The DEFINITIVE list of the 27 greatest cover songs of all time.

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The 27 Best Cover Songs Of All Time

The 27 Best Cover Songs Of All time

Love covers? Check out our vinyl club for full-length covers, SOUNDS DELICIOUS. Participating artists include Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, Yumi Zouma, Mutual Benefit, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, and more.


I know there are people who say they don’t like covers. Those people are crazy.

In fact, saying you don’t like covers is sorta like an admission that you have literally no idea what in the hell you’re doing when you listen to music. Yes, some covers are terrible, but some covers are incredible. Some covers take a song to a whole new level. You know, sorta just like everything else in music.

For example, I love Feist’s “A Limit To Your Love” but James Blake’s version is some serious stare-up-to-the-heavens-as-if-the-explanation-for-how-awesome-this-is-can-be-found-there type shit. I’ve listened to it so so many times and that arrangement melts my mind. Every. Single. Time.

Side note, if you don’t like Blake’s version of that tune: you’re just not listening to it loud enough.

Obviously, we’re fans of covers here. After all, we did just launch a vinyl-only covers service called SOUNDS DELICIOUS. You remember. It’s the one where The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Kristin Kontrol are covering Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever in its entirety (i.e. Free Fallin’, I Won’t Back Down, et al) and Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado will be reinterpreting Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run from front to back. Other bands participating include Quilt, GEMS, Skylar Spence, Yumi Zouma, Salt Cathedral, and Mutual Benefit (with more announcements to come soon). By the way, those records can be pre-ordered here.

Now that I got that shameless plug out of the way, I’ve considered hammering away at my computer for the rest of the day rattling on about why covers are great – but really you either get it or you don’t. If you’re not into covers, that’s cool. Keep passing out your fliers and having your little secret meetings. For everyone else, here is a list of 27 of our favorite covers of all time.

But, first, a brief (and entirely necessary) FAQ (because works of this magnitude always require a FAQ section):

  1. Did I intentionally omit your favorite cover? Probably. After all, my mind is an encyclopedic compendium of every song ever recorded or performed live and I spent minutes (many of them) compiling this list from the top of my head.
  2. Jack White said that ______ was the best cover ever and it’s not on this list. What’s up? This is clearly the definitive list of the best covers of all time and all other opinions are both wrong and dumb. Except Jack White’s opinion, of course, which wasn’t so much wrong as he just clearly forgot about all of the covers on this list. Nonetheless, I won’t be offended if you feel compelled to remind me of a cover you really like in the comments.
  3. Is this list ranked? This list is not ranked. Unless, that is, you happen to detect some brilliance in the seemingly arbitrary listing of these songs – in which case – yes, the order was very very intentional.
  4. You said “of all time” does this include covers recorded for SOUNDS DELICIOUS? Don’t be pedantic. Obviously all recordings for SOUNDS DELICIOUS will be better than everything that came before them.

1) Aretha Franklin – Respect (Otis Redding Cover)

2) James Blake – A Limit To Your Love (Feist Cover)

3) St. Vincent, Beck, Liars & Os Mutantes – Never Tear Us Apart (INXS Cover)

4) Gallant – Learn To Fly (Foo Fighters Cover)

5) Spoon – I Am The Key (La’s Cover)

6) FKA Twigs – Elastic Heart (Sia Cover)

7) The xx – You Got The Love (Florence And The Machine Cover)

8) Daughter – Get Lucky (Daft Punk Cover)

9) Talking Heads – Take Me To The River (Al Green Cover)

10) Ryan Adams – Wonderwall (Oasis Cover)

11) Otis Redding – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Rolling Stones Cover)

12) Widowspeak – Wicked Game (Chris Isaak Cover)

13) The Night VI – Drops (Jungle Cover)

14) Radiohead – Nobody Does It Better (Carly Simon Cover)

15) Elliott Smith – Jealous Guy (John Lennon Cover)

16) Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen Cover)

17) The White Stripes – Jolene (Dolly Parton Cover)

18) Iron & Wine – Such Great Heights (Postal Service Cover)

19) The Beatles – Twist & Shout (The Isley Brothers Cover)

20) The Clash – I Fought The Law (The Bobby Fuller Four Cover)

21) Johnny Cash – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails Cover)

22) The Weeknd – Dirty Diana (Michael Jackson Cover)

23) Jose Gonzalez – Heartbeats (The Knife Cover)

24) BASECAMP – All That She Wants (Ace of Base Cover)

25) Four Tet – Iron Man (Black Sabbath Cover)

26) Feist – Inside & Out (Bee Gees Cover)

27) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Laid (James Cover)

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Posted by Matthew Hickey

Matthew is the music editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. He’s addicted to vinyl records, pour over coffee, craft beer, small batch bourbon, and pan roasting pork chops.

  • Hackman377

    The first cover that came to my mind was Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower. On the newer front, Local Natives do a pretty sweet cover of Warning Sign. That Talking Heads cover is a classic though, such a great version of an Al Green jam. Some others that I initially thought of were Three Dog Night’s Mama Told me not to come, Sublime’s Scarlet Begonias, and Stevie Wonder’s We can work it out. Cheers!

  • Abe

    Great list. That Record Club version of Never Tear Us Apart is a favorite of mine.

  • Thanks Abe! I’m a big fan of that whole cover album.

  • Oh, yeah, Stevie Wonder’s ‘We Can Work It Out’ and Jimi Hendrix’s take on All Along The Watchtower are masterpieces.

  • Travis Clarke

    My favorite cover is Jack White covering Love Is Blindness (U2)

  • Jeremy

    Donny Hathaway did a number of live covers that are great (including “Jealous Guy”), but his version of “You’ve Got a Friend” is my favorite, maybe because the live setting is so well suited to the song. When he finishes the line, “close your eyes and think of me,” you can hear some women in the background say “okay!” and then laugh. The song is so warm with everyone singing the chorus, clearly familiar with it, but it also has that melancholy tilt when you read it through the lens of Hathaway’s tragically short life.

  • Meg

    Johnny Cash for the win. Heartbreakingly incredible.

  • caramba

    Okay, I’ve listened to one so far .So, what does that cover of Laid have to offer that’s so different from hearing the James version for the first time? I would think that a song that wasn’t even released as a single would have to be pretty incredible to stand out from the 85 billion covers out there. Or are you just giving love to one of your favourite acts?

  • For one, I think it offers a much needed update to a likable but cheesy tune. I enjoy the original, but it’s a little too much for my tastes these days. I’d much rather include this take on a mix for a friend (for example). I also like the gender flipped vocals and think the slightly snarling delivery on lyrics like, “dye my eyes and call me pretty” add something to the tune. I think this is easily as good as the original but arguably better which, for me, is the gold standard for any cover. Also, in terms of the 85 billion covers out there, see the FAQ at the top of the post – this is definitive and encyclopedic.

    That said, if I’m being entirely honest with myself and everyone else, I can admit to having included Radiohead’s cover of “Nobody Does It Better” on here only because I’m giving love to one of my favorite acts. Now if there was a studio recording… that might be different.

  • Dw

    no offense to your opinion on music , id say 3 maybe 4 songs on that list should be there. Respect, Twist & Shout , Hurt for sure I Fought The Law is the maybe 4th its definitely a great cover but theres so many really good covers all the others on that list wouldn’t make the top 100. But no list will ever be right to everyone it’s all a matter or opinion and taste and theres a lot of songs most people dont even know are covers. Eddie Vedder has done alot of good ones Im surprised you didn’t even pick one of his many covers

  • Angie Phillips

    Yes to Daughter’s Get Lucky, Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah and Johnny Cash’s Hurt.

    David Bowie – Cactus (Pixies); Tori Amos – Enjoy the Silence (Depeche Mode); Brandi Carlile – Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen); Keren Ann – Life on Mars (David Bowie); Seu Jorge – Life on Mars (David Bowie); Massive Attack – Light my Fire (The Doors); Tricky – The Love Cats (The Cure); Isaac Delusion – Take a Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed); Yael Naim – Toxic (Britney Spears); Cat Power – Wonderwall (Oasis)

    🙂

  • Great list! In fact, if I’m being honest, several of these should definitely have made the list.

  • Kalle McKenzie

    Incredible list. Not having encyclopedic knowledge of music, I learned something new today.

    Some other favorites:
    Crazy – Kidney Thieves (Patsy Cline)
    Personality Crisis – Sonic Youth (Mudhoney)
    Halloween – Mudhoney (Sonic Youth)
    Jolene – QueenAdredna (Dolly Parton) (Spring for some good headphones)
    Big Joe and Phantom 309 – Archers of Loaf (Tom Waits)
    Matchstick Men – Angry Samoans (Camper Van Beethoven)
    Lexicon Devil – Germs (DI)
    Immigrant Song – Karen O/Trent Reznor (Led Zeppelin)
    Ana Ng – Star Fucking Hipsters (They Might Be Giants)
    Making Plans for Nigel – Primus (XTC)
    Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Nirvana (Don’t know the actual songwriter. Leadbelly recorded it)
    100 Punks – Dag Nasty (Generation X)

    And, just to make it an even “Top 40”:
    Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye – Lemonheads (Leonard Cohen)

    Not the best covers ever, just some of the ones on my playlist. Looking forward to hearing others.

  • Lol. Thanks Kalle! You have a LOT of great ones on this list. Also, thanks for pretending it isn’t a total travesty that I forgot to include that Nirvana/Leadbelly cover on here. That is one of the best for sure!

  • Adam Lee

    Wow, thank you all for chiming in with some very very cool covers! So many good songs have been mentioned and many I never heard before! Let me offer a couple of my favs as you get time to listen…

    Tears for Fears – Ready To Start(Arcade Fire)
    Katie Melua – Just Like Heaven(The Cure)
    John Mellencamp – Allentown(Billy Joel)
    George Michael – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face(Roberta Flack)
    Gemma Hayes – Wicked Game(Chris Isaak) – So many awesome covers out there on this one!
    Michael Buble and Kelly Rowlands – How Deep Is Your Love (Bee Gees)
    Disturbed – The Sound Of Silence(Simon and Garfunkel)
    Sara Bareilles – What The World Needs Now(Dionne Warwick)
    Adam Lambert – Mad World(Tears for Fears)

  • Mars bonfire

    I like Rolling Stones version of Chuck Berrys Carol on get your ya yas out and Streethearts version of Rolling Stones Under My Thumb.

  • Mitch Norton

    Nice list Matthew! I look around the internet for these lists from time to time for research and inspiration, as I am writing a book on this topic – probably going to go for the top 100. I’m about half finished. It’s a labor of love 🙂

  • DenverKirk

    To make such a list, the cover should improve on, or at least substantially change, the original a lot. Most of these fail those tests. Beatles’ “Twist” was inferior to the original. Also, the songs here are too focused on recent stuff.

  • DenverKirk

    Here’s my list from a longer-range perspective:

    10. Stardust–Willie Nelson
    9. Satisfaction–Devo
    8. Deep Purple–April & Nino Tempo
    7. Blue–LeAnn Rimes
    6. Drift Away–Neville Bros.
    5. Suzy Q–Creedence
    4. Try A Little Tenderness–Otis Redding & the MGs Paris live version
    3: Stardust–Billy Ward & the Dominos
    2. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue–Van Morrison
    1. All Along the Watchtower–Jimi Hendrix”

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