The Top 100 Cover Songs

Top 100 Cover Songs

albums that open with a cover Patti Smith20. Patti Smith, “Gloria” (1975)

Originally released by Them, 1964

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…” I certainly don’t remember those words coming out of Van Morrison’s mouth. No disrespect to the Irish rock icon, but once Patti Smith and her band reshaped “Gloria” with their unfuckwithable swagger and proto-punk energy, they claimed rightful ownership. An exercise in constant tempo escalation and ever growing intensity, Smith’s version is all build and extended release. Nowhere else in the rock canon does the act of spelling out someone’s name feel so cleansing. – Jeff Terich

top 100 punk albums The Clash19. The Clash, “I Fought the Law” (1979)

Originally released by The Crickets, 1960

The Clash’s “I Fought the Law” heard on their The Cost of Living EP and the US release of The Clash is hands-down the most well-known version, and a perfect fit in their multidirectional experimental discography. Other rock and punk bands including Dead Kennedys and Green Day would later follow their example, many versions altered only slightly from a seminal Bobby Fuller cover. Despite not being the first to cover Sonny Curtis’ original, The Clash were the ones to spur the song’s popularity in the late 20th century. – Paula Chew

top 100 cover songs Beatles18. The Beatles, “Twist and Shout” (1963)

Originally released by The Top Notes, 1961

There are a handful of covers on this list that have so completely obliterated the original from the lexicon that the source material seems to be photoshopped, like a three-boobed alien or Kawhi Leonard on the Raptors. At this point, and probably for the rest of time, this song is the Fab Four’s, and only the Fab Four’s. Sorry, Isleys! – Butch Rosser

top 100 albums of the decade so far james blake17. James Blake, “Limit to Your Love” (2010)

Originally released by Feist, 2007

There’s a rumble that sets in midway through James Blake’s cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love.” It’s mixed so low that you might not be able to hear it depending on your speakers or headphones, but it gives the song’s creeping, romantic dread a tectonic edge. The result is a track that’s more visceral—and vital—than the original. – Sam Prickett

16-cake16. Cake, “I WIll Survive” (1996)

Originally released by Gloria Gaynor, 1978

Sure, disco hits were easy targets in the irony-doused musical commentary of the ’90s. But to their credit, Cake tread the fine line between parody and reframing pretty well on “I Will Survive,” with machine-gun guitar lines and a stand-alone trumpet that remains hilariously true to the original melody. Of course you also have John McCrea’s stammering, purposely insecure lead vocal, punctuated by the most self-conscious use of the word “fucking” in pop history. – Paul Pearson

top 100 cover songs Devo15. Devo, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1977)

Originally released by The Rolling Stones, 1965

The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” is a fascinating song. For one, very few bad versions of it exist. For another, many of them use its brief lyric sheet as a skeletal template for building something entirely new over it. Though not as radical as Cat Power’s take which removes the chorus entirely, Devo’s mechanistic assembly-line construction of the rock ‘n’ roll standard pulls off the weird trick of sharpening every corner and removing the human soul while maintaining a groove. It’s rock as cubism, with Mark Mothersbaugh’s yelps of “Ican’tGET no…satisFAC tion” an algorithmic interpretation of disillusionment with the modern, commercial world just before his CPU begins to malfunction. “Babybabybabybabybaby…” – Jeff Terich

top 100 cover songs John Coltrane14. John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things” (1961)

Originally released in The Sound of Music, 1959

In between the splash made by Mary Martin’s 1959 Broadway recording and Julie Andrews’ film soundtrack of 1965, a jazz lion of the day used a centerpiece of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical to begin a fertile, furtive two-year transition period. Coltrane was soon to join the Impulse label, form his classic quartet, leave bebop behind and, on this song’s 1961 namesake LP, start playing soprano sax. If there was a moment where one of the genre’s strongest strongmen could show off a feminine side, this butterfly-light epic might have been it. – Adam Blyweiss

13-adams13. Ryan Adams, “Wonderwall” (2003)

Originally released by Oasis, 1995

Liam Gallagher was and has been a prick to, hell, probably millions at this point, but even he knew enough to know when he got got. As he said, “I think [Ryan’s] the only person who ever got that song right.” – Butch Rosser

12-sundays12. The Sundays, “Wild Horses” (1992)

Originally released by The Rolling Stones, 1971

There’s not much of an intersection between fans of The Rolling Stones and fans of the 1990s-era indie-folk pioneers, The Sundays, but that didn’t stop Harriet Wheeler and company from paying tribute to Jagger and the boys on their 1992 sophomore album, Blind. They removed all traces of the troubadour feel of the original and inserted their own blend of introspection and sensitivity. Perhaps predicting their English fans’ disapproval, “Wild Horses” was only included on the American version of Blind. – Chad Gorn

11-jules11. Michael Andrews ft. Gary Jules, “Mad World” (2002)

Originally released by Tears for Fears, 1982

There’s a clear modern trend of slowed-down covers coming from film soundtracks, and it can be traced back to this knockout track from Donnie Darko. Jules’ fragile vocal gives a new slant to the lyrics, complementing the tone of the film much better than the original would have. Tears for Fears played a quirky New Wave jaunt with a bouncy beat, so this stripped-down piano version from Jules and Andrews offered more vulnerability. – Wil Lewellyn

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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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