Editors Note: Once again I originally wrote this post many years ago. I don’t know that I would pick these same songs were I to pick my favorite cover songs now. But these are all good choices. I haven’t thought about some of these songs in years, so this was a fun stroll down memory lane.
Top 10 Cover Songs
A few rules. To be a cover song the song could not have been written specifically for that artist. Therefore the Monkees “I’m a Believer” will not work because Neil Diamond wrote it for their TV show. Likewise, Neil Diamond’s version of that song doesn’t count even though many think of it as a cover, because well, he wrote it. To count for my list the cover has to be of an already generally known song. So Jimmy Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe” doesn’t count. Because there’s a dispute over who actually wrote the song and whoever heard the versions by any of those guys?
1. Satisfaction by Otis Redding.
Original by the Rolling Stones
Many people consider the Devo version to be a much better cover, and I totally dig it too, but Otis just blows it away. He’s got that killer Otis soul, jumping rhythm and even horns! Keith Richards has been quoted as saying the Otis version is how he meant the song to sound.
2. All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix.
Original by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan himself changed his way of playing this song after he heard Hendrix
3. I Will by Alison Krauss.
Original by the Beatles
We played this song at our wedding. It’s a beautiful McCartney number slowed down, and sung even more beautifully by Ms. Krauss.
4. Sweet Jane by Cowboy Junkies.
Original by the Velvet Underground
I actually prefer Lou Reed’s solo live versions of this song more than the original Velvet Underground’s studio recording. But the Junkies make what is a rowdy, dirty rock and roller into a softer, peaceful lullaby.
5. Not Fade Away by the Grateful Dead.
Original by Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly’s sweet rockabilly tune is turned on its head by the masters of jam. Often the Dead would churn this tune into a grinding 15-minute spectacle.
6. RESPECT by Aretha Franklin
Original by Otis Redding
Aretha gets back at Otis here. Otis does some amazing vocals on his version, but Aretha takes it a step further and nails it on its head.
7. Cold, Cold Heart by Norah Jones
Original by Hank Williams
Norah turns this forlorn country song into a sultry, sexy croon.
8. Stardust by Willie Nelson.
Original by Hoagy Carmichael
Transforming a huge big band tune into its most simplistic melody Willie Nelson makes this song his own.
09. Bizarre Love Triangle by Frente
Original by New Order
The orignal was a big dance hit, but Frente break it down into a beautiful acoustic number.
10. Hurt by Johnny Cash
Original by Nine Inch Nails
The heartbreaking video adds a lot of texture to this version but in the end, it’s Johnny Cash’s voice that brings out more meaning into this song than ever meant by Trent Reznor.
There are certainly many more great covers out there that I thought of and didn’t think of that could have been included. I tried to pick songs that followed my mentioned rules and that broke away from the original. For instance, I think the harmonies on CSN’s version of “Blackbird” elevate it far above the Beatles version, however, they didn’t make it a different song and thus it wasn’t included. Got covers, not on my list? Comment them!