(Photo by Massimo Solimene/Pacific Press/LightRocket)
History is full of iconic songs. However, there is no denying the fact their lesser-known covers remain confined to a few. Well, that might be a topic for another day. Today we focus on the greatest cover songs of all times. These cover songs have managed to stay relevant even in the presence of their original counterparts.
We talk about some of the finest that the music industry has given us. For instance, the classic song ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ by The Who. The band recorded their song on 8 July 1971 at Olympic Studios in London. Years later, Limp Bizkit did a cover for the song that featured Hale Berry in the iconic music video.
These are our picks for the list of 30 Greatest Covers of All Time. The list is no chronological order and isn’t a ranking of any sorts either.
Song: “Cocaine” Originally by JJ Cale, Cover by Eric Clapton
We kick off our list with “Cocaine.” Released in the year 1976 in JJ Cale’s fourth studio album titled “Troubadour.” The blues album was a moderate success and was certified silver in the UK.
The song achieved mainstream popularity after Eric Clapton did a cover for the song for his fifth studio album “Slowhand.” Some call it Clapton’s best recording to date. Interestingly though, Eric added the lyrics “..that dirty cocaine” because he thought the message in the song was too ambiguous. Industry veterans call it “one of the best covers of all time.”
Song: “Wonderwall” Originally By Oasis, Cover by Ryan Adams
Oasis recorded the song in 1995 for their second studio album titled “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?”. The song made it to the “Top Ten” charts in at least ten countries. It remains to be the most streamed 90’s song on Spotify. It has streamed as much as 460 Million times as of May 2018.
Ryan Adam performed his version in 2001 and later added it to his 2003 EP “Love Is Hell Pt. 1”. Ryan’s spin on the song received immense love from the audiences. Some even went to call it “better than the original.” In fact, Noel Gallagher, Oasis’s co-lead vocalist, and principal songwriter went ahead and told the media that he never really got his head around the song. It all changed after he heard Ryan’s fantastic cover of it.
Song: “Valerie” Originally by The Zutons, Cover by Mark Ronson & Amy Winehouse
Released in 2006, Valerie is a single from the English indie band Zouton’s second studio album titled: “Tired of Hanging Around.” It was their second song that made it to the UK Top 10. The first was “Why Won’t You Give Me Your Love?” from the same album. In an interview, the lead singer revealed that the idea of the song came to him in a cab. He was apparently on his way to his mother’s. It took him 20 minutes to write the song, and he finished the song before getting out of the cab.
One of the greatest covers to this song came from Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson. This version became even more popular than the original, peaking No. 1 in Netherlands and No.2 in the United Kingdom.
Song: “Twist and Shout” Originally by Top Notes, Cover by The Beatles
Twist and Shout formerly belonged to the Top Notes. They released it in 1961. Phil Medley and Bert Berns wrote the song for Top Notes. They never imagined that their song would later catch the fancy of dozens of mainstream artists.
The first significant cover that brought the song to mainstream audiences was Isley Brother’s version in 1962. However, the same cover influenced the much more popular Beatle’s version that came out in 1963. The song was released as a part of their debut album named “Please Please Me.” Many people consider it to be the best cover of all time.
Song: “Blinded By the Light” Originally by Bruce Springsteen, Cover by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
“Blinded by the light” was the first single in Bruce Springsteen’s debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” The 1973 album failed to make an impact and remained mostly unsuccessful.
However, things changed in 1996 with the release of the album “The Roaring Silence” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The album included the cover of the song that went on to reach No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, it is the only Bruce Springsteen song (as a songwriter) that managed to peak at the Billboard Hot 100.
Song: “Behind Blue Eyes,” Originally by The Who, Cover by Limp Bizkit
“Behind Blue Eyes” was the second single from The Who’s fifth studio album titled “Who’s Next.” Songwriter Pete Townshend wrote the song after a female groupie tempted him after a concert in Denver. He went to his room instead and wrote a prayer that read “When my fist clenches…crack it open…”. The band recorded the song on 8 July 1971 at Olympic Studios in London, England.
Although many mainstream artists covered the song, it was the Limp Bizkit’s rendition that struck a chord with audiences. It was a part of their fourth studio album titled “Results May Vary.” The album released on September 23, 2003. Along with a different arrangement, the band also included Speak & Spell samples in the bridge of the song.
Song: “Nothing Compares 2 U”, Originally by Prince, Cover Sinéad O’Connor
Photo by Rico D’Rozario/Redferns
In 1985 Prince wrote the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” for a side project named “The Family.” However, it got popular in 1990 after a cover released under Irish Recording Artist Sinéad O’Connor’s second studio album titled: “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.”
O’Connor’s version became a worldwide hit, topping charts in Ireland, Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, spending four weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
Song: “Hurt,” Originally by Nine Inch Nails, Cover by Johnny Cash
Another top cover song on our list is Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.” The 1995 song belongs to the rock band Nine Inch Nails’ second studio album titled: “The Downward Spiral.” The song served as the promotional single for the album and even got them a Grammy nomination in 1996.
Johnny Cash did a fantastic cover for the song in 2003 along with a critically acclaimed music video. Some even claim it to be the greatest videos of all time. It uses the imagery of fruits and flowers in different states of decay. These images attempt to showcase the youthful as well as the older years of the legendary artist.
Song: “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” Originally by Britney Spears, Cover by Travis
The song established Britney Spears as a household name. She recorded “Hit Me Baby One More Time” on October 23, 1998. The song came to Brittney only after the band Backstreet Boys and American girl group TLC rejected it. The accompanying video is one of the most influential videos of the 90s. Britney even referenced the video theme it in her 2009 video “If You Seek Amy.”
One of the best covers came from the Scottish band, Travis. They performed it for the first time at a concert in North Yorkshire, England. The band admits to initially playing it for a ‘laugh.’ They later realized it was one of their well-crafted tunes. Britney Spears believed their song sounded weird and held a very different vibe from what she did.
Song: “Don’t Think Twice,” Originally by Bob Dylan, Cover by Dolly Parton
Bob Dylan wrote “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” in 1962 for his 1963 album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” The public domain song “Who’s Gonna Buy Your Chickens When I’m Gone” served as an inspiration to the Bob Dylan song. In fact, Play Clayton who taught the tune to Dylan also used it in one of his songs titled “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I’m Gone.”
Dozens of mainstream artists covered the song. It included artists like Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton and more recently Ed Sheeran and even Kesha. However, making to our list of greatest covers of all time is the rendition by the legendary Dolly Parton.
Song: “Last Kiss,” Originally by Wayne Cochran, Cover by Pearl Jam
The 1961 original version of the “Last Kiss” by Wayne Cochran never really tasted any success. In fact, Wayne recorded as much as four different versions that were local hits in Georgia, before disappearing forever. Wayne dedicated the 1962 version of the teen tragedy song to 16-year old Jeanette Clark. She died in a car crash along with her friends just 15 miles from where he lived.
Pearl Jam performed the song on their 1998 tour after lead vocalist Eddie Vedder convinced the band to try it. The song peaked at No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It remains to be the band’s top position on the charts to this day. Later they included the song in their charity compilation album titled “No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees.”
Song: “Come Together,” Originally by The Beatles, Cover by Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson’s 1988 film “Moonwalk” came with many surprises for his fans. The most notable of all was the cover for Beatle’s “Come Together.” The movie featured John Lennon’s son as well. The song was later released in Michael’s 1995 album “HIStory.”
“Come Together” is another example of the much celebrated Lennon-McCartney partnership. However, it was John Lennon who did most of the writing for this Beatle’s song. Lennon found inspiration for the song from Timothy Leary’s campaign for the Governor of California. The campaign promptly ended after his arrest for possessing marijuana.
Song: “The Man Who Sold the World,” Originally by David Bowie, Cover by Nirvana
Calling this record legendary would be an understatement. It was released on 4 November 1970 and featured in David Bowie’s third studio album by the same name. There were multiple theories on what the song was actually about. Some even compared it to the horror fantasy works of H. P. Lovecraft.
Multiple artists gave the song their spin, but the best cover, in our opinion, came from the American grunge band Nirvana. Kurt Cobain along with his band performed the song on “MTV Unplugged” in 1994.
Song: “Bad Side of the Moon,” Originally by Elton John, Cover by April Wine
“Bad Side of the Moon” or “Border Song” is a song from Elton John’s second studio album titled: “Elton John.” The album flopped in the UK but did relatively better in other parts of the world.
Canadian Rock band “April Wine” released their rendition of the song in 1972. It was their second single from their second studio album titled “On Record.” The track garnered them much critical acclaim and is a regular at significant Rock stations.
Song: “All Along the Watchtower,” Originally by Bob Dylan, Cover by Jimi Hendrix
Appearing in Bob Dylan’s 1967 album named “John Wesley Harding” the song “All Along the Watchtower” is Dylan’s most performed song. Dylan wrote the song in his house in Woodstock, New York. He spent 18 months writing songs after he injured himself in a motorcycle accident.
However, people mostly remember the song’s rendition by Jimi Hendrix. Jimi released the song in 1968, a month before the third and final studio album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was this version that ranked 47th in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Song: “I Will Always Love You,” Originally by Dolly Parton, Cover by Whitney Houston
‘Spoiler alert’ – Our list consists of more than one Dolly Parton cover. This 1973 served as a farewell for her mentor of seven years Porter Wagoner. Parton decided to part ways to pursue her solo career. The song re-released in the year 1982 for the movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” It became one of the only few songs to reach the Billboard charts twice.
Whitney Houston too recorded a version for the song in the year 1992 for the movie “The Bodyguard.” It held the top spot on Billboard charts for 14 weeks. In fact, her version entered the charts again after her death in the year 2012. Interestingly, it also holds the record for being the bestselling single by a woman in history.
Song: “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” Originally by The Rolling Stones, Cover by Devo
Along with all these legendary tracks on the list, here is the one that rules them all. The Rolling Stones recorded “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in 1965. It became the first song for the band to reach No. 1 in the US. It even managed to reach No. 4 in the UK. It still holds the second spot on the list in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
Devo covered the song in 1977, initially in a self-produced version on their own label Booji Boy Records. It was also featured in the Martin Scorsese film “Casino” in the year 1995.
Song: “My Way,” Originally by Frank Sinatra, Cover by Sid Vicious
“My Way” is the signature tune of Frank Sinatra. Paul Anka wrote the song for Frank Sinatra who recorded it on December 30, 1968. The recording completed just before he was going out for New Year Eve’s celebrations. Frank Sinatra came to hate this song and thought it was self-serving and self-indulgent.
Years later Sid Vicious, the bassist of the band Sex Pistols took his spin on the song. The band never really understood the entire lyrics and even used some curse words in it. Their version of the song was featured in the classic movie “Goodfellas” (1990).
Song: “Summertime Blues,” Originally by Eddie Cochran, Cover by The Who
Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” released on 21 July 1958. It peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Top 100 and number 18 on the UK charts.
The song has been covered by a host of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer, Brian Setzer and even Alan Jackson. However, the best cover of all was the rendition by The Who. They played the song regularly at their concerts up until 1976. However, they did not perform it after the death of their bassist in 2002.
Song: “Jolene,” Originally by Dolly Parton, Cover by One Dove
Probably the trademark song for Dolly Patron. It was released under an album with the same name in 1973. The song got a nomination for a Grammy but lost to Anne Murray’s “A Love Song.” Interestingly though, the song did manage to bring her a win 43 years after the release.
Dozens of artists have their versions of the song. However, it is the version by One Dove that we believe is one of the greatest covers of all time. The Scottish electronic music group did their spin at the song, thus introducing it to a newer generation.
Song: “You Were Always on My Mind,” Originally by Elvis Presley, Cover by Pet Shop Boys
“You Were Always on My Mind” is one of the most covered songs of all time. AllMusic lists as much as 300 versions of the song. However, the song reached new heights when Elvis Presley recorded it in the year 1972. It was released as a B-Side track for his single “Separate Ways.” It was one of Elvis’ first recordings after separating from his wife, Priscilla.
On the tenth death anniversary of Elvis Presley, Pet Shop Boys performed their version of the song on a television special. The song was very well received, and The Daily Telegraph went on to place it at No. 2 on the list of “50 Best Cover Songs of all time”.
Song: “Hallelujah,” Originally by Leonard Cohen, Cover by Jeff Buckley
Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” is a classic on its own. The song belonged to his 1984 album “Various Positions.” Although a feeble hit, it only managed to enter the Billboard charts in the year 2016 after Cohen’s death.
One of the top covers of the song came from Jeff Buckley in 1994. The single was available in his album “Grace.” It drew influences from John Cale’s version of the same song which released in 1991. It is the most successful version to this day. Time Magazine went on to call it one of the best recordings of all time. It also managed to find a place in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry on April 2, 2014.
Song: “I shot the Sheriff,” Originally by Bob Marley, Cover by Eric Clapton
“I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley, and the Wailers follows the story of a man who kills the corrupt Sheriff in self-defense. The hauntingly beautiful song belonged to the 1973 Wailers album titled “Burnin.”
The following year, Eric Clapton recorded his soft rock + reggae version which took the song to new heights. The song peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100. It was also included in the Grammy Hall of Fame in the year 2003.
Song: “Hound Dog” Originally by Big Mama Thornton, Cover by Elvis Presley
Recorded by Big Mama Thornton on August 13, 1952, in LA, the song remained her only hit in her career. The song made it to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll”. It even made it to the Grammy’s Hall of Fame in February 2013.
Often described as an emblem of the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, the Elvis Presley cover released in July 1956. Rolling Stone Magazine placed it on No. 19 on its list of “500 Greatest Record of All Time”. It is the highest entry among Elvis Presley’s 19 songs on the list.
Song: “Whiskey in the Jar,” Originally by Thin Lizzy, Cover by Metallica
Released in the year 1996, “Whiskey in the Jar” is one of best works by Irish rock band Thin Lizzy. Belonging to the album by the same name, the song speaks about a man whose lover betrays him.
One of the best covers for the song came by the American heavy metal band Metallica. It featured in their album “Garage Inc.” which was released on November 23, 1998. The album has sold more than 6 million copies worldwide.
Cover: “Higher Ground,” Originally by Stevie Wonder, Cover by Red Hot Chilli Peppers
The 1973 Stevie Wonder song belonged to the album “Innervisions.” The song talks about serious subjects like Reincarnation that could potentially serve him a second chance. Not many know that Stevie himself plays all the instruments that we hear in the song.
In 1989, the funk rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers came out with one of the top covers of the song. It belonged to their fourth studio album “Mother’s Milk.” The song was featured in numerous movies including 2010’s “The Karate Kid,” “Walking Tall,” and “The Longest Yard” among others.
Song: “Call Me Maybe” Originally by Carly Rae Jepsen, Cover by Ben Howard
The world was in for a surprise on May 8, 2012. On this day, Ben Howard did one of the best covers of “Call Me Maybe” for BBC Radio. The pop teen song was the first hit by Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen. It entered the Top 10 charts at the number 1 spot in countries like Australia, Canada, UK, US and more. Jepsen and Tavish Crowe originally wrote it as a folk song. The final version took a rather ‘pop turn’ and was mainly popular among the teens. However, the Ben Howard version stayed true to the ‘folk’ roots and brought a certain depth to the song.
Song: “We Can Work It Out” Originally By The Beatles, Cover by Stevie Wonder
“We Can Work It Out” is one of the few gems that stand as a testament to Lennon–McCartney relationship. This 1965 single by the iconic British band The Beatles remains to have a cult following to this day. Some people argue that Paul’s relationship with Jane Asher served as an inspiration for this song. He wrote it along with fellow band member – John Lennon.
However, one cannot argue that the Stevie Wonder’s version is equally famous (if not more) than the original. He released it in 1970 for his album “Signed, Sealed & Delivered.” The song earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Stevie even performed it for Paul McCartney at the 1990 Grammy’s when the latter received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Song: “I Will Survive,” Originally by, Cover by Cake
Gloria Gaynor first released “I Will Survive” in October 1978. The song became a hit and sold 14 million copies worldwide and had remained a famous disco anthem ever since. The song made No. 1 in the US Billboard Hot 100, Hot Dance Club Songs, and ranked No. 6 in the US Billboard Hot 100 Year-end Chart.
In 1996, Cake covered the song on their album “Fashion Nugget.” The music video of Cake’s version features lead singer, McCrea, as a city parking enforcement officer driving around in a Cushman three-wheeled scooter as he leaves tickets on various cars. It made the 28 spot at the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Chart.
Song: “Hometown Glory” Originally by Adele, Cover by City and Colour
Our final entry in the list is the City and Colour’s rendition of Adele’s “Hometown Glory.” The Canadian acoustic folk singer’s spin on the iconic received much love by the audiences.
“Hometown Glory” is the first ever song that Adele wrote which was later released in her debut album “19”. Adele reportedly wrote the song in less than 10 minutes. It was when her mother persuaded her to leave their West Norwood suburban home in London for further education. It earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2010.