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The 10 Best Cover Versions

Updated on August 6, 2017
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Cover Songs: Ten of the Best

You often hear that the original is the best. However, these ten cover versions of popular songs have, at some point, breathed new life into the originals. Each artist has put their own particular interpretation to the words and music, perhaps offering the song to a new generation, and creating a classic of their own.

Many of these tracks are now so indelibly linked to the cover artist, that either the original has been forgotten or listeners believe the cover version is the original. Believe it or not, the ten cover versions I have gathered together here have a history all their own and are remembered as great recordings in their own right.

1. Muse: Feeling Good

One of the most recent successes for this song was a version by Michael Buble, but in fact it was written in 1965 for the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.

My research has found that the earliest recording was by singer Cy Grant, but that it became popular when recorded by Nina Simone.

Muse, the English rock band, put its own stamp on the song when it was included on the group's 2001 album, Origin of Symmetry.

2. The Beatles: Twist and Shout

I always thought that the original of Twist and Shout was recorded by The Isley Brothers, but no! In 1961, a group named The Top Notes made a version called Shake It Up, Baby, but it did not set the world on fire.

Then, The Isleys got a hold of it and turned it into a hit in the US in 1962.

But, for many, the definitive version is by The Beatles, included on the group's first UK album, Please, Please Me.

3. Johnny Cash: Hurt

Originally from the album The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, Hurt was recorded by Johnny Cash for his own album American IV: The Man Comes Around.

It became one of his final hits, earning the country singer acclaim not only for his rendition of the song, but also for the music video that accompanied it.

4. Jimi Hendrix: Hey Joe

The origins of Hey Joe appear to be lost in the mists of rock music history, but the first known recording was made by American band The Leaves during the mid 1960s.

The better known, and most referred to version, is by rock legend Jimi Hendrix who released it in 1966. It became his first best seller when it reached the Top 10 in the UK in the same year.

Wilson Pickett also left us with his fine rendition, as well.

5. Nirvana: Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Where Did You Sleep Last Night? is a traditional American song that dates back to the 19th century and has been recorded by numerous artists in a variety of styles, including Bluesman Lead Belly.

In 1993, American rock band Nirvana put its own spin on it in a live performance for its MTV Unplugged broadcast.

6. The Clash: I Fought the Law

Originally recorded by The Crickets in 1959, I Fought the Law became a hit in the mid-1960s by the Bobby Fuller Four.

Then, at the height of the punk rock revolution of the late-1970s, British group The Clash made their own version and the rest is history.

7. Jeff Buckley: Hallelujah

Lots of cover versions to choose from when one mentions Leonard Cohen's superb Hallelujah.

There have been recordings by John Cale, k.d.lang, Alexandra Burke and others.

Then there is this one by Jeff Buckley, which has become a classic in its own right.

8. Jimi Hendrix: All Along the Watchtower

Written and recorded by Bob Dylan for his 1967 album John Wesley Harding, All Along the Watchtower has also been covered by numerous artists, but the most memorable version is by Jimi Hendrix when he recorded it for his album Electric Ladyland in 1968.

It became a hit song both in the US and the UK in the same year.

9. Marvin Gaye: I Heard It Through the Grapevine

The first three versions of I Heard It Through the Grapevine were recorded on the Motown label and it has become one of the company's most well-known songs.

Originally released by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, then a hit by Gladys Knight and the Pips, it became Marvin Gaye's signature song when it topped the charts in both the US and the UK during 1968 and 1969.

10. The White Stripes: I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself

I always believed that Dusty Springfield recorded the original version of I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself, but even her rendition was a cover version of an earlier recording by Tommy Hunt.

Numerous other musicians have put their own spin on the song over the years, but one of the best was offered up by The White Stripes in 2003 and included on the band's album Elephant.

The Cover Versions Debate - Let's Hear Your Opinion!

Do you prefer to listen to the original or the cover versions?

The original is usually the best!

The original is usually the best!

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    • filmic 6 years ago

      Originals - But you make a good point! These are exceptions to the rule. The worst is when covers are done exactly the same as the original, just smacks of moneygrabbing. Have you checked out Ray Charles' cover of Eleanor Rigby? AMAZING!

    • DuaneJ 6 years ago

      I like cover versions but the original is the original and that must be respected...but it's all okay either way as long as the cover version does not make a mockery of the original...

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      You forgot Elvis' Hound Dog, I prefer the original by Big Mama Thornton over Elvis. Also talking about Big Mama, she also wrote and performed Summertime that Janis Joplin covered, I think in this case I have to go with Janis though cause she's my favorite female singer. Aretha Franklin covered the song Respect from Otis Redding, she made it her own and though I love Otis Aretha did it better. Lastly I have to give some love to the movie Across the Universe, I love the covers done in the movie; they didn't compare to the Beatles but it's a fun movie.

    I like to listen to the cover versions!

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      • Boomer Music Man 13 months ago

        This is a very nice blog and i love the cover songs. The artists you featured here are gifted in their own way.

      • Otto Phillips 4 years ago

        Cover versions are ok because it's a different interpretation of a song. Usually the original is best but there have been exception like Johnny Cash's "Hurt" and No Doubt's "Its My Life".

      • InfernalCombust 5 years ago

        It's all good! Always provided, of course, that the people covering a song do it with skill and respect and can make something new and beautiful out of it.

      • Mickie Goad 6 years ago

        I love finding new versions of songs that I love!

      • TheLeftFitz 6 years ago

        It usually depends on the artist being covered & the artist covering the song, but more times than not, I enjoy covers almost as much as the original. Best example: Fiona Apple covering "Across the Universe."

      The Cover Versions Poll - Submit Your Vote!

      Which of the cover versions featured here do you prefer?

      See results

      About Your Author

      With each article, Richard invites you to step into his world of music, television and entertainment. He will introduce you to British Glam Rock, share The 20 Scariest Film Scores Ever? and even give you an up close look at some classic actors such as Christopher Lee as Dracula.

      For a complete list of Richard's articles, please visit Richard's profile.

      © 2011 Richard

      Do You Have A Favourite Cover Version?

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        • profile image

          Roy_Munson 3 years ago

          Bang A Gong (Get It On) by The Power Station

          Supernaut by Nine Inch Nails

          Everlasting Love by U2

        • Joales LM profile image

          Joales LM 3 years ago

          The best cover version by far (imho) is "Always on my Mind" by The Pet Shop Boys - awesome

        • Egils Petersons profile image

          Egils Petersons 3 years ago from Latvia

          Nice lens! I didn't know about Hey Joe. All Along the Watchtower and Little Wing are my famous.

        • Otto Phillips profile image

          Otto Phillips 4 years ago

          What about "Its My Life" by No Doubt. It was a cover of the song from Talk Talk. Great Lens!

        • TonyPayne profile image

          Tony Payne 4 years ago from Southampton, UK

          I don't know all of these, but they are all classics. Nicely done.

        • AlexTedford profile image

          AlexTedford 5 years ago

          Great lens! I love Muse...such a great band

        • profile image

          anonymous 5 years ago

          @Edutopia: Agreed, plus the CD single has some great techno remixes too. Orgy is unique

        • profile image

          Edutopia 5 years ago

          Orgy did a great cover of Blue Monday. Though the songs on this list are pretty good too.

        • filmic profile image

          filmic 6 years ago

          great lens!...a really well researched list. cheers!

        • DuaneJ profile image

          DuaneJ 6 years ago

          I like the 'pet shop boys' version of "Always on my Mind" by Elvis Presley....

        • profile image

          anonymous 6 years ago

          interesting lens

        • Mickie Gee profile image

          Mickie Goad 6 years ago

          I wrote a lens about my favorite Beatles cover song. Hint: "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away".

          Hallelujah is just about my most favorite song that has ever been "covered", though. No matter who sings it, the song gives me goosebumps.

        • TheLeftFitz profile image

          TheLeftFitz 6 years ago

          Love this lens, makes me want to go back to listen to all the great covers & originals I've got stored up. *Blessed*

        • justholidays profile image

          justholidays 6 years ago

          Another bunch of great songs here! As for me, The Beatles (my all time fav band) recorded the best version of Twist and Shout as well as even Please Mr Postman or You Really Got a Hold on Me. I love Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix and definitely also enjoy to listen to the French version by Johnny Hallyday.

          Hallelujah is hard to make a choice as both versions here are excellent. I've always loved Dusty Springfield... Oh and I've Heard It Through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye is of course my favorite version - although am I wrong if I think Ray Charles sang it also? It seems that I remember I've heard it with such a voice and it as fantastic.

          I'm not good a writing about musics I love but your music pages are of those I prefer here! Guess what? The captcha word is "fantastic", like this page!