10 Cover Songs More Famous than the Original (Part 2)


We’ve told you before about how a cover of a song can end up more famous than the original. But 10 entries wasn’t enough to do the subject justice, as there are lots of great examples we left off the list. So here’s the sequel!

10. Black Magic Woman

The Cover (Santana)

If you ask someone who knows anything about Santana to start naming their songs, “Black Magic Woman” will almost certainly be in the top five. Released in 1970, it reached number four on both the US and Canadian music charts and would become one of Santana’s biggest hits. Their version included extra guitar at the beginning and the end, and also included conga and timbales drums.

The Original (Fleetwood Mac)

The song was originally written in 1968 by Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac. But if you asked someone to start naming Fleetwood Mac songs, “Black Magic Woman” probably wouldn’t come up, at least not until they got pretty deep into their catalogue. Their version is shorter and lacks the extra instrumentals. It wasn’t exactly unpopular, it was just overshadowed by Santana’s version. In fact, they continued to play it throughout the early ’70s, often reminding the audience that it actually was a Fleetwood Mac song.

9. No No Song

The Cover (Ringo Starr)

Ringo Starr first became famous for playing the drums for some British band you may have heard of, but after that he had a career as a solo artist. One of his more popular songs was the 1974 release “No No Song,” which is surprisingly not aimed at infants. It basically tells the story of people offering the singer all sorts of drugs that they refer to as “the best in all the land” and the singer turning them down.

The Original (Hoyt Axton)

Hoyt Axton was an American folk singer from Oklahoma. The son of the woman that co-wrote the song “Heartbreak Hotel,” it seems that writing good songs ran in his family. Hoyt became fairly well-known in the ’60s and ’70s, both for writing songs and for appearing on TV. In fact, he was such a good songwriter he’s going to appear on this list again. How’s that for foreshadowing?

8. Joy to the World

The Cover (Three Dog Night)

No, not the Christmas carol. If we say the words “Jeremiah was a bullfrog,” you might recognize it as the beginning of Three Dog Night’s hit “Joy to the World.” Released in 1970, it rose to number one on the charts in the US and in Canada. It was quickly certified gold and eventually sold five million copies.

The Original (Hoyt Axton)

See, we told you. Hoyt’s slower and softer version of the song didn’t perform nearly as well. It’s a shame his versions weren’t as successful as the covers, but it seems he had a knack for writing good songs that others could later make great. Also, after Three Dog Night’s version was released, Hoyt and his mother became the first mother and son to have both written a number one rock and roll hit.

7. La Bamba

The Cover (Los Lobos)

La Bamba was a 1987 biographical movie that told the story of Mexican-American musician Ritchie Valens. Many of the songs from the soundtrack were recorded by the band Los Lobos, the most popular of which was the titular “La Bamba.” The song rose to the top of the US and UK charts in the same year, thus becoming one of the most commercially successful songs sung in Spanish.

The Original (Ritchie Valens)

Although it had long been a popular Mexican folk song, the first version of “La Bamba” to gain wider acclaim was released in 1958 by Ritchie Valens. Although his version didn’t perform as well initially, it has since become well regarded. It was the only Spanish song included on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

6. Louie Louie

The Cover (The Kingsmen)

“Louie Louie” is one of the most covered songs in history. Estimates range on just how many artists have recorded versions, but it’s generally agreed to be at least in the hundreds. Whatever the number is, the most popular version was recorded by The Kingsman in 1963. Their version also generated controversy — someone wrote a letter to Robert Kennedy in 1964 complaining that the song contained “obscene” lyrics. The FBI proceeded to investigate… for four months.  In the the end, they admitted they couldn’t hear anything and gave up.

The Original (Richard Berry)

The original version of “Louie Louie” was written in 1955 by Richard Berry. His version was much slower and clearer, and was performed in the style of a Jamaican ballad, which probably didn’t appeal much to America’s mainstream audience. The original is much more easily understood, and the story told takes a more prominent place. Unfortunately, Berry didn’t receive much for writing the song, as he signed away the rights before it became a hit. However, because a company wanted to use the song in the 1980s, he was able to renegotiate the rights and received a very large sum of money.

5. Hallelujah

The Cover (Jeff Buckley)

“Hallelujah” has also been covered many times. One of the more popular versions was released by John Cale in 1991 as a tribute to the original. This inspired Jeff Buckley to record his own version, which was released in 1994 on his only complete studio album, Grace. Although the album wasn’t initially a hit, it went gold in 2002 and “Hallelujah” was ultimately ranked 259th on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Unfortunately, Buckley didn’t get to see this success, as he died in 1997.

The Original (Leonard Cohen)

“Hallelujah” was originally released in 1984 by Canadian Leonard Cohen. Supposedly he spent years fine-tuning the song, writing almost 80 verses before trimming it down to its current state. His version was not initially a hit, but many people have come back to listen to it after hearing one of the covers, perhaps while watching Shrek. We’re sure he’s not too bummed out about it, as he’s been inducted into both the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

4. Without You

The Cover (Harry Nilsson)

“Without You” has been covered many times, notably by Mariah Carey in 1994. Her version reached number three on the US charts, but actually isn’t the most successful version. Harry Nilsson released his take in 1971, just one year after the original came out. His went to the very top of the US charts, and remains the only version to do so.

The Original (Badfinger)

British rock group Badfinger released the original version in 1970 on their album No Dice. The sad song offered some awful foreshadowing, as two of the members later committed suicide. The song was in fact inspired by real events in their personal lives. Their version wasn’t nearly as popular as later covers, possibly because it wasn’t released as a single.

3. Mandy

The Cover (Barry Manilow)

In 1974, Barry Manilow released “Mandy.” It was a big hit, becoming his first song to reach number one on the US charts. It would also become his first gold single. It kicked off his huge career, in which he at one point had five albums on the bestseller list at the same time.

The Original (Scott English)

The original version was released in 1971 by the ironically named American Scott English. The song he released was actually called “Brandy.” His version was somewhat popular, but was only really well-known in the UK. Manilow changed the title because another song with the name Brandy in it was popular at the time.

2. Tainted Love

The Cover (Soft Cell)

“Tainted Love,” released in 1981, was Soft Cell’s second single and their biggest hit. Their version was slower than the original and used synthesizers and rhythm machines as background noise instead of traditional instruments. It was their most successful song, rising to number 1 in the UK charts and 8 in the US.

The Original (Gloria Jones)

The original was recorded in 1964 by Gloria Jones. The motown song was a commercial flop, but after awhile it became somewhat popular in clubs in northern England, which prompted Jones to rerelease it. She did so in 1976, but the song again failed to chart. It would remain largely unknown until Soft Cell’s cover.

1. Layla

The Cover (Eric Clapton) 

Clapton released a trimmed down version of “Layla” in 1972 that reached number 10 in the US and number 7 in the UK. 20 years later he released an acoustic version that only reached number 12 in the US, but ended up winning the 1992 Grammy for Best Rock Song, beating out “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The Original (Derek and The Dominoes)

“Layla” was ranked 27th on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, but the first time it was released it wasn’t very popular. Recorded with Clapton’s band Derek and The Dominoes in 1970, the first version of the song failed to chart. This was perhaps partly due to the fact that Clapton’s name wasn’t on the front of the album, and no one had ever heard of this Derek character. It was also over seven minutes long, and as a result wasn’t played often on the radio.

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  1. The first release of Layla by Derek & The Dominoes did fail to chart, but the full 7 minute version was rereleased in 1972 and became a top 10 hit in both the US and the UK. The text above indicates it NEVER charted, and only Clapton’s acoustic remake hit the charts which is incorrect.

  2. Shirley Marquez Dulcey on

    The original version of Layla by Derek and the Dominos wasn’t an AM radio hit. But it was a staple on progressive rock FM stations, which were happy to play all seven glorious minutes of it.