Famous songs you didn’t know were actually covers


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It takes an immense talent and creativity to write and perform a song. However, there is an equally impressive feat when an artist discovers a song they believe they can revamp, potentially even surpassing the original. It takes a remarkable skill set to cover a song so flawlessly that it sounds as if it were their own creation from the start. In a true “finder’s keepers,” fashion, these musicians have taken songs they adored and transformed them into chart-topping hits, transforming them into anthems that resonate with listeners worldwide.  Here are 10 songs that we didn’t know were actually covers.

1. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (1992)

Who sang it first: Dolly Parton (1973)

Only those living under a rock would not be familiar with the profoundly touching moment when Whitney Houston poured her heart into the iconic song “I Will Always Love You” in the 1992 “The Bodyguard.” But it was actually the queen of country music, Dolly Parton, who penned and performed the heartfelt ballad back in 1973. While Parton’s tender vocals and sincere lyrics beautifully showcased her talent as a songwriter, it was Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You” that truly elevated the song to unparalleled heights and turned it into a cultural phenomenon, showered with a number of accolades, including the prestigious “Record of the Year at the 1994 Grammy Awards.

2. “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley (1994)

Who sang it first: Leonard Cohen (1984)

Now, here’s a song that has taken on a life of its own since it was penned by the iconic vocalist and poet Leonard Cohen in 1984. The 2021 documentary “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song” delves into the myriad of covers that have emerged over the years. From John Cale’s introspective piano rendition to Bob Dylan’s take and Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation on the soundtrack album for the animated film “Shrek,” the legacy of “Hallelujah” has been covered by numerous artists. But it was Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah”  that struck a chord with listeners and made the song synonymous with the late singer. His haunting vocals and delicate guitar work added a fragile beauty to the track. The emotion he conveyed struck a chord with listeners, elevating the song’s popularity. Buckley’s rendition gained popularity posthumously and gradually became a beloved classic. The blend of his ethereal voice and the song’s raw vulnerability resonated deeply with audiences, solidifying it as the definitive version.

3. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper (1983)

Who sang it first: Robert Hazard (1979)

Robert Hazard’s original version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” presented a gritty and slightly ironic perspective on women’s desires for freedom and enjoyment. The rock-oriented track had an edgy energy but didn’t achieve significant mainstream success. Cyndi Lauper’s infectious cover transformed “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” into an empowering anthem. With her vibrant personality and pop sensibilities, Lauper reimagined the song as a joyous celebration of female independence, propelling it to international chart success.

Cyndi Lauper’s charismatic delivery and the song’s catchy synth-pop production struck a chord with a wide audience. Her version captured the spirit of the times and remains a beloved anthem of self-expression.

4. “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell (1981)

Who sang it first: Gloria Jones (1964)

Gloria Jones originally recorded “Tainted Love” as a soulful track infused with a sense of longing. Jones’ powerful vocals conveyed the pain and anguish of a broken relationship, but the song didn’t gain significant commercial success at the time. Soft Cell’s synth-pop cover of “Tainted Love” revitalized the song and turned it into a dancefloor sensation. The band’s electronic reinterpretation and Marc Almond’s distinctive vocals created an addictive and energetic rendition that became an international hit.  Soft Cell’s version became an iconic new wave hit, dominating charts and club scenes. The band’s innovative take on “Tainted Love” injected it with a fresh sound, resonating with audiences seeking catchy and upbeat pop tunes.

5. “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana (1993)

Who sang it first: David Bowie (1970)

“The Man Who Sold The World” stands as one of David Bowie’s finest compositions. Oozing with menace and a reflection of the modern world, the song possesses an otherworldly quality. Released in 1970, before Bowie’s famed incarnation as Ziggy Stardust, it served as a blueprint for the singer’s future artistic endeavors. Over the years, the song has been embraced by various artists, including Lulu, who offered her own unique interpretation in 1974. However, it is the rendition by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana that stands as an exceptional display of the material.

Nirvana famously covered the Starman’s song during their 1993 MTV Unplugged performance, capturing the attention of an entire generation. Equipped with an acoustic setup, Cobain electrified the track, imbuing it with a newfound existence. And Major Tom was nothing but flattered that his brainchild was covered by Nirvana.   “I was simply blown away when I found that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and have always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering ‘The Man Who Sold the World’” Bowie once said of Nirvana’s cover:  and that “it was a good straight forward rendition and sounded somehow very honest.” He added: “It would have been nice to have worked with him, but just talking with him would have been real cool.”

6. “Hurt” By Johnny Cash (2002)

Who sang it first: Nine Inch Nails (1994)

Nine Inch Nails originally released “Hurt” as a brooding and introspective track with industrial rock elements in 1994, with Trent Reznor’s raw vocals and dark lyrics conveying themes of self-destruction and emotional pain. But then “The Man in Black,” in the climax of his life, gave it a shot and turned the song into a poignant hymn, which struck a chord with a wide audience, reaching beyond traditional country music fans.   Cash’s weathered voice, coupled with the stripped-down acoustic arrangement, transformed it into a deeply personal reflection on mortality and regret.

7. “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley (1956)

Who sang it first: Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (1952)

Before Elvis Presley got his hands on “Hound Dog,” Big Mama Thornton fearlessly belted out the lyrics, cleverly calling out “motherforkers” back in 1952. The song was originally written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who captured the essence of Thornton’s powerful delivery. Elvis Presley’s iconic and hip-swaying version of the song came later, drawing inspiration from Big Mama Thornton’s original performance

8. “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1981)

Who sang it first: The Arrows (1975)

The Arrows, a British band, originally released “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” as a catchy, guitar-driven rock anthem. While it gained some recognition, it didn’t achieve widespread success or become a significant hit. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ cover of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” transformed the song into a rock and roll anthem for the ages. Jett’s fierce vocals, combined with the driving guitar riffs, injected the track with a rebellious energy that resonated with audiences worldwide.


9. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor (1990)

Who sang it first: The Family (1985)

Prince’s musical genius extended beyond his own performance, as evidenced by his creation of the timeless ballad “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Initially released as a track by The Family, a band signed to his Paisley Park Records, the original version showcased Prince’s soulful falsetto and heartfelt lyrics. Despite its undeniable quality, the song did not achieve widespread recognition at the time. However, it was Sinéad O’Connor’s cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that catapulted the song into global sensation. O’Connor’s rendition captivated audiences worldwide with its raw vulnerability and emotionally charged vocals. The simplicity of the arrangement allowed the focus to remain on the profound lyrics and O’Connor’s haunting performance.

10. “Valerie” by Mark Ronson ft. Amy Winehouse (2007)

Who sang it first: The Zutons (2006)

“Valerie” was originally recorded by the British band The Zutons as an upbeat indie rock track with a catchy melody and infectious hooks. Despite its quality, the song didn’t achieve significant mainstream success upon its release. Mark Ronson’s collaboration with Amy Winehouse on the cover of “Valerie” brought the song into the spotlight. Winehouse’s soulful vocals and Ronson’s infectious production added a fresh, retro flair to the track, making it an instant favorite.


We took a deep dive into some of the most beloved songs out there and scoured Rolling Stone and artist biographies to unravel the fascinating truth: many of these popular tunes turned out to be covers of earlier gems.

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

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