Mary Tyler Moore died recently, and as a tribute a friend of mine posted the song that became the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song.
Listening to that track got me to thinking about all of the great songs that have basically been erased from the collective pop culture consciousness through no fault of their own. Their only crime was that somebody came along and made a hit of them at a later date, thereby guaranteeing near obscurity for the originals.
That’s neither good nor bad–it just is. There’s no arguing Ray Charles’s legendary take on “Georgia On My Mind,” for example. Ray’s version is both essential and definitive, even if it wasn’t technically his song. He didn’t “steal” the track, but rather transformed it into something uniquely Ray.
Hopefully that’s what you take from the eight examples of originals overshadowed by their covers presented below. Ready? Let’s get to the music:
“Georgia On My Mind,” Hoagy Carmichael. Ray Charles took it to number one in 1960, but Carmichael’s original dates to 1930.
“China Girl,” Iggy Pop. Bowie had a #2 single with “China Girl” in 1983, but Iggy’s original appeared on 1977’s The Idiot.
“Hound Dog,” Big Mama Thornton. This 1956 Elvis Presley hit was previously a 1953 hit for Big Mama Thornton, selling a half million copies and topping the R&B charts.
“Black Magic Woman,” Fleetwood Mac. The Mac’s 1968 original didn’t dent the charts, but Santana’s 1970 cover marched all the way to #4.
“New York Groove,” Hello. Of the four KISS solo albums, only one had a certified hit. Ace Frehley’s version of this 1975 glam rock stomper by Hello went to #13 in the US. The original charted in the UK, but not in America.
“Working in the Coal Mine,” Lee Dorsey. Now this is an interesting situation. Lee Dorsey’s 1966 original went all the way to #8 on the Billboard charts while Devo’s 1981 cover stalled at #43, but it’s the latter version that has persisted in the pop culture psyche.
“Downtown Train,” Tom Waits. Tom Waits took a good ten years to find his sound, and for the next 40 years he just kept getting better. Rod Stewart came out of the gate certifiably brilliant and stayed that way for about ten years, then spent the next 40 years sucking. So who had the big hit with “Downtown Train”? You guessed it: Stewart took this Waits track to #3 in 1989, four short years after the original debuted.
“Harlem Shuffle,” Bob & Earl. This 1963 R&B hit is better known as a Rolling Stones track by some and as House of Pain’s “Jump Around” opening by others. One additional note: Barry White produced this track.
There you have it: Eight original tracks from my stacks that aren’t as well known as their cover versions. What did I miss? I’m listening.