Some of these cover songs are so iconic that many people don’t even know that they aren’t originals! I’m not saying the original versions were necessarily bad, but the cover artists brought out something really special in these songs.
All Along the Watchtower
Raise your hand if you already knew that Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” was a cover. Although Hendrix recorded the definitive version, it’s actually a Bob Dylan song.
Dylan’s original acoustic version doesn’t have the same raw power as Hendrix brought to the song. While Dylan is an undisputed genius as a songwriter, I think it’s fair to say that Jimi Hendrix is the more dynamic performer. Combine them and you get a song for the ages.
Leonard Cohen was a brilliant lyricist, and while I actually enjoy his deeply, gravelly baritone… well, the original version of “Hallelujah” was a little bit of a drag. The slow tempo and heavy vocals turn it into a dirge.
It wasn’t until Jeff Buckley recorded his angelic-sounding cover that the song went mainstream. It’s way overplayed in movies (and by certain dudes at open-mic nights) but that doesn’t change the fact that Buckley’s cover is just plain better than Cohen’s recording. Buckley doesn’t need a chorus backing him; in fact, he doesn’t need anything other than his voice and his guitar. Magic.
I Will Always Love You
We all know and love Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” from the soundtrack of The Bodyguard. If you haven’t heard it in a while, then take a minute. Chills, right?
The song seemed perfectly tailored for her voice–but it wasn’t originally written for the movie! “I Will Always Love You” was written by the legendary Dolly Parton. In fact, she dashed off the song on the same day that she wrote “Jolene” in 1972!
Tennessee’s favorite songbird reportedly earned over ten million dollars in royalties during the 90s from the cover. But, being a true philanthropist, she invested some of that money in the Black community of Nashville as a way to honor Whitney.
Read More: Now We Know What Dolly Parton Smells Like
While I knew that “Valerie” was a cover… to be honest, I thought it was a tune from the 60s. Nope! The original version was written and released by the band The Zutons in 2006 before getting a total makeover from Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse.
While The Zutons’ version is mostly forgotten, the Ronson/Winehouse recording is a modern classic that stayed in the top 20 of the UK charts for almost ten straight months. Check out this retrospective on the recording of “Valerie”–it’s really bittersweet and interesting.
“We never, ever do nothin’ nice and easy. We always do it nice. And rough.” Tina Turner’s cover (let’s not talk about Ike, okay?) of this Creedence Clearwater Revival brings down the frickin’ house.
While the original song sounds just like every other CCR track, Tina takes it to another level. It became the centerpiece of her stage performances. In the recording above, the queen is 70 years old!
Walk This Way
Okay, you could argue that this isn’t so much a cover as a collab. But the mashup of Aerosmith’s hard-rocking hit song “Walk This Way” with Run DMC’s hip-hop beats is so much more than a sum of its parts.
The rock-rap crossover launched Run DMC’s mainstream career and gave Aerosmith, who was struggling to find their footing in the 80s, a much-needed boost.
No shade on Tears for Fears, but their original version of “Mad World” hasn’t aged well. New Wave music tends to sound overproduced to modern listeners, and this song is no exception.
In contrast, Gary Jules’ cover is almost heartbreakingly fragile. Sometimes less is more, folks! In fact, when Curt Smith and his daughter recorded the song as a duet during lockdown last year, they were inspired by the Jules version–not dad’s original.