As a music lover (aren’t we all?), I’m sometimes surprised when I find out that a song I’ve listened to dozens or hundreds of times turns out to be a cover of someone else’s song. Surprised and embarrassed, because as a fan, I always feel I should have known better.
My most spectacular faceplant in this area came after I saw Bob Dylan in concert in 1979. After the concert (a great show, by the way) I commented to the person I was with, “that Jimi Hendrix song he did was great.” The song, of course, was All Along The Watchtower, which Dylan himself wrote and recorded before Hendrix recorded what I believe is the definitive version. Definitive, but a cover nonetheless.
A more recent example of this is Elvis Costello’s “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” from his Get Happy! album. The song is full of the lyrical twists we’ve come to expect and enjoy from him, but it wasn’t until I got the reissue of the album a year or so ago that the song was actually recorded by Sam & Dave back in the 1960s and written, I see on Wikipedia, by Homer Banks and Allen Jones.
Another is the song Wrong ‘Em Boyo by the Clash on London Calling. I guess I’d never noticed that the song was written by Clive Alphonso, not Strummer/Jones like most of the songs on that amazing, amazing album.
A few months ago I was editing the “old boat column” for our magazine, and the author mentioned the steamboat Stacker Lee. It got me to thinking about Stagger Lee from that song, of course, so I got to looking through the legend of Stagger Lee and soon found that the song is a cover of a song by the Rulers. You can find an mp3 version of it on Amazon. Check it out — very cool. Start all over again!