The Top 100 Cover Songs

Top 100 Cover Songs

80-doors80. The Doors, “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” (1967)

Originally released by Lotta Lenya, 1930

A few years ago, a recording in my music history class caught my attention, sounding an awful lot like lyrics I remembered Jim Morrison singing. Sure enough, “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” was taken from Kurt Weill’s music for the play Little Mahagonny. The Doors’ version is much grittier, holding a darker quality than the famous recording of Weill’s wife, Lotte Lenya. – Virginia Croft

top 100 cover songs Jackson Five79. The Jackson 5. “Who’s Lovin’ You” (1969)

Originally released by The Miracles, 1960

Michael Jackson’s all-time best vocal performance came before he ever went solo. On this, a smoky, theatrical cover of a 1960 Smokey Robinson deep cut, Michael trills and groans and executes range-spanning runs with inhuman, preternatural smoothness. Utterly irrepressible; a career highlight. – Ben Dickerson

top 100 cover songs Cap'n Jazz78. Cap’n Jazz, “Take on Me” (1998)

Originally released by a-ha, 1984

Midwest emo pioneers Cap’n Jazz were a fidgety and curious bunch during their brief existence, a scrambled sort accidentally destined for widespread cult appeal over the next 20 years. Shroom-fueled wordplay about bottles of Boone’s, happy accidents and a ring-walled haze complement the band’s more accessible stylistic choices, yielding restless tunes that pinpoint an adolescent agitation yet to be matched. “When we walk the path alone, I think of this song,” frontman Tim Kinsella mentions before launching into an uneasy live rendition of a-ha’s classic “Take on Me.” The cover sounds jokey, but it’s incredibly sincere, and a perfect rendering of Cap’n Jazz’s unlikely combination. – Patrick Pilch

top 100 cover songs Raincoats77. The Raincoats, “Lola” (1979)

Originally released by The Kinks, 1970

Before being effectively banned in Australia for its controversial lyrical content and at the BBC for the station’s policy against product placement, The Kinks’ 1970 hit “Lola” underwent months of construction and rearrangement—a process potentially as fluid as the track’s subject. Nine years later, “Lola” would be flipped by post-punk spearheads The Raincoats into a deliriously off-kilter arrangement. The cover reinvigorates the track with the band’s dissonant intentions, simultaneously repelling and intriguing in an utmost charming fashion. – Patrick Pilch

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide to Earth review76. Sturgill Simpson, “In Bloom” (2016)

Originally released by Nirvana, 1991

Covers often stick to their genres—e.g., punk is covered by punk—which is why it’s easy to not even realize Sturgill Simpson is singing the same lyrics Kurt Cobain wrote. Simpson’s version of “In Bloom” juxtaposes the haunting lyrics and subject matter with pedal steel guitars and his bellowing country voice. – Virginia Croft

75-animals75. The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun” (1964)

Originally released by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster, 1933

Since the original has disputed ownership, this song belongs to the Vox Continental organ that propels it even more so than Eric Burdon’s vocal that appropriately sounds like it hit on 16 at the blackjack table years ago and has been paying for it ever since. – Butch Rosser

top 100 cover songs Whitney74. Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (1992)

Originally released by Dolly Parton, 1974

Dolly freakin’ Parton got this song to number one. Twice! And it still doesn’t really matter, because Whitney took this thing to church. Most people don’t even have the chutzpah to try to cover D.P. because they know it’s a game for suckers. There’s only one cover that ever put the shameless country queen to shame, and this is it. – Butch Rosser

top 100 cover songs Jay Som73. Jay Som, “White Flag” (2017)

Originally released by Dido, 2003

Part of the 11-track compilation Group Effort Vol. 1, a collection of 11 Bay Area artists covering various pop songs, Jay Som’s version of Dido’s 2003 hit is an easy reminder that we’re not alone in our alone-ness. Melina Duterte’s soothing vocals bring a new kind of understanding to the ballad, approaching it from a place of “been there, I get that.” – Virginia Croft

72-postal72. The Postal Service, “Against All Odds” (2004)

Originally released by Phil Collins, 1984

I’ve always found it interesting that The Postal Service have such a distinctive sound, despite releasing only one album and having more inactivity than activity. “Against All Odds” doesn’t sound like a Phil Collins cover—it sounds like The Postal Service, experimenting post-Give Up. The cover was released as a standalone single in 2004, and perhaps in an alternate timeline kicked off an interesting acoustic-electronic-R&B hybrid era for the band. But in this one, there’s just an empty space. – Paula Chew

71-fugees71. The Fugees, “Killing Me Softly” (1996)

Originally released by Lori Lieberman, 1972

If you don’t know this song from when Roberta Flack popularized Lori Lieberman’s original in 1973, hopefully you know it from Lauryn Hill’s star vocal turn on The Fugees’ The Score album 23 years later. It didn’t eschew the North Jersey crew’s subtle stomp and island-inflected flow, but it did replace their rap bars with the purest uncut New Jill Swing. It’s a beautiful, powerful makeover. – Adam Blyweiss

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View Comments (15)
  • Congratulations to this compilation. It’s one of the best list that has been made ever. Thank you for posting it. We love covers and we have a blog in Portuguese called “1001 Covers” ( We have never thought Sloop John B is actually an adaptation of traditional song. Thanks again!

  • Are you serious? Willy Nelson’s Georgia on My Mind over Ray Charles
    version? Yeah Right

    Speaking of Ray Charles, in 1962 he made an album called “Modern Sounds
    of Country Music” This album was a masterpiece and should be part of
    anyone that knows and loves music’s collection.

    From that album was Ray’s cover of the Don Gibson song “I Can’t Stop
    Loving You.” Ray’s arrangement of that tune, which was the
    flip side of Gibson’s hit “Oh Lonesome Me” stood atop the Pop, R&B
    and Country Chart’s for most of the Summer of 1962, and was the
    #2 song on the Billboard Chart for that entire year.

    That’s why they called Ray “The Genius”. He took a tune and totally
    transformed it into something better and made it his own way
    before Buckley, Hendrix and Cash did, and it reached a wider
    array of audiences than them. He did it first and better than anyone.

    How a can you have a Top 100 Cover list without Ray Charles?
    Your panel put a lot of time and effort into this list, but missed
    the boat by omitting Brother Ray.

    Speaking of cover songs. Another gem by Don Gibson “Sweet Dreams”
    lent itself well as a cover. First by the great Patsy Cline, then the guitar
    Instrumental by Roy Buchanon from “The Departed.” And if you
    really are a conniseur of great covers check out the R &B version
    by Mighty Sam McClain. That’s 3 diverse great covers of one tune.

    Nobody is a bigger Beatles fan than me, and from everything I’ve read
    “Yesterday” is the most covered song by the most artists of all time.
    With that said I never heard 3 versions as diverse and great as the
    above mentioned versions of Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams”.

    You guys are good, but you got a long ways to go to be great.

    • I’m surprised they didn’t put maxwells version of Kate bush’s song a woman’s work. Instead they put running up that hill by Kate Bush covered by placebo. I also thought the same thing about not putting Ray Charles version up. Another cover that’s awesome is Leone Russell’s a song for you just about everyone’s covered it Ray Charles, Michael buble, R. Kell, willie Nelson etc etc. But the best cover of that song is Donny Hathaway blows it out the water. But yea this list is a little suspect if you ask me.

  • Adding to my previous reply, I want to suggest some really (IMO) good covers that deserve a place amongst the 100 best ones…
    My way (Frank Sinatra covering the Claude Francois song)
    Beyond the sea (Bobby Darin covering the Charles Trenet song)
    I got rhythm (the Gene Kelly version, after the original one in Girl Crazy)
    Gloria (the Doors cover of the THEM song)
    Only you (covered by Yazoo)
    Satisfaction (covered by Cat Power)
    Sea of love (covered by Cat Power)
    Big in Japan (covered by Ane Brun)
    Stand by me (covered by Florence and the machine)
    Caruso (the Lucio Dalla song covered by Sabina Sciubba)
    Llorando (Crying by Roy Orbison, covered by Rebekka Del Rio)
    Thank you (the Led Zeppelin song, covered by Lizz Wright)
    50 ways to leave your lover (covered by Tok Tok Tok)
    In a manner of speaking (covered by Nouvelle Vague)
    Everybody hurts (covered by The Corrs)
    I will survive (covered by the Puppini sisters)
    Because the night (covered by 10,000 maniacs)
    Piece of my heart (covered by Janis Joplin, but also by Beverley Knight)
    Me and Bobby McGee (covered by Janis Joplin)
    Tainted love (covered by Imelda May)
    You’re the one that I want (covered by Beautiful South)
    Don’t you worry ’bout a thing (covered by Incognito)
    Crazy (covered by Alanis Morissette)
    I got you babe (covered by UB40 and Chrissie Hynde)
    Spirit in the Sky (covered by Doctor and the medics)
    To love somebody (covered by Janis Joplin but also Lizz Wright)
    Oye como va (covered by Santana)
    Video killed the radio star (covered by the Buggles)
    Let’s stick toghether (covered by Brian Ferry)
    You can leave your hat on (covered by Joe Cocker)
    Suzie Q (covered by Greedence Clearwater Revival)
    California Dreamin’ (covered by Mamas and Papas)
    One step beyond (covered by Madness)
    It must be love (covered my Madness)
    Yeh yeh (covered by Matt Bianco)
    Superstition (covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan)
    She (Charles Aznavour song covered by Elvis Costello)

    And here is a playlist of songs that were made known by their cover versions, in their original version:

    Have fun !

  • Not true about I Heard It Through The Grapevine. The Miracles recorded the first version & Gaye the first cover. He pleaded with Berry Gordy to release it as a single but Gordy instead had Glady’s Knight & The Pips record it and release it as the first commercially available recording of the song

  • I don’t see the Fairy Godmother’s cover of “Holding Out for a Hero” from Shrek 2 and I’m kind of dissapointed.

  • Just glad Pet Shop Boys not on that list . I’ve seen it ranked no.1 on some lists , which is a crime in my eyes . Totally ruined a passionate love song , and turned it into an emotionless dirge . You know the song I mean .

  • I’m frankly shocked that absolutely no top lists have Elton John’s cover of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds on it. It’s a cover that Lennon himself said was better than the original. Was a top ten hit in the UK, and #1 in the US. Why is it so overlooked?

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