesn't belong to them anymore. When other musicians cover a song, they might change the style or inherent meaning of the piece by virtue of playing their own version.
When Amy Winehouse died in 2011, Bruno Mars organized a tribute to her in which he sang the song “Valerie” with a full band accompanying him. Winehouse's version of The Zutons' original, with instrumental tracks reworked by Mark Ronson, made such an indelible impression on listeners that it became Winehouse's song in a way. Many people don't know that it was technically a cover.
A song can “belong” more to its cover artist at times when it takes on a new cultural significance. Most prominently, Aretha Franklin transformed Otis Redding's “Respect” into a symbol of women's rights, and Cyndi Lauper's version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” also became a feminist song of sorts.
Even if a cover song does not necessarily eclipse its predecessor in popularity, it can still provide a new way of hearing the song, with new instrumentation and literally a new voice. An example is Kings of Leon's decelerated version of Robyn's “Dancing on My Own,” in which the (all male) band turned a club hit into a rock ballad and even kept the female point of view.
Stacker has put together a list of popular songs that many listeners might not realize were written by someone other than the performer who made them famous. The list was compiled via a combination of websites, including VH1.com, Buzzfeed, and Culture Trip. Information on song and artist background comes from a variety of sources, including NPR, MTV, and the New York Daily News.
Information on chart performance was taken mainly from the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as the U.K. Official Singles Chart, the British Phonographic Industry, and the Australian Recording Industry Association. Data on singles sold was derived from the Recording Industry Association of America, the U.K. Singles Chart, and ARIA certification status.
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When Aretha Franklin covered this Otis Redding original in 1967, she re-stylized it as a downtempo R&B pop song and reframed it as a feminist anthem. Franklin's version sold half a million singles in the U.S. and earned a #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, staying there for two weeks. Although Franklin and the recording industry acknowledged that Redding wrote the song, he initially criticized Franklin for taking the song from him.
Joan Jett first recorded this 1975 Alan Merrill original with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols, but re-recorded it with her band The Blackhearts and released it in 1982. It clocked in at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the record of the same name went on to sell 1 million copies in the U.S. While Merrill might be less well-known, he currently hosts the TV show “Across the Pond” and released a Valentine's Day single called “Your Love Song.”
Many listeners might know Cyndi Lauper as the voice behind this pop jam from 1983, but Robert Hazard actually wrote and recorded it in 1979. Lauper's version reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1984, became certified platinum, and sold 1 million copies in the U.S., a combined total of physical and digital formats. When Lauper and her producer approached Hazard about covering the song, he apparently rewrote some of the lyrics with her over the phone to change the song's perspective from a man's to a woman's. When Lauper started telling the press that she wrote part of the song, however, Hazard wasn't too thrilled and sent her a cease and desist order.
Phil Medley and Bert Berns wrote this song in 1961, and The Top Notes first recorded it. The Fab Four's 1963 remake was a smash hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and selling 1 million copies in the U.S. and 200,000 singles in the U.K. The Beatles acknowledged that it was not their song but at one point thought the Isley Brothers wrote it, considering they made their own version shortly before The Beatles. Medley wrote a few moderately successful songs throughout his career and died in 1997, and Berns most famously co-wrote “Piece of My Heart” and produced “Brown Eyed Girl.”
Manfred Mann's Earth Band popularized this Bruce Springsteen original four years after it came out in 1973. The British band's slightly more upbeat, pop-forward cover earned a #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, selling 500,000 singles in the U.S. Manfred Mann acknowledged Springsteen as the original songwriter, though he unintentionally changed some of his original lyrics, switching the line “cut loose like a deuce” with “wrapped up like a deuce.” Springsteen has seen far more success than the Earth Band, and the singer is set to release his 19th album, “Western Stars,” this year.
Most people attribute this old school pop jam to the late Amy Winehouse, but British band The Zutons first wrote it as part of their 2006 album “Hanging Around.” Their cover rides on a beat from the song “A Town Called Malice” by the band The Jam, with Winehouse's sexy, sultry alto transforming the essence of the song. Ronson and Winehouse's cover clocked in at #2 on the U.K. Singles Chart and #28 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Song Sales chart and sold 767,000 copies as of 2012, a combined total of Winehouse's solo cover and the collaborative version. The Zutons split up in 2009, but have since gotten back together for a reunion tour.
Dolly Parton originally wrote and recorded this heartfelt hit in 1973, and it was met with success. Whitney Houston's 1992 version of the song made an even bigger impact than Parton's; it spent 14 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Single Sales chart and is the best-selling single by a woman in the history of music. Although tabloids reported a rift between Parton and Houston concerning the song, Parton refuted this claim in a 2003 interview with CNN. Parton most recently released a record in 2017 and has announced an upcoming Netflix series highlighting her musical career, to premiere in late 2019.
The Rolling Stones propelled this 1963 Jerry Ragovoy original into the limelight with two versions that came out in 1964 and ‘65. The Rolling Stones kept aspects of Thomas's recording, including reciting an impassioned monologue over the song's musical breakdown. The Stones' version reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Their record containing the song sold half a million copies in the U.S. Some of Ragovoy's most notable songs include “Stay with Me” and “Piece of My Heart,” which he co-wrote with Bert Berns; Ragovoy died in 2011.
To help promote their first compilation of greatest hits in 2003, No Doubt decided to record their own version of this pop song by the British band Talk Talk. The band's cover version was met with success in the U.S., selling 500,000 digital copies and reaching #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene originally wrote the song in 1984 as part of Talk Talk, whom No Doubt credited when they released their version. Talk Talk broke up in 1991, though Hollis put out one solo album in 1998 and left the music industry shortly after.
The Fugees and Lauryn Hill won a Grammy for their R&B recording of this song, but Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel wrote it in 1971, with some conceptual collaboration with Lori Lieberman, who first recorded it. The Fugees' version made charts in Europe and the U.S., including a #1 spot on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 chart. Their album containing the song, “The Score,” sold 6 million copies in the U.S. Gimbel went on to write lyrics to pop songs and TV and movie themes; he died in 2018.
This '60s pop hit was originally written by Ed Cobb of the band The Four Preps and first recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964. Soft Cell recorded and stylized their own synth-forward version in 1981, which made it to #1 on the U.K. Singles Chart, selling over 1.35 million copies in the U.K. as of 2017. Soft Cell credited Cobb when they released their version of the song, and Cobb went on to work as a producer for the Standells, Fleetwood Mac, and Pink Floyd throughout his career.
King Harvest originally wrote and performed this feel-good hit song in 1972. However, English rock band Toploader catapulted the song into multi-platinum status with their popified, organ-forward version in 2000. It peaked at #7 on the U.K. Singles Chart in 2001 and became certified double platinum by BPI for selling 1.2 million copies in the U.K. King Harvest broke up in the ‘70s, but put out a single in 2016 called “Our Old Songs.”
Neil Diamond composed this mellow ballad in 1967, but UB40's reggae-flavored cover really made a splash in 1983. Their cover version reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold 500,000 copies in the U.S. UB40 originally misattributed the song to Tony Tribe, who had also done a version, before realizing that Diamond wrote the song. Despite the loss of recognition for that one song, Diamond went on to enjoy a full career that included a Grammy award.
Most people probably think Toni Basil penned this snappy pop hit, but Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn actually wrote it about a girl named Kitty. Basil's cover made it to #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, selling 1 million singles in the U.S. As a songwriting duo, Chinn and Chapman broke up in 1983.
Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia certainly made this song famous, but Scott Cutler, Anne Preven, and Phil Thornalley first wrote it in 1993. Imbruglia's cover ranked highly on several Billboard charts, including a #1 spot on Mainstream Top 40 and #37 on Australia's ARIA chart. It sold at least 1.2 million singles in the U.K. alone. As songwriters, Cutler and Preven have worked with major recording artists, including Beyoncé and Katy Perry.
This heartbreaking song came from the mind of Stevie Nicks, who first recorded it with Fleetwood Mac in 1975. Though audiences loved the original, the Chicks put out their slightly bluegrass version in 2002, which made it to #1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and sold 500,000 copies in the U.S. There appeared to be no hard feelings between the two bands when the country trio performed the song with Nicks at VH1 Divas Las Vegas in ‘02. Nicks is still playing music and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the second time in April 2019.
This ‘50s hit has historically been associated with Elvis Presley, but Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote it, and Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton first recorded it in 1952. After Presley's version climbed many Billboard charts, earning #1 positions on the Hot 100 and Most Played on Jukeboxes charts, it went on to sell 4 million copies in the U.S. The song has also been the subject of numerous copyright suits, as Thornton was hardly recognized for having first recorded the song and only made $500 for her performance.
After Jake Holmes wrote this originally folky song in 1967 and the Yardbirds arranged and rock-ified it the following year, Led Zeppelin recorded their own version of the song, which became an integral part of their career. Although the song didn't make Billboard charts or the U.K. Singles Chart, it has made several best-of lists, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Holmes tried to get in touch with Jimmy Page in the ‘80s to sort out writing credit, but Page never responded, and Holmes filed a lawsuit against him, which was eventually settled outside of court.
Many artists covered this 1986 original by Diane Warren and Albert Hammond, first recorded by Tina Turner. Ace of Base covered it in a minor key with slight reggae tones in the beat and instrumentals. The song made it to #4 on Billboard's Hot 100 and sold 500,000 copies in the U.S. Hammond went on to write for many artists over his career, including Celine Dion and Whitney Houston; Warren is still an active songwriter and has written for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, and Beyoncé.
Although The Monkees' recording of this Neil Diamond original was successful in its own right in 1966 (it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100), Smash Mouth recorded a version of the song in 2001 as part of the soundtrack for the movie “Shrek.” The cover hit #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and also made charts in Europe, New Zealand and Australia. It sold over 70,000 singles in Australia and peaked at #36 on the ARIA chart the year it came out.
Soul singer P.P. Arnold first recorded this Cat Stevens song in 1967, but a few other musicians successfully covered it before Sheryl Crow did in 2003, including Rod Stewart and Papa Dee. The tune became one of Crow's most popular radio songs and sold 500,000 singles in the U.S. It earned a #14 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 on other Billboard charts. Stylistically, Crow's version sits somewhere between country and pop. Stevens is still making music and released a record in 2017 called “The Laughing Apple.”
Jim Steinman originally wrote this song in the late 1980s for a female pop group he put together called Pandora's Box. Celine Dion made the song veritably famous when she covered it in 1996, reaching #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 and Mainstream Top 40 charts and selling over 1.5 million singles in the U.S. For much of his career, Steinman was the primary songwriter for Meat Loaf, who wanted to record a version of the song, but Steinman took legal action against him because he felt the song was meant to be sung by a woman. Elaine Caswell of Pandora's Box was reportedly crushed when she heard Dion singing the song on the radio years later.
The La's saw success with their initial release of this song in 1988, written by frontman Lee Mavers. When Sixpence None the Richer covered the song in 1999, it made it to numerous charts in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, placing #32 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart. The single sold 1 million copies in the U.S. The La's essentially broke up in 1992, but reunited in various formations later in the '90s and early 2000s. Mavers' last known live performance was in Manchester, England, in 2011.
Longtime Yes frontman Jon Anderson teamed up with Vangelis to write this song in 1981, but Donna Summer nailed the vocals in her own version a year later. Her cover, which mimics the original in style, saw a lot of success and made it to #41 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart. Summer's self-titled album containing the song sold half a million copies in the U.S. Anderson is still making music to this day, and in March 2019 released his 15th record, “1000 Hands: Chapter One.”
The Byrds took this 1950's Pete Seeger song to mainstream status when they covered it in 1965, having changed it to more of a rock song from its folky original. The Byrds' cover ranked #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #26 on the U.K. Singles Chart. Seeger continued to perform until just before his death in 2014.
David Crawford first wrote this R&B song in 1968, originally titled “What a Man,” which Linda Lyndell first recorded. Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue sampled and revamped it in 1993, and their version became a hit. It made numerous charts, including a #3 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and sold 1 million singles in the U.S. As a songwriter, producer, and radio personality, Crawford wrote songs for Jackie Moore and Candi Staton and started his own record label.
Sonny Curtis of the Crickets first wrote this popular song and released it with the band in 1960. After the Bobby Fuller Four covered it successfully in 1966, The Clash made their own version in ‘79 that would become the most recognized version of the song. It ranked #29 on the U.K. Singles Chart in 1988. Curtis most recently released a self-titled record in 2007. He still plays music and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 as a member of The Crickets.
Dobie Gray popularized this Mentor Williams original in 1973, three years after Williams wrote it and a year after John Henry Kurtz first recorded it. Gray's version made it to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold half a million copies in the U.S. Gray and Uncle Kracker recorded a slightly poppier version together in 2003, which also gained traction and performed well on Billboard charts. Williams famously wrote the song “When We Make Love” by the band Alabama.
Beyoncé recorded this chart-topper as part of her album “I Am...Sasha Fierce,” but BC Jean and Toby Gad first wrote it, and Jean first recorded it. Jean and Gad co-produced the song with Beyoncé for her version, which made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached top chart positions throughout Europe, the U.K., and Australia. It sold 2.5 million copies in the U.S. Jean is making music with her partner Mark Ballas as the duo Alexander Jean. Gad is still making music as a songwriter and producer and has worked with Leona Lewis, John Newman, and Tori Kelly.
Prince initially wrote this heartfelt song in 1985 for his band The Family, though Sinead O'Connor's synthy, balladic version soared to the top of charts in the U.S. and Europe after its release in 1990. It reached #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Alternative Songs charts, and #1 on the U.K. Singles Chart, having sold 1 million copies in the U.S. Prince told Paul Peterson, singer for The Family, that he didn't care for O'Connor's version of the song. Because O'Connor recorded the song without Prince's knowledge, he had asked her to come to his house to talk about it, and things apparently got violent. Over the course of his successful musical career, Prince was an icon known for his genre-defying songs and eccentric, colorful stage presence. He died in 2016 and was posthumously elected into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame.