Everyone loves a good cover song and there are countless amazing ones out there that outshine the original. But the thing that makes a cover memorable is when it’s the first song that an artist does or is largely responsible for their new found success. Whether they did it out of pressure from a record company or just because they wanted to put a spin on one of their favorite songs, these are nine artists who got their big break with a cover song. I know there are a lot more I’m missing, but these are the ones that stick out most in my mind.
9. “Wicked Game”- HIM
This hit for Chris Issaks was already hot, but Finnish rock band HIM tossed in some electric guitars and picked up the pace to give it a hard rock edge. It’s not really the song that got them popular in America, but the cover is responsible for the band being discovered in their native homeland. It first appeared on their debut Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666 and it went over so well they re-recorded for their second album Razorblade Romance, which was responsible for their popularity in the US. Overtime, it has become one of their well known tracks all because they thought it was a great song.
8. “Torn” – Natalie Imbruglia
This was a hot song for a while during the late 90’s from a then unknown Aussie singer Natalie Imbruglia. This 1995 Endaswap song (I haven’t heard of them either) was covered by the singer for her debut album Left of the Middle. It was a huge success with Imbruglia hitting it big in America. It was catchy, sweet, and Imbrugalia somehow made it adorable. She even received a Grammy nomination for the track. Unfortunately, this was the only hit she had in the states, but the song launched her career and allowed her to keep up her success overseas.
7. “I Fought the Law”- The Clash
Though this song has been covered numerous times from the likes of Green Day and Johnny Cash, the most notable version comes from The Clash. The band was just establishing their career when they recorded the song. It first appeared on their EP The Cost of Living in the UK. When it came time for their debut, which for some reason was their second album in the US, it was added as a track for the states. This small decision helped them cross over to US audiences and helped sealed their place in punk rock history. Aside from the classic “Should I Stay or Should I Go” it’s still one of their most notable songs.
6. “Tainted Love” – Soft Cell
This English duo would probably be forgotten if it weren’t for their cover of this 1964 Gloria Jones song. By slowing down the pace and adding in irresistible synthesizers the duo really made the song their own. It’s one of those tracks where you’re surprised to learn it’s actually a cover. Soft Cell succeeded in having one of the best and most memorable songs of the 80’s that is still well loved today. Since then it’s been covered numerous times by Marilyn Manson and The Pussycat Dolls, but Soft Cell’s version remains the best.
- “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
To be honest I had no idea this was a cover until I started this list. This just shows how Lauper successfully made the song her own. The track was originally written and performed by Robert Hazard in 1979. Cyndi wanted to do it for her debut album and with some minor changes to the lyrics, she made the song all about girl power. It’s still one of her most recognizable songs today and is single handily responsible for launching her career in the 80’s. There have been countless covers of this track, but Cyndi does it best. Besides, no one can sound as bubbly as she does while singing “Oh, girls just want to have fun.”
- “I Love Rock n Roll” – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
When Joan Jett decided to leave punk group The Runaways for a solo career she couldn’t have picked a better song to cover than this one. It has all the attitude and sass you expect from her. It’s like the song was made for her. it was originally performed in 1975 by Arrows before Jett made everyone forget this fact when her version was released in 1982. Even though she already had an established career with The Runaways, this song helped her launch her solo career, which is still going strong to this day.
- “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” – Marilyn Manson
Back in 1983, this was a wonderfully, catchy, synth filled song by British duo The Eurythmics fronted by the lovely Annie Lennox. Fast forward to 1995 and suddenly the song was darker, scarier, and an absolute nightmare thanks to Marilyn Manson. Even though it comes from their remix EP Smells Like Children, their creepy take on the tune was enough to get them the recognition of MTV who put the accompanying bizarre video in rotation on the station. Thanks to this, Marilyn Manson soon became a household name and one of the most talked about figures of the 1990’s.
- “Love Buzz” – Nirvana
If it wasn’t for their cover of an obscure song from the 60’s, then Nirvana might not be the legendary band they are today. Back in 1988 when they were recording their debut Bleach for indie label Sub Pop, they covered this song originally done by Shocking Blue in 1969. It was then released as part of Sub Pop’s singles club even though the band wanted “Big Cheese” for the A-side. Needless to say, the song was a hit and got rock magazines buzzing, especially overseas. Thanks to this little-known track Nirvana went on to create bigger and better things.
- “Twist and Shout” – The Beatles
This Top Notes song is part of the reason why Beatlemania hit the US. The band covered the song for their first UK album Please Please Me. Thanks to its intense vocal performance, it is regarded as one of the best examples of British rock n roll. But it wasn’t until their 1964 Ed Sullivan performance that got the band popular overseas. Since then they are often regarded as one of the best and most important bands in music history.
“Higher Ground” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
This wasn’t included in the list because by the time it was released the Red Hot Chili Peppers had an established career with three albums under their belt that were met with moderate success. But it wasn’t until this cover from their fourth album Mother’s Milk that they hit the big time. The psychedelic and funk filled track got the guys MTV recognition, who then constantly played the trippy video. This song allowed their next album Blood Sugar Sex Magik to reach the top of the charts and to have the long history they have today.