Original Versions: Now It Can Be Told!

Published on January 8th, 2010 in: Music |

By Christian Lipski

Anyone who has spent any time listening to the radio or watching movies will know that we have entered the Era of the Cover. Bands are starting out by covering old popular songs—no songwriting effort needed. Hollywood has run out of ideas and is pillaging concepts from old movies, TV, toys, video games, theme park rides, etc. The thing is, this has been happening for a long time, though not at the incredible rate it is now. A lot of the songs you love were originally recorded by other artists! Now it can be told!!

billy dee williams

Pretty much everyone knows that “Twist and Shout” was not written by the Beatles, and some scholars will identify the Isley Brothers as the originators of the tune, but in fact, it was first recorded by Philadelphia group The Top Notes (and produced by a young Phil Spector)! “A Taste of Honey” was originally a bit of incidental music for the play of the same name, and first recorded with vocals by BILLY DEE WILLIAMS!

Usually there’s not much of a difference between the original and its echo. Sometimes it’s as simple as re-recording the original directly—Madness’s sweet “It Must Be Love” was released by Labi Siffre in 1971 in much the same style, and crazily enough, “Black Magic Woman,” associated forever with Mexican guitar artiste Santana, was written and recorded first by the very British Fleetwood Mac (the early blues incarnation, though) with the same Latin feel.

You might also just need to change the language, like “Torn,” by Natalie Imbruglia, which was first recorded as “Brændt” by Danish singer Lis Sørensen. Add Sinatra’s famous “My Way” to that list, as it was first called “Comme d’habitude” in 1967 when Claude François and Jacques Revaux wrote it, before Paul Anka came up with new lyrics.

Those originals are more or less in the same style as the later cover, but even more fascinating are the originals that are nothing like the more famous versions. The song “Bette Davis Eyes,” a number one hit for Kim Carnes in 1981, is a smoky, synthy number with a thumping beat. When it was originally released by Jackie DeShannon in 1975, it had a shuffle feel and honky-tonk piano! It’s pretty rare that a cover version will totally rearrange the original, but it’s amazing stuff if you look for it.

It’s quite an experience to listen to the originals, most of which went relatively unnoticed by the music world, and try to identify what it was about the song that made someone want to cover it. What was it about Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Muskrat Candlelight” that made The Captain & Tenille decide to give it a shot (and rename it)? The music blog Any Major Dude With Half a Heart puts out a fairly regular series of articles on original versions, and provides the majority of the examples I mention here.

One Response to “Original Versions: Now It Can Be Told!”

  1. Popshifter » Samples: Where’d That Come From?:
    January 13th, 2010 at 8:27 am

    […] addition to my love of original versions of songs, I also like to collect songs that are used as samples in other […]

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.