Bitchtapes: Whitewashed Rock

Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

To wrap up Black Music Month, I thought I'd feature just a few popular songs that were originally recorded by black artists…only to become more popular (and profitable) by white artists. I'm not advocating for any version over the other (okay, so Big Mama Thornton's “Hound Dog” blows Elvis's out of the water), and the spectrum of cover/standards/tributes/stealing is vast and complex, it's always worth noting who's making money from a song, who's name goes down in Ye Olde Annals of Pop Music, and what gets remembered and reified when it comes to attribution, popularity, and legacy.

1. Big Mama Thornton - Hound Dog IMO, the famous version by Elvis (aka “Prince of Theives” when it came to black musicians) has nothing on Big Mama Thonton's (pictured above) version of the song. Thornton also wrote and originally recorded “Ball 'n' Chain,” which Janis Joplin recorded in 60s. 2. Howlin' Wolf - Killing Floor British rock group Led Zeppelin ripped off a lot of American blues musicians without giving credit where it was due. Here's a Howlin' Wolf song they turned into “The Lemon Song.” 3. The Cookies - I'm Into Something Good This tune, penned by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, was first released by the Earl-Jean McCrea of the oft-overlooked Cookies. Later that year British pop band Herman's Hermits made it their first single, which ultimately propelled them to fame. 4. Gloria Jones - Tainted Love Even the Most Covered Song Ever (Soft Cell, Marilyn Manson, etc) has to start somewhere! Specifically 1965. 5. Odetta - Down on Me Janis Joplin was heavily influenced by black female musicians. She heard folk musician Odetta's version of the traditional “Down on Me” and was inspired to make her own amped-up version. 6. Nina Simone - Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood Lil Wayne opted to sample Nina's original version of this song on “DontGetIt” instead of the more popular version by the Animals. 7. Junior Murvin - Police and Thieves The British punk group The Clash included their cover of this reggae song on their first album. Murvin's version was a hit in Jamaica, but the Clash's version made way more money in the UK. The rest is history. And by “the rest” I mean Reel Big Fish. 8. Al Green - Take Me to the River Al Green's original song turned into an indie anthem when the Talking Heads covered it a few years later. 9. Tina Turner - Don't Turn Around I'd like to blame it on my age (and love of The Sign), but I had no idea this was not originally Ace of Base song (which is funny, because it was also recorded by Kim Goody, Neil Diamond, Bonnie Tyler, Luther Ingram, and even more…) Written by Diane Warren and Albert Hammond, it was a B-Side on Turner's “Typical Male” single. 10. O'Chi Brown - Whenever You Need Somebody Poor O'Chi was basically rickrolled when this song was a mega hit for Rick Astley just a year after she released it in 1986. Also this version is almost 8 minutes long, so you should probably start dancing now. 11. The Family - Nothing Compares 2 U This song launched Sinead O'Connor's career, but the next time it's your turn at the karaoke mic, make a statement and do the original [edit: written by Prince, released by The Family] ! Previously: The Future, Black Music Month

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6 Comments Have Been Posted

Great theme for a post! Just

Great theme for a post! Just wanted to pop in & say that "Police and Thieves" was originally by Junior Murvin, not Junior Marvin.

Also, the original version of "Nothing Compares 2 U" is by The Family (Prince was heavily involved in the writing, recording, and production of The Family's work, often recording most of the studio parts himself and overdubbing additional instruments and lead vocals by singer St. Paul after the initial recording was completed.) I don't know that Prince has ever released an official solo recording of "Nothing Compares 2 U"...


You're totally right about the Family! Just goes to show....

I'm away from my computer but will update the playlist to reflect that when I'm home again. And I've also corrected the spelling of Junior Murvin's name. Thanks so much, K.

did you mean "it's always

did you mean "it's always worth 'knowing' who's making money..." ? instead of "nothing"? :) great article I completely agree. I'm glad you started with "Hound Dog" because most people are unaware that Elvis's work wasn't oriniginal or unique to him. It came as a shock to my own mother when I just read it aloud to her.

I assumed they meant "worth

I assumed they meant "worth noting"


another typo. I fixed it and thank you for listening!

Great post!

I'm going to listen to all these songs now! I recommend Barbara Acklin's original "Am I the Same Girl" (popularized/swiped by Dusty Springfeld)

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