6 Popular Rock Bands Whose Biggest Hit Is a Cover

In many cases throughout the history of rock, pop, and R&B music, cover songs have been afterthoughts, ways for bands to fill out albums or B-sides when they’ve exhausted their supply of originals. But there are occasions when cover songs, for whatever reason, find their way of breaking through to be something much more. In fact, there have been bands who have enjoyed successful careers in the music business on the strength of their self-written songs, and yet ended up achieving their biggest single success with their version of a song written by somebody else. Here are six times that’s happened in classic rock.

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1. House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals

The story goes that folk music legend Dave Van Ronk first constructed the arrangement of this folk classic that would eventually be aped by The Animals, only for Bob Dylan to copy it and release it first. The Animals then heard Dylan’s version and added some amps, in particular Hilton Armstrong’s stoic guitar hook and Alan Price’s organ freakout.

Vocalist Eric Burdon sang with unmitigated force about the narrator’s woes in the sinister titular establishment. The Animals would actually become a solid singles band throughout the ‘60s, managing classics like “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “We Gotta Get out of This Place.” But their version of “House of the Rising Sun,” just their second single release, would be their only chart-topper on both sides of the Atlantic.

2. “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds

Dylan was involved here again, as he wrote this song and recorded a jaunty version of it for his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. The same month that the album was released, The Byrds premiered their jangle-fied version of it as a single, just their second as a band. Thus, the listening public got to know the distinct tone of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string guitar and the indelible harmonies of McGuinn, David Crosby, and Gene Clark. Dylan was skeptical about the whole “folk-rock” thing, but the public ate it up. “Mr. Tambourine Man” was one of two top-charting singles in the U.S. for the band (along with “Turn! Turn! Turn!”); since it also went to the top of the charts in the U.K. (which “Turn! Turn! Turn!” did not), it stands as their biggest hit single.

3. “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits

Because Herman’s Hermits didn’t really feature a chief songwriter in the band, the percentage of their hits that were covers was much higher than with other British Invasion bands. In fact, we also could have chosen “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” as their representative song in this list, since, like “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” it also went to No. 1 in the U.S. (Interestingly enough, the band didn’t release either of those songs in their native England as singles.)

The original “I Am Henry VIII” goes way back to the music hall days of Great Britain, where it was sung in exaggerated Cockney style by Harry Champion. The Hermits put a rocking backbeat to it while frontman Peter Noone emoted the lyrics to engaging effect. 

4. “Cum on Feel the Noize” by Quiet Riot

Originally formed by future Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads, Quiet Riot had endured several lineup changes by 1983 (Rhoads left in 1979 and was killed in a plane crash three years later), by which time lead singer Kevin DuBrow was at the creative helm.

[RELATED: 5 Electrifying Live Moments in Honor of Randy Rhoads]

They decided on a decade-old song by the British rockers Slade as their reintroduction to the metal scene. The choice proved to be a wise one, as “Cum on Feel the Noize” crossed over like no other metal song had ever done before on the pop charts, soaring to No. 5, a ranking that Quiet Riot would never again approach.

5. “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell

“Tainted Love” had knocked around for the better part of two decades when the duo of Marc Almond and David Ball, also known as Soft Cell, got hold of it. None of the other versions (American R&B artist Gloria Jones had taken the first crack at it all the way back in 1964) had managed to break through. But Almond and Ball timed their synth-heavy version just right, releasing it in 1981 just as the British New Romantic movement was kicking into gear. Soft Cell’s smash success with “Tainted Love” helped paved the way for Human League, Duran Duran, and countless other similar bands to break it big in America.

6. “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” by Great White

Great White had already enjoyed some success in the hair metal era of the late ‘80s when they looked to a cover to be the lead single for their fourth album. They settled on “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” which had already been a hit in the United Kingdom when written and recorded by Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople fame in 1975. To Great White’s credit, they delivered a version that softened their heavy metal edges and focused on the song’s rhythmic thrust. It was a Top 5 hit in the U.S. in 1989, by far the band’s greatest single success.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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