Top 20 Greatest Cover Songs Of All Time

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Top 20 Greatest Cover Songs Of All Time

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: Andy Hammersmith
These are the best covers in music history! For this list, we'll be looking at any song sung by someone other than the original recording artist. Our countdown includes “The Sound of Silence”, "Smooth Criminal”, “I Shot the Sheriff”, “I Will Always Love You”, “Twist and Shout”, and more!
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Top 20 Best Cover Songs


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Best Cover Songs.

For this list, we’ll be looking at any song sung by someone other than the original recording artist. Since that band or performer might be someone other than the composer, we also disqualified any later versions released by the songwriters themselves.

Did we forget one of your favorite covers? Let us know in the comments below.

#20: “Stand by Me”

Original: Ben E. King (1961), Cover: Otis Redding (1964)
It takes a special artist to rerecord a classic like “Stand by Me.” Despite the perfection of Ben E. King’s original, Otis Redding is more than capable of delivering his own fantastic rendition. Off the singer’s debut album “Pain in My Heart,” the song was among several that proved the performer was the next best thing in music. Among the voices of his generation, Redding made the track all his own with his incredible tone and resonance. For “Stand by Me,” he’s at the top of his game. As a cover and as a standalone track, the tribute to the legendary Ben E. King is both a valuable and authentic tribute to early R&B.

#19: “The Sound of Silence”

Original: Simon & Garfunkel (1965), Cover: Disturbed (2015)
In 2015, Disturbed shocked the music world with a surprisingly powerful take on “The Sound of Silence.” The metal act traded in their shredding guitars and screams for a slower, melodic tribute to the ‘60s folk song. Somehow, it ends up being a match made in metal music heaven. Singer David Draiman belts his heart out in a performance that even drew praise from original songwriter Paul Simon himself. In an arrangement that harkens back to folk music and salutes metal ballads, the track lends itself well to the updated reimagining. After a performance on “Conan,” this version got another huge push as a viral hit on YouTube. Despite the unlikely pairing, Disturbed proved themselves as more than just your typical metal act.


#18: “Blinded by the Light”

Original: Bruce Springsteen (1973), Cover: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1976)
Like it or not, this rock number remains an inescapable ‘70s time capsule. Leaving behind his ‘60s pop sound, Manfred Mann became Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and decided to cover Bruce Springsteen. After Springsteen’s recording failed to make a dent in the industry, the band recorded the song and landed the top spot on the Billboard Top 100 charts. Indirectly giving the songwriter his highest charting single, the group gives this rendition a prog rock feel that works especially well for a singalong. Despite the sometimes indecipherable lyrics, the single features inviting grooves and fun melodies. Whatever you think of the track, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and this hit will always provide a healthy dose of nostalgia to fans young and old.

#17: “Mad World”

Original: Tears for Fears (1982), Cover: Michael Andrews feat. Gary Jules (2003)
Among Tears for Fears’s more sentimental songs, it took a cover by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules to revitalize it. First appearing in the 2001 film “Donnie Darko,” the somber piano and passionate vocals became the go-to way to explain the chaos of everyday life. While the Tears for Fears’s track carries plenty of emotional heft, the single needed an added element of drama like a slow tempo and piano. Sometimes a song just hits you right in the heart, with Jules’s performance providing a perfect outlet for the emotional words. In the case of “Mad World,” Michael Andrews and Gary Jules delivered an exceptional cover of this ‘80s hit.

#16: “Smooth Criminal”

Original: Michael Jackson (1988), Cover: Alien Ant Farm (2001)
California alt-metal band Alien Ant Farm took a genre-twisting take on this Michael Jackson classic. Call it metal, alternative, or punk, this adaptation of “Smooth Criminal” features something for fans of hard rock. Percussive guitar riffs and attitude make this unlikely cover an unexpected classic in its own right. While a pop punk cover of the King of Pop sounds doomed to fail, it actually wound up being one of the more entertaining and memorable covers of its kind. If that wasn’t enough, the single reached number one on the Billboard Alternative charts. Even if Alien Ant Farm’s legacy might stop with this song, there’s always a chance they’ll strike again.

#15: “Valerie”

Original: The Zutons (2006), Cover: Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse (2007)
If you're like us, you probably forgot “Valerie” was a cover in the first place. It speaks to the power of Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson’s talents that many people assume it was their original song. Despite the Zutons’s great performance and charming indie rock sound, this recording remains the definitive version. Needless to say, when you’re competing with the voice of Amy Winehouse, you’ll probably lose. Among her many defining hits, this plays as one of her skillful throwbacks to Motown. Built by a layered and dense production courtesy of master producer Ronson, the track’s catchy hook gets an excellent treatment from the singer.


#14: “Killing Me Softly with His Song”

Original: Lori Lieberman (1972), Cover: Fugees (1996)
While the original recording was by co-writer Lori Lieberman, most people remember “Killing Me Softly with His Song” as Roberta Flack’s masterpiece. From a folk single to a soul magnum opus, the song’s rich history created the template for this inventive cover. Given the weight of Flack’s version, it’s hard to think that anyone could have delivered another era-defining version of this track. Leave it to the Fugees to ace the assignment, giving it a hip hop and soul flavor. Built around the unprecedented talents of singer Lauryn Hill, this cover captures the essence of the original with a renewed and experimental spirit. Updating a vintage ‘70s song for a new generation, the hip hop trio put together a worthy remix for the ‘90s.


#13: “Nothing Compares 2 U”

Original: The Family (1985), Cover: Sinéad O’Connor (1990)
Originally recorded by The Family, Sinéad O’Connor’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” is a rare example of someone one-upping Prince. While she’d already recorded a debut record, the Irish singer became an international sensation after the release of this pop ballad. The second single off her second album, “Nothing Compares 2 U” serves as an exemplary showcase of the performer’s incredible artistry. In a sparse arrangement, the track gives her plenty of room to belt out the performance of a lifetime. A number one single in the US and around the world, this cover serves as a wonderfully vulnerable meditation on love. All these years later, O’Connor’s version still sounds as fresh and passionately sung as the day it was released.

#12: “I Shot the Sheriff”

Original: Bob Marley and the Wailers (1973), Cover: Eric Clapton (1974)
Considering Bob Marley’s enduring influence on music, it was only a matter of time that a contemporary tried to cover him. Known primarily for his forays into blues rock, Eric Clapton took a successful stab at “I Shot the Sheriff.” It’s almost impossible to not sing and shimmy along with the fun chorus and infectious harmonies. Rising to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, the hit put an additional spotlight on Marley’s songwriting prowess. Not only did it give deserved attention to the reggae artist, the song was also Clapton’s highest charting single ever. As a fun, easygoing take on an already awesome track, this cover of “I Shot the Sheriff” delivers for rock and reggae fans alike.

#11: “The Man Who Sold the World”

Original: David Bowie (1970), Cover: Nirvana (1994)
For their 1993 Unplugged performance, Nirvana busted out an array of surprisingly effective covers. Among lead singer Kurt Cobain’s favorites, “The Man Who Sold the World” was the high point of a stellar setlist. Considering the difference in sound between the two artists, this performance represented the band stretching their abilities in the best way. With Cobain’s death months before the album’s release, this particular version holds an even greater significance in the group’s brief, but storied career. With a cello accompaniment, the subdued sound captures Nirvana at their most daring. As a chilling and musically adventurous cover, the song remains a testament to the legacy of the grunge trio’s legend.

#10: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”

Original: Bob Dylan (1973), Cover: Guns N’ Roses (1990)
Axl Rose and Bob Dylan might not seem like a match made in heaven, but somehow the bad boys of rock made this track extra special. The L.A. band took this much-covered Dylan song and gave it a rock facelift. At the peak of their popularity, the rockers released this cover on the soundtrack for the movie “Days of Thunder” and later on their “Use Your Illusion II” album to continued success. Adding in Slash’s signature guitar parts, this version builds out the sound of the original with massive arena rock production values. Sending the likes of Dylan into the hard rock world, Guns N’ Roses pay tribute to the folk legend by adding a few bombastic tricks of their own.

#9: “Georgia on My Mind”

Original: Hoagy Carmichael (1930), Cover: Ray Charles (1960)
Among the great American standards, Ray Charles’s version of “Georgia on My Mind” stands alone as an all-time music classic. Composed and recorded by Hoagy Carmichael in the ‘30s, it took decades until the song landed into popular consciousness. One of Charles’s signature tracks, the song captures one of his best vocal performances in a beautiful rendition. Not only does it stand as a legendary and critically acclaimed recording, the song made it to number one on the Billboard 100 charts. Sung with nothing but pure heart and soul, the artist gives his all in a performance for the ages. With Carmichael’s strong foundation, the singer delivered a song that arguably enshrined him as the most impactful musician of his day.

#8: “Proud Mary”

Original: Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969), Cover: Ike & Tina Turner (1971)
Swamp rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival released the massive hit “Proud Mary.” Years later, Ike and Tina Turner spun the roots rock sound into a funky soul masterpiece. In what would become her magnum opus, the cover represented Tina Turner’s boisterous and unmistakable voice at its finest. From the dramatic opening to the electric finish, Ike and Tina’s version takes us through the full gamut of musical excellence. Winning a Grammy, the song is now as famous and revered as the original. Passing from John Fogerty to Tina Turner, “Proud Mary” remains an outstanding example of making a cover your own.

#7: “All Along the Watchtower”

Original: Bob Dylan (1968), Cover: The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)
In another case of a cover usurping the original, Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation of “All Along the Watchtower” opens like a cannon shot. Not even a year after Dylan released his original, Hendrix gave the song an electric supercharge with his amazing guitar mastery. Juxtaposed with the track’s poetic lyrics, the guitar god lays down one of the heaviest tracks of the ‘60s psychedelic scene. After hearing Hendrix’s explosive cover, the songwriter adapted his version and made it a mainstay in his live performances. Along with Dylan’s approval of the remix, the track also gave the guitarist his highest charting single in the US. In a song that perfectly captures the chaos of the decade, there’s few covers as memorably raucous as this one.

#6: “Hound Dog”

Original: Big Mama Thornton (1953), Cover: Elvis Presley (1956)
When people think of early rock and roll, they inevitably land on Elvis. Take this rerecording of a Big Mama Thornton song as a chief example of the King’s capabilities. It’s hard to imagine a song that was more influential for the burgeoning genre than “Hound Dog.” Alongside early rhythm and blues, the likes of Elvis and this cover sent shivers down the spines of parents everywhere. Outrage only grew when the performer’s hip-shaking rendition of the song on TV led to calls that the artist had a bad influence on kids. Carrying a rebellious spirit to this day, there’s still an energetic rhythm that’s undisputable in “Hound Dog.”

#5: “I Will Always Love You”

Original: Dolly Parton (1974), Cover: Whitney Houston (1992)
Recorded for the film “The Bodyguard,” the song “I Will Always Love You” was originally by Dolly Parton. It speaks to Houston’s one-in-a-million voice that the song will forever be remembered as her masterstroke. Giving her finest vocal performance, the singer delivers impossibly high notes as no one else could. Doing justice to Parton’s version, producer David Foster ensured that the artist received the royal treatment. Even after its record-breaking streak atop the Billboard charts, the song remains one of the most famous and sought-after covers in popular music. One of the best-selling singles of all time, Houston’s legendary cover of “I Will Always Love You” secures her place among the more prestigious and talented vocalists of all time.

#4: “Hallelujah”

Original: Leonard Cohen (1984), Cover: Jeff Buckley (1994)
As skilled a guitar player as he was a vocalist, Jeff Buckley burned bright with only one official studio album to his name. Among the most famous songs off the album, “Hallelujah” brought renewed attention to the Leonard Cohen song. Angelic doesn’t even begin to describe the singer’s wide-ranging voice in this interpretation. Illuminating Cohen’s beautiful composition, the artist’s performance sends a chill down every listener’s spine without fail. After the performer’s untimely death, the song went on to further recognition and made several appearances in film and television. Inspiring another wave of covers and reigniting the spark of the original, Jeff Buckley’s amazing and indelible recording is a once-in-a-generation achievement.

#3: “Twist and Shout”

Original: The Top Notes (1961), Cover: The Beatles (1963)
While the Beatles went on to be among the best songwriters ever, their early recording years included many skillfully executed covers. For “Twist and Shout,” the quartet delivered a sendup of the Top Notes’ track with a pop rock flair. Led by John Lennon’s perfectly raspy voice, this track is sure to put any listener in a happy mood. While each member performs at their peak, Lennon’s unrestrained vocal captures the true heights of rock singing. When the song landed a memorable needle drop in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” it sparked renewed interest in the cover. Whether you’re a devoted Beatles fan or a casual pop listener, this cover unites everyone in its joyful intensity.

#2: “Respect”

Original: Otis Redding (1965), Cover: Aretha Franklin (1967)
When Aretha Franklin made her mark on a song, she took complete control of it. Taking the R&B foundation of Otis Redding, the singer’s legend was solidified with this classic of all classics. In yet another case of a cover outperforming the original, Franklin’s version practically rewrote the history of the song itself. Powered by one of the finest voices in American music, “Respect” became an anthem for women listeners. Spelling one of the most iconic titles in R&B history, the “Queen of Soul” made her mark with her unprecedented vocal abilities. When people first heard the song in 1967, the number one smash hit made clear that Aretha Franklin would never be forgotten.

#1: “Hurt”

Original: Nine Inch Nails (1995), Cover: Johnny Cash (2003)
Covering a haunting track by industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, the country star imbued “Hurt” with a newfound mix of sadness, regret, and world-weariness. Living the life that he lived, the singer delivers the song as if it was his dying breath. Since the artist was in failing health, this song acted as the perfect swan song for someone of his immeasurable stature. Few people record such an important track at his age, while giving it as fresh and emotional a spin as if he’d written it himself. Not only does Cash’s version rank among the best recordings of its era, it’s also one of the boldest covers of recent memory.
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