The Top 100 Cover Songs

Top 100 Cover Songs

50-siouxsie50. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Dear Prudence” (1983)

Originally released by The Beatles, 1968

The common refrain with Beatles songs is that no cover could ever compete with the original, and by and large that’s probably true. But nobody bothered telling Siouxsie Sioux, who not only does this White Album highlight justice but actually surpasses it. A moment of pop glory from gothic rock’s high priestess, “Dear Prudence” injects a surprising amount of joy and dream-pop beauty into the spacious psych-rock gem, filling in its gaps with a brilliant maximalism and an embrace of all the unheard possibilities buried within a great melody. – Jeff Terich


49-mortal49. This Mortal Coil, “Song to the Siren” (1983)

Originally released by Tim Buckley, 1970

From the debut of this goth collective headed up by 4AD label boss Ivo Watts Russell, Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser delivers one of her best vocal performances ever. Released in close proximity to the Twins’ Treasure album, Fraser stepped up to the mic and proved she was not only capable of adding grace to the dark ambiance of her own band, but of singing her heart out as well as or better than any of her peers. She took what was Tim Buckley’s emotive yet stripped-down folk tune and gave it a more gripping sense of longing. – Wil Lewellyn


48-kingsmen48. The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie” (1963)

Originally released by Richard Berry, 1957

A one-take classic, and it sounds like it, too: a drummer cursing on the track, followed shortly by a singer jumping in too soon, all mixed in with barely comprehensible lyrics besides the title. The FBI investigated them for obscenity as a result of it, finding nothing but those damn kids daring to have fun. – Butch Rosser


top 100 punk albums The Slits47. The Slits, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1979)

Originally released by Gladys Knight & the Pips, 1967

As one of the most peculiar bands of the British post-punk era, The Slits merged scratchy art-punk melodies with the rhythms of dub and an almost No Wave radicalism that infused their music with as much groove as unpredictability. In committing to tape their own version of Motown classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Ari Up, Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollitt edged closer to pop-song convention, but only slightly. In place of Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye’s infectious and soulful sensibilities is a sinister post-punk darkness run through with a super-creepy backup vocal and haunting synth. And unlike Gaye, Up sounds not so much anguished as pushed to the edge, offering a manic yelp instead of a heartbroken lament. It’s a raw expression of emotion with an open ending that leads nowhere good. – Jeff Terich


top 100 cover songs The Byrds46. The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965)

Originally released by Bob Dylan, 1965

This classic cover is barely a cover at all. In 1964, The Byrds’ manager, Jim Dickson, acquired a demo of a new song by the great-songwriter-with-a-bad-voice. At the same time that Dylan put the finishing touches on his five-and-a-half minute ode to sleepiness, the young folk group was reshaping the song into what would become the first Dylan-penned number one hit. – Chad Gorn


Charles Bradley Changes45. Charles Bradley, “Changes” (2013)

Originally released by Black Sabbath, 1972

Especially in their first four albums, Black Sabbath was rooted in melancholy more than mysticism, never more so than in their atypical ballad “Changes” from Vol. 4. Bradley’s cover, made four years before the traditional R&B singer’s death (but included three years later on his album of the same name), extracts that anguish and turns it into a Stax-style weeper. It’s a revision of acute pain every bit the equal of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.” – Paul Pearson


44-sonic44. Sonic Youth, “Superstar” (1994)

Originally released by Delaney & Bonnie, 1969

It’s easy for a fleeting pop culture moment to ruin a good song. You can’t listen to “New Slang” ever again without imagining Natalie Portman telling Zach Braff that it will change his life. Likewise, Sonic Youth’s hushed cover of The Carpenters’ rendition of “Superstar” will always be linked with Juno, and in particular Jason Bateman’s sad-sack indie dad character. If you can separate that cringey moment from Sonic Youth’s cover, you’ll find a song that reveals all the aching pain hidden at the heart of the original’s formula. – Wesley Whitacre


43-iron-wine43. Iron & Wine, “Such Great Heights” (2003)

Originally released by The Postal Service, 2003

This one has an odd story. When Sam Beam recorded this cover of The Postal Service’s quaint indie pop song, The Postal Service themselves had not yet released their original version. So the cover was released as a B-side to the single of the original. It was then given much wider exposure by being included on the Garden State film soundtrack and in a memorable commercial for M&Ms candies. Much like Beam’s other work, the song itself is urgent and intimate. – Wil Lewellyn


42-waits42. Tom Waits, “Somewhere” (1978)

Originally released in West Side Story, 1957

With a song like “Somewhere” from West Side Story, there’s not much call for interpretation. Leonard Bernstein’s melody is perfect and challenging. Those who attempt to sing it do so knowing that they need to be precise in order to do it justice. So who better to record it than… Tom Waits? While his gravelly, smoke-damaged voice is not the first one you would think of for this melody, he carries the tune with conviction and only a touch of loungeyness, successfully equating his own style with that of the masters. – Chad Gorn


41-pavement41. Pavement, “Killing Moon” (1999)

Originally released by Echo and the Bunnymen, 1984

Here’s something that shouldn’t work: the gothic drama of Echo and the Bunnymen filtered through the self-deprecating slacker-rock of Pavement. And yet, their cover of this song, which has appeared as a Brighten the Corners-era B-side, keeps startlingly true to the original. Even the bits of absurdity that seem particularly Stephen Malkmus-esque—shouting the names of vegetables midway through the song, for instance—turn out to be uncharacteristically deferential to the source material. It’s an inessential side note to Pavement’s discography, but it does offer the somewhat rare experience of hearing the band in a reverent mood. – Sam Prickett

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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” (https://www.1001covers.com.br). 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:
    https://open.spotify.com/user/ilianna1968/playlist/1tPKceB51kdKggU0TzHQoo?si=fEHYX9X8Q3arWrMB2iF-Hw

    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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