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The Top One Hit Wonder Cover Songs

August 28, 2011

The members of Ram Jam were unable to create any hit singles of their own, but their rendition of the blues classic "Black Betty" is immortal in its own right.

It’s not easy writing that smash hit single. In fact, the task can at times prove so difficult for some artists, they simply must rework a former classic into their own formula for success.

Take a look at the charts of the last few decades and you will find them sandwiched between the one-hit wonders and even the most immortal of musicians. There’s no shame in their success, to evolve once-popular songs into revamped melodies for the times.

It’s still no easy task….

Just take these five songs as an example and you’ll find that success in music can come in many different forms.

Joe Cocker — With A Little Help From My Friends (1969)

Often considered the pinnacle performance of the legendary 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, Cocker’s gritty voice and hard-rocking band made this Beatles’ classic into one of the most memorably transformed songs of a generation. The rendition was so successful, it even found a place as the opening theme song for one of the era’s most popular television sitcoms, “The Wonder Years.” Take that as a recognition of its generational stamp. In later years, the English singer became best known for his cover songs, although he would pick up a Grammy in 1983 for his duet “Up Where We Belong,” with Jennifer Warnes. Nonetheless, it was Cocker’s tribue to the Beatles that catapulted him to rock immortality. Not that he’s complaining or anything…

Baha Men — Who Let the Dogs Out?/Doggie (2000)

The last year of the 20th century was certainly the year of the Baha Men, if there ever was one. The Bahamian three-piece’s covered the Anslem Douglas song “Doggie,” even going as far to rename the hit “Who Let the Dogs Out?,” in light of the song’s catchy chorus. The rendition became a commercial virus in America, spreading through radio, movies, television and seemingly every remaining media outlet. Anslem’s original number became a Caribbean party classic after its release in 1998, reaching a level of acclaim quickly recognized by the Baha Men, whose remake evolved into their own legend entire. While it was the group’s only single to crack the Top 50 charts in the United States, the group did find greater international success, in Australia, the United Kingdom and of course, the Caribbean Islands. Thanks Anslem!

Musical Youth — Pass the Dutchie/Pass the Kutchie (1982)

Sticking with our Islander theme, who can forget the adorable kids group Musical Youth and their 1980s reggae staple “Pass the Dutchie.” Notably, the youngsters were actually English by birth, but who know? Call ’em a more mistakable UB40. Their cover of Mighty Diamonds’ “Pass the Kutchie” was retooled by one letter in name, but much deeper in meaning. The original tune by the Jamaican group references cannabis extensively, most notably in the form of a ‘kutchie,’ or pot-smoking pipe. Musical Youth however, was ready to separate their reggae stylistics from the stereotypical marijuana culture, replacing ‘kutchie’ with ‘dutchie,’ a slang term for cooking pot. Regardless of their good intentions, Musical Youth was unable to replicate the success of their massive cover, which received a Grammy nomination and even peaked at Number 10 on the U.S. charts. They did find more success in their cover of Desmond Dekker’s song “007,” but that’s for another cover countdown…

The Buggles — Video Killed the Radio Star (1979)

Co-produced by various members, “Video Killed the Radio Star” was a generation-defining hit, detailing the inevitable recession of radio as the main vehicle for music. Appropriately, the song was the first music video to play on the newly launched Music Television, or MTV, in 1980. The original version was recorded by Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club in 1979. Woolley, who is credited with developing the musical content, used the single for his own group, while lyricist Trevor Horn took his side of the project to his group, The Buggles, who also recorded and released it in 1979. While it can only be considered halfway to a cover song for The Buggles, their is no denying their second-place finish to Bruce Woolley in this classic number’s production and release.

Black Betty — Ram Jam (1977)

One of the 70s most memorable rockabilly melodies was also rooted in the genre’s base origin, the blues. When Ram Jam released their rocking rendition of Leadbelly’s song “Black Betty,” it quickly became a lasting radio hit, along with grungy rockabilly favorites of the 1970s such as George Thorogood and AC/DC. Ram Jam, made of members of various aspiring groups, including The Lemon Pipers, The Hassles and El Primo, the musicians found musical fluidity in their appreciation for Louisiana bluesman Huddie William Ledbetter. While Leadbelly produced a number of blues classics over the years, he also provided what would become the spark for Ram Jam’s only lap in the spotlight. We did love its appearance on Eastbound and Down though. Nice touch.

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