10 Classic Rock Songs You Didn't Know Were Covers
I'm always surprised when I find out that one of my favorite songs is actually a cover. I love a good cover song, as long as the new version is an improvement, or the artist puts their own spin on the music. I think all of these great cover songs meet those requirements.
Songs You Didn't Know Were Covers
"And When I Die"—Blood, Sweat, and Tears (original by Peter, Paul, and Mary)
"Respect"—Aretha Franklin (original by Otis Redding)
"Superstar"—The Carpenters (original by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell)
"The Tide Is High"—Blondie (original by The Paragons)
"I Will Always Love You"—Whitney Houston (original by Dolly Parton)
"Take Me to the River"—Talking Heads (original by Al Green)
"Get Together"—Youngbloods (original by Chet Powers)
"Gentle on My Mind"—Glen Campbell (original by John Hartford)
"Papa Was a Rolling Stone"—The Temptations (original by The Undisputed Truth)
"Get Ready"—Rare Earth (original by Smokey Robinson)
1. "And When I Die"—Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Album: Blood, Sweat & Tears (Expanded Edition)
Year released: 1968
Original: Peter, Paul, and Mary
“And When I Die” was one of Blood, Sweat, and Tears' biggest hits. It was written by Laura Nyro. Nyro also recorded the song in 1967, but that was not even the first recording of the song.
Peter, Paul, and Mary made the first recording of "And When I Die" in 1966. They omitted the lyrics, "don't wanna go by the devil, don't wanna go by the demons."
Blood Sweat and Tears released their famous version in 1969. I just love the Blood, Sweat and Tears video below. It's hard to beat David Clayton Thomas' voice, and the tuba solo is to die for.
I've always loved the Blood, Sweat and Tears version of this song. I hadn't heard the one by Peter, Paul and Mary before, but I have to say, it's not bad.
And when I die
and when I'm dead, dead and gone,
There'll be one child born and
a world to carry on, to carry on…— "And When I Die," Peter, Paul, and Mary
2. "Respect"—Aretha Franklin
Album: I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
Original: Otis Redding
Few people remember that Otis Redding originally wrote and recorded "Respect" in 1965. In 1967, it became a signature song for Aretha Franklin.
The two versions have completely different vibes. Redding's version reeks of desperation from a man begging his woman to come back, all he asks for is just a little respect when he brings home the money.
Aretha's song is an ultimatum. She has never done her man wrong, and she promises him everything, but one thing she demands is his respect.
What you want
Baby, I got it
What you need
Do you know I got it?…— "Respect," Otis Redding
3. "Superstar"—The Carpenters
Original: Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell
The Carpenters’ music could be a little smarmy sometimes, but you can't deny that Karen had a voice beyond compare. “Superstar” was one of three hits from the Carpenters’ self-titled third album (the other two were “For All We Know” and “Rainy Days and Mondays”). It’s a poignant song about a woman missing her rockstar man while he's out on the road.
“Superstar” was written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell, and originally recorded by Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. The original title was “Groupie (Superstar).” Also, the lyrics, “I can hardly wait to sleep with you again,” were omitted from the song.
Several other people recorded the song before The Carpenters. They included Joe Cocker, Cher, and Bette Midler. Most people immediately associate the song with The Carpenters, but I think Bonnie does an excellent job of singing it also.
Don't you remember, you told me you loved me baby?
You said you'd be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby
I love you, I really do…— "Superstar," Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell
4. "The Tide Is High"—Blondie
Album: The Tide Is High
Genre: New wave/post-punk
Original: The Paragons
John Holt wrote “The Tide Is High" in 1966. It was originally performed by Holt and the Jamaican group The Paragons (Holt was the lead singer). It's a good song, I'm glad Blondie found it and saved it from obscurity.
The song didn't get much attention until 1980, when Blondie covered the song on their fifth album, Autoamerican. She kept the reggae-style, but with horn and strings. It was a number one hit single in the U.S. and many other countries.
The tide is high but I'm holdin' on
I'm gonna be your number one
I'm not the kinda girl who gives up just like that, oh no
It's not the things you do that tease and hurt me bad…— "The Tide Is High," The Paragons
5. "I Will Always Love You"—Whitney Houston
Movie: The Bodyguard
Original: Dolly Parton
I hope most people already know that “I Will Always Love You” is a cover. I'm sure my fellow baby boomers will. Dolly Parton wrote and recorded the song in 1974.
It enjoyed great success, hitting number one on the country charts twice (once when it was new, and again when it was re-recorded for the 1982 movie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). I love Dolly's versions. Her voice may not be as powerful as Whitney's, but it's so pure and sweet. If anyone only knows Whitney's version, I hope you will take a few moments to listen to Dolly singing her song.
Houston's remake is awesome, but in a completely different way. Her version was originally recorded for the 1992 movie, The Bodyguard. It brought the song to a whole new audience, and topped almost every chart that existed. It became the all-time, bestselling single by a woman.
If I should stay, I would only be in your way
So I'll go, but I know
I'll think of you every step of the way
And I will always love you…— "I Will Always Love You," Dolly Parton
6. "Take Me to the River"—Talking Heads
Album: More Songs About Buildings and Food
Original: Al Green
Al Green originally recorded “Take Me to the River” for his 1974 album, Al Green Explores Your Mind. Al Green wrote the lyrics and collaborated with Mabon Hodges on the music.
In 1978, it was a breakthrough single for Talking Heads. They redid the song without sacrificing its funk. The Talking Heads slowed the tempo and made the song their own for their 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food.
Green approved and jokingly commented that he hoped to cover one of Talking Heads' songs one day.
I want to know that you'll tell me
I love to stay
Take me to the river, drop me in the water
Push me in the river, dip me in the water…— "Take Me to the River," Al Green
7. "Get Together"—Youngbloods
Album: The Youngbloods
Original: Kingston Trio
"Get Together" was written by Chet Powers in the mid-1960s, also known as Dino Valenti. He sold the publishing rights to Frank Werber, the manager of The Kingston Trio, when he needed the money to fight a possession of marijuana charge. Under the name Dino Valenti, he later became the lead singer of the rock group Quicksilver Messenger Service.
The song was originally recorded as "Let's Get Together" by the Kingston Trio. It was released in June of 1964. It was released on their album Back in Town. It was not released as a single. I think it was just OK.
The song first appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 when the band, We Five, released a version in 1965. It peaked at #31. It was a little better than the Kingston Trio's version, but still not great.
Quite a few other singers and bands did their own versions of the song, but as far as I am concerned, none compare with the Youngbloods'. They first released the song in 1967, then again in 1969 (when it peaked at number five).
Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another…— "Get Together," Kingston Trio
8. "Gentle on My Mind"—Glen Campbell
Album: Gentle on My Mind
Original: John Hartford
I have always loved the imagery in this song. Those lines seem to put you right there in the train yard around the campfire.
John Hartford wrote “Gentle on My Mind.” In 1969, his recording of it won a Grammy for Best Folk Performance. He also won a Grammy with it as the songwriter for Best Country & Western Song.
However, the artist most people associate with this song won two more Grammys for it that same year, Glen Campbell.
It's knowin' that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleepin' bag
Rolled up and stashed behind your couch…— "Gentle on My Mind," John Hartford
9. "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"—The Temptations
Featured artist: Paul Riser
Album: All Directions
Original: The Undisputed Truth
Most people associate this song with The Temptations, but many are surprised to discover that Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong originally wrote “Papa Was a Rolling Stone" for a different band, The Undisputed Truth.
They recorded the song in 1972. It was a moderate success, charting at number 24 on the R&B Charts and number 63 on the Pop Charts.
When The Temptations took their 12-minute version to number one, and won three Grammy's for it in 1973, The Undisputed Truth's version was virtually forgotten.
Papa was a rolling stone
Wherever he laid his hat was his home
And when he died, all he left us was alone
Papa was a rolling stone (my son, yeah)…— "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," The Undisputed Truth
10. "Get Ready"—Rare Earth
Album: Get Ready
Year released: 1969
Original: Smokey Robinson
Rare Earth was the first Caucasian Motown band to have any success, but they really knocked it out of the park with this song. They recorded "Get Ready" for their album of the same name in 1969. But, that wasn't the first time it was a hit. In 1965, the Temptations recorded the Smokey Robinson-penned tune and had a moderate pop, and #1 soul, hit with the song.
As a result, there are two distinct versions of this classic tune: the Temptations R&B classic and Rare Earth's hard-rocking FM staple.
I never met a girl could make me feel the way that you do
(You're all right)
Whenever I'm asked what makes a my dreams real
I tell 'em you do
(You're outta sight)— "Get Ready," Smokey Robinson
Were You Surprised?
I'm sure most music aficionados already knew some of these songs were covers. How about you, were you surprised by any of these selections?
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Sherry Hewins