I Didn’t Know That Was a Cover! Part 3

Have you ever been taken aback to discover a beloved or familiar song has roots in another decade, style, or incarnation? Did something you heard on the oldies station ever cause you to lose just a little of the awe and reverence you had for a particular artist’s creative proclivities?

In this our third installment revealing the relatively obscure original versions of familiar songs, we hope to open your eyes and ears once more with revelations about songs you didn’t know quite as well as you thought you did.



“Bette Davis Eyes”-Kim Carnes

Carnes’ career-making “Bette Davis Eyes” topped the charts for nine weeks and won Grammy awards for Record- and Song of the Year in 1981. While its arrangement is heavy on the atmospheric 80’s synths, Jackie DeShannon’s 1975 original by contrast comes on like Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band.

While both versions have merit, the contrast between the two is jarring.


“Got My Mind Set On You”-George Harrison

What have we here? The legendary former Beatle (redundant I suppose, since you can’t be a former Beatle and un-legendary) teams with producer Jeff Lynne for a 1987 #1 hit that sounds like…a 1987 ELO song.

Again the contrast with the original (James Ray in 1962) is striking. Honestly in this case I can’t imagine a large number of people being fans of both incarnations of this song–making the case for studio production’s major role in a song’s appeal.



“Cum On Feel the Noize”-Quiet Riot

Although Slade’s 1973 original has a certain glam rock charm, it also demonstrates in unmistakable terms the relative appeal of glam here (where it peaked at #98) and across the pond where British fans made it a chart-topping single. Conversely, Quiet Riot’s version didn’t chart in Britain, while American fans made it a #5 hit.

To my (American) ears Quiet Riot’s cover is a lesson in how to make a rock song feel more like a punch in your face. Like other 80’s metal anthems (Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name”, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, for example) it begins with the fist-pumping, anthemic chorus–not a verse–and is fueled by a much more pronounced backbeat.


“Good Lovin'”-The Rascals

Felix Cavaliere and the Rascals (who still called themselves the Young Rascals at the time) broke through with the first of their three #1 hits in 1966, a cover of the Olympics’ #81 chart dud of the previous year. Honestly, though Cavaliere and Co. upped the energy level a bit, I’m a little surprised the earlier version didn’t break the top 40 itself.



“China Girl”-David Bowie

Talk about your upgrades. Bowie’s slick, clean cover of Iggy Pop’s “China Girl” adds the  “Oh-oh-oh-oh” vocal hook and generally doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a garbage can. So it’s not a shock that it went top ten in 1983 while Iggy’s original has been heard by about seventeen people, including you if you played the above sample.


“No More I Love You’s”-Annie Lennox

The Eurythmics lead singer’s 1995 #23 hit was a cover of a non-charting original from a well-regarded self-titled album by new wave duo The Lover Speaks.



“Get Together”-The Youngbloods

“Get Together” peaked at #5 1968 for Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods and has considerable boomer cred as its plea for peace, love and brotherhood to triumph over fear is just the kinda shit hippies were into.

But it takes a true hippie to appreciate the song in its original incarnation. The Kingston Trio’s recording is perfectly emblematic of the genre of overly earnest 60’s folk so brilliantly pilloried in the film A Mighty Wind.


The Kingston Trio


Kingston Trio parodists The Folksmen

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2012/11/20/i-didnt-know-that-was-a-cover-part-2/

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2012/11/19/i-didnt-know-that-was-a-cover/

I Didn’t Know That Was a Cover! Part 2

In the interest of the betterment of your overall pop music knowledge/ability to spout random trivia…here’s another installment in the always popular (with me) I Didn’t Know That Was a Cover! series. Part 2 is subtitled: I Didn’t Know That Would Become a Series! Let’s dive in:


Our first three songs are examples of artists covering themselves; that is, revisiting songs they’d previously recorded with less well-known bands.

“Do Ya”-Electric Light Orchestra

Years Before Jeff Lynne’s “Do Ya” appeared on ELO’s 1977 A New World Record LP and peaked at #24 on the pop chart, he recorded a less polished version with The Move, a band that included English rock legend Roy Wood and another ELO member, Bev Bevan. Their version came with no strings attached.


“Somebody to Love”-Jefferson Airplane

Grace Slick’s band The Great Society recorded the original version of her “Somebody to Love”, as well as “White Rabbit”. Both later appeared on Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 Surrealistic Pillow album and are probably that band’s two most important/popular recordings. This clip suggests that Airplane was much the better band.


“Cherry Bomb”-Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

Another member of The Runaways was mentioned in the previous post on this topic. This time it’s Joan Jett, whose “Cherry Bomb” was first recorded with that band. While both versions have their fans, neither exactly blew up (blew up I say) on the pop charts.


“Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)”-The Doobie Brothers

The Doobies proved their versatility in 1975 by following up their first #1 single–the bluegrass-flavored “Black Water”–with an old Holland-Dozier-Holland chestnut originally recorded ten years earlier by Kim Weston.


“They Don’t Know”-Tracey Ullman

British actress/comedienne and sometimes singer Tracey Ullman was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. although several of her singles were well-received abroad. Her schtick was to update the 60’s girl group sound, and “They Don’t Know” was an irresistible nugget of retropop. The backing vocals were supplied by the same woman who provided the song itself, Kirsty MacColl. Kirsty’s version is much the same–Tracey just upped the cute factor some.


“Big Ten Inch Record”-Aerosmith

This song certainly clashed stylistically with the rest of the classic 1975 Toys in the Attic album, but I think that was the point. It’s a safe bet to be the only Bull Moose Jackson song in most Aerosmith fans’ collections.


“Unchained Melody”-The Righteous Brothers

What we have here is your all-purpose guide to “Unchained Melody”, starting with the Righteous Brothers and moving backward in time. (We will ignore versions by LeAnn Rimes, Heart, The Sweet Inspirations and even Elvis Himself, all of whom recorded versions after the Righteous Brothers, none of whom should have bothered.)

The above clip is a little medley, a Bill Medley if you will, of snippets of the six versions of this song that matter. Here’s what you hear in succession:

  1. The newly recorded 1990 version done by the Righteous Brothers in response to demand created by the song’s inclusion in the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore film Ghost. This is not, however, the version which appeared in that movie. This version charted at #19 in 1990.
  2. The Righteous Brothers’ first hit version, which went to #4 in 1965 and climbed to #13 in 1990 after its inclusion in Ghost. Yes, incredibly they had two different recordings of their song chart at numbers 13 and 19 in the same year.
  3. Vito & The Salutations’ fast doo wop version from 1963. Sounds like a parody of the Righteous Brothers, but it actually came two years earlier.
  4. Roy Hamilton’s #6 hit from 1955
  5. Al Hibbler’s #3 hit from 1955
  6. Finally, Les Baxter’s #1 version, also from 1955 and the only time the song has gone to the top of the charts. If you count June Valli’s #29 hit of the same year, the song had four top 40 versions in 1955 alone, three of them top ten.

If you’ve always wondered why this song carries around such a strange title, it’s because Les Baxter’s original version was from the movie Unchained (which starred football star Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch).

p.s. Why don’t football players have nicknames like “Crazylegs” anymore?

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2012/11/19/i-didnt-know-that-was-a-cover/

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2016/06/11/i-didnt-know-that-was-a-cover-part-3/

%d bloggers like this: