I’m usually pretty good at knowing which songs are originals and which are covers, but I was recently blindsided to discover that Nazareth’s 1975 power ballad hit “Love Hurts” is a cover.
After a visit to the Emmylou Harris exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, I was surprised to discover the excellent version she sings with Gram Parsons predating the famed Nazareth single by 5 years. Their rendition is slightly more intimate, with Harris and Parsons’ crystal-clear voices in stark contrast to the harsher tones of Dan McCafferty.
But my surprise didn’t stop there, because even that version’s a cover. Roy Orbison released the track in 1961 as a B-Side to “Running Scared”. Orbison’s distinctive voice is a perfect fit for it, although one has to overcome the familiarity with the more widely played Nazareth version.
But that’s not the end of the trail. Even Orbison’s take is a cover. It was recorded a year earlier by the Everly Brothers for their album “A Date With the Everly Brothers”. It was never released as a single, which is probably why Orbison jumped on it a year later.
I’d finally run up the song’s entire family tree. The song “Love Hurts” was written by Boudleaux Bryant, a songwriter who along with his wife Felice wrote a number of the Everly Brothers’ hits, including “Wake Up Little Suzie”. Its arrangement was adapted to suit each artist, but it rarely really deviated from the original song. Nazareth’s most important contribution is changing the slightly cringeworthy line “Love is like a stove, it burns you when it’s hot” to “Love is like a flame, it burns you when it’s hot”, and you’re left wondering why it took so long for someone to fix that.
It’s also worthwhile to mention that in 1975, the same year Nazareth released their version to global chart success, singer Jim Capaldi had a top 5 hit in the UK with a disco-ish version that is the most radical departure from the song’s original style. Whether or not it was an artistic success is of course entirely up for debate…
Bonus round: Joan Jett covered it in 1990. Cher in 1991.