But many of the greatest songs ever were created by borrowing – after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (supposedly). Here is a list of songs from the past which you may not realise are cover versions.
SONG 1: “Hurt”
Who you think it’s by: Johnny Cash (2002)
Who wrote the original: Nine Inch Nails (1994)
As Bob Dylan wrote of Mr. Cash, ‘Johnny’s voice was so big, it made the world grow small.’ But while his heartbreaking baritone groan certainly does justice to the raw anguish of this song, spring from his mind it did not. In fact, it was industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails (NIИ) who originally scored the woeful tune eight years before.
SONG 2: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”
Who you think it’s by: Cyndi Lauper (1983)
Who wrote the original: Robert Hazard (1979)
This one probably comes as a bit of a shocker, but Cyndi’s breakthrough single wasn’t written by her – although she made it her own with tweaks to the lyrics (originally written from a male perspective), leading it to be hailed the feminist anthem of the era. Sung to a background of blaring ’80s synth, it differs markedly from Hazard’s demo.
SONG 3: “Nothing Compares 2U”
Who you think it’s by: Sinéad O’Connor (1990)
Who wrote the original: Prince (1985)
Although it received little recognition, the Irish singer’s major hit was actually composed by Prince for one of his side projects, The Family (prolific songwriter that he is, he required an extra outlet to release his music). It became a chart-topper in multiple countries, and the accompanying music video is considered iconic.
SONG 4: “Dancing in the Moonlight”
Who you think it’s by: Toploader (2000)
Who wrote the original: Sherman Kelly (1968)
Although also sometimes wrongly attributed to Van Morrison or Elvis Costello, the song was written by Sherman Kelly. Kelly’s brother introduced the song to his band, King Harvest, with whom he was drummer. It was a hit in 1972 when released by the band, but the Toploader version, which reached the Top Ten in the UK, is the one known and played by most young people nowadays.
SONG 5: “Rockin’ All Over the World”
Who you think it’s by: Status Quo (1977)
Who wrote the original: John Fogerty (1975)
John Fogerty, formerly of Creedence Clearwater Revival, released this song as a single on his second solo album. It reached #27 in the charts, while Status Quo’s heavier version a few years later did considerably better, peaking at #3 in the UK.
SONG 6: “Tainted Love”
Who you think it’s by: Soft Cell (1981)
Who wrote the original: Ed Cobb (1965)
Made famous by the English synth-pop group Soft Cell, it was in fact Ed Cobb, formerly of American male quartet The Four Preps, who wrote the song. Several less well-known covers came before the success of Soft Cell’s differently-arranged version, although Gloria Jones’ recording of the original has become popular since.
SONG 7: “Step On”
Who you think it’s by: Happy Mondays (1990)
Who wrote the original: John Kongos & Christos Demetriou (1971)
Originally entitled ‘He’s Gonna Step on You Again’, the Happy Mondays version became their biggest selling single, reaching #5 on the UK Singles Chart.
SONG 8: “Torn”
Who you think it’s by: Natalie Imbruglia (1997)
Who wrote the original: Ednaswap (1995)
While Imbruglia’s version remains the most popular and commercially successful, this song has been covered many times. Imbruglia’s cover reached #1 in the USA, her native Australia, and throughout Europe. Ednaswap was an alternative rock band based in Los Angeles.
SONG 9: “I Love Rock’n’Roll”
Who you think it’s by: Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1981)
Who wrote the original: Arrows (1975)
Joan Jett totally ‘rocks’ her version of this song by British band Arrows, which she covered after seeing it performed live by them in 1976. It became a #1 hit in the USA for seven weeks.
SONG 10: “I Will Always Love You”
Who you think it’s by: Whitney Houston (1992)
Who wrote the original: Dolly Parton (1974)
She may be known more for being well-endowed, but Dolly Parton is a fantastic songwriter in her own right. Her version has more country music vibes and is less vocally powerful than Houston’s, but it could be argued this makes it more emotive. The song infamously features on The Bodyguard soundtrack, which to this day continues to be a bestseller.