The Top 10 Song Covers Of All Time
The Top 10 Song Covers Of All Time
In a music culture more than used to samples, remixes and aural experimentation, cover songs have ironically emerged as the true litmus test of an artist’s talent.
It’s an effective test, too, because every cover is incredibly risky. A different interpretation of a true classic can fall flat entirely, but too faithful a tribute can come off as uninspired. As bizarre as it sounds, cover songs reveal the originality within the artists themselves, because every cover begs the same question: is there any way you can make this old, familiar song new again?
Everyone’s got a few under their belt: Dolly Parton, Paramore, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, even Miley Cyrus. But it’s not about which covers are out there waiting to be heard. It’s about the ones you should hear because they genuinely do justice to the source. Settle in and moisten your musical palette—we thought we’d jumpstart your education by collecting our 10 all-time favourite covers, in no particular order and in a single list to boot.
1. Lykke Li, “Hold On We’re Going Home”
Why it works: Here comes Lykke Li who completely reinvents the wheel: she strips away the beat of this Drake song and shows us how telling someone, “I want your hot love and emotion” is far more about vulnerability and intense yearning than a simple game of get-the-girl.
2. Britney Spears and Georgio Moroder, “Tom’s Diner”
Why it works: Suzanne Vega’s reflective 1987 ditty only truly went big after a hypnotic remix by British group DNA. While Britney’s overproduced vocals don’t mimic Vega’s moodiness in the original song, the synth is still effective. Waiting in any diner is a humdrum, prosaic thing. Rhythmic synth makes sure you don’t fall asleep while waiting.
3. The White Stripes, “Jolene”
Why it works: Dolly Parton’s 1974 hit has been covered by many others, but too often they’re big voices with something to prove. (cc: Miley Cyrus.) The guitar in this version by The White Stripes, however, seems to cleanly and painfully embody the lyrics “please don’t take my man” in a way we didn’t even know was possible.
4. Dixie Chicks, “Landslide”
Why it works: There are some hideous Fleetwood Mac covers out there, but this one by the Dixie Chicks stays faithful to the crooning and heartbroken tone of the original. Country may not be your thing and the video is hilariously unrealistic by current standards, but the Dixie Chicks know that the pain of goodbye doesn’t need to be overworked.
5. Sheryl Crow, “The First Cut Is The Deepest”
Why it works: Some people think Cat Stevens wrote this one, but the true origin of “The First Cut Is The Deepest” is in 1967 British soul. P. P. Arnold’s brassy, aching original is impossible to beat, but Sheryl Crow’s Californian-in-pain version is honest enough to come close.
6. Sinead O’ Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Why it works: Prince originally penned this song for his 1985 funk group, The Family, but it only found fame when yodelled feelingly by Irish musician and Pope-provoker, Sinead O’ Connor. Undeniable, unforgettable and unfixable in its sadness, O’Connor’s wails are as evocative and haunting today as they were in 1990.
7. Years & Years, “Breathe”
Why it works: Not everyone will remember this 2003 we-need-to-talk-because-it’s-SO-over anthem clearly, but you should. Years & Years have done one better than the Sean Paul original—they give up mimicry completely and make it a point to have fun throwing around blame to the beat. Both Sean Paul and Blu Cantrell are undoubtedly brimming with pride somewhere.
8. Sarah Paulson, “Criminal”
Why it works: Call this a cheat because it’s performed by an actress in American Horror Story but Paulson does manage to inject some whimsy into a song otherwise synonymous with the self-diagnosed neglect and wasted youth of the 90s. Covering the heavy-lidded, depressive Fiona Apple is admirable, but doing it while having fun is commendable.
9. Rachael Yamagata, “River”
Why it works: Everyone loves themselves some Joni, but there’s a reason the Counting Crows version of “Big Yellow Taxi” isn’t on this list. Joni Mitchell makes heartbreaks bearable, and raspy, melancholy Yamagata understands that. She knows that the true heart of “River” is in how the piano forgives you on days when you can't forgive yourself.
10. Feist, “Inside and Out”
Why it works: There’s something irresistibly lush and sexy about the way Feist hums in the intro. The original 1979 Bee Gees hit is actually titled "Love You Inside Out" and will always do in a pinch, but Feist’s uptempo, coquettish cover commits much better to the unreserved affection and flirtation of someone newly or deeply in love.