Recently I had a friend hip me to a song that I had no idea existed, having thought for decades that the later cover of it by an ‘80s one-hit-wonder band was the original and only version ever recorded. This epiphany led to a conversation about hit songs that we didn’t at first realize were covers—sometimes not discovering the existence of the original versions until many years after the fact. A few friends joined in, and at the end of the conversation I was sitting on a list of nearly 50 well-known hit songs that were “surprise” cover versions.
As a public service to Dangerous Minds readers, I’m going to share this list so that you too can wow your friends at parties with your vast musical knowledge. Granted, our readership is a smart and savvy bunch, so undoubtedly you’ll come across songs on this list and you’ll say “I already knew about that.” Yes, of course you did, but do indulge the rest of us, won’t you? Hopefully, though, there’s something here to surprise even you.
We’ll be rolling this list out in parts over the next few weeks. In no particular order, this is Part One of Dangerous Minds’ list of hits you (probably) didn’t realize were cover songs.
The song: “Obsession”
You know it from: Animotion
But it was done first by: Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight
“Obsession” was a 1984 smash for one-hit-wonders Animotion, but it was originally recorded a year earlier in 1983 by Silverhead and Detective lead singer Michael Des Barres and Grammy-winning songwriter, Holly Knight. Incidentally, this is the song that started the conversation that resulted in this entire list.
The song: “King of the Nighttime World”
You know it from: KISS
But it was done first by: Kim Fowley and the Hollywood Stars
“King of the Nighttime World” appeared on KISS’ 1976 platinum album Destroyer, but it was originally recorded in 1974 by producer, performer, and Runaways’ Svengali, Kim Fowley. Fowley’s version has slightly different lyrics and a more laid-back groove.
The song: “Wild in the Streets”
You know it from: The Circle Jerks
But it was done first by: Garland Jeffreys
“Wild in the Streets,” one of The Circle Jerks’ signature tunes, was the title track from their second album. Most punks in 1983 probably didn’t know that the song was actually a cover of a 1973 number written by Garland Jeffreys after hearing about a pre-teen rape and murder in the Bronx.
The song: “Gloria”
You know it from: Laura Branigan
But it was done first by: Umberto Tozzi
Laura Branigan’s signature song, her 1982 hit, “Gloria,” was on the Billboard chart for 36 weeks—but prior to that it was a huge 1979 hit in Italy for Umberto Tozzi.
Many more cover versions that you didn’t know were cover versions after the jump…