10 of the best cover songs of all time
Love them or hate them, cover songs are very much a part of today’s musical repertoire. And one thing’s for sure: those who do them well do them so well that they become a masterpiece in their own right.
With this in mind, we’ve rounded up 10 of the very best (in our opinion) cover songs of all time. You can listen below, or check out our Spotify playlist with more memorable covers.
10. Dancing in the Dark by Lucy Dacus (Bruce Springsteen)
In honor of The Boss’ 70th birthday in September, acclaimed indie rocker Lucy Dacus paid the ultimate tribute with her own spin on the Born in the U.S.A. smash hit Dancing in the Dark. And though it’s clearly a tribute to the Boss, her unique vocals bring a whole new dimension to this crowdpleasing tune.
Dacus attributes her love of Springsteen to her dad, the biggest fan she knows. “Bruce’s birthday should be a national holiday,” she told Rolling Stone. “It definitely is in the Dacus household. I hated him in middle school because my dad loved him so much, but then if you listen, it’s undeniable that he is a poet and a keen observer of the world.”
9. Walk Like an Egyptian by Meet The Cleverlys (The Bangles)
When you think of the classic hit Walk Like an Egyptian, you probably don’t think banjo. Or fiddle. Or cowboy hats. But hear us out: Arkansas-based bluegrass quintet Meet The Cleverlys have made a name for themselves performing versions of songs like Single Ladies and Gangnam Style, and their latest foot-stompin’ interpretation proves you can successfully countrify just about anything.
This classic 80s song from The Bangles may sound unreconizable when you first listen. But the Cleverlys’ version is just as fun, catchy, and peppy as the original—and the similarities end there.
8. Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth by Neko Case (Sparks)
Fans of eccentric duo Sparks will tell you their theatrical presence can’t be matched. But Neko Case proves she’s up to the task with her cover of Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth.
Released in 2009, this version swells with grandiose strings and evocative vocals, paying homage to Sparks’ idiosyncratic charm while playing to Case’s strengths as an accomplished singer and arranger. Not to mention, the lyrics of this decades-old song are more pertinent today than ever before.
7. Shakedown Street by Poolside (Grateful Dead)
Jeffrey Paradise aka Poolside teamed up with producer Lewis Pesacov and Omar Velasco of Amo Amo to dream up this catchy reimagining of the Grateful Dead‘s Shakedown Street.
Poolside’s version brings some disco and electronic flavor to the mix while thoughtfully honouring the ‘78 original. It’s Deadhead-approved as well: Poolside was made an official participating artist of this year’s “Daze Between” streaming event celebrating the life and music of Jerry Garcia.
6. Creep by Arlo Parks (Radiohead)
Arlo Parks’ haunting cover of Creep was fittingly made for the short film Shy Radicals, a portrait of artist, writer, and activist Hamja Ahsan and an exploration of otherness.
Explaining the meaning of the song for her and why she chose it, Parks said: “Creep is a simultaneously delicate and brutal exploration of inner turmoil and human relationships. This song has acted as a refuge for me, during times of self-reflection and low mood, for many years, and Radiohead as a band has deeply influenced my music.”
5. Jolene by The White Stripes (Dolly Parton)
Olivia Newton-John, Sisters of Mercy and Miley Cyrus and many others have had a crack at Dolly Parton’s Jolene, but none match the snarling, feedback-heavy rendition recorded in 2000 by The White Stripes.
So what does Dolly think? “Well, I love [Jack White] to death,” she said. “The White Stripes did one of the greatest versions ever of Jolene.” We’d have to agree.
4. Heartbeats by José González (The Knife)
When Swedish indie folk artist José González covered Heartbeats for his debut 2006 album Veneer, he managed to masterfully transform a fun electropop track into a gentle and raw lo-fi anthem.
It’s no wonder the song has since been featured in many an emotionally-charged TV scene. González’s understated vocals are just as appropriate for soothing background music as they are for having a good cry while watching your favourite drama.
3. The Man Who Sold the World by Nirvana (David Bowie)
Before Nirvana taped their MTV Unplugged special in ‘93, The Man Who Sold The World sat relatively unnoticed in Bowie’s back catalogue. A week after their performance, Nirvana set off on what would be their final world tour and brought their grunge-heavy version to a new audience, saving the song from obscurity.
It’s a testament to the strength of the original and the cover that both are poignant and moving – but in completely different ways.
2. Take Me to the River by Talking Heads (Al Green)
Countless artists have covered Al Green’s ‘74 soul hit Take Me to the River – Bryan Ferry, Courtney Love and Tina Turner, to name just a few – but no one has taken it on quite as skilfully as David Byrne.
Byrne and Talking Heads lay down some serious groove in this iconic cover, which perfectly captures the band’s trademark flair and infectious energy. You’ll never hear the original the same way.
1. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley (Leonard Cohen)
Such is the brilliance of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah that many mistake it for an original, despite the fact it was written by one of the world’s most prolific singer-songwriters, Leonard Cohen.
Buckley’s performance has all the sensuality that Cohen intended, but with a fragile potency that’s very much Buckley’s own. Case in point: no one who knows Buckley’s version can now see the word “Hallelujah” without hearing his voice.f