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Top 10 Cover Songs

VO: Rebecca Brayton
When an artist covers a recording by another artist, he or she always risks comparisons to the original. Sometimes cover songs better the original while other times, they are much worse. For this list, we’ve selected cover songs that are more famous than the originals and based our choices on their overall recognition and popularity, and considered their critical and commercial success as well. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 cover songs.

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These artists took the songs of others and made them their own. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 cover songs.

For this list, we’ve selected cover songs that are more famous than the originals. We’ve based our choices on their overall recognition and popularity in pop culture, with a mix of their critical and commercial success.

#10 – Song: “The Man Who Sold the World,” Original: David Bowie (1970), Cover: Nirvana (1993)

The title track to Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World was a glam and psychedelic rock number that inspired cover versions by Lulu and Rick Barone. Kurt Cobain was also a fan of the album, which led Nirvana to rework the track for their “MTV Unplugged” appearance. That live grunge rendition proved so popular that Bowie was later complimented by concertgoers for “doing a Nirvana song!”

#9 – Song: “Hallelujah,” Original: Leonard Cohen (1984), Cover: Jeff Buckley (1994)

Cohen’s detached delivery of the folk ballad has undergone many transformations since its 1984 release – however, it’s Buckley’s hauntingly beautiful 1994 interpretation that continues to pervade pop culture. By expanding on the serious tone of John Cale’s 1991 recording and creating a contrast between joy and sorrow, the late singer captured several emotions in one song. “Hallelujah” also secured Buckley posthumous success when it topped Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs in 2008.

#8 – Song: “Hurt,” Original: Nine Inch Nails (1995), Cover: Johnny Cash (2002)

Featuring Trent Reznor’s incredibly gritty performance, the alternative and industrial rock original by Nine Inch Nails received a Grammy nod in 1996. But it was Cash’s raw, emotional delivery six years later that made it so hard to forget the pain in his voice. Racking up numerous accolades, the country song’s dark subject matter was especially poignant considering the Man in Black’s deteriorating health.

#7 – Song: “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Original: The Family (1985), Cover: Sinead O’Connor (1990)

This funk-jazz and synthpop ballad attracted little fanfare when Prince’s side project The Family recorded it in the mid-80s. Enhanced by O’Connor’s heartbreaking vocals, the pop and soft rock ballad topped charts around the world in 1990. A memorable music video revealing O’Connor’s vulnerable side complemented the love song’s simple lyrics and helped it become one of the best-selling singles of the year.

#6 – Song: “I Shot the Sheriff,” Original: Bob Marley (1973), Cover: Eric Clapton (1974)

This Marley jam about justice helped raise The Wailers’ global profile in the early 1970s. By adding blues rock to its reggae flavors, Slowhand took “I Shot the Sheriff” even further and scored his first and only number one hit. The successful cover also established Clapton’s solo career and brought both reggae and Bob Marley’s music to the mainstream.

#5 – Song: “Respect,” Original: Otis Redding (1965), Cover: Aretha Franklin (1967)

By adding a bridge, sax solo and memorable chorus to Redding’s R&B original, the Queen of Soul topped the Pop and Black Singles Charts with “Respect.” While Redding’s version was from a male point-of-view, Franklin’s decidedly female spin was quickly embraced by feminism. She later earned her due respect when the Grammy-winning song turned her into a worldwide star.

#4 – Song: “All Along the Watchtower,” Original: Bob Dylan (1968), Cover: The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)

Dylan used acoustic guitar and harmonica to produce this dark and understated folk rock song. But the single didn’t find a home on the charts until The Jimi Hendrix Experience took things electric. Thanks to Jimi’s unrivalled guitar skills and the band’s psychedelic and blues rock, it became their only American top twenty hit and inspired Dylan’s later performances of the track.

#3 – Song: “Twist and Shout,” Original: The Top Notes (1961), Cover: The Beatles (1964)

This rock ‘n’ roll tune was first recorded by The Top Notes as “Shake It Up, Baby,” in 1961. The next year, The Isley Brothers found crossover success on the pop and R&B charts with their fast-paced take. However, John Lennon’s rough-and-ready vocals took the shouting to a new level two years later: After becoming a top 2 U.S. hit, The Beatles’ rendition went on to exemplify British rock and roll.

#2 – Song: “I Will Always Love You,” Original: Dolly Parton (1974), Cover: Whitney Houston (1992)

Houston’s emotional and dramatic rendition for “The Bodyguard” spent a record 14 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. But it was originally written and recorded by Dolly Parton, who took it to the top of the Hot Country Songs Chart almost 2 decades earlier. Thanks to its pop and gospel flavors and Houston’s incomparable vocals, the Grammy-winning soul ballad still remains inextricably linked to the late songstress.

#1 – Song: “Hound Dog,” Original: Big Mama Thornton (1952), Cover: Elvis Presley (1956)

Capitalizing on the success of the slower-paced blues tune by Big Mama Thornton, multiple artists recorded “Hound Dog” before Elvis made it his own in 1956. But it was the King’s more upbeat version featuring drum rolls and extra guitars that topped the charts. Presley complemented his early performances of the song with risqué gyrations that undoubtedly helped it become one of his best-selling singles ever.

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