Famous Cover Songs

I would like you to ask yourself the question: What makes a good cover-song? Is it when the new version is as close as possible to the original, or if the artists leave their own fingerprint on their interpretation? I for my part tend to believe that a good cover-version is one which not necessarily tops its original, but instead becomes original in its own right.
This time I would like to talk about cover versions of different songs, where some have become more popular and successful than the original.

Tainted Love

‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell is one of the most characteristic songs of the 80s. Its driving synth rhythm as well as Marc Almonds charismatic vocals will make sure the listener will never forget it ever again.

What many do not know is that ‘Tainted Love’ is, actually, a cover version. The original is a song from 1965, performed by American singer-songwriter Gloria Jones. When it came out it was a commercial flop.

Not in Love

In 2010 Crystal Castles released their second self-titled full length album. Later the same year the Canadian electropunk group joined forces with The Cure’s Robert Smith who contributed his vocals to the track ‘Not in Love’. The song has become one of the band’s biggest successes.

‘Not in Love’ was originally written by fellow-Canadian band Platinum Blonde. The song was part of their debut album Standing in the Dark from 1983, and later released as a single.


After Australian singer Kylie Minogue had entered the stage in 1987, she soon would become one of the leading pop figures of the 80s. Up to this day “The Princess of Pop” is active as a musician as well as an actress. Her debut single ‘Locomotion’ was a huge hit in her home country, soon after to conquer the charts all around the globe.

Originally named ‘The Loco-Motion’ the song was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. First performed by Little Eva in 1962, the song is a good example for the dance-song genre which means that the lyrics of the song itself gives instructions for the dance going along with it.

You Keep Me Hanging on

English new wave singer Kim Wilde was notorious throughout the 80s and the first half of the 90s for filling the charts with songs such as ‘Kids in America’, ‘You Came’, or ‘Cambodia’. One of her biggest hits is ‘You Keep me Hanging on’ from 1986.

‘You Keep Me Hanging on’ was originally recorded by American girl group The Supremes. The proto-funk song became their 8th number one single and was ranked number 339 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

One year after The Supremes’ had released ‘You Keep Me Hanging on’, progressive and psychedelic rock band Vanilla Fudge put out their interpretation of the song which had become a huge influence on the progressive rock of the 70s, not least because of Carmine Appice’s pathbreaking drum intro.

The Riddle

I remember well when the Italian DJ Gigi d’Agostino gained sudden fame in the late 90s with his album L’amour Toujours. The title song and ‘Bla Bla Bla’ became major hits in Europe in 1999. In 2000, Gigi released ‘The Riddle’ with its famous La Linea style video which has become even more successful.

For the English singer-songwriter Nik Kershaw 1984 was an outstanding year. All the five singles he released in that year hit the UK charts, among them ‘Wouldn’t it be Good’, ‘I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’, and ‘The Riddle’. The lyrics of ‘The Riddle’ caused speculation about their deeper meaning, but later Kershaw stated that they are “nonsense, rubbish, bollocks, the confused ramblings of an 80s popstar”.


The United States have spawned a whole lot of music legends, and one of the first names which come to mind is certainly Johnny Cash. The singer-songwriter from Arkansas was a pathbreaker in the genres of folk, country, blues and rock’n’roll, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. The song ‘Hurt’ from 2003 would become one of Cash’s final music works before his death in the same year. The touching video accompanying the song is considered by many publications as one of the best music videos of all time.

American industrial band Nine Inch Nails released the song ‘Hurt’ on their second studio album The Downward Spiral from 1994. In spite of its slow pace it has become one of the bands most popular and most recognisable songs. On a tour in 1995 on which NIN opened for David Bowie, Trent Reznor and Bowie sang the song together. When Reznor was asked whether Johnny Cash could cover his song, the NIN frontman was flattered but was also a bit worried due to their difference in genre and style. But when Reznor heard the cover version he was touched and stated that the “song isn’t his anymore”.

Alabama Song

Ever since American rock band The Doors released their self-titled debut in 1967, it has been regarded by many critics as one of the best debut albums of all time. Songs like ‘Light My Fire’, ‘The End’, and ‘Alabama Song’ have become benchmarks in rock music history.

The ‘Alabama Song’ was originally written by German author Bertolt Brecht in 1925 and translated into peculiar English by Brecht’s collaborator Elisabeth Hauptmann. In 1927 it was put to music by renowned German composer Kurt Weill. The ‘Alabama Song’ gained worldwide recognition through Brecht and Weill’s opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.

Mad World

For the soundtrack of the 2001 film Donnie Darko, film composer Michael Andrews and singer-songwriter Gary Jules teamed up for the song ‘Mad World’. When Donnie Darko became a cult film, the two musicians decided to release the track as a single in 2003 where it reigned the British charts for three consecutive weeks.

‘Mad World’ was the third single and first major success by British new wave band Tears for Fears. After its release in November 1982 it reached number three on the UK Singles Chart and subsequently hit the Top 40 in several other countries. Later the song appeared on the group’s debut album The Hurting. The lyrics were inspired by the theories of American psychologist Arthur Janov.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

In 1983 American singer Cyndi Lauper had her breakthrough with the hit ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’. The lyrics of the song convey a feminist message, that all women really want, is to have the same experiences that men can.

What many don’t know is that ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ is a cover song. The original track was written and performed by American musician Robert Hazard in 1979. It is about one guy who is surrounded by girls who want to have fun with him. Therefore, Lauper had to change the lyrics significantly.

Bataillon d’Amour

Next to Falco and Nena, Joachim Witt is one of the big names of Neue Deutsche Welle, the German and Austrian new wave movement of the 1980s. In the early 90s, after a few years of silence, Witt returned to the public eye with a significant different sound, the Neue Deutsche Härte (new German hardness), a style which also Rammstein, Eisbrecher or Oomph! practise. One of Joachim Witt’s biggest hits is ‘Bataillon d’Amour’ from 2001.

Originally ‘Bataillon d’Amour’ is a song by East German band Silly, released on the album of the same name in 1986. The group from Berlin around frontwoman Tamara Danz was at that time one of the most successful rock formations of socialist East Germany, which also had plenty of fans in West Germany. ‘Bataillon d’Amour’ has become one of the most popular songs of East Germany and is appreciated by many to this day.

Hanging on the Telephone

Blondie is undoubtedly one of the pioneers of new wave music in the US. The group from New York around frontwoman Debbie Harry had their breakthrough with the 1978-album Parallel Lines, which spawned several successful hits, like ‘Heart of Glass’, ‘One Way or Another’, or ‘Hanging on the Telephone’.

‘Hanging on the Telephone’ was originally written by Jack Lee for his power pop band The Nerves from Los Angeles. Its release in 1976 was a commercial flop which lead to the band’s split-up, however, The Nerves had been re-discovered by punk-fans and are considered the founding vanguard of the L.A.-punk scene.

It’s My Life

Californian rock band No Doubt is around since 1987, however, the group around singer Gwen Stefani has to wait till 1995 to make an impact. The single ‘Don’t Speak’ was a huge success, teleporting the band into the public eye. For promoting a greatest hits album in 2003 No Doubt released the song ‘It’s my Life’ which would become another milestone in the band’s history.

‘It’s my Life’ was originally written and performed by the British synthpop band Talk Talk. It was the first single off their second album of the same name from 1984. Although being less successful in their home country, ‘It’s my Life’ could gain better success in other countries like Germany, France, or the US. The song is singer Mark Hollis’ manifesto for independence from popular taste and the pressure of the music industry.

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