While most of the songs on this list were a successes in their own right, they were each ultimately surpassed by another artist’s rendition, at least in sales. Not even music legends like Bob Dylan or Fleetwood Mac were immune to being outdone by another artist’s cover. Maybe it was a case of releasing the right song at the right time, the appeal of the artist or changing just enough to make a good tune even better great. Whatever the case, the following are five cover songs that for one reason or another became much more popular than the originals that inspired them.
All Along The Watchtower
While Bob Dylan is no stranger having many of his tunes covered by another artists, "All Along The Watchtower" is by far a favorite, having been recorded by numerous artists in various genres including U2, Neil Young, Dave Matthews Band and several other. But it is the version recorded by the Jimi Hendrix Experience that the song is most identified with, more so than even the original. In fact, when Dylan himself first performed "All Along The Watchtower" live in 1974, it was arranged much more similarly to Hendrix’s version than his own. In the booklet accompanying his Biograph album, Dylan said of Hendrix’s version: “I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day ... Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it's a tribute to him in some kind of way."
I Love Rock 'n' Roll
Originally written by Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker for their band Arrows in 1975, it is Joan Jett’s 1982 cover that almost everyone now associates with the track. Jett was first inspired to cover “I Love Rock N Roll” while touring England in 1976, having seen Arrows perform the song on their weekly UK TV series. While Jett had recorded the song once before in 1979 with Sex Pistol members Steve Jones and Paul Cook, it wasn’t until she re-recorded the track with her own band, The Blackhearts, in 1981 that it really took off. Released in 1982, Joan Jett and the Black Heart’s version of “I love Rock N Roll” became an instant hit, remaining at the top of the charts for seven weeks. The cover has since been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, representing two million units shipped to stores.
Cum On Feel The Noize
Originally written by the mega UK rock group Slade, “Come On Feel The Noise” is far more associated with Quiet Riot’s rendition, at least here in the states. Despite being named the most successful British group of the 1970s based on sales of singles according to British Hit Singles & Albums, Slade failed to score a single chart topper in the US. It wasn’t until Quiet Riot recorded the track in 1983 that a song written by Slade finally managed to chart, no doubt bittersweet for a band that had put in a great deal of time and effort to try and gain a foothold in the US, failing each time. According to Frankie Banali in an interview with Ludwig drums, the Quiet Riot drummer said of Slade’s feelings about the cover: “think they were a little bitter about our success with their song. They had a hit with it in other territories but not in the US and later our version overshadowed theirs worldwide. Any real success in the US always seemed to elude Slade.” Despite this, there’s no doubt Slade wasn’t bitter about the huge royalty checks from the cover’s success!
When The Levee Breaks
Far from a direct cover, the popular Led Zeppelin song was a heavily re-worked version of the famous blues song of the same name, first recorded by husband and wife Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1929. In fact, beyond the title and the lyrics (which were credited to Memphis Minnie and the individual members of Led Zeppelin), the song could have been passed as whole different tune. While the original version is an exemplary staple of the early blues genre, Led Zeppelin’s rendition took everything to a whole other level, infamous for the massive amount of studio techniques and creativity it took to pull off. From backwards harmonica, backwards echo, phasing, flanging to John Bonham’s famous drum performance – recorded with a pair of mics a floor above the kit itself – the song’s recording contained several effects that, at the time, had never been used before.
Black Magic Woman
Written by Peter Green in 1968 while still a member of Fleetwood Mac, the song is much more associated with Santana’s version, becoming one of the band's staples and one of their biggest hits, with the single reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1971. While the song follows the same general structure of Green's version, also set in common time, in D minor and using the same melody and lyrics, it is considerably different. Blending of blues, rock, jazz, 3/2 afro-Cuban son clave, and "Latin" polyrhythms, Santana's arrangement added conga, timbales and other percussion, in addition to organ and piano, to make complex polyrhythms that give the song a "voodoo" feel distinct from the original. Although not as popular as Santana's arrangement two years later, "Black Magic Woman" nevertheless became a fairly popular blues-rock hit for Fleetwood Mac, peaking at No. 37 in the UK Singles Chart. While Fleetwood Mac went on to perform the song live in concert even after Green’s departure, they would usually precede it by reminding the crowd that it was a Fleetwood Mac song before it became such a big hit for Santana.
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What cover song do you greatly prefer over the original?
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