Songs You Didn't Know Were Covers
We all know that girls just wanna have fun, but apparently that includes doing cover songs! From tainted love to undisputed truths, Joe and Toby dig deep to find the secrets behind smiling faces. So while Papa may be a rolling stone, here at Riffs on Riffs we will always love you!
Joe: Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the surprising connection between songs past and present and discuss the fascinating stories that make music a universal language. I’m Joe Watson and I’m here with my co-host Toby Brazwell. What’s up my friend?
Toby: Just living the quarantine dream sir! For those that don’t know, I just got a promotion and will be moving from the great state of Ohio to the great state of Michigan. So my family has been prepping the house to be sold and let me tell you it's been a crazy couple of weeks. One of the things that is the most tiresome is staging the house so it doesn’t look like it’s been lived in.
Joe: That is exhausting. I think we all want to channel our inner Joanna Gaines from time to time right? We all like staging a house. It can be a lot of fun the first time you do it. But then you have to keep it that way. You have to clean it all the time. It’s like this constant barrage of “Don’t sit there”, “Don’t move that”, “Don’t touch that”, and that’s no way to live. And I get it; it’s like you want to make the house look like it’s brand new and hasn’t been lived in. Making it seem move-in ready is a chore for sure. A prospective buyer wants to move in a house and wants the feeling like they were the first to move in. In a way that’s really similar to a group performing a cover song so well that you didn’t even it’s a cover.
Toby: Perfect segue into our next episode theme. On this episode we ‘re going to talk about songs that you never knew were covers and If I could start I with a little Lauper. Cyndi Lauper to be exact and her hit song Girls Just Want to Have Fun from her debut album She’s So Unusual.
Joe: I’m sure you all are familiar with what is looked at to be one of Lauper’s signature songs, but are familiar with the fact that it was a cover song originally written by American musician Robert Hazard?
Toby: I truly had no idea before prepping for this episode but I’m excited to talk about it. Originally this song was written from a male’s perspective but Lauper totally changed the energy and made it an anthem for feminism. I know that I wasn’t alone in loving the song but the impact was magnified once the video debuted on MTV.
Joe: The song reached #2 on the billboard charts in 1983 and the video for Girls just want to have fun is listed as being one of the best VH1’s top 100 videos.
Toby: I’m sure this song was responsible for selling a lot of jelly shoes and bracelets. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to Robert Hazard’s original version, make sure you check it out on the Youtube and if you want an interesting contrast you should check out the version by Miley Cyrus on the Riffs on Riffs Playlist for this ep! Now let’s switch it up and go to another song that people didn’t know was a cover.
Joe: Now I’d like to direct our attention to the concept of love and not the good kind. The song Tainted Love was written by Ed Cobb and recorded by singer songwriter Gloria Jones in 1965. The song was reworked by a British Synth Pop band by the name of Soft Cell in 1981.
Toby: Soft Cell’s version of the song was number one on the UK charts and spent 43 weeks on the US Billboard Hot 100. So it’s a great song, but I had NO idea that it was a cover. To be honest I thought that it Soft Cell was the original band and then Marilyn Manson did the impossible and made a dope song doper. Gloria Jones’ version is like a motownish version that in my opinion captured the same passion but with a soulful execution. Needless to say, it’s definitely going on the playlist for this ep. I’m sure a lot of people are wondering what in the world made Soft Cell look for this track to record it?
Joe: That’s a really good question that seems to tie into a unintended theme this season. Our long time Riffs listeners know that during the first season, Bootsy always seemed to find a way to work his way in an episode. This season it seems that songs that were originally B sides to singles find their ways in our discussion and this episode is no exception. Yes that’s right, this song was a B side for Gloria Jones’ single My Bad Boy’s coming home which actually failed to chart or generate any type of buzz for Jones.
Toby: I’m guessing the world wasn’t quite ready for Puffy! The song was popularized by a British Club DJ by the name of DJ Richard Searling who played it helped make it a hit in the Northern Soul Club seen in the UK. The track was so popular in the clubs that Jones actually decided to rerecord it in 1976 with a bigger sound behind it. The producer of the Soft Cell version, Mike Thorne, had this to say about the comparison of Gloria’s two versions:
“You could smell the coke on that second, Northern Soul version, It was really so over ramped and so frantic. It was good for the dance floor, but I didn’t like the record.”
Joe: Did somebody spill some soda in the studio? That’s never a good thing, you can’t have beverages around the boards, people!
Toby: I’m not sure that’s the coke he is referring to.
Joe: Just humor me and my willful naivety please. Thorne was impressed, however, by the slower tempo and novel way Soft Cell approached the track. And of course, transitioning at the end of the song to The Supreme’s “Where Did Our Love Go” never hurts, either.
Toby: Rihanna would breathe new life into Tainted Love by heavily sampling it for her 2006 single SOS, which went straight to the top of the charts. But you mentioned the Supremes, let’s switch gears and chat about their Motown label mates, The Temptations.
Joe: One of my all-time favorite groups. From the classic five lineup with the incomparable David Ruffin to the psychedelic soul years that had Dennis Edwards helming the lead. It’s hard to pick between these two — both would be high on my list of voices I’d like to borrow for a day. If you could have someone’s voice, whose would you pick?
Toby: That’s pretty easy. If I could borrow anyone's voice for a day, it would be the voice of the man known as Mr. Burr sir aka Leslie Odom Jr. Final answer! His voice is SO good. He’s in such control of his voice at all times. He’s got a new album out and I’m going to put a track on this playlist just for the heck of it! But enough about me, which voice would you “tempted” to take between George and Ruffin?
Joe: It would be really tough for me to pick between Lowell George and David Ruffin if I had one choice. But it is an Undisputed Truth that the Temptations are at the top of any greatest list.
Toby: Well done sir! But before we get into and take another look at more songs that we didn’t know were covers, we’re going to take a quick break. We’ll return with Riffs on Riffs in just a moment.
Toby: So Joe - before the break you were starting to talk a little about the truth about temptations.
Joe: No sir, that's one thing I was NOT going to do. That’s the topic for another show that clearly is not work safe.
Toby: I guess you’re right- going gluten free is a life full of temptation that’s not safe at work or at home especially if there’s good pizza around.
Joe: So true- Back to the episode. The Undisputed Truth was the name of a singing group back in the 70’s that was composed of Bille Calvin, Brenda Evans and Joe Harris. Now there are some people that might not be familiar with these names, but I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with some of their work.
Toby: Agreed- Calvin and Evans were in a group called the Delicates during the 60’s and sang background vocals for Diana Ross and the Four Tops.
Joe: Let’s not forget about Joe Harris who was a member of a group called the Ohio Untouchables which eventually became the Ohio Players.
Toby: So how do you go from the Untouchables to Players. I mean that's a 180 degree change, if I’ve seen one. Literally you went from no one wanting to touch you. To being a VIP. I feel like I just watched a great sports movie or something. RUDY RUDY RUDY!
Joe: One of the the only hits from The Undisputed Truth was the single Smiling Faces which reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The interesting thing is that the Temptations were actually the first to record it in 1971.
Toby: So let me paint a picture for you. Have you ever watched someone struggle to open a jar? Try as they might they just can’t open it- it’s not because they’re weak, it’s just not opening for them?
Toby: And then that same person just passes the jar to you… and then you open it EASILY?
That’s kinda how I look at this situation. Temptations had plenty of hits- giving them a great song is like putting water on a chia pet.
Joe: I told you that doesn’t work - so try another comparison
Toby: ok how about tempting a dog with french fries? I don’t know if it works exactly but iv’e never seen a dog turn down a french frie.
Joe: Well if there was any ill feelings about what group did a better job, it appears that the Temptations got the last laugh. IN 1972 The Undisputed Truth released a single called Papa Was A Rolling Stone on their album titled Law of the Land. This fantastic song peaked at #63 on the charts and number 24 on the R&B charts. Pretty impressive.
Toby: But not nearly as impressive as when The Temptations took the song and remade it into a 12 minute track for their 1972 album entitled All Directions. The Temptation version was a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and won 3 Grammy awards including Best R&B performance by a Group, Best R&B instrumental performance, and Best R&B song.
Joe: So the only thing that gets me about this whole thing is that the Temptations album is called All Directions… , and that’s a perfect title for this project, because I’m confused.
Toby: You and me both
Joe: The producer, Norman Whitfield produced both of these songs and somehow allowed both of these groups to come out with the same song…. within a year of each other. I mean have you ever seen anything like this?
Toby: j I think that social media would probably completely cancel if a group tried to do that. Especially since the introduction of the Remix.
Joe: Well I want to send a message to all the original songs out there. No matter how good the remix is…. remember this….. I will ALWAYS LOVE YOU.
Toby: Which is a perfect transition into the next cover. Joe can you please do the honors!
Joe: Those of you that have been following along at home with our previous episodes might remember this important fact about our next artist — she’s Miley Cyrus’s godmother. Oh, and she might have been a fairly successful recording artist in her own right.
Toby: You think? You used a big word earlier when talking about David Ruffin. Incomparable. That word certainly applies to Dolly Parton. She’s one of those people for whom the word “star” was coined.
Joe: She wrote a couple of songs in one day back in the early seventies. A little ditty you might have heard of called“Jolene” that went to number one on the country charts. And another song called “I Will Always Love You.”
Toby: It’s crazy that she wrote both of those songs on the same day. I want to know what she had for breakfast that morning!
Joe: The inspiration for “I Will Always Love You” was Dolly’s decision to leave The Porter Wagoner Show and start her solo career. Porter had introduced and mentored her for several years, and she wanted to pay homage to their partnership with this song.
Toby: It became yet another country #1 for Dolly, and actually reached the top of the charts in two separate decades. First in 1974, and again in 1982 when she re-recorded it for the soundtrack of the movie version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
Joe: Are we allowed to say that on a family show?
Toby: Texas? Sure, why not?
Joe: No the other word. Never mind. Although it does remind me of a joke I haven’t thought about since fifth grade. I suppose if you’re old enough to get this one, you’re old enough to hear it.
Toby: Why am I worried now?
Joe: Here goes: What do you call Dolly Parton in a bathtub?
Toby: I have no idea. And I feel like we should abort this mission.
Joe: Islands in the Stream!
Toby: Wow. Just… wow. Of course you are referring to the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet, Islands in the Stream. I’m certain there is no other meaning behind that joke.
Joe: A few random tidbits about that song. One, it was written by the Bee Gees. Two, it was named after an Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name, and three, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even understand that joke in fifth grade.
Toby: Can we move on now?
Joe: Yes please.
Toby: So obviously Dolly’s original version of I Will Always Love You was a huge hit. I mean, it reached #1 on two separate occasions. It was so popular that Elvis wanted to cover it. Now Joe, do you remember the episode we did on Shuggie Otis? We talked about how he declined a tour with the Rolling Stones, and also turned down a change to work with Quincy Jones?
Joe: Please tell me Dolly did not take a page out of Shuggie’s playbook.
Toby: She did! She told Elvis “no, you can’t do my song.”
Joe: That is crazy, but turns out she had a good reason. Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told Dolly that she would have to sing over half of the publishing rights, so she refused. She had this to say about the experience:
- “I said, 'I'm really sorry,' and I cried all night. I mean, it was like the worst thing. You know, it's like, Oh, my God … Elvis Presley.' And other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley.' ...I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says, 'Don't do that. And I just didn't do it... He would have killed it. But anyway, so he didn't. Then when Whitney [Houston's version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland.”
Toby: Yeah, I’d say she made the right call. She turned down Elvis, but said yes to Whitney, who was happy to sing it without taking publishing rights. Whitney recorded her version for her film The Bodyguard, after her co-star, Kevin Costner suggested it and played her Linda Ronstadt’s 1975 cover.
Joe: Another crazy connection here. The original song they were going to feature as the lead single for the movie was a cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”. Jimmy was the older brother of David Ruffin of The Temptations, and a monster voice in his own right. I love that song.
Toby: Whitney’s version spent 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 — a record at the time. It was also a huge international success, charting at #1 in multiple countries. It won the Grammy for Record of the Year and Best Email Pop Vocal Performance.
Joe: Like Dolly, Whitney’s version also reached #1 in two different decades, although for much sadder reasons. A few hours after her death in February of 2012, I Will Always Love You was the number one song on the US iTunes charts, and it would return to the Billboard top ten in the following weeks.