Everyone loves a good cover song. Whether used to get a crowd going at a concert or trying to make your band famous, cover songs are a mainstay of music. Some of my favorite songs are covers and it got me thinking about the best cover songs of all time.
Sure other sites have done this before, but I had some guidelines for my category one picks. For these picks, the song had to be popular for BOTH artists. Sometimes you don’t realize a cover is a cover so I wanted songs that people KNEW were covers. The cover song had to have major radio/video play and/or appear on an album (compilation is fine). The cover also had to be somewhat different whether in style or sound for the most part. So in no real particular order, here are my picks for the best cover songs of all time.
Simple Man – Shinedown put themselves on the map with a Lynyrd Skynyrd classic.
Faith – Limp Bizkit put themselves on the map with their rap/rock cover of George Michael’s hit.
Boyz n the Hood – I can’t name you another Dynamite Hack song, but their cover of Eazy-E was a radio staple.
Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen’s song has been covered a thousand times, but Jeff Buckley’s version is the second most haunting song on the list.
Hurt – Johnny Cash’s cover of this Nine Inch Nails’ song is the single most haunting recording of all time. Could be the greatest cover song of all time as well.
Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel’s hit from The Graduate became an alternative 1990s hit with The Lemonheads’ cover.
Careless Whisper – Seether got a radio hit with a complete 180 degree sounding cover of Wham/George Michael’s song.
Cat’s in the Cradle – Ugly Kid Joe had a top ten hit with Harry Chapin’s only number 1 song.
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away – Eddie Vedder’s cover of The Beatles track got major radio play off the I Am Sam soundtrack.
Higher Ground – The Chili Peppers version of Stevie Wonder’s hit has been in numerous films and TV shows including Beavis & Butthead.
Turn the Page – Metallica went to number one with their cover of Bob Seger.
With a Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker’s cover of The Beatles track became the theme song of The Wonder Years.
I Will Survive – Cake had a monster 90s alternative hit with their cover of Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem.
Smooth Criminal – Alien Ant Farm had a couple of other singles, but none were as big as their Michael Jackson cover.
Kiss – Tom Jones doing Prince, that’s all you need to know.
Come Together – Aerosmith doing The Beatles, that’s all you need to know.
Blue Monday – Orgy did an industrial version of New Order’s well industrial/club hit.
King of Pain – Alanis Morissette did an unplugged version of The Police’s classic.
Tainted Love – Soft Cell’s 80s hit is actually a cover itself, but then Marilyn Manson made it a hit again on the Not Another Teen Movie soundtrack.
Sweet Dreams – Marilyn Manson got huge in the 90s with help from his cover of the Eurythmics.
The Boys of Summer – I can’t name you another song by the Ataris, but their cover of Don Henley went to number 2.
Cars – Gary Numan had a synth hit with the song and later joined Fear Factory on their cover version 20 years later.
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – Stevie Ray Vaughan became a blues guitar icon with help from his Jimi Hendrix cover which Kenny Wayne Shepherd also does a fantastic job covering.
Sweet Jane – When Lou Reed says your version is his favorite, you’re doing something right. The Cowboy Junkies had a hit with The Velvet Underground track.
Easy – Faith No More had an international hit with their cover of the Commodores.
Killing Me Softly – The Fugees had an absolute monster hit covering Roberta Flack.
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan’s song has been covered many times, but Guns N’ Roses and Axl Rose made it a stadium anthem.
Honorable Mention (Songs that might not have gotten major releases but had decent radio play)
I Want You To Want Me – Letters to Cleo got a radio hit of their Cheap Trick cover on the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack.
Landslide -The Dixie Chicks had a big hit with the Fleetwood Mac cover, but I actually prefer The Smashing Pumpkins version.
Gold Dust Woman – Courtney Love and Hole did a really good rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s song on The Crow City of Angels soundtrack.
Bad Romance – I don’t know why, but I really like the 30 Seconds to Mars cover of Lady Gaga.
Darling Nikki – Never released as a single, Foo Fighters’ cover of Prince got major radio play.
Last Kiss – Pearl Jam’s 1998 Christmas single was so popular on the radio, it got released in 1999 on a compilation album to help Kosovo refugees.
The Ghost of Tom Joad – Bruce Springsteen originally did it as a folk song that wasn‘t a single in the US, but Rage Against the Machine does a balls to the wall cover that I absolutely love (also on the same compilation as Pearl Jam‘s Last Kiss).
Imagine – A Perfect Circle covered John Lennon’s iconic song on their eMOTIVe album which is an album of mostly covers.
Category Two: Cover songs that you think of BOTH versions (and maybe don’t know who did it first).
I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Both Creedence Clearwater Revival and Marvin Gaye had hits with the song and I really don’t think of one or the other first. And The California Raisins brought it back to life in the 80s.
Proud Mary – CCR did it first with Ike & Tina Turner doing the cover, but again, do you really think of one over the other?
All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan wrote it, Jimi Hendrix made it his own and U2 did it 20 years later on Rattle and Hum.
I Shot the Sheriff – Bob Marley did it first, but Eric Clapton’s version is equally as famous.
Walk This Way – It’s an Aerosmith song, but the cover/collaboration with Run DMC put rap on the map.
La Bamba – Ritchie Valens did it first, but Los Lobos had a huge hit with their cover from the Valens biopic.
Category Three: Songs that you might not realize are covers because you think of the cover version first.
Cum on Feel the Noize – The song Quiet Riot is best known for isn’t even an original. Slade had a number one hit with it in the UK, but Americans don’t realize that.
Hard to Handle – One of The Black Crowes earliest hits is an Otis Redding track.
I Think We’re Alone Now – For my generation we think of Tiffany’s 80s version, but Tommy James & the Shondells made it a hit in the 60s.
Blinded by the Light -Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s biggest hit is actually a Bruce Springsteen song.
Signs – I automatically think of Tesla’s version from 1990.
Crossroads – Robert Johnson did the song way back in the 1930s, but THE version of the song is from Eric Clapton and Cream.
Mony Mony – Billy Idol had an 80s hit with yet another Tommy James & the Shondells cover.
Twist & Shout – The Isley Brothers covered it and made it a hit of their own, but come on, The Beatles (and Ferris Bueller) are the band we think of when thinking about the song.
So what do you think? What did I miss? What are your favorites? Let me know on Twitter at Murraymaker.