The Best Song Covers, Remakes and Re-releases
Many of the best-known, best-loved and best-selling songs of all time have been
covers, remakes and/or re-releases of earlier songs. And many of the songs have
very interesting (and sometimes highly ironic) stories behind them. This page
answers such interesting questions as:
•What pagan Celtic folk tune became a Christian children's hymn, then eventually a
the West's most famous Muslim singer?
•Which highly-acclaimed songwriter pledged to be faithful to his wife, only to record a song written by his mistress?
•Which song of praise to God by a highly spiritual artist resulted in
accusations of plagiarism?
Zulu a cappella song became a smash hit for an all-white doo-wop group?
In each brief song synopsis below, the name(s) of the covering artist(s) appear
first and are immediately followed by the name(s) of the original artist(s).
Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire or The Ring of Fire is a country music song popularized by
Johnny Cash. It was co-written by June Carter, who later became his wife and was
thereafter known as June Carter Cash. The song appears on Cash's 1963 album Ring of
Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. It was originally recorded earlier in 1963 by June's
sister Anita Carter on her album Folk Songs Old and New as (Love's) Ring of Fire. The song became the biggest hit of
Johnny Cash's career, staying at #1 on the country charts for seven weeks. It went gold
and has also sold over 1.2 million digital downloads. At the time Cash recorded
the song, he was still married to his first wife. So ironically today he is best
known for his first #1 country song, I Walk The Line, in which he promised to
always be faithful to his wife, and another #1 country song, Ring of Fire,
written by his mistress!
My Sweet Lord
My Sweet Lord is one of the more unusual cover songs, to say the least. Released
by ex-Beatle George Harrison in 1970 on his multi-platinum triple album All
Things Must Pass and also issued as a single—Harrison's first as a solo artist—My Sweet Lord topped charts worldwide and was the
#1 single of
1971 in Britain. The song was written in praise of the Hindu god Krishna, while
at the same time serving as a call to abandon religious sectarianism, through
its deliberate blending of Christian "hallelujah's with chants of "Hare Krishna"
and Vedic prayer. But the song became the focus of a plagiarism lawsuit due to
its similarities to the Ronnie Mack song He's So Fine, a 1963 hit for the Chiffons. In 1976, Harrison was found to have
"subconsciously" plagiarized the earlier tune. Ironically, My Sweet Lord remains the most
popular song from Harrison’s post-Beatles career, and it has since been covered by
many diverse artists, including Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Edwin Starr, Johnny
Mathis, Nina Simone, Julio Iglesias, Richie Havens, Megadeth, Boy George and
Elton John. My Sweet Lord is ranked 460th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of
"the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." The song reached #1 in Britain for a
second time when it was re-released in 2002, following Harrison's death.
Morning Has Broken
Gaelic folk tune, circa 1800
Morning Has Broken is a Christian children’s hymn first
published as such in 1931, with lyrics by English author Eleanor Farjeon set to
a traditional Gaelic tune known as Bunessan. It shares this tune with the 19th
century Christmas carol Child in the Manger. The Christian hymn which
began life as a pagan folk song was ironically made famous by Cat Stevens, the
Western world's most famous Muslim singer. Stevens
included a version of the song on his 1971 album Teaser and the Firecat. The
song became identified with Stevens when it reached #6 on the US pop chart and
#1 on the US easy listening chart in 1972.
The hard-rocking Scottish band Nazareth released Love Hurts in 1976, and it soon
became a classic, iconic love song. The original was recorded by the
Brothers in 1960 as an album track. A year later, Roy Orbison’s version was the
B side to his smash hit Running Scared.
The Righteous Brothers
Unchained Melody is a 1955 song with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret.
North used the music as a theme for the little-known prison film Unchained,
hence the unusual title. Todd Duncan sang the original vocals for the film
soundtrack. Unchained Melody has since become one of the most-recorded songs of the 20th
century, spawning over 500 versions in many different languages. Les Baxter
released an instrumental version which reached #1. Then came recordings by Al Hibbler (#3 on the Billboard charts); Jimmy Young (#1 in
and Roy Hamilton (#1 on the R&B chart and #6 on the pop chart). Hundreds of
other recordings followed. However, it was the 1965 version by The
Righteous Brothers that became a jukebox standard. That version, with soaring
vocals by Bobby Hatfield, achieved even greater popularity when it was featured in the 1990
blockbuster film Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.
She's Like the Wind
Patrick Swayze, Dirty Dancing soundtrack and single
Patrick Swayze, Grandview, U.S.A. soundtrack (unreleased)
She's Like the Wind is a ballad sung by Patrick Swayze. Though Swayze is the
primary vocalist on the single, it was billed as being performed by "Patrick
Swayze featuring Wendy Fraser." The single reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100
and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Swayze and Stacy Widelitz co-wrote the
song in 1984, for the soundtrack of Grandview, U.S.A. The
song was meant
to be about Jamie Lee Curtis's character in the film. However, the song was not
used in that film. During production of Dirty Dancing in 1987, Swayze played the
demo for producer Linda Gottlieb and director Emile Ardolino. They loved it and
the rest is history. The soundtrack album was #1 for 19 weeks.
Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong
Gene Autry, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, others circa 1940
Blueberry Hill is a popular song best-remembered today for the 1950s
rock 'n' roll version by Fats Domino. The original music was written by Vincent Rose, the
lyrics by Larry Stock and Al Lewis. The song was recorded by a
number of artists in 1940, starting with the Sammy Kaye Orchestra with vocals by Tommy
Ryan on May 31, 1940. Other 1940 recordings were by The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Gene Krupa, Kay Kyser, Russ Morgan, Gene Autry (also in the
1941 film The Singing Hill), Connee Boswell and Jimmy Dorsey. The Glenn Miller
version reached #1. Louis Armstrong's 1949 recording charted in the Billboard
Top 40, reaching #29. It later became an international hit for Fats Domino in
reaching #2 for three weeks on the Billboard Top 40 charts, and spending eight
non-consecutive weeks at #1 on the R&B chart. The Fats Domino version was ranked
#82 all-time by Rolling Stone. The
song was Domino's greatest hit and remains the song most associated with him.
Eric Clapton (acoustic version)
Derek and the Dominoes, with Eric Clapton
In my opinion, the greatest cover song in the history of modern music is Eric
Clapton’s acoustic cover of his own composition, Layla, a love song he wrote for
Pattie Boyd, the wife of his close friend George Harrison. Ah, the delicious
Nine Inch Nails
Hurt was Johnny Cash’s last major hit before he died in 2003. It was released
when he was 71 years old, and his ravaged visage seemed to perfectly match the
song’s lyrics. Cash’s cover was #15 on the top songs of the decade list of
Rolling Stone, and #2 on Country Music Television’s similar list. Cash’s
evocative music video was #1 on CMT’s 100 Greatest Country Music Videos in 2003,
won a Grammy for the best music video of the year, and was voted the best video
of all time by NME in 2011. Cash changed the lyric “I wear this crown of shit”
to “I wear this crown of thorns.” The original version, written by Nine Inch
Nails’ Trent Reznor, was released on the 1994 album Downward Spiral and was
nominated for a Grammy in 1996.
The Man Who Sold The World
Kurt Cobain's anguished vocals on Nirvana's unplugged cover of a little-known
1970 Bowie song sounded even more haunting after the song became a posthumous
rock-radio staple and epitaph.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
The Tokens, The Weavers, Jimmy Dorsey, The Kingston Trio, Chet Atkins, others
Zulu a cappella song
The Lion Sleeps Tonight evolved over several decades from a Zulu a
cappella song, to finally become a hit for the Tokens, ironically an
all-white doo-wop group. Also known as Wimba Way or Wimoweh
(originally Mbube), it
is a song written and recorded by Solomon Linda with the Evening
Birds for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939. It was covered
by various 1950s pop and folk revival artists, including The
Weavers, Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, Miriam Makeba, and The Kingston Trio. In 1961,
it became a #1 hit in the US for The Tokens. It went on to earn at least
$15 million in royalties from covers and film licensing. Then, in the
mid-nineties, it became a pop "supernova" (in the words of South African writer Rian Malan) when Warner Bros. promoted its
Ace Ventura films and licensed the
song to Walt Disney for use in the film The Lion King, its spin-off TV series
and a live musical, prompting a lawsuit on behalf of the impoverished
descendants of Solomon Linda.
The Zombies, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitgerald with Louis Armstrong, Janis Joplin with
Jimi Hendrix, many others
The Zombies were a great British invasion band, particularly in their best songs —
There, Time of the Season, Tell Her No and Summertime. The original song was an
aria written by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics
were written by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera
was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin by ASCAP.
Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has characterized Heyward's lyrics for
Summertime and My Man's Gone Now as "the best lyrics in the musical theater."
Summertime is one of the most-covered songs in the history of recorded music,
with more than 33,000 covers by groups and solo performers.
(Same) Old Lang Syne
Robert Burns, the Bard of Scotland
This "cover" may be a bit of a stretch, as the two songs only share three words,
“Auld/Old Lang Syne,” a few bars from the original song, and similar sentiments.
Robert Burns was not only Scotland’s most famous poet and song smith, but he was
voted the most important Scot of all time in a nationwide poll conducted by a
Scottish TV station. Fogelberg’s song rose to #9 in the American Billboard
charts and has since become a holiday classic. After Fogelberg's death from
prostate cancer in 2007, the woman mentioned in the song came forward with her story. Her name is Jill Greulich, and she and Fogelberg dated in high school when she was Jill Anderson.
As she explained to the Peoria Journal Star in a December 22, 2007 article, they
were part of the Woodruff High School class of 1969, but went to different
colleges. After college, Jill got married and moved to Chicago, while Dan went
to Colorado to pursue music. On December 24, 1976, they were both in Peoria
visiting their families for Christmas, when Jill went out for eggnog and Dan was
dispatched to find whipping cream for Irish coffee. They met at a
convenience store, bought a six pack of beer and drank it in
her car for two hours while they talked. Five years later, Jill heard Same Old
Lang Syne on the radio while driving to work. Jill says there are two
inaccuracies: She has green eyes, not blue, and her husband was not an architect—he was a physical education teacher, and it is unlikely that Fogelberg
his profession. Regarding the line, "She would have liked to say she loved the
man, but she didn't like to lie," Jill will not talk about it, but she had
divorced her husband by the time the song was released.
I Shot The Sheriff
Other musicians tried to bring reggae to the US, but it wasn’t until Clapton
covered this song that Americans really paid attention. It became Clapton’s only
J. J. Cale
Clapton insists that his version of the song is anti-drug and eventually
inserted the lyrics “dirty cocaine” to make that clearer. Although the song
peaked at #30 on the US Billboard charts, it became one of his signature songs.
Candle In The Wind
The best-selling cover song of all time, with more than 30 million units sold,
is also a cover by the original artist. Candle In The Wind was released the
first time to honor Marilyn Monroe and the second time to honor Princess Diana.
It is interesting, in a sad way, that they both died at age 36 in the month of
August with cameras pursuing them till the bitter end, and that they always
vastly outshone their dorky-looking, fuddy-duddy-ish husbands (Joe Dimaggio. Arthur
Miller, Prince Charles).
House Of The Rising Sun
Unknown (an old folk classic)
House Of The Rising Sun is an American folk classic, but it became a #1 smash
for a British invasion group, the Animals. It is one of the best-selling songs
of all time, with more than 8 million units sold.
Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the best-selling songs of all time, with over 6
million units sold, and it has topped the charts three times: in 1976 when it was
first released, in 1991 after Freddy Mercury’s death, and in 1992 when it was
featured in the movie Wayne’s World. The song is the third-best-selling song in
the history of the UK and topped the list in nationwide British poll to find the
“The Nation's Favourite Number One” song over the past 60 years.
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, The Jackson 5, Willie Nelson, many others
Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel’s version hit #1 on the pop charts. Aretha Franklin’s version
hit #1 on the R&B charts and #6 on the pop charts. Elvis Presley recorded the
song and performed it often, including at his last concert. When Paul Simon
heard Presley’s version, he said, “That’s it, we might as well all give up now.”
But I prefer Art Garfunkel’s tender, ethereal solo. The song has more than 6
million unit sales.
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton
Hound Dog became Elvis’s trademark song and one of his greatest hits. His
version of the song was ranked #19 all-time by Rolling Stone. The original song
was about a fed-up woman and says nothing about catching rabbits.
Ball and Chain
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton
“Big Mama” Thornton, an African-American rhythm and blues singer, originally
recorded the song Ball and Chain, but the Janis Joplin version is much
All Along The Watchtower
All Along The Watchtower is a dark folk tune penned and originally performed by
Bob Dylan, which later became an otherworldly Hendrix masterpiece.
Knocking On Heaven’s Door
Eric Clapton, Gun ’n’ Roses
Another dark Dylan masterpiece. Clapton’s reggae-flavored version is wonderful,
while Axl Rose’s vocals transform impassioned screaming into an art.
Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, K.D. Lang, Jason Castro, Alexandra Burke, many
Hallelujah is one of those rare songs that seems to inspire singers to outdo
themselves. And the better ones keep rising to the task ...
Nothing Compares 2 U
Prince and The Family
When The Time disbanded, Prince took some of the remaining members and formed
The Family. Sinead O’Connor hit a grand slam with her stark, highly emotional
cover, which hit #1 in the US and a number of other countries in 1990.
Respect became Aretha Franklin’s signature song. It won a Grammy and was voted
the #5 song of all time by Rolling Stone. But the original version didn’t spell
out R-E-S-P-E-C-T and was about a man wanting some “respect” (perhaps a
euphemism for sex?) at the end of a hard day’s work. The tired man was willing
to give his wife all his hard-earned money, if only she would show him a little
“respect.” Aretha Franklin completely turned the tables when she recorded
the song on Valentine’s Day in 1967, playing the piano, with her sisters Carolyn
and Erma singing backup. Is the song a demand for the respect of sexual
attention? Jerry Wexler, who produced the song, said in his autobiography,
Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music: "The fervor in Aretha's voice
demanded that respect; and more respect also involved sexual attention of the
highest order. What else would 'sock it to me' mean?" And the line “Take care,
TCB” seems to mean “Take Care of Business” as in “sock it to me.” The “sock it
too me” line became a catch phrase of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Franklin's
rendition spent two weeks at #1 in the Billboard Pop Singles chart, and eight
weeks atop the Billboard Black Singles chart. It also became a hit
internationally, reaching #10 in Britain, and helping transform
Franklin into an international star. Otis Redding was quoted playfully
describing Respect as the song "that little girl done stole from me."
Piece of My Heart
Big Brother and the Holding Company, with Janis Joplin
Originally recorded by Aretha Franklin’s older sister Erma in 1967, the Janis
Joplin version came out a year later. When Erma Franklin heard the Joplin cover
version on the radio, she didn’t recognize the song she’d taken to the top ten
of the U.S. R&B charts. It was that original, in a very raw, very good way.
Me and Bobby McGee
Kris Kristofferson was a great songwriter and Janis Joplin was an equally great
soul singer. Their fusion of country and soul still stands as one of the iconic
songs of that era.
Red Red Wine
As the story goes, Neil was vacationing in the Caribbean when he first heard
UB40’s reggae hit…and didn’t recognize the song he’d written!
I’m A Believer
I’m A Believer is one of the best-selling songs of all time, with more than 10
million units sold.
Gary Jules, Adam Lambert
Tears For Fears
A slowed-down, stripped-down Gary Jules version was featured in the movie Donnie Darko, but the Adam Lambert version is even sadder and more stunning. .
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
Nick Lowe said he began writing the song as a satire of hippie attitudes and
platitudes—but somewhere along the line the question became sincere, and
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
As the story goes, Elton made a bet with Lennon that he could record this song
and have a #1 hit with it. John didn’t believe him ... and lost the bet. After it
topped the charts, Lennon came out of retirement during Elton’s Madison Square
Garden show to perform three songs. Sadly, that would be his last concert
Blinded By The Light
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Blinded By The Light went to #1 for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1976.
(Ironically, the Boss used to perform the Manfred Mann hit Pretty Flamingo in
his early concerts.)
I Will Always Love You
Dolly Parton’s version, which she wrote, was a minor country hit in the 70’s.
Dolly re-made the song for the soundtrack of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
in 1982, with a pop flavor. Whitney sang her version in another movie, The Bodyguard and
sent it to #1. It is now one of the best-selling singles of all time, with over
12 million units sold.
You’ve Got A Friend
You’ve Got A Friend was a #1 hit for James Taylor. He and Carole King were
friends and sometimes performed the song together.
Grand Funk Railroad
Grand Funk’s remake hit #1 in 1973.
Lovesong became The Cure’s biggest hit, peaking at #2. 311 put a reggae spin on
their cover version.
J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, Pearl Jam
Wayne Cochran recorded the original version in 1961, but it did not chart. The
version by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers reached #2 in 1964. More than 30
years later, Last Kiss became Pearl Jam’s biggest hit single.
If You Don’t Know Me By Now
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
Great song, covered by a great voice. Mick Hucknall drew some much-deserved
attention to Teddy Pendergrass with this hit.
This is another song that falls into the category of "Hey, I didn’t know that was
a cover." We have to go all the way back to 1964 for the original. Soft Cell kept
their version on the charts
for an amazing 43 weeks back in 1982.
Take Me To The River
David Byrne and the Talking Heads gave a New Wave flavor to a classic song by
one of the world’s greatest soul singers.
When Devo performed its version on Saturday Night Live in 1978, jaws dropped.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
This song put the Peppers on MTV and began a series of hits that would last 20
Rare Earth had the distinction of being the first white act signed by Motown.
Georgia On My Mind
Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Michael Bolton
Ike & Tina Turner
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Twist And Shout
The Isley Brothers
Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Israel K, Sam Harris, many other artists
You Really Got Me
I Heard It Thru The Grapevine
Gladys Knight & The Pips
We Can Work It Out
How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
The Bee Gees
With A Little Help From My Friends
Light My Fire
The Isley Brothers
Seals & Crofts
She’s Not There
I Thank You
Sam & Dave
Patti Smith Group
To Love Somebody
The Bee Gees
Ain’t That A Shame
Under The Boardwalk
John Hiatt & Loudon Wainwright III
The Temptations (written by Smokey Robinson)
I Fought The Law
Bobby Fuller Four
Hard To Handle
The Black Crowes
Brown Eyed Girl
Ooh Baby Baby
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Hazy Shade Of Winter
Simon & Garfunkel
Sea Of Love
The Honeydrippers with Robert Plant
Sting, The Corrs
Gordon Sumner (Sting) has recorded the Hendrix songs Purple Haze, The Wind
Cries Mary, Up From The Skies and Little Wing.
Tears Of A Clown
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
Save It For Later
Working Class Hero
Battle Of Evermore
Mercy Mercy Me
Crimson And Clover
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Tommy James & The Shondells
I Can’t Make You Love Me
Got To Be There
Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime
Stone Temple Pilots
Where Did Our Love Go
J. Geils Band
Take It Easy
Walk Away Renee
Rickie Lee Jones
The Left Banke
Just My Imagination
After The Gold Rush
Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt
Stone Cold Crazy
With Or Without You
Got To Get You Into My Life
Earth Wind & Fire
Don’t Le Me Be Misunderstood
Never Let Me Down Again
Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon
Nobody Does It Better