You could say that Valentine’s Day is a cheap Hallmark holiday cooked up by marketing goons to fill the shopping void between Christmas and Easter. Well, I say lighten up you sourpuss.
Just kidding. Be as cynical as you want. You probably have a point. Still, I won’t ever waste an occasion to celebrate love, nor an opportunity to spotlight a few classic love songs.
But this feature is all about proving that, sometimes, the difference between a classic love song and a forgotten footnote is the singer. These are all songs you know, but perhaps not by the artists who originally recorded them.
You Give Love a Bad Name
Bonnie Tyler (1986)
Bonnie Tyler is a Welsh singer best known for “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, which topped the charts in 1983. Her signature song was written by Jim Steinman, a producer perhaps best known as Meatloaf’s creative partner.
In 1986, Tyler once again enlisted Steinman, this time for her sixth studio album, Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire. The album contained a song composed by studio songwriter Desmond Child called “If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man).” The song reached #77 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a relative disappointment, and Tyler’s last charting single in the U.S.
Bon Jovi (1986)
In 1986, Bon Jovi was a rising hair metal commodity. But they weren’t quite superstars yet. They enlisted Desmond Child in an effort to change that. He worked closely with Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora to craft the hits at the heart of their third record, Slippery When Wet.
Desmond, particularly disappointed over the outcome of his Bonnie Tyler collaboration, was convinced that his melody was still a hit in the making. Working closely with Bon Jovi and Sambora, he reconfigured the song.
The result was the lead single from their new record, and their first #1 hit–“You Give Love a Bad Name.” Desmond also co-wrote “Livin’ On a Prayer.” The second consecutive chart-topper made Bon Jovi the first hair metal act to achieve this feat.
What’s Love Got to Do With It
Bucks Fizz (1984)
In 1981, a British group called Bucks Fizz was assembled by studio hacks to perform a song which had already been written. They recorded “Making Your Mind Up” and entered into that year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Falling somewhere between ABBA and a Mentos commercial, the composition took first prize.
It touched off a brief run of success for Bucks Fizz. Though completely unknown in the U.S., the quartet scored 7 Top Ten hits in the U.K., including three chart-toppers.
But they were hardly the first choice for songwriters Graham Lyle and Terry Britten as they shopped around a new tune called “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” In fact, they had attempted without success to pair the song with Cliff Richard, then Phyllis Hyman, and finally Donna Summer. For various reasons, none ever had a chance to record it.
In February of 1984, Bucks Fizz received an offer to record the idle composition. Singer Jay Aston asked to sing lead, but her producer declined, arguing that the song was a poor fit for a female vocalist.
Male vocalist Bobby G. sang instead. The recording was stowed away for inclusion on the band’s upcoming record.
Tina Turner (1984)
While Bucks Fizz sat on top of the original recording, Tina Turner recorded her own version for her fifth solo studio album, Private Dancer. In May of 1984, Tina Turner released “What’s Love Got to Do With It” minus the question mark in the original title.
It was not just the definitive version of the song, but Tuner’s signature hit.
“What’s Love Got to Do With It” went on to sell more than 2 million copies worldwide, giving Turner her first and only Billboard Hot 100 #1. At 44, Turner was the oldest female solo artist to top the charts up to that point.
*Cher holds the distinction today, for topping the charts with “Believe” in 1999, at age 53. I’ve opted not to include that song here. If you need to hear it, that’s your business.
Back to Tina. She would also go on to sweep the Grammys that year, winning Best Record, Best Song, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Apparently, the song was a good fit for a female singer after all.
Got My Mind Set On You
James Ray (1962)
James Ray was born in Washington D.C. in 1941 and, standing at just five feet tall, performed first as Little Jimmy Ray. Still in his teens, James Ray left home for New York but found little success.
By age 20, he was dirt poor and living on a roof. But the city was brimming with nightlife. James Ray befriended a songwriter named Rudy Clark in a local club. Together, they landed Ray a contract with Caprice Records. Recording “If You Gotta Make a Food of Somebody,” Ray scored a minor hit in both the U.S. and the U.K.
Its performance on the other side of the pond was of some consequence. The Beatles took a liking to the song, and began performing it live. Then, in 1962, Manchester band Freddie and the Dreamers recorded a studio version and released it as a single. It became a U.K. top five hit.
That same year, Caprice Records folded and Ray signed to a Kapp subsidiary called Congress. There, he recorded the songs that would make up his eponymous debut record, including Rudy Clark’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You.”
It was never a hit. But the story goes that George Harrison visited his sister in the U.S. in 1963, several months before the Beatles landed on Ed Sullivan. There, he heard Ray’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set On You” spinning in a record shop. He fell instantly in love.
Sadly, it was at roughly the exact same time that Ray was fighting a losing battle with addiction. He overdosed at just 22 years old, a mere 10 months after the release of his debut record.
George Harrison (1987)
Some 25 years after first hearing the song, George Harrison recorded it for his 11th solo studio record, Cloud Nine. It would be Harrison’s first album in five years, and the last solo studio album released during is lifetime.
“Got My Mind Set On You” was released as a single in October of 1987 with production assistance from former Electric Light Orchestra mastermind and fellow Traveling Wilbury, Jeff Lynne.
It became George Harrison’s 3rd #1 single. And notably, it stood atop the charts the week before the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This made Harrison one of the very rare inductees to remain a charting force in popular music at the time of his enshrinement.
Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)
Moon Martin (1978)
Moon Martin had a cool name and an epic bowl cut, but he didn’t have a ton of success. Beginning his career as rockabilly singer out of Oklahoma, he was given his name for the simple reason that he wrote a lot of songs about the moon.
Yet, the two songs for which he is most famous—both successful covers for other artists—have little to do with the lunar surface. In addition to the song in question here, Martin also wrote “Cadillac Walk,” a 1977 success for Willy DeVille.
He released quite a few full-length records—most in a rootsy power pop sort of vein. They aren’t half bad either. His greatest success as a performer was a #30 Billboard entry called “Rolene.”
As for his greatest songwriting success, Martin wrote and released “Bad Case of Loving You” for inclusion on his full-length 1978 debut, Shots from a Cold Nightmare. Neither the song nor the album charted.
Robert Palmer (1979)
The following year, U.K. singer Robert Palmer recorded a version for his fifth studio record, Secrets. To this point, Palmer had been something of a musical journeyman, veering between New Orleans funk, Caribbean Rhythms, and R&B with high critical regard but modest commercial success.
“Bad Case of Loving You” represented a departure into straight-ahead rock. Released as a single in July of 1979, it rose to #14 in the U.S., marking Palmer’s transition from songwriting veteran to emerging MTV superstar.
Red Red Wine
Neil Diamond (1967)
Either this is a breakup song about a woman, or it’s a love song about wine. It’s also one of countless songs written by Neil Diamond and made famous by other (read: better) singers.
Still, Diamond’s songwriting bonafides are beyond reproach, most particularly during his extraordinary prolific late-60s bloom. At a time when Diamond was churning out classics for other artists in a hit-making factory known as the Brill Building—“I’m a Believer” for the Monkees, “Sunday and Me” for Jay and the Americans, and “Kentucky Woman” by Deep Purple—“Red, Red Wine” was a bit of a throwaway.
Diamond had just departed form Bang Records for records greater success with Uni/MCA. But Bang continued to release Diamond singles, including a version of “Red, Red Wine” that stalled on the charts at #62 in 1968.
A few notable cover versions followed, including a 1968 version by Peter Tetteroo, the lead singer from Dutch band Tee-Set, which reached #6 in Holland; a reggae version by Jamaican singer Tony Tribe that hit #46 in the U.K. in 1969; and American teen idol Vic Dana’s version, which reached #72 in the U.S. in 1970.
Perhaps most directly inspired by the Tony Tribe version that made the charts in their home country, British reggae revivalists UB40 recorded “Red Red Wine” in 1983.
Their version became immediately definitive, topping the charts in the U.K. that year, and scaling up to #34 in the U.S. by 1984.
Then, in the summer of 1988, UB40 was invited to play as part of the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert. They performed a version of “Red Red Wine” at the bash. When a radio station in Phoenix, Arizona placed the live cut on their playlist, it quickly became their most requested song.
With “Red Red Wine” suddenly a hot commodity, A&M Records decided the time was right to re-release and promote the band’s original single. By October of 1988, “Red Red Wine” was a #1 hit in the U.S.
A Valentine’s Day Gift
I didn’t have time to shop so I made you a few playlists–one about love and one about heartbreak.
I know it’s not much, but I glued a bunch of sparkles and macaronis on these. I hope you like ’em.