Today you will either be shocked or smug. What?! One Direction didn’t write the song Teenage Kicks?! My life will now move in a slightly different direction. Who knows, maybe today you’ll also find out that Curaçao is not just an obscene, blue liqueur or that William Shatner is in fact your uncle.
#1 Been spendin most my life livin off a previously recorded poetic device
Gangsta’s Paradise – Coolio
Originally Stevie Wonder
Fool! Stevie Wonder wrote Pastime Paradise for the 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life. Coolio wanted to include more vulgarities in his cover but Stevie wouldn’t allow it. Though Gangsta’s Paradise (1995) reflects on Coolio’s hoodlum activities, its ending seems loosely connected to the message of Pastime Paradise. Here, Stevie appears to comment on a repetitive and confined life lived in the past and the future. No Wonder it is one of the best-selling singles of all time.
#2 Take with a pinch of Salt n Peppa
Whatta Man – Salt n Peppa (feat. En Vogue)
Originally Linda Lyndell
Grammy award winners Salt n Peppa covered Whatta Man in 1993 by rapping over En Vogue and launching it to greater commercial success. Linda Lyndell who originally recorded the song in 1968 was probably more hip replacement than hip hop at that point. But both versions are peppa’d with social and political contexts. The covered version was released on album Very Necessary which openly talked about sex, men and AIDS. Being the first all-female rap group, Salt n Peppa transformed a male-dominated genre that feminists had ridiculed for objectifying women with crass lyrics. In an even more heightened context, though Linda was white she sang gospel music in both white and black churches and even supported James Brown. But her music career was halted after threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Understanding both contexts places more importance on the release of the Salt n Peppa version 25 years later.
#3 Wow she really changed the meaning there
Respect – Aretha Franklin
Originally Otis Redding
Hearing Otis ask for Respect from his “little girl” (1965) and then Aretha’s iconic fight for feminism (1967) adds a whole new layer to her cover. While Otis sang the working-man’s lament, Aretha transformed it by coining the eminent R-E-S-P-E-C-T and twisting the lyrics to support women’s rights. Luckily Otis wasn’t too offended and was impressed with Aretha’s version. Oh also, ever wondered what the TCB means? It’s “Taking Care of Business”, a slang often used in the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s. No, it’s not tactical cock-block.
#4 And she kinda did too
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
Originally Robert Hazard
Not as grand scale but Cyndi, in a similar vein, took a creepy Robert Hazard song and turned it into a statement about women. Cyndi calls for girls to have the same playful freedoms and rebellions men are often excused for. Her use of “girls” rather than “women” gave it a light-hearted tone and preceded the girl-power culture of the 1990s which the Spice Girls made famous. Robert’s 1979 version is a bit more garage punk, whereas Cyndi’s adds the 80s pop.
#5 Err, that was the only song I know by them
Dancing In the Moonlight – Toploader
Originally King Harvest
Ask anyone who sang this classic and they almost always say Toploader. But unfortunately the UK group are only responsible for adding the “light” to Dancing in the moonlight; their cover (1999) of this King Harvest (1972) toon is as fetching as the lead singer’s ginger fro. It’s uplifting, wedding-music with cute keyboards and pop vocals. The original, by French-American band King Harvest, is a bit more mysterious and moderated. It intrigues you with its Wurlitzer electric piano intro and 70s beach-boy’esque chorus. The drums are jazzier and it feels more personal and intimate. King Harvest toured the tune around Paris and London clubs bringing it to #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 but it was Toploader who put it on your nephew’s christening playlist.
Image source: Everett Collection