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25 Famous Songs You Never Knew Were Covers

Beyoncé | © Frank Micelotta/REX/Shutterstock
Beyoncé | © Frank Micelotta/REX/Shutterstock
Sometimes you hear a cover of one of your favorite songs and it blows the original out of the water, serves as a satisfactory companion, or falls short of the original’s glory entirely. Other times, you hear what you think is a cover of your favorite song, but learn that your favorite song was actually the cover all along.

The latter scenario is far rarer, but there might be more original-songs-that-are-actually-cover-songs out there than you first suspect. For example, Shrek would like you to believe that “I’m a Believer” was drawn from the minds of Smash Mouth and that Jeff Buckley wrote “Hallelujah,” but the responsible acts are really The Monkees and Leonard Cohen, respectively.

We’ve listed 25 acclaimed songs that you probably didn’t know were covers, along with their original creators.

1. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”

© Portrait 

Before Cyndi Lauper dropped this anthem for all women, new wave musician Robert Hazard, a hot name in the Philadelphia club scene during the ’80s, recorded the song’s demo.

2. “Blinded By the Light”

© Bronze/Warner Bros. 

We all know Manfred Mann’s Earth Band for getting us revved up like a deuce, but the first runner in the night was actually Bruce Springsteen.

3. “Red Red Wine”

© DEP/A&M/Virgin 

UB40’s reggae-flavored rendition of “Red Red Wine” might be our go-to track for vino indulgence, but the song first appeared on Neil Diamond’s sophomore record, Just For You, and it was far more somber.

4. “I Want Candy”

© RCA 

Bow Wow Wow had children screaming for sugary treats in the ’80s, and Aaron Carter kept the chant going in 2000, but the Bo Diddley beat-track first saw success when The Strangeloves released it in 1965, reaching no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

5. “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”

© Boardwalk 

It’s hard to imagine anyone who loves rock ‘n’ roll more than Joan Jett, and considering how famous she made the track it’s hard to argue different, but The Arrows declared it first—seven years before Jett.

6. “Mambo No. 5”

© RCA 

Lou Bega’s career can be summed up by “Mambo No. 5,” but before Monica, Erica, Rita, Tina, Sandra, Mary, and Jessica, he needed a little bit of Cuban bandleader Perez Prado, whose 1949 composition provided the skeleton for Bega.

7. “Tainted Love”

© Phonogram 

We all know “Tainted Love” as the dark synthpop smash courtesy of Soft Cell, but it first entered the cosmos nearly 20 years earlier via Gloria Jones and writer Ed Cobb.

8. “If I Were A Boy”

© Columbia 

When singer-songwriter BC Jean’s record company rejected her recording of “If I Were A Boy,” she did the next logical thing: she gave the song to Beyoncé.

9. “Hound Dog”

© RCA 

Before Elvis Presley got his paws on “Hound Dog,” Big Mama Thornton was cleverly calling out “motherfuckers” back in 1952.

10. “I Will Always Love You”

© Arista 

No one makes us feel more loved than the legendary Whitney Houston, but the credit here goes to Dolly Parton. Fun fact: It was actor Kevin Costner who first suggested to Houston that she cover the song for The Bodyguard soundtrack.

11. “Killing Me Softly With His Song”

© Ruffhouse 

The Fugees’ cover of “Killing Me Softly” is one of those tracks that perfectly captures ’90s nostalgia, but before Lauryn Hill became everyone’s new favorite vocalist, there was Roberta Flack, and before Flack was Lori Lieberman’s acoustic ballad.

12. “Twist and Shout”

© Parlophone 

Between The Isley Brothers, The Beatles, and The Who, it feels like almost every major musical group has taken a stab at “Twist and Shout,” but it all began with R&B collective the Top Notes.

13. “Drift Away”

© Lava 

You might know Uncle Kracker as the guy that was once on the radio every second of every day, desiring to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away, but this really belongs to John Henry Kurtz.

14. “Dazed and Confused”

© Atlantic 

Alright, alright, alright. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page made “Dazed and Confused” a dream come true for guitar solo enthusiasts, but Page was first inspired by the song’s folk-rock origins courtesy of Jake Holmes.

15. “Mickey”

© Chrysalis/Radial Choice/Virgin 

Toni Basil’s “Mickey” is so fine, but it might blow your mind to know that the song was first recorded by a British pop quartet called Racey, and it was about a woman named Kitty.

16. “Whatta Man”

© Next Plateau/London 

Before Salt ’N’ Pepa and En Vogue shared their praise for a mighty good man, gospel/soul singer Linda Lyndell, who once supported such acts as James Brown and Ike & Tina Turner, recorded the song in 1968. However, Lyndell didn’t perform the song until 2003 due to threats from the Ku Klux Klan at the time of its release.

17. “Ray of Light”

© Maverick/Warner Bros. 

Madonna brought us “Ray of Light” in 1998 to blast euphoria through club speakers, but the track’s predecessor, titled “Sepheryn,” was far more tame thanks to the folk nature of English duo Curtiss Maldoon.

18. “The First Cut Is the Deepest”

© A&M 

If the first cut is truly the deepest, then it’s only right that we recognize that, despite Sheryl Crow and Rod Stewart’s spectacular renditions, this track was not only first written by Cat Stevens, but also first recorded by soul singer P. P. Arnold.

19. “Venus”

© London 

There’s a good chance you know Bananarama’s “Venus” due to its placement in Gilette Venus razor commercials, but you probably didn’t know that the song was actually written by Dutch rock outfit Shocking Blue.

20. “Superstition”

© Tamla 

It’s hard to imagine “Superstition” being anyone else’s beyond Stevie Wonder, but Wonder delivered this track to guitarist Jeff Beck in exchange for Beck’s assistance during the Talking Book sessions. Interestingly enough, Wonder’s rework still emerged months before Beck’s due to album delays on the latter’s side.

21. “Ring of Fire”

© Columbia 

If asked to sing a Johnny Cash lyric, the majority of people would respond with “I fell into a burning ring of fire,” or a slight variation of the lyric. Yet, before the song’s 1963 release, Cash’s sister-in-law Anita Carter recorded it first.

22. “Feeling Good”

© Philips 

Amazingly enough, Nina Simone’s epic “Feeling Good” started out as a cut from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. The musical also spawned such covers as “Who Can I Turn To?” by Tony Bennett and “The Joker” by Bobby Rydell.

23. “Power of Love”

© Columbia/Epic 

Few lines are as fun to belt out as Céline Dion’s “‘Cause I am your lady / And you are my man,” but the dazzling melody was first coined nearly a decade prior by Jennifer Rush.

24. “Torn”

© RCA 

Natalie Imbruglia might be one of those names you’ve forgotten since the Australian singer-songwriter surged in the ’90s, but there’s no mistaking her breakthrough track, “Torn.” Pulling from Los Angeles rock band Ednaswap, the earnest, quick-paced pop of Imbruglia’s “Torn” was once a sludgy slow-builder full of distorted guitars.

25. “Achy Breaky Heart”

© PolyGram/Mercury 

A year before Billy Ray Cyrus and his mullet had us stomping about concerned for the hopefully unruffled state of his heart, country music trio The Marcy Brothers released the track titled as “Don’t Tell My Heart.”