Whether its a Top 10 or a grocery list, I love making lists. Okay the grocery list thing was a joke but I’ve never been ashamed of the fact that I like doing Top 10 blogs. Most of my top ten lists are compromised of my ‘top ten‘ favorite things that fit within that specific criteria; but I was recently listening to an XM radio broadcast and the DJ said something really interesting about a song. Mark McGrath, on his show on the 90s on 9 XM radio station, was speaking of his love for and his belief that Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover of Canadian singer Leonard Cohen’s secular hymn “Hallelujah” is the superior version. It wasn’t that I disagreed that this was a superior version but that the song has been covered more than 300 times. That means between different arrangements and many recordings and concerts by many different singers and groups that the song has been covered 300 times. That’s not counting the the millions of undocumented performances by artists around the world. It got me thinking that I had heard the song done by a couple of different artists over the years; but this has to be the most covered song ever because that’s a ridiculous amount of covers. I wouldn’t be here making a list informing you of something that I just thought was very interesting if it were that simple. I sat down and did a lot of research and the list that I came up with is the most accurate list that I can come up with.
I loved doing this blog because I simply love cover songs. I love hearing a different artists interpretation of the original song. Part of that reason why covers are so amazing is because you have iconic and simply inspirational bands and artists like Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Nirvana, Queen, Michael Jackson and The Beatles (who could possibly be one of the most iconic and inspirational groups of all time) who have been covered by everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Snoop Dogg. In some cases covers and live versions are some of my favorite songs. Actually my favorite song is Metallica’s 1998 cover of the Thin Lizzy cover of The Dubliners cover of the traditional 17th century Irish traditional song “Whiskey in the Jar”. (Side note, I never realized how complicated of a description that that song takes.) I mean you have a great song like “Proud Mary” which was originally written and performed by John Fogerty; but can you imagine the song done by anyone other than Tina Turner? After all my research, I came to the realization that artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan have had their songs covered A LOT. (The list of the most covered artists will have to wait for another time.) So without me spilling anymore of the metaphorical beans about that blog, I present to you the Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Most Covered Songs.
Wait wait wait. I have to preface something first. The list is going to comprise of legitimate covers. That means I’m not going to be able to include the version your sister posted on Youtube last summer (because a certain Beatles song which shows up on our list has had over 7 millions covers thanks to budding artists on Youtube) or the 700 different undocumented renditions done live by random artists.
Okay now without further ado; I present to you the Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Most Covered Songs.
Wait…I have to add again that this list won’t have the countless number of gospel, jazz, instrumental and classic pieces that have been replicated throughout the years. This is mostly going to consist of mostly modern music. Let’s just say from 1950s until today. How’s that? Savvy?
So…maybe there won’t be anymore interruptions (maybe) before I present to you The Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Most Covered Songs –
10. The Rolling Stones – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Who would have thought that a song that was considered too sexually suggestive at the time would go on to be second in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of all Time” list and was added to the National Registry of the Library of Congress? Me of course. Just that opening guitar riff is enough to make you want to stick around for the rest of the song which Keith Richards says he wrote in his sleep. Though the song has been covered many times, Otis Redding’s rendition is quite possibly the most famous. His version is on the album Otis Blue (coincidentally his back up band on the album was Booker T and the MGs with Isaac Hayes on piano) which is listed on Time, NME, and Rolling Stone magazine’s list of greatest albums of all time.
9. Frank Sinatra – “My Way”
So this one technically tricky to place. The lyrics (which were written by Canadian singer, songwriter and actor Paul Anka) were set to the music of the French song “Comme d’habitude”. Though the song was covered by a HUGE list of performers, it was the original version by Frank Sinatra that has made a lasting impression. Elvis Presley and many others would cover the track after the success of song thanks to what has become Frank Sinatra’s biggest hit. Even the bassist for the infamous Punk Rock band the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious, covered the song (though he decided throwing in some choice curse words and phrases since he didn’t know the words when he recorded the song).
8. Bill Withers – “Ain’t No Sunshine”
The song “Ain’t No Sunshine” is a conglomeration of everything it takes to be a soul or R&B hit. Take Booker T. Jones; infamous frontman of the band Booker T. & the M.G.’s (who created one of my favorite songs of all time “Green Onions”), Grammy award winning musician, songwriter, producer and musical arranger to do string arrangement and produce the track. Then add in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and legendary bass guitarist Donald “Duck” Dunn. Legendary Rock and Roll legend Stephen Stills on guitar (the Stills in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). Use “the Human Timekeeper” himself; Albert J. Jackson Jr. on drums. Then let Bill Withers belt out his soulful singing and my friends you have a song which would go on to be a chart topping, Grammy Award winning R&B hit that will even be listed on Rolling Stone magazines list of the 500 Greatest Songs of all Time list. The song that was initially listed as a B-side track would also go on to be one of the most covered songs of all time. Famously covered by Michael Jackson on his debut solo album Got to Be There. The song has been covered countless times but my favorite would definitely be the cover from a couple of years ago; back in 2013 when the Heavy Metal band Black Label Society brought a wonderful take to the track.
7. The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”
I was always a Beatles fan but it was hard rock band Letters from the Fire that reminded me in 2014 just how much I loved The Beatles based on their cover of “Eleanor Rigby”. Despite everyone from Aretha Franklin’s soulful first person rendition of the song or Joan Baez with a classical orchestra backing; the song has been covered by A LOT of artists. Despite the covers, nothing can take away from the powerful lyrics that plucks so many chords.
6. Dusty Springfield – “The Look of Love”
The song which originally was sung by Dusty Springfield for the James Bond flick Casino Royale (no no no, not the 2006 version. I’m referring to the 1967 David Niven version of James Bond movie of the same name). Each different artist that recorded it added their own flair to song which was originally written by Burt Bacharach. The song has been covered A LOT. It has been covered by everyone from the Motown quartet The Four Tops to the English rock band The Zombies.
5. Simon & Garfunkel – “Bridge over Troubled Water”
Simon & Garfunkel have written some amazing tracks which have been covered by hundreds of performers but the award winning track “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is their most covered. Despite the amazingness of a gospel-inspired version cover by Aretha Franklin; it is the sincerely powerful live performance from Elvis Presley that is by far my favorite. Even Paul Simon, who was in attendance at one of his shows said, “that’s it, we might as well all give up now” after witnessing Elvis’s performance of the song. The song has been covered numerous times from everyone from Johnny Cash and Fiona Apple to country music legend Buck Owens.
4. John Lennon – “Imagine”
You may not like Yoko Ono but she did help John Lennon produce and influenced the lyrics (some of her poetry along with a book given to him by comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory are said to be the inspiration) to one of the most influential and powerful songs of all time. The song which was his number one single, is listed in almost every Greatest Song of all Time list. The song, which has even been played at EVERY SINGLE New Year’s Times Square Ball drop celebration since 2005, has been covered over 200 times by everyone from Stevie Wonder to Emeli Sande to Elton John.
3. Leonard Cohen – “Hallelujah”
The reason for me creating this list comes in at a surprising third. (Thanks Mark McGrath of the band Sugar Ray.) I knew the song was popular and that I had heard it performed on almost every season of American Idol (specifically Jason Castro’s 2008 version from season 7); but to be the third most covered song of all time was a bit surprising. The song, which is the relative baby of list as it was the last one written, is now considered the baseline of secular hymns. The song which is now said to be completely overused in movies and TV shows, has over 300 covers but the Jeff Buckley version is said to be the best. John Legend and myself agree. John Legend is quoted as saying that the Buckley version is ‘as near perfect as you can get…it’s one of the beautiful pieces of recorded music I’ve ever heard.” While the song has joined many other timeless classic songs in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry; it found its popularity and providence years after his untimely death in 1997. I said earlier, the song (specifically Buckley’s version) has been used in A LOT of TV shows and movies; on everything from the TV show House to the graphic novel/comic book turned movie The Watchmen. Just as much as the song is used on TV to convey emotions; the song will live on as not just one of the most covered but as the most important songs of our lifetime.
2. Ben E. King – “Stand By Me”
From Florence + the Machine to John Lennon, Ben E. King’s soulful Rhythm and Blues classic “Stand by Me” has stood the hands of time; and has subsequently been covered by many different artists thusly producing over 400 different versions of this song. The song, which was originally based on a spiritual song by The King of Soul Sam Cooke, was even performed by Cassius Clay aka Muhammed Ali on his 1963 spoken-word/comedy album.
1. The Beatles – “Yesterday”
Okay. I’m pretty sure that at this point in your life, you are at least familiar with the chart-topping and award-winning Beatles brokenhearted break-up ballad “Yesterday”. Whether you like them or not, it is hard to deny the cultural and musical impact that The Beatles had on music. The song (which was voted as the greatest Pop song of all time and the greatest song of the 20th century) has been estimated to have been performed over seven million times in the 20th century (as reported by Broadcast Music Incorporated(BMI)) and has been officially covered by over 2,000 artists, bands, and performers. The song has been covered by everyone from Willie Nelson to Frank Sinatra to Boyz II Men. As I alluded to in my initial paragraphs, this Beatles track has had over staggering 7 million covers; if you count Youtube performers and other miscellaneous avenues.
James Hetfield performing with the band Metallica during its Load tour in 1996 by and accredited to Andrew King – Flickr: James Hetfield – Cardiff 1996, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27697451
Featured Image – “Otis Blue” Studio Album cover attributed to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1591061
45 RPM picture sleeve for the German “My Way” single by and accredited to Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52931456
Cover art for the 45 “Eleanor Rigby” single attributed to Source (believed to belong to Apple Corps, Ltd), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1373673
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” album cover attributed to Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48438185
Cover art for the “Hallelujah” single attributed to Source (believed to belong to Columbia Records or affiliates), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23591999
Front cover art for the “Yesterday” single attributed to Source (believed to belong to the label Capitol Records, Parlophone or affiliate graphic artist), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=556941