When you hear “All Along the Watchtower,” who do you think about? Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan? What about when you write “Respect,” who taught you how to spell that word with sass and a funky beat? Aretha Franklin or Otis Redding?
It’s rare that cover songs are better than the originals, but when it comes down to it, sometimes they just are!
Here are 20 cover songs that are better than the original.
Cover – Mark Ronson & Amy Winehouse (2007) | Original – The Zutons (2006)
“Valerie” was written by English indie rock band The Zutons. The song was released on their second studio album Tired of Hanging Around before it was covered by Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse in 2007, and their cover peaked at the number two spot on the UK Singles chart for 19 consecutive weeks.
Cover – Johnny Cash (2002) | Original – Nine Inch Nails (1994)
“Hurt” was written by rock band Nine Inch Nails and was featured on their second studio album, The Downward Spiral. The song received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song in 1996 but lost to Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” In 2002, “Hurt” was covered by Johnny Cash, and the cover was one of Cash’s final hits he released before his death in 2003. With the cover, Cash won the CMA award for Single of the Year in 2003. Cash’s music video for “Hurt” even won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video. Cash’s version has sold over 2 million downloads in the United States.
Cover – Rufus Wainwright (2001) & Jeff Buckley (1994)| Original – Leonard Cohen (1984)
“Hallelujah” is written by Canadian legend Leonard Cohen and was released in 1984. After achieving little initial success, Jeff Buckley covered the song in 1994 and then Rufus Wainwright covered the song as a tribute to Jeff Buckley after his tragic death in 1997.
Wainwright’s version was included in the major motion picture, Shrek, who’s soundtrack went certified 2x Platinum.
“Bad Side of the Moon”
Cover – April Wine (1972) | Original – Elton John (1971)
“Bad Side of the Moon” is a song originally written and performed by Elton John. The song is rarely played in concerts and because of that, people often forget that he wrote the song. In 1972, Canadian band April Wine covered “Bad Side of the Moon” on their second album On Record. The album was certified Gold in Canada and the band gained a lot of popularity because of the song.
Cover – Aretha Franklin (1967) | Original – Otis Redding (1965)
You can’t deny that this song is how you learned to spell the word “respect,” in fact, maybe you still sing it every time to say or spell the word. While we all thank Aretha Franklin for this lesson, the person we should really be thanking is Otis Redding. Redding wrote and released the song in 1965, but the song didn’t become a hit until the soulful Aretha Frankin cover was released in 1967. Franklin’s version adds the iconic “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and the backup singers repeated “Sock it to me.” It’s safe to say, Franklin’s version wins.
“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”
Cover – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (1981) | Original – The Arrows (1976)
“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a song written in 1975 by Alan Merrill of the Arrows. It wasn’t until 1982 that the song became famous when Joan Jett & the Blackhearts covered the rock anthem. Jett’s cover was a U.S. Billboard Hot 100 number-one single for seven weeks and was ranked the No. 3 song of 1982. Jett’s version was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016.
“You Really Got Me”
Cover – Van Halen (1978) | Original – The Kinks (1964)
“You Really Got Me” is a song originally performed by The Kinks. The song was released on August 4th, 1964 as the groups third single. The song reached No. 1 on the UK charts and became the group’s breakthrough hit. In 1978, Van Halen released a cover of a song for their self-titled debut album. As their first single, the song helped jump-start the band’s career just like it did for The Kinks 14 years prior.
“Lovers in a Dangerous Time”
Cover – The Barenaked Ladies (2006) | Original – Bruce Cockburn (1984)
“Lovers in a Dangerous Time” is a song by Canadian Bruce Cockburn. The song was originally released on his 1984 album Stealing Fire. According to Cockburn, the song was inspired by seeing teenagers expressing romantic love in a schoolyard. The song was covered by fellow Canadian band Barenaked Ladies on their 1991 Cockburn tribute album, Kick at the Darkness. Their cover became their first Top 40 hit on Canadian charts.
“Nothing Compares 2U”
Cover – Sinead O’Connor (1990) | Original – Prince (1985)
“Nothing Compares 2 U” is a song written and composed by Prince. The song was originally written for a funk band called The Family, but it was not released as a single and received little to no recognition. In 1993 Prince released the song on his The Hits/The B-Sides and The Hits 1. In 1990, Sinead O’Connor released a cover of the song as the second single from her second studio album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Her cover became a worldwide hit sitting at No. 1 on charts all across the globe.
Cover – The Lemonheads (1992) | Original – Simon & Garfunkel – (1968)
“Mrs. Robinson” is a song by music duo Simon & Garfunkel from their 1968 fourth studio album, Bookends. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in 1969, and it became the first rock song to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. In 1992, The Lemonheads recorded a punk version of the song and made it to No. 18 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100. The song was featured on their album It’s a Shame About Ray and is one of their most well-known tracks to date.
“It’s My Life”
Cover – No Doubt (2003) | Original – Talk Talk (1984)
“It’s My Life” is a song by English new wave band Talk Talk. The song was released as the title track on the band’s second album in 1984. The song did well on the charts across the world and peaked at No. 1 on the US Hot Dance Club Play chart. In 2003, No Doubt released the song on their first greatest hits album, The Singles 1992-2003. The band’s cover gained a ton of popularity and reached top charts all across the world.
“Killing Me Softly”
Cover – Fugees (1996) | Original – Norman Gimbel & Lori Lieberman (1971)
“Killing me Softly” was written by Norman Gimbel & Lori Lieberman and was recorded in 1971. In 1973 the song became a No. 1 hit in the United States and Canada when Roberta Flask covered it.
The 1996 cover done by The Fugees has gained the most success. Released on their album The Score, their version of the song became an instant hit. The song won the 1997 Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and their video won the MTV Video Music Award for Best R&B Video.
“The Man Who Sold the World”
Cover – Nirvana (1995) | Original – David Bowie (1970)
“The Man Who Sold the World” is a song written and performed by David Bowie. It is the title track of his third album that was released in 1970. In 1993, Nirvana covered the song during their MTV Unplugged appearance and it was later released on their album MTV Unplugged in New York. Bowie spoke very highly of Nirvana’s cover saying that he was “simply blown away” when he found out Kurt Cobain was a fan of his work. He also called the cover heartfelt, and wished he had the chance to work with Cobain before his death in 1994.
“With A Little Help From My Friends”
Cover – Joe Cocker (live at Woodstock) (1969) | Original – The Beatles (1967)
“With a Little Help from My Friends” is a song by the Beatles from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song was written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon and was sung by Ringo Starr. In 1968, Joe Cocker covered the song and his cover became a hit and an anthem for the Woodstock era. In 1969, Cocker performed the song at Woodstock and has become his most notable cover. Cocker’s version of the song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
“Me & Bobby McGee”
Cover – Janis Joplin (1971) | Original – Roger Miller (1969)
“Me and Bobby McGee” is a song written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster and was originally performed by Roger Miller. In 1970, only a few days before her death, Janis Joplin recorded a cover of the song for her album Pearl. Joplin’ version topped the charts and was her only number-one single, and in 2004, Rolling Stone ranked her cover No. 148 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Cover – Lenny Kravitz (1999) | Original – The Guess Who (1970)
“American Woman” is originally by Canadian rock band The Guess Who. The song was released in 1970 from their sixth studio album of the same name. The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the single was certified as gold by the RIAA. In 1999, Lenny Kravitz released a cover of the song for the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Kravitz later included the song on his album 5 and in 200, Kravitz won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Performance for his cover of the song.
“All Along The Watchtower”
Cover – Jimi Hendrix (1968) | Original – Bob Dylan (1967)
“All Along The Watchtower” was originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan. The song first appeared on his 1967 album John Wesley Harding. In 1968, The Jimi Hendrix Experience released the cover as a single and it reached No. 5 in the British charts and No. 20 on the Billboard chart making it Hendrix’s highest-ranking American single.
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun”
Cover – Cyndi Lauper (1983) | Original – Robert Hazard (1979)
This iconic ’80s tune was originally written and recorded in 1979 by American musician Robert Hazard. The song was originally written from a male’s point of view, but all that changed when Cyndi Lauper covered the song. Lauper’s version was released in 1983 and instantly became an iconic hit. Her cover of the song received Grammy Award nominations for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and won a Grammy for its movie-like music video.
“I Will Always Love You”
Cover – Whitney Houston (1983) | Original – Dolly Parton (1979)
In 1974, Dolly Parton released “I Will Always Love You” as a farewell to her former partner and mentor Porter Wagoner. The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart twice. In 1992, Whitney Houston recorded a cover of the song for her movie debut in the film The Bodyguard. The cover spent 14 weeks at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 and won the 1994 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Cover – Ike & Tina Turner (1971) | Original – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
“Proud Mary” is a song written by John Fogerty and was first recorded and released by his band Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969. The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1971, Ike & Tina Turner released their cover of “Proud Mary” and the song instantly became a hit. The song reached high on the Billboard charts and won the duo a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group in 1972.