12 rock songs you probably didn’t realise were covers

Ready to have your mind blown? This includes songs covered by everyone from Nirvana to Black Sabbath that you probably assumed were originals…

12 rock songs you probably didn’t realise were covers

Some songs are so brilliant, iconic and untouchable that the thought of any other artist covering them is pure sacrilege. Imagine anyone thinking they could do justice to, say, Smells Like Teen Spirit or Chop Suey!. Anyone who has tried soon realises that their interpretations simply aren't a patch on the originals. At the same time, there are some songs that so brilliant, iconic and untouchable that – unbeknownst to many – actually are cover versions. Often, those are also the versions that made the song famous in the first place, so it makes sense that people think those artists wrote them. Even decades down the line – and in the age of Google, where information about anything can be found with the click of a button, some people still don’t know that The Clash didn’t write I Fought The Law, that Led Zeppelin didn’t write Dazed And Confused and Iron Maiden didn’t write The Number Of The Beast. Just kidding on that last one, obviously. But how many of these did you know weren’t originals?

The ClashI Fought The Law

In 1960, The Crickets released their first record after the death of their singer, Buddy Holly, the year before. Although this track, written by Sonny Curtis, was on it, it didn’t become a hit until 1966, when it was covered by The Bobby Fuller Four. Thirteen years later, it sprang to life again thanks to this ragged, rambunctious and rebellious version by The Clash. The cover helped the London punk band break America, and also became one their most well-known and best loved songs.

Led ZeppelinDazed And Confused

It’s no secret that Led Zeppelin ‘took’ many of their influences from the blues. What’s not so well-known is that this iconic, swaggering song by the British rockers was actually a cover of – surprisingly – a psychedelic folk song by American singer-songwriter Jake Holmes. Jimmy Page had first heard it while still a member of The Yardbirds and it became a staple of that band’s live shows. When they disbanded in 1968, Jimmy brought the song over to his new band, Led Zeppelin. The rest, as they say, is history.

Joan Jett & The BlackheartsI Love Rock’N’Roll

Everybody likely remembers Britney Spears’ not-actually-too-terrible cover of this song back in 2001, largely because it prompted a renaissance for the 1982 recording of the song by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Her original version, according to music snobs the world over, was far superior to Britney’s cover. The ironic thing is that the song was actually written by a band called The Arrows in 1975, and while Joan Jett’s version isn’t greatly different from the original, that’s the one that made it really, really famous.

Bowling For Soup1985

This pop-punk banger sounds like a Bowling For Soup song. It has amusing lyrics like a lot of Bowling For Soup songs, but also a hint of sadness at times gone by, like all the best pop-punk bangers do. The Texas band released it in July as the lead single from 2004’s A Hangover You Don’t Deserve, but it’s actually a cover of a song by pop-punk almost-rans SR-71 that had been released just two months beforehand. You’re meant to wait until the body is at least cold, guys…

Jimi HendrixHey Joe

Rock guitar legend Jimi Hendrix was no stranger to reworking other people’s songs – after all, his band’s version of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower is largely regarded as one of the best covers of all time. After it was released in 1966, Hey Joe became one of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s best-known songs, there was actually a version by California garage rockers The Leaves recorded the previous year, and then re-recorded in 1966 as well. While that’s the earliest known recording of what many assumed to be a traditional track, it was actually copyrighted in 1962 by songwriter Billy Roberts.

Gamma RayGamma Ray

We all know what happens when you assume things – you make, as David Brent once said in an episode of The Office, an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’ – but you’d surely expect a song with the same name as the band singing it to have been written by them. Not so in the case of German power-metallers Gamma Ray. The song bearing their name appeared on 1993’s third album, Insanity And Genius, but was actually written by experimental progressive hard rockers Birth Control some two decades before. Suffice to say, they’re pretty different…

Rage Against The MachineRenegades Of Funk

Is there a more perfect title for a song by political punk-funk activists Rage Against The Machine than Renegades Of Funk? Probably not. And it’s the perfect Rage song, too. Which is why it seems incredible that it wasn’t actually written by them. In fact, it was released by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force in 1983, some 17 years before Rage included it on their covers album, Renegades. Sure, the fact it’s on a covers album is a bit of a giveaway, but think of all the people who have only heard it out of context.

NirvanaLove Buzz

Anyone who’s watched Nirvana’s classic Unplugged performance will know that the band did some pretty awesome covers on there, from David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World, a few Meat Puppets songs and a stunning rendition of Leadbelly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, itself the blues man’s take on an old traditional song. Before all that, though, the Seattle grunge icons released Love Buzz as their first-ever single. It sounds just like a classic early Nirvana track, but it was actually first released (in a very different version) by Dutch rockers Shocking Blue in 1969.

HoleCredit In The Straight World

Similar to the above Nirvana track, Hole made this song – which sounded thoroughly different in its original guise – so much their own that most people think it’s by them. In fact, it was actually written by Welsh post-punks Young Marble Giants and appeared on their one and only studio album, Colossal Youth, which was released in 1980. On Hole’s version, which appeared on their classic 1994 second record, Live Through This, Courtney Love added her own self-penned opening to put even more of her own spin on it.

Mötley CrüeSmokin’ In The Boys Room

Don’t worry if you haven’t ever heard of Brownsville Station. You’re probably not the only one. That said, the Michigan rockers actually enjoyed a fair bit of success in their time. This track, from the band’s 1973 album Yeah!, even reached the Number Three spot in Canada. Of course, it’s the version that Mötley Crüe recorded for their third record, 1985’s Theatre Of Pain, that most people know. It gave the Crüe their first-ever Top 40 hit, which is probably why most people think they wrote it.

Black SabbathEvil Woman

This song, which was released as the Birmingham heavy metallers’ first ever single, is so quintessentially Black Sabbath that most people don’t realise it wasn’t actually written by them. In fact, it was penned by Minneapolis blues rockers Crow. While the foundations of the song are there, Crow’s version is noticeably more upbeat than the Sabbath version, not least because of the horns in the chorus which, needless to say, aren’t particularly metal.


It’s an undeniable fact that songs in English have a much better chance of being successful around the world than songs sung in other languages. It’s little surprise, then, that Anthrax’s cover of Trust’s Antisocial – which appears on 1988’s fourth album, State Of Euphoria, and which used alternate English lyrics – became a better known hit than the original version. For while Trust did achieve heavy airplay in their native France, it took Anthrax to make it a bona fide thrash metal hit that many thought they wrote themselves.

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