While behind-the-scenes songwriters pen pop jams for superstars every day, it's another story when an artist takes a song previously released by another musician and makes it their own. Many icons on this list–like Whitney Houston, Nirvana, Christina Aguilera and more–took relatively obscure originals and gave them a whole new life, creating globally beloved hit songs. Still, the song's originators deserve credit. So here are 11 chart-topping songs you didn't know were covers.
Whitney Houston has no shortage of spine-tingling vocal performances to her name, but her take on Dolly Parton's pop-country single "I Will Always Love You" for The Bodyguard soundtrack might be her best ever. That soundtrack was the first record to ever sell one million units in one week following the implementation of Neilsen's SoundScan, and it became the best-selling soundtrack of all time, thanks in part to Houston's phenomenal performance. "I Will Always Love You" also re-debuted in Billboard's Top 10 after Houston's death in 2012.
Yes, one of The King's biggest hits–and one of the best-selling singles of all time, with more than 10 million copies sold–is a cover song. "Hound Dog" has been recorded by too many artists to name, but Elvis made it his forever in 1956, only three years after the song's original release by the legendary Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton (her's was a lot slower).
With Elvis' version being so well-known and influential–it topped the pop chart for an astounding 11 weeks–the fact that it's a cover has been often overlooked by listeners for decades.
Nirvana's performance of David Bowie's 1970 song "The Man Who Sold The World" was used as a single for the band's MTV Unplugged album in 1994, and peaked at No. 6 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart. The tune was recognizable enough, and Nirvana big enough, that younger music listeners associate it primarily with the grunge act over Bowie.
The original Queen of Soul lists "Respect" as one of her signature hits–and with her shining vocal performance on the track, it's easy to see why–but the original number was penned and released by Otis Redding in 1965. Franklin's version adds the famous spelled-out "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" into the chorus, but her version is otherwise pretty similar to Redding's–compare them for yourself.
This is one of the most covered songs of all time, but most people credit it to The Beatles, who had phenomenal success with their version in the mid-1960s. "Beatlemania" hit its peak when the act achieved the since-unmatched feat of dominating the entire top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and "Twist and Shout" was the number two track that week. The track actually never hit number one, but The Beatles had stiff competition (themselves!) so we won't hold it against them.
John Lennon's vocals on the songs are well-known for their gritty quality–he had a cold the night it was recorded. That, coupled with the quartet harmonizing their "ahhhhs" near the end, makes "Twist and Shout" one of the most vocally memorable Beatles tracks ever.
But you should know that "Twist and Shout" is originally credited to Phil Medley and Bert Berns in 1961. Plus The Isley Brothers had a notable hit with the track in 1962 as well.
Xtina included her take on All-4-One's 1996 R&B ballad "I Turn To You" on her 1999 debut self-titled album, and the track was the third single to be released from that record. While the album's previous two singles, "Genie In A Bottle" and "What A Girl Wants," topped the Billboard Hot 100, "I Turn To You" peaked at the No. 3 spot. That being said, the track has held up well for Aguilera, becoming a staple for awards show performances.
But it's not like All-4-One's original version didn't get any attention. After all, it was included on the soundtrack to the cinematic masterpiece that saw the team up of Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan: Space Jam.
With multiple weeks as the No. 1 tune on the Billboard Hot 100, Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" is one of the more easily recognizable singles of 1980s pop. And when you listen to the slow-tempo, sugar-coated 1967 original by Tommy James and the Shondells (side note: they're the same band behind "Crystal Blue Persuasion," which AMC's Breaking Bad recently re-popularized), it's crystal-clear why the song lent itself to an '80s rekindling.
"House of the Rising Sun" is a traditional folk song of unknown origin–it could literally be hundreds of years old. Although the original author is not known, it's been covered time and again, most famously by The Animals in the mid-'60s. Their version hit No. 1 in the UK, the United States and a few other countries.
Like Aretha Franklin's "Respect," this is a song that is entirely dominated by the artist who didn't originally release it. Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" won two major GRAMMY Awards in 1990–both Record of the Year and Song of the Year–but it was first released by Roger Whittaker in 1982. Whittaker didn't write the song either, though: That credit goes to Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley (also in 1982).
While Bowling For Soup's "1985" didn't enjoy the same level of worldwide success as some of the other songs on this list, it did peak in the Top 25 of Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Plus it's one of the more memorable pop-punk songs of the mid-2000s. The track is originally credited to SR-71 (the bands sound pretty darn similar), but Bowling For Soup changed quite a few lyrics and references, making it a little more friendly for radio play. That strategy worked out, and "1985" stands out as a fun tune that pays homage to a decade past–the nostalgia trip alone is worth spinning it every once in a while.
So this is a "bonus round" because Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel" isn't really a cover in the traditional sense. The story behind the tune is that Bob Dylan wrote and recorded a rough demo / "sketch" of the song (then called "Rock Me Mama") in 1973 while working on other music. Decades later, Old Crow Medicine Show vocalist Keith Secor wrote verses around Dylan's chorus, using Dylan's melody. If you listen to Dylan's original recording of the tune, it's obvious enough that Secor's verses substantially added to the success of "Wagon Wheel," which has been certified platinum in the U.S.
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