Ahh covers month—it has been a sprawling, really generous definition of a month here at Charm City Jukebox, and I swear for all you covers-haters out there (do you exist? I would find that totally fascinating—leave a comment), we’re almost done.
As covers month comes to a close, it’s time to talk about cover song ignorance. Know thy covers, friends—know who sang the original, so you can win all the trivia nights and avoid being the butt of jokes from your music snob buddies (not us, of course).
Embarrassed at your original vs. cover song knowledge gaps? I’ll get you started. Here are the top five songs that I didn’t know were covers. Leave yours in the comments!
“One More Cup of Coffee” cover by The White Stripes, originally by Bob Dylan
Everyone has a serious “how did I not know this was a cover?” song (I think the top two most common “How did I not know this was a cover?” songs are “I Will Always Love You” and “Son of a Preacher Man.”) While I just feel surprised by the other songs on this list, “One More Cup of Coffee” makes me blush. Bob Dylan and Jack White have many things in common, but one that sticks out is how often listeners who don’t like them point to their unconventional voices as the reason why. Jack White’s voice is perfect here—this is a great example of why and how his voice works. Bob Dylan’s voice…well, even as a Dylan fan, this is one of those songs where I really understand the dislike.
“Strange Little Girl” by Tori Amos, originally by The Stranglers
Sure, Amos purists, this should be obvious since it’s plucked off of an album of covers. But Amos covers “Strange Little Girl” with such authority and ownership that it seems impossible that it could be by another artist. It’s a natural fit, and her delivery of this song by The Stranglers sets the tone and creates the title for the rest of the album.
Sidenote: If you love covers (we do, have you noticed?), check out the entire Strange Little Girls album, which has some solid, sometimes strange tracks, and will make you wonder why we didn’t make a bigger deal about the original “Kim,” Eminem’s ode to uxoricide and domestic violence.
“I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” by Joan Jett, originally by Alan Merrill
Speaking of authority and ownership, how often do you think people compliment Alan Merrill on his Joan Jett cover when he performs this? Every version since Joan Jett has been a cover of Joan Jett, not Alan Merrill; we all know it. It doesn’t matter how loyal Jett’s version was to the original; this is her song. I can’t find the quote, but I swear I once read that Dusty Springfield ended up preferring Aretha Franklin’s more popular version of “Son of a Preacher Man” than her own. I wonder if Merrill feels the same way.
“Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, originally by Gloria Jones
I’ve definitely heard the Gloria Jones version before, but for some reason always thought it was a Soft Cell original. I prefer the original, not just because it’s a great recording, but because “Tainted Love” may belong on our long ago “Top 5 Songs Classic Rock Radio Has Ruined” lists. A great song, for sure, but it’s predecessor sounds fresher, less exhausted by years whirling around on car radios and in grocery stores.
“Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia, originally by Ednaswap
I think I bought Natalie Imbruglia’s album in middle school based on my unrequited love for this song, which haunted every kind of radio station for about two years straight. The fact that this is actually a cover deserves a sitcom style “Whaaaa?!” sound effect. (Found one!)
Imbruglia’s version is a pretty straightforward cover, except for some obvious pop glossiness. Is it weird that I feel a little betrayed? What other classic 90’s hits are undercover covers? Other than “Return of the Mack,” which everyone knows is by Patsy Cline.