Ask Billboard: Covering Cover Songs
by Gary Trust | August 13, 2010 1:05 EDT
Well, there goes my productivity. By putting out a call last week in “Ask Billboard” for songs that were successful as covers, but not as well-known in their original forms, you pretty much guaranteed that I would stop what I was doing and start thinking of examples.
But, I’d much rather be thinking about fun pop music trivia than working.
Here are a few examples that spring to mind:
“Hound Dog,” Elvis Presley (1956)
One of Elvis Presley’s signature hits, “Hound Dog” was notably recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1953. Several other artists covered the track before the King made it his own, and, while his version is obviously a classic, I’d recommend Thornton’s sassy take to anyone who wants to her some ageless diva soul.
“Wind Beneath My Wings,” Bette Midler (1989)
Before Bette Midler made it a ubiquitous chart-topper, “Wind Beneath My Wings” was recorded by everyone from Lou Rawls to Gladys Knight and the Pips (who titled their version “Hero”). Gary Morris took the song to No. 4 on Country Songs in 1983 and it won the CMA Award for song of the year, but I bet even country fans would admit that the song truly belongs to the Divine Miss M.
“Touch Me (All Night Long),” Cathy Dennis (1991)
Way back when I was in seventh grade, Dennis’ No. 2 Billboard Hot 100 hit, her third top 10 and highest-charting entry, was my absolute favorite song. I played my cassette single so much that it broke, and I had to buy a second copy. A few years later, I was watching “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” at a friend’s house and I was shocked to hear a different version of the song by Wish featuring Fonda Rae. Recorded in 1984, the Wish track features different verses than Dennis’ version, but the hook and the chorus are the same. It’s good, but my heart will always belong to Cathy.
“I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye (1968)
This entry needs an asterisk, but I still think it counts. Gladys Knight and the Pips took this ditty all the way to No. 2 on the Hot 100 in late 1967, but, a year later, Marvin Gaye’s version sat atop the Hot 100 for seven weeks, becoming one of his most enduring classics. Obviously, Knight’s version was a serious hit, but let’s be honest: history has awarded “Grapevine” to Gaye. You could almost feel sorry for Knight and the Pips, since they also got to “Wind Beneath My Wings” before Midler. But, hey, what are a few missed opportunities for a group that has recorded so many unforgettable songs?
“If You Asked Me To,” Celine Dion (1992)
Before she worked similar magic with “The Power of Love,” Celine Dion turned her cover of “If You Asked Me To” into the definitive version of the song. Written by Diane Warren, the ballad was originally recorded by Patti Labelle, who carried it to No. 79 on the Hot 100 in 1989. Much like my experience with “Touch Me (All Night Long),” I was startled to hear Labelle’s version of “If You Asked Me To” over the closing credits of the James Bond movie “License to Kill.” Just when you think you know everything about a song …
Thanks for the excuse to tackle this trivia challenge!
New York, New York
Happy to drag you away from concentrating on work. (I hope you’re not, say, a surgeon …)
Extra background on “Wind Beneath My Wings”: the song was first recorded in 1972 by gospel act Mighty Clouds of Joy on the group’s eponymous debut album.
Sheena Easton also released a version of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which appeared on her 1982 album “Madness, Money & Music.”
Speaking of Dion, in addition to “If You Asked Me To” and “The Power of Love” …
The Jim Steinman composition “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was first recorded by Pandora’s Box in 1989 after Meat Loaf passed on the song. Remade by Celine Dion, it reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 in 1996.
Meat Loaf also remade his chief songwriter Jim Steinman’s solo hit “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” into a No. 13 Hot 100 hit in 1994. Steinman’s version had peaked at No. 32 in 1981.
Bristol, Rhode Island
More great examples. As for Steinman, while it doesn’t fit the category of a song made bigger by an updated version, it’s notable that after reaching No. 34 on the Hot 100 in 1984 with the Steinman-penned “Holding Out for a Hero,” Bonnie Tyler covered two other well-known songs of his on her 1995 album “Free Spirit”: Air Supply’s 1983 No. 2 Hot 100 hit “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” and Meat Loaf’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.”
Meat Loaf also released his own version of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” Originally considered for his album “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell” in 1993, it served as the first single from his “Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose” release in 2006.
A quintessential example of an original song made more popular by a remake occurred 28 years ago: “I Love Rock and Roll.” The song was a B-side by the Arrows a few years before Joan Jett and the Blackhearts made it a No. 1 Hot 100 smash.
Thanks. Not only was the Arrows’ version first released as a flipside in 1975, but it also showed as an A-side on subsequent pressings. Still, it took Jett and her band to carry the track to mainstream audiences in 1982.
Here are some other songs that are better known by their covers than original versions:
“Get Here,” Oleta Adams (1991)
Before Adams hit No. 5 on the Hot 100 with her version, which touched hearts during the Gulf War, Brenda Russell reached No. 37 on R&B/Hip-Hop Songs with it in 1988. Russell had peaked in the top 10 on both charts earlier that year with the romantic “Piano in the Dark.”
“Mad World,” Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules (2004) / Adam Lambert (2009)
Andrews’ interpretation was a Triple A No. 1 and Lambert’s version bowed at No. 19 on the Hot 100 following last year’s season finale of “American Idol.” Both moody recordings differed from the more uptempo original by Tears for Fears, released on the duo’s debut album, “The Hurting,” in 1983.
“Red Red Wine,” UB40 (1984, 1988)
Pop audiences didn’t raise a glass to this song until its fourth trip up the Hot 100. Its writer, Neil Diamond, hit No. 62 in 1968 and Vic Dana reached No. 72 in 1970 with it before UB40 peaked at No. 34 with its reggae version in 1984. Re-released due to renewed airplay at KZZP/Phoenix in 1988, thanks to insightful programmer Guy Zapoleon, it reached No. 1 that fall.
“Don’t Turn Around,” Ace of Base (1994)
Neil Diamond figured into this reggae-splashed song’s history, as well. Aswad reached No. 45 on R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in 1988, and Diamond collected a top 20 Adult Contemporary hit (No. 19) with his more pop-leaning take in 1992. Ace of Base found a stylistic middle ground with the Diane Warren-written composition and rose to No. 4 with its recording in 1994.
“It Must Have Been Love,” Roxette (1990)
Sweden’s Roxette released the song in 1987, three years before it became an adult contemporary radio staple. So, why wasn’t it a U.S. hit originally? For one, the duo had yet to enjoy its breakthrough American hit, “The Look,” until 1989. Plus, the first version was a seasonal song. Once the pair changed the line, “it’s a hard Christmas Day,” to, “it’s a hard winter’s day,” the ballad was more fitting for airwaves year-round, ruling the Hot 100 for two weeks in 1990, as spring turned into sweltering summer.