10 More Famous Songs With Unknown Originals
As a follow-up to my previous list, I’ve noticed that a cover of an “unknown” original for most people simply means the remake was better than the original. My goal is that with at least one song on this list, you never knew the version you know and loved was a cover.
Sung first in the movie “The Singing Hill” (1941), the song was covered numerous times by popular artists before Fats Domino recorded the version we are all familiar with. Perhaps the surprising thing is that none of those covers were remembered.
A Motown-style B-side on a record that flopped, it barely survived in Britain’s Northern soul clubs during the ’70s. Jones tried to revive it in 1976 by re-releasing it with a mediocre funk guitar line and a little harsher singing style but that effort failed too, probably because it was worst than the first version. It was saved by obscurity when Soft Cell did their cover which musically fit the early ’80s scene perfectly.
Apparently in the early ’70s, Joe Flaherty of SCTV fame grew some long hair and sideburns and decided to dress all in plaid. He teamed up with a guitar-playing Sparklettes truck and a bass player that looks normal next to those two despite wearing clothes from the 1970s. Despite the fact that they completely don’t look it, they actually rock.
Slade-inspired band Arrows (not The Arrows) had a TV show that ran for two series (seasons in the US) in the 1970s. Besides Joan Jett’s famous cover, the song was also done by Britney Spears and Kristen Wiig. I dare you to listen to those covers all the way through.
Close your eyes and imagine listening to this song. You hear Kim Carnes’ raspy voice and the question is: is she angry or on a three pack a day cigarette habit (or both). What you probably didn’t hear was something straight off of Broadway. Jackie DeShannon was actually a major player in the ’60s rock and roll scene and she barely missed hitting it big with “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and “What the World Needs Now Is Love.”
Apparently, up to about 30 years ago, everyone knew Hoagy Carmichael did the original song and now everyone thinks it was Ray Charles. Set up as a orchestral piece, the original was done by all-star musicians like Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey and Bix Beiderbecke with Carmichael singing. Two pieces of trivia: Georgia On My Mind is the state song of Georgia (you probably knew that) and in Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, he is often said to look like Hoagy Carmichael.
WTF? I’ve never even heard of this song! Exactly. But I guarantee that you’ve heard of the more famous cover “Mickey” by Toni Basil. This song comes from their first (actually only) album Smash and Grab. They broke up and now there are two groups named Racey that you’ve never heard of.
Did you know Bobby McGee was a woman? It’s true. In fact when Fred Foster proposed the song idea to Kristofferson, the idea that Bobby McKee (the original last name) was female was the hook. The song has a certain association with death. The inspiration for the line “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” was inspired by a death in the movie “La Strada” and Janis Joplin recorded her version just before her death. You may be familiar with Kristofferson’s version of the song but that wasn’t the original (surprise!). It was originally recorded by Roger Miller and covered three times before Kris recorded his version.
It’s our friends from the first list, songwriter Bertholt Brecht and music writer Kurt Weill. This song was written for the movie “The Threepenny Opera.” The lyrics were significantly changed and downplayed the murders and rape when translated for an American audience. In the film, the song is sung by Kurt Gerron but Lili… errr, Lotte Lenya had a part in the song development. She was performing “The Threepenny Opera” on Broadway when Louis Armstrong did his cover. She sat in the studio and Armstrong ad-libbed her name in the list of women admirers.
Any banjo players out there need to know that no banjo player can actually sing. I saw a documentary on it (my son is learning to be a bluegrass fiddler) and not one banjo player could carry a tune. The version by The Byrds was so melodic that this one will be hard to listen to. The notes Pete Seeger sings don’t seem to match the notes he is playing at all. The lyrics themselves are taken from the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes but I don’t think King Solomon got songwriting credits.