Top 10 Cover Songs More Famous than the Original

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Great songwriting and musicianship does not guarantee that a song will be a hit, so it is wonderful when a recording artist uncovers a musical gem by, well… covering it. When a cover song becomes a hit, the original artist benefits. Often there is a renewed interest in the original artist’s work and hopefully (depending on their recording contract) they are also compensated for the use of their song. Here are 10 examples of cover songs and their original versions– we can argue about which version is better, but in each case the cover song is indisputably more famous. In some cases, perhaps you didn’t know the song is a cover:

10. All Along The Watchtower

The Cover – Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix’s version of this song appeared on the album Electric Ladyland, the third and final album released by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It is often noted as an exemplar of the psychedelic rock genre, and was ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as the 47th greatest song of all time, ranked above such classics as Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire and the Eagles’ Hotel California. View the cover versions of these 10 songs at our YouTube Playlist.

The Original – Bob Dylan

The song first appeared on Bob Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding in 1967. It was written soon after he had had a motorcycle accident and some claim that its lyrics were inspired by his newfound interest in the bible and have made connections between his words and the book of Isaiah. Unlike Hendrix’s electric and psychedelic rock version, the original was folksy and recorded with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica.

9. I Shot the Sheriff

The Cover – Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton released this song on his second album, 461 Ocean Boulevard. He didn’t initially plan to include the song on the album, but was eventually convinced by the other band members. It is one of his most popular and well known songs; the only one to reach number 1 on the Billboard top 100.

The Original – Bob Marley

Bob Marley, who wrote the song, released it one year before Clapton in 1973 on the album Burnin’. The album was ranked as the 319th greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine. In the story of the song, a man admits to killing the Sheriff, but claims he is falsely accused of killing the deputy. The anti-police sentiment in the song was very well received and brought much acclaim to both Marley and Clapton.

8. Oye Como va

The Cover – Santana

Oye Como Va was one of Carlos Santana’s most popular songs sung in Spanish released in the 1970’s. On the Santana ablum Abraxas, it reached 13 on the Billboard top 100 and was one of the major catalysts for his stardom.  Translated literally, it means “listen to how it goes”, but can also mean “how’s it going” or “check it out”, depending on the region and context.

The Original – Tito Puente

This song was originally written and recording in 1963 by the Latin jazz musician  Tito Puente.  It was inspired by an earlier song by a popular Cuban Mumba artist, Israel “Cachao” López. The song has been covered by, and has inspired, several other Hispanic artists.

7. Respect

The Cover – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin released her signature song, Respect , in 1967. It won her a grammy, was seen as a major anthem by the feminist movement, and was ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as the 5th greatest song of all time, right above Johnny B. Goode and Good Vibrations. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That spelling was not actually in the original version.

The Original – Otis Redding

Respect was originally written and performed by a man, Otis Redding, in 1965- 2 years prior to Franklin’s hit version. His version is a desperate plea from a man willing to do anything to please his significant other, as long as he gets his respect when he gets home. And by respect, he means, ….well… uh. Yeah. It was a euphemism. Aretha Franklin’s version was basically the same idea from the opposite side: if you want some, you have to respect her.

6. Cocaine

The Cover – Eric Clapton

Clapton came out with his version of this song in 1977. Clapton has received criticism in the past for the song, but he claims it is an anti-drug song. Because of this, he eventually inserted the lyric “that dirty cocaine” to make the previously ambiguous message more clear. It peaked at 30 on the US Billboard charts; however, it has become one of his most recognizable songs, called by Allmusic “among [Clapton’s] most enduring popular hits.”

The Original – JJ Cale

Cocaine was written by JJ Cale, a southern blues and rockabilly musician, about a year before Clapton’s version came out . His version did reach number one on the music charts… but only in New Zealand. Cocaine was actually only one of several songs Clapton borrowed from Cale, including “ After Midnight” and “Travelling Light.”

5. Hound Dog

The Cover  – Elvis Presley


Most people don’t really listen to this song any more, but pretty much everyone has heard of it. It was Elvis’s trademark song: one of the most popular American singer’s greatest hits. His version of the song was ranked number 19 on the Rolling Stones “500 greatest songs of all time.”

The Original – Big Mama Thornton

Hound dog was a song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The first recording of the song was by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, an African-American rhythm and blues singer, in 1952. She also recorded the song “Ball and Chain”, which later became a hit for Janis Joplin.

4. You’ve Got a Friend

The Cover – James Taylor

This song was released by James Taylor on his 1971 album Mud Slide Jim and the Blue Horizon. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and number four on the UK singles charts. He eventually won a grammy award for it.

The Original – Carole King

This song was originally written and performed by Carole King. It was on her album Tapestry, which came out earlier in the same year that Taylor’s version would be made famous. Before and after this, King and Taylor were friends and would occasionally perform together. They would actually often sing the song together.

3. I Will Always Love You

The Cover – Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston recorded her version of this song in 1992 for the soundtrack of her first film appearance, The Bodyguard. She was going to sing Jimmy Ruffin’s What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, but decided not too when she found out it was also going to be in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. Her version was a huge success, eventually appearing at number 68 on Billboard’s “Greatest Songs of All Time.”

The Original – Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton wrote this song in 1973 and released it as a single a year later. It had a significant amount of success on the monthly country charts, but very limited recognition otherwise. She re-recorded it about a decade later to include it in the soundtrack for a movie she was in, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

2.  Blinded by the Light

The Cover – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released Blinded by the Light on their album The Roaring Silence in 1976. It reached #1 on both Billboard’s Hot 100 and on the Canadian RPM chart. The original album recording length was over 7 minutes, but is usually cut down to around 3 on the radio. It was their first and greatest hit.

The Original – Bruce Springstein

It was originally written and performed by Bruce Springsteen on his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park N.J. His band’s version was unsuccessful and did not appear on any music charts. You may know this song from it’s famously misheard lyric. At one point in the song it sounds like he’s singing “wrapped up like a douche,” but the actual lyric is wrapped up like a deuce, a reference to a 1932 Ford.

1. Hurt

The Cover – Johnny Cash

Hurt was one of Johnny Cash’s last hits before he died in 2003. It was released in 2002 on the album American IV: The Man Comes Around, when Cash was 71 years old. Cash’s version did fairly well on the charts in the US and UK, but for some reason got all the way to number 8 on the Norway charts. The song made it onto 2 “songs of the decade” lists, 15th on The Rolling Stones list, and 2nd on Country Music Television’s. In addition, he won several awards for his music video, including #1 on CMT’s 100 Greatest Country Music Videos in 2003, best video of the year at the 2003 Grammys, and best video of all time by NME in 2011.

The Original – Nine Inch Nails

Cash was covering a song by the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. He changed the lyric “I wear this crown of sh*t” to “I wear this crown of thorns.” The original version, written by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, was released on the 1994 album Downward Spiral and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Song in 1996.


 

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97 Comments

  1. How about “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, which was originally done by Bob Dylan but has been covered numerous times? In fact, the Guns N’ Roses cover is so good that a lot of people think it is actually one of their songs.

    • “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” is from the movie “Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid”–And that song belongs to Dylan-Nobody will ever top his version.

  2. “The Twist” by Chubby Checker was a cover. The original was made by Hank Ballard (of the Midnighters who had hits like “Work with Me, Annie” and the follow-ups “S.exy Ways” and “Annie Had a Baby” in the early 50’s. You should always protect yourself at work, so that won’t happen). 😀
    Etta James made answer records to those with “roll with me , Henry” and “Henry’s Got Flat Feet”. Hank = short for Henry Ballard. 😀

    • You didn’t mention is so I will. Chubby’s soulless version, backed by powerful Dick Clark of “American Bandstand” fame was incredibly lame compared to Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’.

  3. Etta James wrote “Dance with me Henry” (also known as “Roll With Me Henry”) but Georgia Gibb had the big hit with it. At least in Hammond, Indiana. It was always played at our 9th grade “sockhops” long ago.

  4. winston b eden on

    Can’t believe this one didn’t make the list, or maybe I’m just too old. Barry Manilow had a huge hit with MANDY. The song originally was called BRANDY and recorded by Scott Englis. Manilow didn’t want it confused with the Brandy (you’re a fine girl) so he changed it to Mandy. I think this should be on the top 10

  5. “Piece of My Heart” is associated with Janis Joplin, but it was a cover.

    Manfred Mann over Sprinsteen? I didn’t even know they covered him.

    J.J. Cale and Bob Marley over the Clapton covers.

    • Rick Schechter on

      I always thought Springsteen’s version was far superior to MMEB’s version. Never understood why that’s all you’d hear on the radio.

  6. The Johnny Cash version of hurt is the most overrated thing ever. Johnny Cash didnt write the lyric “I wear this crown of thorns” NIN used that line in the clean version of the song

    • “Most overated thing ever?” Really Brian? This guy disagrees:

      “I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”

      Maybe you’ve heard of him. Guy named Trent Reznor.

        • Give up already, brian. You just got owned by Trent Reznor’s own comments, and he’s the one who wrote the song.

      • Corkwriter, I didn’t know that, so thanks for the lesson.
        That’s a great quotation from TR — a true artist.

    • I agree with Brian-Cash should not have recorded this song. Not his “type”song. Akin to Janis Joplin (one of my all-time favorites as is Cash) singing “Moonlight In Vermont.”

  7. I wouldn’t say Eric Clapton’s version of I Shot the Sheriff is more famous than Bob Marley’s. It might have been more successful as a single at the time, but Bob’s original is now easily the more well known.

  8. Unless you live in Australia, you will not have heard of this guy called John Farnham. He has been massive over the years, and he is older than the guys in ACDC. He released this as a B side on his #1 Australian hit. This is a video from a live concert from VHS. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jK3pwB2Foto

    • I am from the US and I HAVE heard of John Farnham. A favorite movie of mine, as a young man, “Rad” has a few of his songs on the soundtrack. In fact, looking up the tracklist tells me he may have been commisioned to write for the movie, as “Love Theme from ‘Rad’ ” is his.

  9. Enjoyed reading here. Please excuse my butting in and suggesting a listen to a cover of a song, not mentioned here, so far. The song is Grenade by Bruno Mars.

    The cover version I suggest is by Irish singer/songwriter Neil Byrne. Neil records and writes as a solo artist and when not doing this he tours worldwide with big Irish Show Celtic Thunder.

    If you get a chance listen to this cover on his album “Faces” Pale Blue Jak (his aka)

    http://www.neilbyrnemusic.com

  10. Blinded By The Light. The original lyric by Bruce is “cut loose like a deuce”. Manfred Mann changed it to “revved up like a deuce.”

  11. Chris Cornell cover of Billy Jean is not more famous than Michael Jackson’s but it is one of my favorite covers. Also Nirvana cover of My Girl, My Girl.

    • I’m glad this was mentioned. The song is actually called “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and is by Lead Belly.

  12. 8 that should be here most definately are;

    1)Motley Crue cover of Smokin in the Boys room.
    2)Uggly Kid Joe cover of Cats in the cradle.
    3)House of Lords cover of Cant find my way home.
    4)GNR cover of Since I dont have you.
    5)Sugar Ray cover of Abracadabra.
    6)Metallica cover of Turn the page.
    7)Mr Big cover of Wild World.
    8)Alien Ant Farm cover of Smooth Criminal

  13. I personally think that Alien Ant Farm’s Smooth Criminal was better than Michael Jackson’s version of it.

  14. How could you not mention Joan Jett and the Blackhearts? “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”, “Do You Want To Touch Me”

  15. I strongly feel Cum on Feel The Noize should be on here, considering I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody, (other than myself), who knows its originally done by Slade, and Quiet Riot covered it….

  16. I don’t know if you can truly say that Dolly’s version of “I Will Always Love You” was somehow less than Whitney Houston’s version. Dolly became the first artist to chart number one with the same song twice, taking it to the top of the country charts in both 1974 and 1982, with the 1982 version also reaching the 17th spot in the U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary lists. The song came to the attention of Elvis Presley, but he wanted songwriter shares, which Dolly refused to give up and, subsequently, Elvis did not record the song. Many, including me, prefer the understated way that Dolly sang the song as it makes her version much sadder, much more reflective than the Houston song.

    Speaking of Elvis, one of his first hits was “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, which was a cover of Bill Monroe, the inventor of Bluegrass music and a “pioneer” in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…

  17. How about:
    She’s not there: Santana covered The Zombies
    I put a spell on you: CCR covered Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
    Gangster/Pastime Paradise: Coolio covered Steve Wonder
    My Way: Sinatra covered Claude François (comme d’habitude)
    Viva Las Vegas: Elvis covered Mort Shuman

  18. “Red red wine”, originally by Neil Diamond. UB40’s version is the well known one. “Twist and Shout” was covered by the Isley Brothers and more famously by the Beatles. This son was shake it up baby, by the Top Notes. Another one is “Love Hurts”, originally by The Everly Brothers also covered by Roy Orbison, but made most famous by the Nazareth cover.

    • It is not a cover song when the person who writes still sings it, and is the only one to release it.
      Nicks wrote the song and still sang it as part of the band.

  19. Rick Schechter on

    I believe Linda Rondstat’s Poor Poor Pitiful Me was actually by Warren Zevon, and Santana’s Black Magic Woman was by Fleetwood Mac. And Springsteen’s original of “Blinded by the Light” is far superior to MMEB’s version, IMHO.