10 songs you probably didn’t know were covers

Daniel Curtis and Richard Birch discuss the songs more famous than their predecessors

Photo: Wikipedia

1: ‘Torn’

An unmistakable one-hit-wonder for Natalie Imbruglia, the 1997 classic was a repurposing of a 1995 track by indie band Ednaswap, whose grungy guitar work did far less than the polished cover’s sunny chords and “ooh”s and “ah”s to unleash its credentials as a smash hit. Even if the cover is more infectious, the original still possesses a unique rawness and aggression which complement its yearning lyricism.

2: ‘Twist and Shout’

Yes, this undisputed classic of the Beatles’ oeuvre which we so loved in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was in fact a cover. The Top Notes were an up-and-coming rock-and-roll band from New York who, guided by the then relatively unsuccessful Phil Spector, recorded this track… but to no avail. The consensus of the songwriters was that Spector butchered it, while the Beatles’ raucous rendition more accurately captured the song’s spirit.

3:‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’

Three mainline versions of this song actually exist: the first, by Bruce Springsteen featuring mournful harmonica and sparse accompaniment to his guitar and vocals; the second, by Rage Against the Machine, replacing Springsteen’s sorrow with white-hot anger. In tribute to this reimagining, Springsteen then re-recorded the song with Rage guitarist Tom Morello on lead guitar, and co-lead vocals. There is no definitive version – rather, there are three different conduits for the song’s John Steinbeck-inspired emotional devastation, based upon Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

4: ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’

This groove-based blues number was, like ‘Twist and Shout’, partially a Bert Berns composition, written in collaboration with a lesser known soul artist named Solomon Burke. The Rolling Stones then brought the song into the limelight, covering it on the 1965 album The Rolling Stones, Now!, paving the way for its subsequent success on The Blues Brothers’ soundtrack in 1980.

5: ‘Mad World’

‘Mad World’ was, at one stage, unavoidable through adverts, films, and a constant place in the Top 40. It’s a testament to Gary Jules’ interpretation of Tears for Fears’ 80s original, which maintained a quiet, subdued intelligence. In fact, the original’s synth-pop nature harms the song, with a strange incongruity between the lyrics and the audio. It’s tough to say, but the cover is far superior.

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6: ‘Hey Joe’

This is a disputed one – many different people claim authorship, so much so that it is, to all intents and purposes, classed as ‘Traditional’. However, L.A. garage rock band The Leaves were the first to commercially record the song, giving them (debatable) first dibs in a rough-at-the-edges gritty rock single. But there is no denying that this is a song that Hendrix truly claimed as his own, blending Jaggeresque gravel with Beatlesy harmonies and in turn with his own classic guitar pyrotechnics.

7: ‘Sea of Love’

Whereas the Phil Phillips original was a quite classic blues-rocker, Cat Power on her Covers Record embraced the fragility of the subject matter, to lay bare her voice and guitar to create a breath-taking love song. Moving every time.

8: ‘Make You Feel My Love’

To contemporary listeners of the 19 album, this song must have seemed entirely Adele’s; perfectly suited in its hushed ambience to her huskily passionate vocals. However, this is one of many in Dylan’s oeuvre to be made famous by others. Dylan’s own version is subdued and his voice akin to an old-smoker’s growl; and upon closer inspection, draws out the similarities between Dylan and Adele rather than the differences.

9: ‘The Man Who Sold The World’

This one is generational: for many sprogs of the 80s, Nirvana’s classic 1993 performance of this song back when MTV ruled the world will forever be the defining version. Yet the song in fact stems from the genius of the late David Bowie, who’s third album bears both this song, and its name as its album title. Good luck picking a favourite.

10: ‘Bittersweet Symphony’

Lol, what a joke. Fuck you Allen Klein. This isn’t by the Stones, and you know it. Long live The Verve. This is their moment of glory, and what an absolutely fantastic tune it is.