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Just like in any decade, there were no shortage of hit cover versions in the ’80s. Most of them were obvious – like Billy Idol’s #1 remake of “Mony Mony,” David Bowie & Mick Jagger doing “Dancing in the Street,” or Cheap Trick’s hit reworking of “Don’t Be Cruel.” But there were also a number of huge, iconic 80’s singles that were covers of lesser-known songs, and they have become so associated with the artist who covered them that many don’t realize they are, in fact, cover versions. Here are 10 of the biggest:
The late new wave/rock singer-songwriter Robert Hazard first recorded “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” in 1979. Covered by Cyndi Lauper four years later for her “She’s So Unusual” album, it became her big breakthrough hit and one of the signature songs of the 80s. “She’s So Unusual” would also include the covers “Money Changes Everything,” originally by The Brains, Prince’s “When U Were Mine” and “All Through the Night,” written and originally recorded by Jules Shears.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts broke through in a big way with their cover of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” a song originally recorded by British glam-rock band Arrows in 1975. Joan Jett would have several hits with covers, including “Crimson & Clover,” “Everyday People,” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me”. Jett’s version of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” would become one of the biggest and most iconic singles of the ‘80s, spending 7 weeks at #1 in 1982.
“The Tide is High” was an obscure single by Jamaican group The Paragons until Debbie Harry and Blondie got a hold of it and turned it into a #1 smash as the lead single from their 1980 album “Autoamerican.”
Originally recorded and co-written by Jackie DeShannon, “Bette Davis Eyes” was recorded by Kim Carnes for her 1981 album “Mistaken Identity” and thanks to her brilliant vocal delivery and a modern, new wave sound it became a massive hit, spending 9 weeks at #1 in the US and becoming one of the biggest singles of the decade.
Laura Branigan soared to #2 in 1982 with her cover of Italian singer Umberto Tozzi’s “Gloria.” Tozzi’s version was a massive hit in Europe in 1979, and Branigan’s Americanized version became a dance-pop classic when she recorded it for her debut album “Branigan.” It wasn’t the only time Branigan took a European hit onto the US pop charts — her Top 10 “Solitaire” from 1983 was originally a hit in 1981 by French singer Martine Clemenceau.
Laura Branigan would have the tables turned when her 1985 recording “I Found Someone,” co-written by Michael Bolton, would become the big comeback single for Cher two years later.
Bow Wow Wow’s classic 1982 single “I Want Candy” was originally recorded in 1965 by the group The Strangeloves. Interestingly, despite its status as an 80s staple that is almost guaranteed to be included on any 80s compilation, Bow Wow Wow’s version did not make the Top 40 in the US.
British synth-pop duo Soft Cell would score their only American hit with their dramatic re-working of a song originally recorded in 1964 by R&B singer Gloria Jones, “Tainted Love.” Jones would later re-record it in 1976 with a more disco flavor, but it wouldn’t be until Soft Cell’s recording in 1981 that it would become an international smash, peaking at #8 in the U.S.
Whitney Houston’s first #1 hit, from her 1985 self-titled album, was originally recorded 7 years earlier by Marilyn McCoo on her collaboration album with Billy Davis, “Marilyn and Billy.” It didn’t make an impact on the chart, but Houston’s powerhouse version sent it all the way to the top. Another #1 from Houston’s debut album, “The Greatest Love of All,” was also a cover — George Benson recorded it in 1977.
Songwriter Holly Knight led the NYC- based band Spider, and they originally recorded “Better Be Good To Me” in 1981. It would be resurrected by Tina Turner for her “Private Dancer” album in 1984 and would become a major hit, reaching #5 in the US and winning a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance – Female. Holly Knight would end up writing a number of hits for a variety of artists through the 80s. Another Holly Knight recording, this time a duet with Michael Des Barres, would flop initially but later become a major hit for another artist. “Obsession” was recorded by Knight and Des Barres for the 1983 soundtrack to the film “A Night in Heaven,” but it made no chart impact. Fast forward a year to 1984, and the group Animotion’s cover would become a U.S. Top 10 smash.