A Brief History
On October 12, 1957, Little Richard made a dramatic gesture to prove he was quitting rock music for a more religious life when he tossed four diamond rings into the Hunter River in Sydney, Australia. Well, that lasted five years before Little Richard was back on stage, where he still is to this day, rocking and rolling at the age of 81.
In 1955 Little Richard had a massive hit with the song “Tutti Frutti” at a time when many white parents were trying to keep their kids away from rock and roll. This slam-bang-in-your-face song was then immediately covered by crooner Pat Boone, and the result was far different from the Little Richard version. Although the Little Richard rendition is the one most remembered today, Boone’s slower version reached #12 on the charts, whereas Little Richard’s original only peaked at #17. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the 1950s were less racially tolerant than today. “Tutti Frutti” is just one example of the same song being covered by different singers or groups to varying degrees of success.
Sometimes even the same artist puts out 2 versions of the same song that are totally different from one another (such as Elvis with “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”). Some covers are quite similar to the original, such as “Heat Wave” by Linda Ronstadt (originally sung by Martha and The Vandellas) or even The Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout,” which though distinct, is basically the same presentation as the Isley Brothers version (which is actually a cover itself). Below 9 more songs are listed that have been remade into covers that are markedly different from the original.
9. “Respect,” Otis Redding, The Vagrants, Aretha Franklin
In the case of “Respect,” the two singers most associated with the song each gave it a different take; the 1965 Redding original is about a desperate man willing to give his love anything she wants; whereas the more famous 1967 Franklin interpretation is about a woman demanding respect. This difference is reflected in the tone of the respective versions. In 1967, the blue-eyed soul group The Vagrants had a minor hit with it as well.
8. “Different Drum,” The Greenbriar Boys, Michael Nesmith of the Monkees and Linda Ronstadt.
“Different Drum” was first recorded in 1966 by The Greenbriar Boys who did a hillbilly take on the song. Performed with the Stone Poneys, the Ronstadt version from 1967 is the definitive one. Written by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, his rendition is slower and more conversational, although a 1966 version he performed on the Monkees television show was sung faster.
7. “If I Had a Hammer,” Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Peter, Paul and Mary and Trini Lopez.
“If I had a Hammer” was written by Pete Seeger and originally performed by The Weavers in 1950 as “The Hammer Song.” Despite the Peter, Paul and Mary version from 1962 being the one most often heard on the radio today, the 1963 Trini Lopez version which had an upbeat tempo and Latin flavor was actually a bigger hit, reaching #3 in the charts, whereas the Peter, Paul and Mary rendition only peaked at #10.
6. “MacArthur Park,” Richard Harris, Waylon Jennings and Donna Summer.
Remade into a disco hit by Donna Summer in 1978, the two versions of “MacArthur Park” have a different feel indeed. The Harris version from 1968 is slower and melancholic, whereas the Summer version is fast, loud and with altered lyrics. Waylon Jennings has also covered this song; in fact he did so twice (in 1969 and 1976).
5. “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” Roy Clark and Shirley Bassey.
One of those haunting, sad and depressing songs, “Yesterday, When I was Young” was written by French writer Charles Aznavour as “Hier Encore.” Roy Clark had the big definitive hit with the song in 1969, but a different, slightly staccato version by Shirley Bassey (the lady who sang the Goldfinger theme song) is good as a change of pace. History and Headlines Trivia: Billboard magazine says over 90 versions of this song were recorded before 1972.
4. “Me And Bobby McGee,” Gordon Lightfoot, Janis Joplin and Dolly Parton.
Written by Kris Kristofferson, many artists have covered “Me and Bobby McGee,” but only the Janis Joplin interpretation from 1971 went to #1 (after her death), and she is the singer most associated with that song. The Dolly Parton version of 2005 has a contrasting tone that is softer and sung with Parton’s high, trembling voice. It is not as rough and forceful as the Joplin rendition. For something quirky, try the Gordon Lightfoot version which predates even Joplin.
3. “Blue Moon,” The Marcels, The Cowboy Junkies and The Mavericks.
“Blue Moon” is surprisingly old, having been written in 1934. Since then it has been sung by a variety of artists including but not limited to Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Mel Thome. The Marcels version from 1961, however, is the definitive version and is a rock and roll classic. In 1988, the Cowboy Junkies remade the song into a slower version and even added new lyrics, making for a wonderful song that is totally different from what one is used to. Another great version that is distinct is the 1988 version by The Mavericks. Pick your favorite.
2. “Love Hurts,” The Everly Brothers, Nazareth and Nan Vernon.
Covered by Nazareth in 1975, the two versions of “Love Hurts” are light years apart, with the original Everly Brother’s version from 1960 being slow and boring, while the Nazareth version is loud and demanding. Nan Vernon recorded an entirely different take on the song that was featured in the 2009 movie Halloween II.
1. “Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce Springsteen and Nicole Atkins.
The classic Springsteen song “Dancing in the Dark,” his biggest commercial hit from 1984, was redone this year by a fellow New Jersey singer, Nicole Atkins. Her sweet, slowed-down version is so different from the hard-driving original, it is like night and day. If you dig the “Dancing in the Dark” remake, try listening to Low’s cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.”
Question for students (and subscribers): What covers would you add to a sequel list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
For another interesting “1 + 9” list, please read the History and Headlines article: “1 + 9 Sex Songs that Shocked Social Sensibilities” from October 11.
For another interesting event that happened on October 12, please read the History and Headlines article: “Top Environmental Issues Affecting Our Planet.”
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For more information, please see…
Kirby, David. Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Continuum, 2009.