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Songs That Aren’t by Who You Think They Are

I know you’ve gotten into arguments about who sang what… but we’re here to set the record straight!

Even with Google search at our fingertips, the question of who sang some of these songs can still cause arguments.

The very first time I heard “Wasting my Time” by Default, it was on the radio. The volume wasn’t turned up that loud, and there was some background noise. The point is, I couldn’t hear it clearly, and to me it sounded like Tool. There are a lot of songs like that. The first time you hear them, you’ll note a strong resemblence to an artist you’re more familiar with. Hopefully, in most cases, this passes. After hearing it a few more times, you realize it’s not who you thought it was.

Then there are these…

“Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes (not Rod Stewart)

Being a one-hit wonder is a raw deal in itself, can you imagine not even getting full credit for your only hit? Kim Carnes got a taste of that in the early 80s. Her raspy voice is certainly distinctive and unique among women singers. However, if you’re not taking gender into account, the resemblance to Rod Stewart’s voice is clear. I don’t know exactly how widespread this mistake was, as it was long before the days of mislabelled mp3s, but I do remember radio DJs occasionally mentioning “by the way, that’s not Rod Stewart!”

“Long Cool Woman” by The Hollies (not CCR)

To be fair, this is an easy mistake to make. The Hollies’ main hits were “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and “The Air That I Breathe”. Those songs were replete with three-part harmonies and dramatic swells. “Long Cool Woman”, on the other hand, was gritty “swamp rock”. And it turns out, the resemblance to Creedence Clearwater Revival wasn’t an accident. Singer Allan Clarke would later reveal that he was basing his vocal performance partly on John Fogerty in CCR’s “Green River“.

“Smoke Two Joints” by The Toyes (not Bob Marley)

This is one of those that can get you in an argument on the internet. “No, I swear, it was on this one Marley CD I used to listen to all the time… I don’t know where it went”. In some cases they may agree that The Toyes did it originally, but Marley covered it, and that’s why people make the mistake. “Okay, so I checked, and it’s not on any Marley albums, but maybe it was on a live bootleg.” Sorry, let me set the record straight right now. Bob Marley died in 1981. “Smoke Two Joints” was written and recorded in 1983. It was the Toyes’ only hit, and was covered by Sublime in 1992 with a bunch of new lyrics added.

Additionally, some people apparently think Marley did “Don’t Worry, Be Happy“. It was, in fact, jazz and a capella legend Bobby McFerrin, overdubbing 5 tracks of himself singing, with no instruments. Also, it was recorded in 1988, so, again, we can be pretty sure Marley never covered it.

“Mr Blue Sky” by ELO (not The Beatles)

This one is probably not as prevalent today, as the song gained increased notoriety when it was included in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. But at the very least there was a brief time in the 80s and 90s where some mistakenly thought that this song was performed by the Beatles. And this may be partially because of Jeff Lynne, the singer and main songcrafter of Electric Light Orchestra. Lynne did important writing and producing duties with George Harrison on his solo works, and so in a way his sound has become part of the Beatles saga in the minds of some. “Mr Blue Sky” doesn’t actually sound a lot like any particular Beatles song, but from an 80s/90s perspective of what the Beatles sounded like, it sort of makes sense.

“Bitch” by Meredith Brooks (not Alanis Morissette)

I’d be inclined not to believe this one, but it keeps coming up on lists dealing with this topic, and Google searches will confirm that people actually thought this was an Alanis Morrisette song. In 1997, Meredith Brooks was interviewed for the LA Times. Not only was she starting to grow tired of the Alanis comparisons, she was a little surprised that she hadn’t instead drew comparisons to Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders.

“Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn (not Michael Bolton or Michael McDonald)

Here’s another case of a one-hit wonder not even managing to get full credit for their hit. In the 80s, Marc Cohn was taking every gig he could. Among his various roles, he formed a 14-piece cover band, contributed 2 songs to an Andrew Lloyd Webber concept album, and provided backing piano for Tracy Chapman. But in the early 90s he finally struck gold with one of his own songs, “Walking in Memphis”. The song still stands the test of time as one of the better 90s hits, but the slightly gruff voice is often mis-remembered as Michael Bolton, and occasionally The Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald.

“Stuck in the Middle” by Stealers Wheel (not Bob Dylan)

You don’t encounter nearly as many people making this mistake today as you would have before 1992. And even when people do make the mistake, it’s understandable. When Gerry Rafferty and Stealers Wheel recorded the song in 1973, they were intentionally going for a Dylan vibe. Nearly 2 decades later, Quentin Tarantino selected it as the perfect accompaniment for the now-infamous torture scene in Reservoir Dogs. The bizarre and distinct voice of Steven Wright explicitly referred to it as “Dylanesque” in his DJ voiceover. This helped the song go from “that one that sounds like Dylan” to “that one that people used to think was Dylan and now makes you think of that scene.”

“Horse With No Name” by America (not Neil Young)

There’s a certain portion of the population that fondly knows America for their beautiful work on the soundtrack of 1982’s The Last Unicorn. For pop culture at large, however, most people know them for 1972’s “A Horse With No Name”. One of the most iconic folk-rock songs of the 70s, and one of the most mis-remembered. Like “Stuck in the Middle”, this one is completely understandable. America didn’t really have much of a presence before this mega-hit, but Neil Young’s distinct voice did. And songwriter Dewey Bunnell has explicitly stated that he was inspired by Neil Young’s song structure and vocals, so there’s really no mystery.

“Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots (not Pearl Jam)

The life of Scott Weiland was a genuine tale of rock star tragedy. When the music of Stone Temple Pilots first hit the airwaves, however, they were largely decried as “fake grunge”. The truth is that from 1985 to 1992 they had been making their own waves as Mighty Joe Young. But by the time they released “Plush” in early 1993, Pearl Jam’s distinct sound was second only to Nirvana in the hierarchy of Alternative Rock royalty. And even though Scott didn’t really look a whole lot like Eddie Vedder on the surface, his facial contortions and melodramatic movements did draw comparisons.

By November of that year, the scene had mostly adapted, and STP were considered a voice of their own. Mostly. Unfortunately, the single and video of “Creep” was released very shortly after Nirvana’s In Utero, an album which featured 2 softer acoustic numbers… much like “Creep“. Another round of comparisons, and another song destined to be misremembered for years to come.

“Don’t Leave Me This Way” Thelma Houston (not Diana Ross)

In 1975, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” was an R&B hit for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. A year later, Motown producers intended to have recent hit-maker Diana Ross cover it, but it was instead assigned to newcomer Thelma Houston. Over the decades it would have a life as an iconic disco anthem, unofficial AIDS-awareness theme, inspiration for LGBT+ movements, and part of the short-lived disco revival. Houston (no relation to Whitney) did indeed get sufficient accolades for her rendition, but in the hazy recollection of pop culture, this is often remembered as one of Diana Ross’ biggest hits.

“Adiemus” by Adiemus ft Miriam Stockley (not Enya)

In 1994 Delta Airlines aired a TV commercial using a beautiful piece of choral music called “Adiemus”. Adiemus is a series of albums composed and arranged by Karl Jenkins, with Miriam Stockley performing lead vocals on most of the songs. Unfortunately, TV ads rarely offer proper context for the music used, and in the mid-90s, the internet was still in its infancy. No Shazam, no Google. Enya was certainly not the only singer performing this branch of new age music, but she was the only one firmly in the Western zeitgeist. So “Enya – Adiemus.mp3” appears on many old hard drives and backup discs. Enya never performed with Adiemus, never worked with Karl Jenkins.

Most of the lyrics in the Adiemus series are in a fictional language unique to the project. Nearly a decade after its inception, Enya would form a project around a fictional language of her own. The Loxian language was developed for Enya by lyricist Roma Ryan. After the two worked together on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, Roma was inspired to create his own language. 2003’s Amarantine had 3 songs using this language.

Honorable Mention:

“Weird Al” Yankovic is the undisputed master of musical parody. As such, mp3s archives are riddled with songs credited to Al because people seem to think he’s the only one that does it. In some cases, they are overly vulgar, which just isn’t Al’s style. And it’s a shame, because a handful of these were fairly well done, and the actual performers aren’t getting their proper credit. “Which Backstreet Boy’s Gay?” is by MikeBoySlim. I couldn’t find out who did “Elmo’s Got a Gun”.

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