Telstra’s 2nd Chance Song is enlisting artists to breathe new life into Bob Evans’ lost classic ‘Don’t You Think It’s Time’. JODY MACGREGOR looks at 10 classic songs that found success as covers.
You might like the original more but sometimes a cover comes along – whether by somebody better known, or reinterpreted in a more universal style – and steals its thunder, becoming the version most people identify it with. Sometimes a remake becomes so definitive a generation grows up not even realising they aren’t hearing the first version of a song, and you know you’re an adult when that makes you start grumbling about “the youth of today”. Here are 10 of those covers that supplanted the prior versions in terms of popularity.
Nirvana’s very first single, released in 1988, was a cover of a song by Dutch band Shocking Blue from 1969. Where the original had psychedelic sitar and delicate vocals with a thick Dutch accent, the Nirvana version has fuzz and soloing and Kurt Cobain’s already distinctive scream. Shocking Blue had a hit with a song called ‘Venus’, another one you might be more likely to know from its cover version – this time by Bananarama.
When asked in an interview with Alternative Press how he felt about Johnny Cash covering his song, Trent Reznor said, “that song isn’t mine anymore.” The Nine Inch Nails original was thoroughly remade by country legend Johnny Cash shortly before his death, winning a Grammy for video of the year and earning a spot at #60 in the triple j Hottest 100 Of All Time in 2009. When Nine Inch Nails play ‘Hurt’ live now they do it the way Cash did, which is the ultimate compliment a cover can earn.
Speaking of which, Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Bob Dylan song ‘All Along The Watchtower’ has become the default for so many that Dylan plays it Hendrix’s way at his concerts to this day and has said, “when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.” The folky, acoustic original sounds unusual now, it’s been so thoroughly replaced by Hendrix’s electric wizardry.
In Australia at least when you start singing “Black Betty, bam ba lam” people will assume you’re impersonating Kram from Spiderbait. But the tune was first made famous by blues musician Lead Belly in his 1939 reworking of a traditional African-American work song, and was later resurrected in 1977 by a band called Ram Jam, who had a hit with a rock version much closer to the one that gave Spiderbait their 2004 number one single.
Spare a thought for poor old Ednaswap. The ‘90s grunge band released three albums of Hole-esque alternative rock in their heyday, but now they’re just a Wikipedia footnote in the story of Natalie Imbruglia, who covered their 1995 album track ‘Torn’ as her debut single two years later and made her name with it.
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Hearing the original version of ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ now, performed in 1975 by Arrows, just sounds wrong. That’s how thoroughly Joan Jett made it her own in her gender-flipped cover, which stayed at number one in America for seven weeks and made her famous.
There’s a reason ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ sounds so much like a big band number from the 1950s – before Bjí¶rk had her biggest hit with it in 1995, it was. A previous English-language version was released as a B-side by American singer Betty Hutton in 1951, although that was a cover too. To find the true original we have to go back even further to 1948, when it was released in German by Harry Winter with the title ‘Und Jetzt Ist Es Still’.
Kiss made it plain that their version of ‘God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You’ wasn’t the original by calling it ‘God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You II’, turning a prog number by British band Argent into a nostalgic romp through their own past glories just in time to make it onto the soundtrack of time travel movie Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
Few songs have been re-recorded as often as Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, which has been covered by everybody from k.d. Lang to John Cale. But Jeff Buckley has the one most people have heard, and the one that made it to number three in triple j’s Hottest 100 Of All Time in 2009. His vocal swooping and diving makes it very different to Cohen’s more restrained original, but I think we can all agree either is preferable to the Bon Jovi version.
Prince is so prolific he sometimes puts together entire bands on the side just to get more of his songs out there. One such band was The Family, who released a self-titled album in 1985 full of what were basically Prince songs by any other name. ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ was just another of those until Sinead O’Connor resurrected it five years later and made it a worldwide smash.