Lists · Music

Top Ten Cover Songs that surpass the original

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The day they knocked down the palais
Part of my childhood died, just died.

The Kinks – “Come Dancing”

The Internet has no shortage of hyperboles. The goods news is that memes come and go. The bad news is that Godwin’s Law is eternal. One popular internet hyperbole is “______ killed my childhood.” (CollegeHumor has an appropriate response to that meme here.) On the other hand, a universal rite of passage to growing old is the first time you hear a cover of one of your favorite songs… and it sucks!

The flip side to all that is when you find out that a song that you like turned out to be a cover. You check out the original version, and find out the remake improved the song by leaps and bounds. When I was compiling my list, I noticed a pattern: many of the cover artists turned out to be great bands themselves. When I have this discussion with folks, this fact is not so self-evident. Another part of the equation that many people miss is that many times, the cover song only equals, and not surpass the original. There are a plethora of good covers of very good songs. The thesis of my list is that the original version of the song is just not good.

Finally, I hate to break it to you Gen-Y and Millenials out there, but the cover songs you like tend to suck. Actually, no I didn’t hate to say that at all.

Without further adieu, here is our lists (footnotes at the end of each list):

The Top Ten Cover Songs that surpass the original

Keith’s List

Song – Cover Artist – Original Artist

  • 10. Killing them Softly – Lauren Hill – Roberta Flack
  • 9. I fought the Law – The Clash – Bobby Fuller
  • 8. It’s My Life – Gwen Stefani – Talk Talk
  • 7. Respect – Aretha Franklin – Otis Redding
  • 6. I Love Rock and Roll – Joan Jett – The Arrows
  • 5. Nothing Compares to U – Sinead O’Connor – The Family*
  • 4. I will always love you – Whitney Houston – Dolly Parton
  • 3. Tainted Love – Marilyn Manson – Gloria Jones
  • 2. Don’t Turn Around – Ace of Base – Tina Turner
  • 1. Girls Just Want To Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper – Robert Hazard**
* side project of Prince, circa 1983
** 1979 demo. never released.

 My List

Song – Cover Artist – Original Artist

  • 10. Venus – Bananarama – Shocking Blue
  • 9. Running Up That Hill – Elastik Band – Kate Bush
  • 8. Tainted Love – Soft Cell – Gloria Jones
  • 7. Higher Ground – Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stevie Wonder
  • 6. Spider-Man – The Ramones – Paul Webster & Bob Harris^
  • 5. Istanbul – They Might Be Giants – The Four Lads
  • 4. Mony Mony – Billy Idol – Tommy James
  • 3. Cum on Feel the Noize – Quiet Riot – Slade
  • 2. Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Guns N’ Roses – Bob Dylan
  • 1. I fought the Law – The Clash – Bobby Fuller


^ According to Wikipedia, Webster & Harris were the composers. The singers were 12 CBC vocalists, (members of the Billy Van Singers, and Laurie Bower Singers groups), who added to the musical backing track supplied by RCA Studios, New York, and were paid only for the session and have had no residuals from its use since then.

But why stop at 10? Here are some more excellent covers:

11. Signs – Tesla – The Five Man Electrical Band
12. Twist and Shout – The Beatles – The Isley Brothers
13. Love Rollercoaster – Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Ohio Players
14. Turn the Page – Metallica – Bob Seeger
15. Shopping Spree – Atom & His Package – The Dolly Llamas
16. Police on My Back – The Clash – The Equals
17. Superman – REM – The Cliques
18. All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix – Bob Dylan
19. The Man who sold the World – Nirvana – David Bowie
20. Hard to Handle – Black Crowes – Otis Redding
21. Dirt – Johnny Cash – Nine Inch Nails
22. Ring of Fire – Social Distortion – Johnny Cash
23. Brand New Cadillac – The Clash – Vince Taylor
24. When the Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin – Kansas Jay McCoy + Memphis Minnie
25. Hooked on a Feeling – Blue Swede – B.J. Thomas

Next Podcast Unlimited List: Top Ten Cult Classic films (Not to be confused with the Top 10 films about cults)


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