33 Cover Songs that are Better than the Originals

by That Guy on June 22, 2007

Kris Kristofferseon

Cover songs are what make the world go ’round. Think prom, weddings, piano bars¦American Idol. The bottom line is people love familiarity. There have been some exceptional covers that have made it onto albums over the years and we feel so strongly about some that we’d rather listen to them than the originals. The list was long, so in the hopes of Rolling Rock someday sponsoring this list (or because we ran out), we narrowed it down to 33. Without further ado, the Top 33 Cover Songs that are Better than the Original, listed in chronological order:

1. All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix, 1968 (Bob Dylan)
2. After Midnight – Eric Clapton, 1970 (JJ Cale)
3. Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down – Johnny Cash, 1970 (Kris Kristofferson)
4. Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin, 1971 (Kris Kristofferson)
5. Me & My Uncle – Grateful Dead, 1971 (Judy Collins)
6. Blinded by the Light – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, 1976 (Bruce Springsteen)
7. Just My Imagination – The Rolling Stones, 1978 (The Temptations)
8. And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda – The Pogues, 1984 (The Dubliners)
9. Black Diamond – The Replacements, 1984 (Kiss)
10. Voodoo Child – Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1984 (Jimi Hendrix)
11. Pancho and Lefty – Willie Nelson, 1985 (Townes Van Zandt)
12. Helter Skelter – U2, 1988 (The Beatles)
13. Sweet Jane – Cowboy Junkies, 1988 (Lou Reed)
14. No Depression – Uncle Tupelo, 1990 (The Carter Family)
15. Madman Across the Water – Bruce Hornsby, 1991 (Elton John)
16. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley, 1994 (Leonard Cohen)
17. Landslide – Smashing Pumpkins, 1994 (Fleetwood Mac)
18. Baker Street – Foo Fighters, 1997 (Gerry Rafferty)
19. Gettin’ Jiggy With It – Phish, 1999 (Will Smith)
20. Bad Sneakers – The Push Stars, 2000 (Steely Dan)
21. I Found a Reason – Cat Power, 2000 (The Velvet Underground)
22. Remember the Mountain Bed – Wilco, 2000 (Woody Guthrie – never recorded)
23. Say Hello Wave Goodbye – David Gray, 2000 (Soft Cell)
24. The Kids are Alright – Pearl Jam, 2001 (Pete Townshend)
25. Hurt – Johnny Cash, 2002 (Nine Inch Nails)
26. I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself – White Stripes, 2003 (Tommy Hunt)
27. We Will Become Silhouettes – The Shins, 2003 (Postal Service)
28. Wonderwall – Ryan Adams, 2003 (Oasis)
29. Act Nice and Gentle – Black Keys, 2004 (The Kinks)
30. True Love Will Find You in the End – Beck, 2004 (Daniel Johnston)
31. This Will Be Our Year – Pablo, 2006 (The Zombies)
32. To Go Home – M. Ward, 2006 (Daniel Johnston)
33. It Makes No Difference – My Morning Jacket, 2007 (The Band)

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Loren June 22, 2007 at 10:26 am

Little Wing – SRV is still hands down the best cover ever! Voodoo child is cool and all, but what stevie transformed Little Wing into is sheer poetry.

Adrian June 22, 2007 at 2:31 pm

Mark Kozelek’s covers of AC/ DC are awesome. Check out the verion of ‘Bad Boy Boogie’ from the Rock N Roll singer EP.

Greg June 23, 2007 at 3:27 am

This is a fantastic list, and took some real guts. U2 better than the Beatles? Wow! I agree with so much of this list but don’t know that I would have said it aloud. I was just telling Shawn (sort of active here too) that “act Nice And Gentle” by the Black Keys is one of the most under-celebrated songs I know.

Awesome!

oz June 23, 2007 at 8:40 am

I also love the Warren Haynes covers on his live at Bonnaroo album. There is a great cover of Radiohead’s “Lucky” and Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water”.

This list also could have gone on and on with blues covers by the Rolling Stones, SRV and others.

Doc June 23, 2007 at 1:56 pm

I woulda included the Gourds doing Gin and Juice, Lou Barlow doing Ratt’s Round and Round, Jesus and Mary Chain’s Head On, Nirvnana Where Did You Sleep Last Night and maybe Dino Jr doing Just Like Heaven and the Counting Crows with that Yellow Taxi song. Nice list…just my additions.

oz June 24, 2007 at 10:02 am

Great suggestions. I considered throwing Nirvana Lake of Fire in the mix, but the Meat Puppets did a great original.

Mark Lanegan also did a decent cover of Where did you sleep last night. He’s also got an album of mostly unknown folk covers called I’ll Take Care of You that has some great stuff on it.

Ed June 25, 2007 at 4:29 am

The Clash _ i fought the Law

bigshouldersporter June 27, 2007 at 7:22 pm

I’m partial to the Johnny Cash (w. Joe Strummer) version of “Redemption Song” (B. Marley)

cheers,
b.s.

eunejeune June 29, 2007 at 8:27 pm

how is hallelujah not #1? travesty!

oz June 30, 2007 at 8:46 am

Listed in chronological order.

Ted August 16, 2007 at 9:29 pm

The White Stripes version of “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” should definitely be on this list. No cover of a Hendrix song is better than the original. Not now, not ever. This also applies to The Beatles, though if you want to hear a good cover of one of their songs, The Black Keys did “She Said She Said”.

Ted August 16, 2007 at 9:31 pm

oops! accidentally looked over and saw the White Stripes were on there, my bad

Michael Bains September 3, 2007 at 6:28 am

I stumbled ‘crost this list via using teh Google, lookin’ for who did the Gin and Juice remake.

Great stuff! Though I think Springsteen’s original is marginally better, just ’cause they’re almost totally different songs thanks to MMEB’s treatment, and the original has a more summer-time, party feel to it. Guess, for me anyhow, it really depends on the mood I’m in which prefer.

One to ponder: Devin Townsend’s ver of “Sinner”. IMO, dude took ‘n’ polished J. Priest’s major metal accomplishment with sublime appreciation for the original. Outstanding!

geminii September 25, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Joe Cocker…With a little help from my friends ..awesome
Manferd Mann…..Blinded By The Light
Nazerath ….Love Hurts
Stevie Ray Vaughan …Voodoo Child ….awesome
Aerosmith…Train Kept A Rollin’
Jackson Browne…..Stay
Big Brother & Holding Company (Janis)…Piece Of My Heart
Jimi Hendrix….Hey Joe
Santana…..Black Magic Woman
Led Zeppelin…..Babe I’m Gonna Leave You

Philip November 13, 2008 at 1:05 pm

I agree with about 50% of your choices.
I do see a bias based on certain styles of music over other styles. This causes you to assess that a cover is ‘better’ based upon the style in which it’s played.
Example: Soft Cell’s ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’. One of their own many, many covers (of that song) is the version which contains Dave Tofani’s marvelous three minute clarinet intro. The song is one of pop’s greatest moments! It is one of the highlights of the entire rock era.
More recently David Gray did a great cover version. Some might argue the song is so good, it’s simply impossible to do a bad cover of it. His version is slower and performed in his classic acoustic folk-rock style. It’s simply superb! For those who enjoy his style of music, it’s a treat to the ears.
But, David breaks no new ground with his version. It’s what we’ve heard for decades with good folk gutsy-acoustic guitar anguish. Soft Cell’s original treated the audience to something new in our listening experience. They broadened our horizons. And when the producer included Tofani’s hauntingly beautiful clarinet, rock’s boundaries once again expanded.

You’re right…. Gray’s cover is superb. But it is in no way ‘better than the original’. It’s just for a different audience.

Drinking Buddy November 15, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Thanks for the comment, Philip. I appreciate the thought behind your comment – most people usually just say things like, “This list sucks!” The list definitely has a bent toward music that suits my personal taste. Your opinions are well-founded – thanks for reading and caring enough to post a thoughtful comment.

Megg February 27, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I was watching The Colbert Report and Kris Kristofferson was on. I was curious to see what he looked like when he was younger, so I googled him and stumbled across this page. The title intrigued me, so i read on. And when I saw you put U2′s Helter Skelter was better than the Beatles, I was absolutely shocked. I had never heard U2′s version, so before I commented, I downloaded the song just to se what this was all about. I couldn’t even make it through the song. Not only is it not better, I don’t even think it is good. But, I am a huge Beatles fan and I don’t like U2, so that probably has a lot to do with it. Like Greg said before, that took a lot of guts to say, considering the Beatles are one of the biggest (if not the biggest) musical icons of all time. I’m not a huge music buff where I would know all of the songs that you talked about, but I’m definitely going to be looking up the songs I don’t know. And I agree with Doc that the Gourds’ Gin and Juice should be on there.

oz February 27, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Hey Meg, we actually saved the Gourds track for our list of top covers of rap songs:http://www.hearya.com/2007/05/25/top-10-indie-covers-of-rap-songs/.

Thanks for commenting

Drinking Buddy February 28, 2009 at 8:28 am

Megg – I saw the same Colbert Report. Kristofferson has had quite a life, hasn’t he? Including seeing Barbara Streisand naked.

The Beatles are tough to argue with. Hope you found some gems in the rest of the list.

Cedar December 19, 2009 at 10:31 pm

The Three O’ Clock’s version of The Easybeats’ “Sorry,” off the ‘Baroque Hoedown’ EP, for those so inclined. It’s always singled out as among this underrated band’s finest moments…

psykhe February 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm

what about Guns’n'Roses, Knocking on heavens door?

Dan March 2, 2010 at 7:07 am

I think Antony’s cover of “If It Be Your Will” from the “I’m Your Man” soundtrack deserves a spot on here.

truth April 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm

ha! this list is ridiculous!!! what the hell is “hear-ya” anyway? pretty shit publication obviously.
with the exception of a few of these this list is absolute bullshit. classic songs…U2 better than the beatles? no.
rant through.
I cant believe I even wasted my time writing this

Daniel Amaya May 18, 2010 at 11:17 am

The fact that you would say M. Ward and Beck have done better versions of the Daniel Johnston songs blows my mind. I listened to Beck’s version of “True Love Will Find You in the End” and I was completely turned off. It was absolutely terrible; completely lacked the emotion that Daniel Johnston brought to the song.

I like Beck (his album Sea Change was amazing), and M. Ward is one of my favorite artists from Portland that is mainstream; however, both of these artists obviously do not feel the same emotion when covering Daniel’s work. The whole point of Daniel’s work is not his amazing vocals (obviously), nor any complex melodies, it is the emotion that he lets shine through in each song that he does.

Paul October 15, 2010 at 7:24 pm

1 – Correct
2 – No
3 – Correct
4 – Correct (but KK’s is not the original recording)
5 – OK
6 – Marginally correct
7 – No way.
8 – Apples and Oranges, but I can live with it
9 – Correct
10 – Not
11 – No Freakin’ Way!!!!
12 – Wow, just wow. Kind of undermines the whole list.
13 – See 11, above.
14 – Maybe….No.
15 – No
16 – Correct
17-20 – I don’t care
21 – No
22 – Impossible.
23 – No
24 – See No. 11, above
25 – Correct
26 – OK
27 – OK
28 – No
29 – No
30 – OK
31 – See No. 11, above
32 – OK
33 – No

The problem is that you don’t like old music. But taste is subjective, so pretty much everything I said can be ignored.

hey March 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Blinded by the light (the original) is so much better than the cover. It is played with actual instruments and is a classic rock song. The cover is one of those unfortunate pop messes.

Renaud April 8, 2011 at 10:04 am

Je voudrais rajouter celle-ci:

Billy Paul -”Your song ” (Elthon John)

papabear69 May 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm

what a great list and the comments following as well! I was looking for Insane Clown Posse’s cover and fell in to this list. I personally liked Rage’s version of Mary’s Farm. (Dylan).

lafida May 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm

very nice to see Daniel Johnston in this list , he is amazing!!!

nightShift July 13, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Mad world – Gary Jules (Tears for fears)

edenshane November 15, 2011 at 11:22 am

Paolo Nutini – Time to Pretend (MGMT Cover)… This is just perfection!… Well I think so anyway!

Crabes December 1, 2011 at 6:45 am
John B December 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm

i couldn’t disagree more aggressively with 13, 24, 28 or more whole-heartedly with 6, 16, 17

John B December 1, 2011 at 3:02 pm

*agree whole-heartedly

havinfun January 16, 2012 at 4:36 pm

What about Sweet Jane by the Cowboy Junkies??

havinfun January 16, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Nevermind didn’t see it hahahah!

Joe Engel March 3, 2012 at 10:15 am

Acapulco- Jim James and Calexico

Charlie May 22, 2012 at 12:36 am

GNR’s version of Wings’ Live and Let Die.

Liam June 8, 2012 at 5:54 am

the dubliners were not the originals for and the band played waltzing matilda. That was a Scotsman called Eric bogle. I’ll take the dubliners over the pogues though.

George June 10, 2012 at 7:12 am

Song 8 is not a Dubliners original. It is a song by Scottish Australian singer/songwriter Eric Bogle. Listen to his, original version, then decide whether it should still be on the list.

Gbraine July 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm

No “Respect”??? Quite possibly the best cover of all-time.

Obsidian January 7, 2013 at 9:55 pm

…and every cover that Elvis ever did. :)

• You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me (Dusty Springfield)
• Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkle)
•Are You Lonesome Tonight (Standard covered by everyone)
• Just Pretend (The Bens?)
• Unchained Melody (Rightous bros)
• Hurt (Many artists, most notably Timi Yuro)
• Guitar Man (Bread)
• Always On My Mind (Willie Nelson)
• I Just Can’t Help Believing – B.J. Thomas
• Early Morning Rain (Gordon Lightfoot)

Ok, I’ll stop there. :)

jamie June 18, 2013 at 5:09 pm

more than half of these are completely absurd. the stones ‘just my imagination’ better than the temptations classic original? Not a chance. Foo fighters ‘Baker Street” better than Gerry Raffert’s classic? Not even freakin’ close. You are a neophile. Just because it’s newer doesn;t mean it’s better. In most cases, you;re just flat wrong.

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