1980s Hits You’d Probably Forgotten Were Covers

1980s Hits You’d Probably Forgotten Were Covers

debbie harry blondie
Debbie Harry of Blondie, Hammersmith Odeon, London, January 11th, 1980 (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns/Getty Images)

“Venus”. “Funky Town”. “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. There was no question those ’80s hits were remakes since the originals were all also massive hits in Australia. But sometimes a cover version would be a big success without many of us realising the song had once been performed by someone else. Here are a few examples…

“The Tide Is High” by Blondie

Released: 1980

Peak: number 4

Original version by: The Paragons

Before Blondie released this track as the lead single from their fifth album, Autoamerican, “The Tide Is High” had been recorded by two other acts: rocksteady trio The Paragons and reggae singer Gregory Isaacs. Blondie’s version kept the song true to its roots, making use of percussion, string and horn session musicians to give it a Jamaican feel.

“Tainted Love” by Soft Cell

Released: 1981

Peak: number 1

Original version by: Gloria Jones

American singer Gloria Jones recorded “Tainted Love” on two occasions – once in 1964 when it was used as the B-side to her single “My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home” and again in 1976 after it had been embraced by the Northern Soul scene in Britain. New wave duo Soft Cell took the jaunty Motown-esque original and turned it into a moody synthpop classic.

“Mickey” by Toni Basil

Released: 1981

Peak: number 1

Original version by: Racey

In its original state, “Mickey” was titled “Kitty” and featured on Racey’s debut album, Smash And Grab (home of Australian chart-toppers “Lay Your Love On Me” and “Some Girls”). Toni Basil changed the title to make it about a man, added the cheer chant and eventually had a whopper of a hit with it in 1982 – a year after she first released it.

“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

Released: 1982

Peak: number 1

Original version by: The Arrows

Joan Jett had heard the original 1975 release of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by short-lived English trio The Arrows during a tour of the UK with The Runaways and recorded it in 1979 for the B-side of her cover of “You Don’t Own Me”. She liked the song enough to re-record it with The Blackhearts and took it to number 1 in Australia and the US.

“Gloria” by Laura Branigan

Released: 1982

Peak: number 1

Original version by: Umberto Tozzi

Unlike the rest of the songs on this list, the original version of “Gloria” reached the Australian top 50. It was a minor hit in 1980 for Umberto Tozzi, who’d first sung it in his native Italian tongue before re-recording it in English. A couple of years later, “Gloria” was a massive hit for Laura Branigan, who performed it with freshly written English lyrics. Laura, who passed away in 2004, would make a habit of covering European hits, including another Umberto song, “Ti Amo”.

“Saving All My Love For You” by Whitney Houston

Released: 1985

Peak: number 20

Original version by: Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr

Another singer who released more cover versions than you’d think was Whitney Houston. As well as the obvious remakes like “I’m Every Woman”, “Greatest Love Of All” and “I Will Always Love You”, her very first Australian hit, “Saving All My Love For You”, had previously been recorded as a duet by future Solid Gold  presenter Marilyn McCoo and her husband, Billy Davis Jr. Other Whitney covers: “Step By Step” and “All The Man That I Need”.

“That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick & Friends

Released: 1985

Peak: number 1

Original version by: Rod Stewart

It seemed tailor made for Dionne Warwick and her partners in song, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder, but before “That’s What Friends Are For” was released as a fundraising single for AIDS charities, the Bacharach and Bayer Sager ballad was included on the soundtrack to 1982 Ron Howard comedy Night Shift and performed by Rod Stewart.

“Alone” by Heart

Released: 1987

Peak: number 6

Original version by: i-Ten

As well as writing some of the biggest hits of the ’80s (“Like A Virgin”, “True Colors”, “Eternal Flame”), Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly also performed as duo i-Ten and recorded the first version of their song “Alone”. After it was covered for blink-and-miss-it US sitcom Dreams in 1984 by cast members John Stamos and Valerie Stevenson, it was turned into the epic power ballad that gave Heart their first Australian top 10 hit in 12 years.

“Got My Mind Set On You” by George Harrison 

Released: 1987

Peak: number 1

Original version by: James Ray

He hadn’t reached the top spot on the Australia chart for 17 years, but the ex-Beatle returned to number 1 with his slightly renamed update of “I’ve Got My Mind Set On You”, which had been released by R&B singer James Ray in 1962. George co-produced his cover with Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, the start of a particularly successful period of collaboration between the two.

“The Only Way Is Up” by Yazz & The Plastic Population

Released: 1988

Peak: number 2

Original version by: Otis Clay

A little-known disco track by soul singer Otis Clay released in 1980, “The Only Way Is Up” was transformed by house producers Coldcut into a UK chart-topping smash for singer Yazz in 1988. The reworked version of the song served as Yazz’s solo debut having previously provided guest vocals on Coldcut’s “Doctorin’ The House.”

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