Cover songs can truly reinvent a song. Sometimes the new version is so great that most people have no idea that they are even covers. To test your knowledge, we’ve searched far and wide for the best cover songs of all time. And we didn’t just rank them based on which songs we liked best. No.
We took a look at the number of YouTube views, Spotify downloads, the song’s highest Billboard placement, as well as how long the track spent on the chart and then arranged the songs accordingly. So yeah, this really is the ultimate list. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s see if your favorite cover song was good enough to make the cut.
“You know feelin’ good was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.”
Me and Bobby McGee was written by Kris Kristofferson and originally performed by Roger Miller in 1969. The single peaked at the number 12 spot on the U.S. country chart, but this version didn’t come close to Janis Joplin’s.
Joplin recorded the track for her Pearl album in October 1970, only a few days before her untimely death. In fact, Kristofferson didn’t know that Joplin recorded a version of his song. He only heard it for the first time the day after she died. The track topped the U.S. singles chart in ’71, making it her only number-one single.
“I love you so much, can’t count all the ways
I’ve died for you, girl, and all they can say is
‘He’s not your kind’”
This song will forever be known as the track that Mia puts on before her near death experience in Pulp Fiction, but as many of you know, this is a cover of the original song.
The track was originally written and performed by Neil Diamond, whose recording of the track reached the number ten spot on the U.S. singles chart. Luckily for us, the track enjoyed a second life when Tarantino decided to use Urge Overkill’s ’92 recording in his film. This song sure is one heck of a masterpiece.
“Sometimes I feel like saying, ‘Lord, I just don’t care.’
But you’ve got the love I need to see me through”
The original version of this song is a sort of mix between soul, disco, and gospel and was originally recorded by Candi Staton for a direct-to-video ‘80s documentary about a man trying to lose weight.
The song was remixed and released multiple times, and a version of the song was used for the finale of the series Sex and the City. It was then covered again by singer-songwriter Joss Stone in 2008 for her album, Colour me Free! The following year, English indie band Florence + the Machine released their version of the track, which became their first top-ten single.
“Backbeat, the word is on the street
That the fire in your heart is out.”
Okay, Oasis fans, hear me out. Yes, the original version is amazing, and nothing can replace it. All we’re saying is that this version brings something incredibly different to the table. It’s emotional and a bit more depressing than the original version, but masterfully done.
Even Noel Gallagher from Oasis agrees. “We’ve never got it right. It’s too slow or too fast,” he told Spin Magazine in 2008. “I think Ryan Adams is the only person who ever got that song right. I’d love to do the Ryan Adams version, but in front of 60,000 Oasis fans, that wouldn’t be possible.”
“Even if you cannot hear my voice
I’ll be right beside you, dear.”
Leona Lewis released her cover of Run in 2008, and it became the fastest-selling download ever in the UK (at the time). The original version of the track was first written and recorded by the Northern Irish alternative rock band Snow Patrol in 2003.
The idea for the song first came to frontman Gary Lightbody after he fell down a flight of stairs while drunk one night. “I split my head open, and my eye was closed, and I lost a few teeth,” he later told reporters at Q Magazine.
“I’ll leave you when the summertime
Leave you when the summer comes a rollin’.”
While everyone knows this song as one of Led Zeppelin’s hits, the track wasn’t written by or for the band.
Written in the ‘50s by singer-songwriter Anne Bredon, the song later appeared on Joan Baez’s 1962 album, Joan Baez in Concert. Although Zeppelin’s version of the song is based on Baez’s version, the band came up with a completely different approach. They used hard rock sections, electric guitar riffs and doubled the song’s length.
“Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind.”
This track is the ultimate summer song. Originally written and recorded by Seals and Crofts in ’72, the track peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100.
But the following year, the Isley Brothers decided to give it a try and recorded the song with a rock and soul twist. Due to popular demand, the band decided to then release the song as a single in ’74. The Isley Brothers’ cover is amazing not only because of their harmonizing vocals but for Ernie’s slick guitar solo.
“Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don’t go to Heaven where the angels fly.”
Lake of Fire was originally released by the alternative rock band the Meat Puppets in 1984. Their version is good, but Nirvana really took the track to the next level.
Nirvana performed their version of the song (along with Plateau and Oh, Me) for their MTV Unplugged performance in 1993. They were also joined on the stage by the Kirkwood Brothers from Meat Puppets. Fans praised the guitar tone as well as Kurt’s raspy vocals. This was definitely a strong performance of an already amazing song.
“Hey Joe (said now)
Where you going to run to now?”
Hey, Joe became a rock standard in the ‘60s, meaning it was recorded by several artists from all genres. The earliest known commercial recording of the track was in 1965 by the L.A. garage band, The Leaves.
But, of course, the most notable version of the song was by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It all came about when Chas Chandler, the ex-bassist for the Animals, came across Hendrix while looking for someone to record a rock version of the track. Chandler took him to England to record the song, and the rest is history.
“I was alone, I took a ride
I didn’t know what I would find there.”
Got to Get You Into My Life was originally written by Paul McCartney and recorded by the Beatles in 1966.
It was a homage to the Motown sound that the band loved so much (and actually a huge inspiration for the band in their early days). Fast Forward to 1978, and Earth, Wind & Fire released their version of the song, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles and peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Oye como va mi ritmo
Bueno pa’ gozar, mulata.”
The track was originally released in 1962 by Tito Puente, but it didn’t reach mainstream success until the Mexican American band Santana recorded their own version of the song.
Santana originally released the track on their album Abraxas, and then they re-released it as a single the following year. The cover peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song has been praised by critics all over the world and was eventually inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002.
“Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York”
While everyone knows that Frank Sinatra sang this song, people may not know that it was originally the theme song for Martin Scorsese’s 1977 film, New York, New York.
The theme song was originally written for and performed by actress Liza Minnelli. However, it didn’t become popular until Sinatra sang his version during his concerts at Radio City Music Hall in 1978. The song became so popular that Sinatra decided to record his version the following year, and it was eventually released on his 1980 album, Trilogy: Past, Present, Future.
“If you want to hang out, you’ve gotta take her out, cocaine
If you want to get down, get down on the ground, cocaine.”
While it was Eric Clapton that made this track famous around the world, it was actually written and originally recorded by J. J. Cale in 1976.
While the song is “quite cleverly anti-cocaine” (according to Clapton), he didn’t perform the song at several of his concerts. This track was one of several of Cale’s songs that were covered by Clapton, including After Midnight and Travelin’ Light. Although Clapton has a huge collection of great songs, Cocaine still remains one of his best.
“Take me to the river, dip me in the water
Washing me down, washing me down.”
According to Rolling Stone Magazine, Al Green’s original version is the 117th Greatest Song of All Time (out of 500). But if you ask us, it deserves a much higher rank.
Since the original recording, the track has been covered several times in performances around the world. However, the most noteworthy cover was by Talking Heads in 1975. The song was released as a single and peaked at number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Baby, let’s cruise, away from here
Don’t be confused, baby, the way is clear.”
Crusin’ was written, recorded, and produced by the amazing Smokey Robinson in 1979. The track was Robinson’s most successful single as a solo artist.
The song was then covered by D’Angelo in 1995 for his album Brown Sugar. And although nothing will compare to Robinson’s version, D’Angelo did a pretty good job seeing that he was up against one of the best musicians from the Motown era. D’Angelo’s cover was a commercial success and charted in the top ten on the U.S. R&B charts.
“People, keep on learnin’
Soldiers, keep on warrin’.”
Here’s another cover of a Motown hit. Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground was written and recorded (during a three-hour burst of creativity!) in 1973. The song was an instant hit, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100.
Then, in 1989, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their own version of the song as their first single. The cover has been used in several films and TV shows, such as The Karate Kid, Center Stage, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In 2000, Total Guitar Magazine named the RHCP cover “the second greatest cover ever.”
“American woman, get away from me
American woman, mama let me be.”
Surprisingly enough, American Woman is not a Lenny Kravitz original (even though the lyrics fit his aesthetic perfectly).
The song was originally released by a Canadian psychedelic band called The Guess Who in 1970. The lyrics and music were actually improvised during one of the band’s concerts in Southern Ontario. During the performance, one of the band members noticed a kid was making a bootleg recording of the jam session, so they asked him for the tape so they could write down the lyrics.
“I hear her heart is beating, loud as thunder
I saw these stars crashing down.”
We know, we know, this one isn’t exactly a cover (as it was written by both Iggy Pop and David Bowie during the years they spent in Berlin).
However, since Iggy Pop was the first one to record the single, we consider David Bowie’s 1983 version a cover. Author Paul Trynka, the author of Bowie’s biography, says that the lyrics were inspired by Iggy Pop’s obsession with a Vietnamese woman, Kuelan Nguyen. However, many people believe that the song is about drug addiction.
“To call for hands of above, to lean on
Wouldn’t be good enough, for me, no.”
Since Heartbeats is one of José González’s more famous songs, many people are surprised that his recording is actually a cover.
The track was originally recorded by a Swedish electronic music duo called The Knife. The song was released in 2002 and ranked number 87 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 100 songs from the 2000s. The track has been covered by other notable musicians, including Ellie Goulding and Royal Teeth. However, the best cover in our eyes is González’s recording.
“What would you do if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?”
Of course, everyone knows (or should know at least) that With a Little Help From My Friends was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Joe Cocker re-recorded the track a year later, and fans and critics alike praised him for his raw and emotional twist. The song soon became an anthem for the Woodstock hippie era. Cocker’s cover peaked at 35 on the Billboard Top 100 and remained on the chart for a whopping 37 weeks.
“All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces.”
While Gary Jules and Michael Andrew’s Mad World is most popular because of the 2001 film Donnie Darko, it is actually a cover. The original song was first recorded in 1982 by the British Band Tears for Fears.
The original version is a bit more pop and ‘80s sounding, compared to the melancholy, striped down version that was used for the film. Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ version reached number one on the UK Singles Chart, but this success didn’t translate to the U.S., where it peaked at number 35. Nevertheless, it’s still a great cover.
“What have I become? My sweetest friend,
Everyone I know goes away, in the end.”
Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt first appeared on their second studio album, The Downward Spiral, in 1994. After re-releasing the track as a single the following year, Hurt received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song in 1996.
Johnny Cash covered the song in 2002, and while Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor feared that a cover would sound “too gimmicky,” he was taken aback by Cash’s version after watching the music video. “I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence,” Reznor said in 2004.
“I’m all out of faith, this is how I feel
I’m cold, and I am shamed, lying naked on the floor.”
While Torn was originally written in 1993 for Anne Preven (and then recorded by her band, Ednaswap, in 1995), it is best known as Australian pop singer Natalie Imbruglia’s debut single in 1997.
Her version peaked at number one on the Hot 100 Airplay for 11 consecutive weeks. The track, however, didn’t make it to the Billboard Hot 100 because at the time of the song’s release, only songs that were released as physical singles made it on to the list.
“Sometimes I feel I’ve got to
Run away, I’ve got to
Get away from the pain you drive into the heart of me.”
While Soft Cell made Tainted Love famous with their classic ‘80s club version, the track was originally recorded in 1964 and again in 1976 by singer Gloria Jones.
However, both versions were a commercial flop. “You could smell the coke on that second, Northern Soul version,” producer Mike Thorne said. “It was really so over-ramped and so frantic, but when Soft Cell performed the song, I heard a very novel sound and a very nice voice, so off we went.”
“Big wheel keep on turning
Proud Mary keep on burning.”
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary was an instant hit. 1969 single peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, just two months after it was released.
Then, two years later, the Queen of Rock, Tina Turner, recorded a version with her husband, Ike. While their cover is completely different than CCR’s original version, it became Tina’s most recognizable signature song. The cover peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned the duo a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a group.
“There must be some kind of way outta’ here
Said the joker to the thief.”
Reading these lyrics, I can hear Jimi Hendrix’s vocals and amazing guitar riffs, and, to be honest, I had no idea this was a cover (embarrassing, I know).
But, yes, the Jimi Hendrix Experience wasn’t the first to play this song. It was, in fact, written and recorded by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and first appeared on his John Wesley Harding album in 1967. Hendrix released his cover only six months after Dylan, and it went on to become a Top 20 single in 1968.
“Come on, skinny love, just last the year
Pour a little salt, we were never here.”
Talk about Birdy’s version of Skinny Love in front of any Bon Iver fan, and they will roll their eyes. Not because Birdy’s version isn’t great, but because most people have no idea that it’s a cover!
Not to mention that the original version is a masterpiece. Skinny Love was American folk band Bon Iver’s first single on their 2007 album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Birdy recorded her cover in 2011, which coincidentally enough, was also the date of her debut single.
“There’s a limit to your love
Like a waterfall in slow motion.”
Limit to Your Love was first recorded by Canadian indie pop singer Feist (remember her catchy lyrics “1, 2, 3, 4, tell me that you love me more”?) in 2007.
Her version is good, but in 2010, British musician James Blake took the track to a whole new level. The track performed pretty well on the European charts, peaking at number three in Denmark. If you haven’t heard it, you should definitely check it out, and make sure to turn the bass all the way up! You’ll thank me later.
“Tell me, tell me that your sweet love hasn’t died
Give me, give me one more chance.”
Always on My Mind is a ballad track that has ranked in both the pop and country charts. The track has been recorded hundreds of times— at least 300, according to the online database, AllMusic.
Notable covers were recorded by Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, and of course, the Pet Shop Boys. The ‘80s pop version was first performed on a UK TV special commemorating Presley’s death. The cover was so well received that the Pet Shop Boys recorded their version and released it as a single.
“I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong.”
Make You Feel My Love was written by Bob Dylan in ’97 but was actually commercially released first by Billy Joel (Dylan’s version was released later that year).
Before hearing the song, Adele was against having a cover on her debut album, but everything changed after her manager played it for her in New York. “It just really touched me,” she later said. “and it really just summed up everything that I’d been trying to write in my songs.”
“Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fire.”
Light My Fire was first released by the Doors in 1967 and was an instant hit (it spent three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100). Then, a year later, Puerto Rican guitarist José Feliciano recorded his own version.
The cover reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to number one in Canada and Australia. Feliciano’s track is played at a slower tempo with a Latin twist. Fans praised his interpretation of the song, as well as the song’s writer, Will Young.
“Musha rain dum a doo, dum a da
Whack for my daddy, oh.”
Whiskey in the Jar is actually an Irish traditional song that has been recorded by several artists since the ‘50s.
Thin Lizzy recorded their own version in ’73, and then in ’98, Metallica recorded a cover that was very similar but with a heavier metal sound. Metallica’s cover failed to chart in the U.S., but they did win a Grammy Award for their track in 2000. It’s definitely a great cover for all of those heavy metal fans out there.
“What you want, baby, I got it
What you need, do you know I got it?”
While Aretha Franklin’s name has become synonymous with Respect, she actually wasn’t the first one to record this track.
The song was first released by Otis Redding in 1965, and his version is way different than Franklin’s. Redding’s Respect is actually a plea from a desperate man who doesn’t care what his wife does, as long as she respects him when he brings her money. This is a stark contrast to Franklin’s cover, which comes from a strong, confident woman who knows her worth.
“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog
Cryin’ all the time.”
Hound Dog was first released by Big Mama Thornton ’52 and was her only hit record (it spent 14 weeks on the R&B charts).
The track, which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013, has been covered more than 250 times. But the best-known version was by Elvis Presley in 1956. The cover sold nearly 10 million copies globally and was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s best-selling song. Presley’s recording was also simultaneously number one on the country, pop, and R&B charts.
“I shot the sheriff,
but I did not shoot the deputy.”
Like everyone knows, I Shot the Sheriff was written and performed by reggae king Bob Marley. Eric Clapton decided to record his own version of the song that added a softer rock sound to the track.
The cover was included on his 461 Ocean Boulevard album, which came out in 1974. Clapton’s I Shot the Sheriff cover peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 (compared to Marley’s version, which didn’t chart) and was eventually inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
“Heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine.”
I Heard it Through the Grapevine was written for Motown Records in 1966 and was first released by Gladys Knight & the Pips.
The track peaked at number two on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and went on to become the best-selling Motown single ever. The track was recorded by other Motown artists, including the Miracles and the Prince of Motown, Marvin Gaye. The cover soared to the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart, where it remained for seven consecutive weeks.
“Well, shake it up, baby, now
Twist and shout.”
The original version of Twist and Shout was recorded by The Top Notes, an American R&B group, in 1961. But even though notorious producer Phil Spector worked on the track, it failed to impress.
The Isley Brothers recorded their own cover in ’62, and while the track was able to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, it only made it to number 17. It wasn’t until the Beatles recorded their own version in ’63 that the song’s popularity really took off. The Fab Four’s cover peaked at number two on the Hot 100.
“But she was blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.”
Blinded by the Light was written and performed by Bruce Springsteen for his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., in 1973.
However, the single was not successful and failed to make it on the music charts. Then, a few years later, in 1976, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band recorded the version that we all know and love today. The cover skyrocketed to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains Springsteen’s only number-one single as a songwriter.
“Singin’ I love rock and roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby.”
Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll was her highest charting song, so many are surprised to know that it is, in fact, a cover.
The original song was recorded by the British band, Arrows in 1975. However, the track failed to chart. Joan Jett first recorded the song with two members of the Sex Pistols (Steve Jones and Paul Cook) in 1979, and again with the Blackhearts two years later. The track became a number one single in the U.S. for seven weeks.
“Well, sometimes I go out by myself
And I look across the water.”
Valerie was first recorded by the British indie rock band, The Zutons in 2006. The original version is good, but Mark Ronson’s version with Amy Winehouse on lead vocals is amazing.
Winehouse and Ronson decided to record their own version after struggling to come up with material for their upcoming project together. Winehouse suggested they cover Valerie, but Ronson was hesitant. “I wasn’t sure how it would work, but she went into the studio and tried it. I loved it,” he told reporters in 2011.
“A long, long time ago, I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.”
For those who don’t remember, Madonna released her own version of Don McLean’s American Pie in 2000.
Her cover is much shorter than the original version, and seeing that this is Madonna we’re talking about, the track was recorded as a dance-pop song. The track was a hit and reached the number one spot in countries all around the world. While critics weren’t the biggest fans, McLean praised the cover, calling it “a gift from a goddess.”
“Well, it goes like this the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift.”
Hallelujah was first written by the legendary Leonard Cohen and originally released on his 1984 album, Various Positions. The song has been covered countless times and is often referred to as a “baseline for secular hymns.”
But the most acclaimed version of the track was by Jeff Buckley. John Legend described Buckley’s cover as “near perfect as you can get.” He then went on to praise Buckley for the melody as well as his interpretation. “It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of recorded music I’ve ever heard.”
“And the songbirds keep singing like they know the score
And I love you I love you I love you
Like never before.”
Songbird is one of four songs written by Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie on their 1977 album Dreams.
One day at around midnight, the song just came to McVie. The lyrics only took her half an hour to write, but since it was the middle of the night, she had no way of recording them. So, she stayed up all night so she wouldn’t forget the melody. The Eva Cassidy version was released in ’98, two years after her death.
“Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words.”
Killing Me Softly With His Song was written by Normal Gimble and Lori Lieberman. Lieberman was inspired after she saw Don McLean in concert in ’71.
She released her own version of the song, but it failed to chart. The Fugees recorded their own cover of the song in ’96 (calling it Killing Me Softly). The cover was a hit and eventually reached the number two spot on the U.S. airplay chart. Their cover also won a Grammy Award in 1997.
“I said nothing can take away these blues
‘Cause, nothing compares.”
The track was actually first written and composed by Prince for his funk band, The Family, in 1985. However, the song was more or less a filler track and was never released as a single.
It wasn’t until Irish singer, and songwriter Sinead O’Connor recorded her own version in 1990 did the song become popular. In fact, O’Connor’s version was named the “#1 World Single” by Billboard. That’s quite the accomplishment. Critics also praised the cover, saying that her voice “fits the song perfectly.”
“If I were a boy, I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl.”
Yes, that’s right. Beyonce’s hit song, If I Were a Boy, is technically a cover. The song was originally written and recorded by BC Jean.
After completing the song, she presented it to her record company, but they rejected it. As her deal with the record company began to fall through, Jean marketed her music to other established singers, including Beyonce. “I had to try it,” Beyonce said in 2008, “because I remember Aretha Franklin said a great singer can sing anything and make it her own.”
“Oh, daddy dear, you know you’re still number one
But girls, they wanna have fun.”
Girls Just Want to Have Fun was first recorded by Robert Hazard. However, it was Cyndi Lauper who really took the track to the next level.
Her 1983 version was the singer’s first major single as a solo artist, and it went on to become the feminist anthem of the ‘80s. The track has been covered countless times, but Lauper’s will always be the best. Lauper’s cover peaked at number two on Billboard’s Hot 100 and, to this day, the track is one of her signature songs.
“And so, I’ll go, but I know
I’ll think of you each step of the way.”
And now, for the number one cover on our list: I Will Always Love You. For those who don’t know, the track was written and recorded by none other than Dolly Parton.
The country version was released in 1974. Parton’s original version is good (it’s Dolly Parton we’re talking about), but nothing comes close to Whitney Houston’s track. Her cover received widespread acclaim from most critics and is, to this day, considered her signature song.