The HyperTexts

The Best Song Covers, Remakes and Re-releases

Many of the best-known, best-loved and best-selling songs of all time have been covers, remakes and/or re-releases of earlier songs. And many of the songs have very interesting (and sometimes highly ironic) stories behind them. This page answers such interesting questions as:

•What pagan Celtic folk tune became a Christian children's hymn, then eventually a mega-hit for the West's most famous Muslim singer?
•Which highly-acclaimed songwriter pledged to be faithful to his wife, only to record a song written by his mistress?
•Which song of praise to God by a highly spiritual artist resulted in accusations of plagiarism?
•Which Zulu a cappella song became a smash hit for an all-white doo-wop group?

In each brief song synopsis below, the name(s) of the covering artist(s) appear first and are immediately followed by the name(s) of the original artist(s).

Ring of Fire
Johnny Cash
Anita Carter
Ring of Fire or The Ring of Fire is a country music song popularized by Johnny Cash. It was co-written by June Carter, who later became his wife and was thereafter known as June Carter Cash. The song appears on Cash's 1963 album Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. It was originally recorded earlier in 1963 by June's sister Anita Carter on her album Folk Songs Old and New as (Love's) Ring of Fire. The song became the biggest hit of Johnny Cash's career, staying at #1 on the country charts for seven weeks. It went gold and has also sold over 1.2 million digital downloads. At the time Cash recorded the song, he was still married to his first wife. So ironically today he is best known for his first #1 country song, I Walk The Line, in which he promised to always be faithful to his wife, and another #1 country song, Ring of Fire, written by his mistress!

My Sweet Lord
George Harrison
The Chiffons
My Sweet Lord is one of the more unusual cover songs, to say the least. Released by ex-Beatle George Harrison in 1970 on his multi-platinum triple album All Things Must Pass and also issued as a single—Harrison's first as a solo artist—My Sweet Lord topped charts worldwide and was the #1 single of 1971 in Britain. The song was written in praise of the Hindu god Krishna, while at the same time serving as a call to abandon religious sectarianism, through its deliberate blending of Christian "hallelujah's with chants of "Hare Krishna" and Vedic prayer. But the song became the focus of a plagiarism lawsuit due to its similarities to the Ronnie Mack song He's So Fine, a 1963 hit for the Chiffons. In 1976, Harrison was found to have "subconsciously" plagiarized the earlier tune. Ironically, My Sweet Lord remains the most popular song from Harrison’s post-Beatles career, and it has since been covered by many diverse artists, including Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Edwin Starr, Johnny Mathis, Nina Simone, Julio Iglesias, Richie Havens, Megadeth, Boy George and Elton John. My Sweet Lord is ranked 460th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." The song reached #1 in Britain for a second time when it was re-released in 2002, following Harrison's death.

Morning Has Broken
Cat Stevens
Scottish Gaelic folk tune, circa 1800
Morning Has Broken is a Christian children’s hymn first published as such in 1931, with lyrics by English author Eleanor Farjeon set to a traditional Gaelic tune known as Bunessan. It shares this tune with the 19th century Christmas carol Child in the Manger. The Christian hymn which began life as a pagan folk song was ironically made famous by Cat Stevens, the Western world's most famous Muslim singer. Stevens included a version of the song on his 1971 album Teaser and the Firecat. The song became identified with Stevens when it reached #6 on the US pop chart and #1 on the US easy listening chart in 1972.

Love Hurts
The Everly Brothers
The hard-rocking Scottish band Nazareth released Love Hurts in 1976, and it soon became a classic, iconic love song. The original was recorded by the sweet-singing Everly Brothers in 1960 as an album track. A year later, Roy Orbison’s version was the B side to his smash hit Running Scared.

Unchained Melody
The Righteous Brothers
Todd Duncan
Unchained Melody is a 1955 song with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret. North used the music as a theme for the little-known prison film Unchained, hence the unusual title. Todd Duncan sang the original vocals for the film soundtrack. Unchained Melody has since become one of the most-recorded songs of the 20th century, spawning over 500 versions in many different languages. Les Baxter released an instrumental version which reached #1. Then came recordings by Al Hibbler (#3 on the Billboard charts); Jimmy Young (#1 in Britain); and Roy Hamilton (#1 on the R&B chart and #6 on the pop chart). Hundreds of other recordings followed. However, it was the 1965 version by The Righteous Brothers that became a jukebox standard. That version, with soaring vocals by Bobby Hatfield, achieved even greater popularity when it was featured in the 1990 blockbuster film Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.

She's Like the Wind
Patrick Swayze, Dirty Dancing soundtrack and single
Patrick Swayze, Grandview, U.S.A. soundtrack (unreleased)
She's Like the Wind is a ballad sung by Patrick Swayze. Though Swayze is the primary vocalist on the single, it was billed as being performed by "Patrick Swayze featuring Wendy Fraser." The single reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Swayze and Stacy Widelitz co-wrote the song in 1984, for the soundtrack of Grandview, U.S.A. The song was meant to be about Jamie Lee Curtis's character in the film. However, the song was not used in that film. During production of Dirty Dancing in 1987, Swayze played the demo for producer Linda Gottlieb and director Emile Ardolino. They loved it and the rest is history. The soundtrack album was #1 for 19 weeks.

Blueberry Hill
Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong
Gene Autry, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, others circa 1940
Blueberry Hill is a popular song best-remembered today for the 1950s rock 'n' roll version by Fats Domino. The original music was written by Vincent Rose, the original lyrics by Larry Stock and Al Lewis. The song was recorded by a number of artists in 1940, starting with the Sammy Kaye Orchestra with vocals by Tommy Ryan on May 31, 1940. Other 1940 recordings were by The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Gene Krupa, Kay Kyser, Russ Morgan, Gene Autry (also in the 1941 film The Singing Hill), Connee Boswell and Jimmy Dorsey. The Glenn Miller version reached #1. Louis Armstrong's 1949 recording charted in the Billboard Top 40, reaching #29. It later became an international hit for Fats Domino in 1956, reaching #2 for three weeks on the Billboard Top 40 charts, and spending eight non-consecutive weeks at #1 on the R&B chart. The Fats Domino version was ranked #82 all-time by Rolling Stone. The song was Domino's greatest hit and remains the song most associated with him.

Eric Clapton (acoustic version)
Derek and the Dominoes, with Eric Clapton
In my opinion, the greatest cover song in the history of modern music is Eric Clapton’s acoustic cover of his own composition, Layla, a love song he wrote for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his close friend George Harrison. Ah, the delicious ironies!

Johnny Cash
Nine Inch Nails
Hurt was Johnny Cash’s last major hit before he died in 2003. It was released when he was 71 years old, and his ravaged visage seemed to perfectly match the song’s lyrics. Cash’s cover was #15 on the top songs of the decade list of Rolling Stone, and #2 on Country Music Television’s similar list. Cash’s evocative music video was #1 on CMT’s 100 Greatest Country Music Videos in 2003, won a Grammy for the best music video of the year, and was voted the best video of all time by NME in 2011. Cash changed the lyric “I wear this crown of shit” to “I wear this crown of thorns.” The original version, written by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, was released on the 1994 album Downward Spiral and was nominated for a Grammy in 1996.

The Man Who Sold The World
David Bowie
Kurt Cobain's anguished vocals on Nirvana's unplugged cover of a little-known 1970 Bowie song sounded even more haunting after the song became a posthumous rock-radio staple and epitaph.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight
The Tokens, The Weavers, Jimmy Dorsey, The Kingston Trio, Chet Atkins, others
Zulu a cappella song
The Lion Sleeps Tonight evolved over several decades from a Zulu a cappella song, to finally become a hit for the Tokens, ironically an all-white doo-wop group. Also known as Wimba Way or Wimoweh (originally Mbube), it is a song written and recorded by Solomon Linda with the Evening Birds for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939. It was covered by various 1950s pop and folk revival artists, including The Weavers, Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, Miriam Makeba, and The Kingston Trio. In 1961, it became a #1 hit in the US for The Tokens. It went on to earn at least $15 million in royalties from covers and film licensing. Then, in the mid-nineties, it became a pop "supernova" (in the words of South African writer Rian Malan) when Warner Bros. promoted its Ace Ventura films and licensed the song to Walt Disney for use in the film The Lion King, its spin-off TV series and a live musical, prompting a lawsuit on behalf of the impoverished descendants of Solomon Linda.

The Zombies, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitgerald with Louis Armstrong, Janis Joplin with Jimi Hendrix, many others
George Gershwin
The Zombies were a great British invasion band, particularly in their best songs — She’s Not There, Time of the Season, Tell Her No and Summertime. The original song was an aria written by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics were written by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin by ASCAP. Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has characterized Heyward's lyrics for Summertime and My Man's Gone Now as "the best lyrics in the musical theater." Summertime is one of the most-covered songs in the history of recorded music, with more than 33,000 covers by groups and solo performers.

(Same) Old Lang Syne
Dan Fogelberg
Robert Burns, the Bard of Scotland
This "cover" may be a bit of a stretch, as the two songs only share three words, “Auld/Old Lang Syne,” a few bars from the original song, and similar sentiments. Robert Burns was not only Scotland’s most famous poet and song smith, but he was voted the most important Scot of all time in a nationwide poll conducted by a Scottish TV station. Fogelberg’s song rose to #9 in the American Billboard charts and has since become a holiday classic. After Fogelberg's death from prostate cancer in 2007, the woman mentioned in the song came forward with her story. Her name is Jill Greulich, and she and Fogelberg dated in high school when she was Jill Anderson. As she explained to the Peoria Journal Star in a December 22, 2007 article, they were part of the Woodruff High School class of 1969, but went to different colleges. After college, Jill got married and moved to Chicago, while Dan went to Colorado to pursue music. On December 24, 1976, they were both in Peoria visiting their families for Christmas, when Jill went out for eggnog and Dan was dispatched to find whipping cream for Irish coffee. They met at a convenience store, bought a six pack of beer and drank it in her car for two hours while they talked. Five years later, Jill heard Same Old Lang Syne on the radio while driving to work. Jill says there are two inaccuracies: She has green eyes, not blue, and her husband was not an architect—he was a physical education teacher, and it is unlikely that Fogelberg ever knew his profession. Regarding the line, "She would have liked to say she loved the man, but she didn't like to lie," Jill will not talk about it, but she had divorced her husband by the time the song was released.

I Shot The Sheriff
Eric Clapton
Bob Marley
Other musicians tried to bring reggae to the US, but it wasn’t until Clapton covered this song that Americans really paid attention. It became Clapton’s only #1 single.

Eric Clapton
J. J. Cale
Clapton insists that his version of the song is anti-drug and eventually inserted the lyrics “dirty cocaine” to make that clearer. Although the song peaked at #30 on the US Billboard charts, it became one of his signature songs.

Candle In The Wind
Elton John
Elton John
The best-selling cover song of all time, with more than 30 million units sold, is also a cover by the original artist. Candle In The Wind was released the first time to honor Marilyn Monroe and the second time to honor Princess Diana. It is interesting, in a sad way, that they both died at age 36 in the month of August with cameras pursuing them till the bitter end, and that they always vastly outshone their dorky-looking, fuddy-duddy-ish husbands (Joe Dimaggio. Arthur Miller, Prince Charles).

House Of The Rising Sun
The Animals
Unknown (an old folk classic)
House Of The Rising Sun is an American folk classic, but it became a #1 smash for a British invasion group, the Animals. It is one of the best-selling songs of all time, with more than 8 million units sold.

Bohemian Rhapsody
Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the best-selling songs of all time, with over 6 million units sold, and it has topped the charts three times: in 1976 when it was first released, in 1991 after Freddy Mercury’s death, and in 1992 when it was featured in the movie Wayne’s World. The song is the third-best-selling song in the history of the UK and topped the list in nationwide British poll to find the “The Nation's Favourite Number One” song over the past 60 years.

Bridge Over Troubled Water
Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, The Jackson 5, Willie Nelson, many others
Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel’s version hit #1 on the pop charts. Aretha Franklin’s version hit #1 on the R&B charts and #6 on the pop charts. Elvis Presley recorded the song and performed it often, including at his last concert. When Paul Simon heard Presley’s version, he said, “That’s it, we might as well all give up now.” But I prefer Art Garfunkel’s tender, ethereal solo. The song has more than 6 million unit sales.

Hound Dog
Elvis Presley
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton
Hound Dog became Elvis’s trademark song and one of his greatest hits. His version of the song was ranked #19 all-time by Rolling Stone. The original song was about a fed-up woman and says nothing about catching rabbits.

Ball and Chain
Janis Joplin
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton
“Big Mama” Thornton, an African-American rhythm and blues singer, originally recorded the song Ball and Chain, but the Janis Joplin version is much better-known today.

All Along The Watchtower
Jimi Hendrix
Bob Dylan
All Along The Watchtower is a dark folk tune penned and originally performed by Bob Dylan, which later became an otherworldly Hendrix masterpiece.

Knocking On Heaven’s Door
Eric Clapton, Gun ’n’ Roses
Bob Dylan
Another dark Dylan masterpiece. Clapton’s reggae-flavored version is wonderful, while Axl Rose’s vocals transform impassioned screaming into an art.

Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, K.D. Lang, Jason Castro, Alexandra Burke, many others
Leonard Cohen
Hallelujah is one of those rare songs that seems to inspire singers to outdo themselves. And the better ones keep rising to the task ...

Nothing Compares 2 U
Sinead O’Connor
Prince and The Family
When The Time disbanded, Prince took some of the remaining members and formed The Family. Sinead O’Connor hit a grand slam with her stark, highly emotional cover, which hit #1 in the US and a number of other countries in 1990.

Aretha Franklin
Otis Redding
Respect became Aretha Franklin’s signature song. It won a Grammy and was voted the #5 song of all time by Rolling Stone. But the original version didn’t spell out R-E-S-P-E-C-T and was about a man wanting some “respect” (perhaps a euphemism for sex?) at the end of a hard day’s work. The tired man was willing to give his wife all his hard-earned money, if only she would show him a little “respect.” Aretha Franklin completely turned the tables when she recorded the song on Valentine’s Day in 1967, playing the piano, with her sisters Carolyn and Erma singing backup. Is the song a demand for the respect of sexual attention? Jerry Wexler, who produced the song, said in his autobiography, Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music: "The fervor in Aretha's voice demanded that respect; and more respect also involved sexual attention of the highest order. What else would 'sock it to me' mean?" And the line “Take care, TCB” seems to mean “Take Care of Business” as in “sock it to me.” The “sock it too me” line became a catch phrase of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Franklin's rendition spent two weeks at #1 in the Billboard Pop Singles chart, and eight weeks atop the Billboard Black Singles chart. It also became a hit internationally, reaching #10 in Britain, and helping transform Franklin into an international star. Otis Redding was quoted playfully describing Respect as the song "that little girl done stole from me."

Piece of My Heart
Big Brother and the Holding Company, with Janis Joplin
Erma Franklin.
Originally recorded by Aretha Franklin’s older sister Erma in 1967, the Janis Joplin version came out a year later. When Erma Franklin heard the Joplin cover version on the radio, she didn’t recognize the song she’d taken to the top ten of the U.S. R&B charts. It was that original, in a very raw, very good way.

Me and Bobby McGee
Janis Joplin
Kris Kristofferson.
Kris Kristofferson was a great songwriter and Janis Joplin was an equally great soul singer. Their fusion of country and soul still stands as one of the iconic songs of that era.

Red Red Wine
Neil Diamond
As the story goes, Neil was vacationing in the Caribbean when he first heard UB40’s reggae hit…and didn’t recognize the song he’d written!

I’m A Believer
The Monkees
Neil Diamond
I’m A Believer is one of the best-selling songs of all time, with more than 10 million units sold.

Mad World
Gary Jules, Adam Lambert
Tears For Fears
A slowed-down, stripped-down Gary Jules version was featured in the movie Donnie Darko, but the Adam Lambert version is even sadder and more stunning. .

(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
Elvis Costello
Brinsley Schwarz
Nick Lowe said he began writing the song as a satire of hippie attitudes and platitudes—but somewhere along the line the question became sincere, and rhetorical.

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Elton John
John Lennon
As the story goes, Elton made a bet with Lennon that he could record this song and have a #1 hit with it. John didn’t believe him ... and lost the bet. After it topped the charts, Lennon came out of retirement during Elton’s Madison Square Garden show to perform three songs. Sadly, that would be his last concert performance.

Blinded By The Light
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Bruce Springsteen
Blinded By The Light went to #1 for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1976. (Ironically, the Boss used to perform the Manfred Mann hit Pretty Flamingo in his early concerts.)

I Will Always Love You
Whitney Houston
Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton’s version, which she wrote, was a minor country hit in the 70’s. Dolly re-made the song for the soundtrack of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1982, with a pop flavor. Whitney sang her version in another movie, The Bodyguard and sent it to #1. It is now one of the best-selling singles of all time, with over 12 million units sold.

You’ve Got A Friend
James Taylor
Carole King
You’ve Got A Friend was a #1 hit for James Taylor. He and Carole King were friends and sometimes performed the song together.

The Locomotion
Grand Funk Railroad
Little Eva
Grand Funk’s remake hit #1 in 1973.

The Cure
Lovesong became The Cure’s biggest hit, peaking at #2. 311 put a reggae spin on their cover version.

Last Kiss
J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, Pearl Jam
Wayne Cochran
Wayne Cochran recorded the original version in 1961, but it did not chart. The version by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers reached #2 in 1964. More than 30 years later, Last Kiss became Pearl Jam’s biggest hit single.

If You Don’t Know Me By Now
Simply Red
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
Great song, covered by a great voice. Mick Hucknall drew some much-deserved attention to Teddy Pendergrass with this hit.

Tainted Love
Soft Cell
Gloria Jones
This is another song that falls into the category of "Hey, I didn’t know that was a cover." We have to go all the way back to 1964 for the original. Soft Cell kept their version on the charts for an amazing 43 weeks back in 1982.

Take Me To The River
Talking Heads
Al Green
David Byrne and the Talking Heads gave a New Wave flavor to a classic song by one of the world’s greatest soul singers.

Rolling Stones
When Devo performed its version on Saturday Night Live in 1978, jaws dropped.

Higher Ground
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stevie Wonder
This song put the Peppers on MTV and began a series of hits that would last 20 years.

Get Ready
Rare Earth
The Temptations
Rare Earth had the distinction of being the first white act signed by Motown.

Georgia On My Mind
Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Michael Bolton
Hoagy Carmichael

Proud Mary
Ike & Tina Turner
Creedence Clearwater Revival

La Bamba
Los Lobos
Ritchie Valens

Twist And Shout
The Beatles
The Isley Brothers

Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Israel K, Sam Harris, many other artists
Judy Garland

You Really Got Me
Van Halen
The Kinks

I Heard It Thru The Grapevine
Marvin Gaye
Gladys Knight & The Pips

We Can Work It Out
Stevie Wonder
The Beatles

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
Al Green
The Bee Gees

With A Little Help From My Friends
Joe Cocker
The Beatles

Light My Fire
Jose Feliciano
The Doors

Summer Breeze
The Isley Brothers
Seals & Crofts

Dixie Chicks
Fleetwood Mac

Good Lovin’
Grateful Dead
The Rascals

She’s Not There
The Zombies

Sweet Jane
Cowboy Junkies
Lou Reed

I Thank You
ZZ Top
Sam & Dave

On Broadway
George Benson
The Drifters

Dancin’ Barefoot
Patti Smith Group

To Love Somebody
Rod Stewart
The Bee Gees

Ain’t That A Shame
Cheap Trick
Fats Domino

Under The Boardwalk
John Mellencamp
The Drifters

My Girl
John Hiatt & Loudon Wainwright III
The Temptations (written by Smokey Robinson)

I Fought The Law
The Clash
Bobby Fuller Four

Hard To Handle
The Black Crowes
Otis Redding

Brown Eyed Girl
Jimmy Buffett
Van Morrison

Ooh Baby Baby
Linda Ronstadt
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Hazy Shade Of Winter
The Bangles
Simon & Garfunkel

Wild Horses
The Sundays
Rolling Stones

Sea Of Love
The Honeydrippers with Robert Plant
Phil Phillips

Everybody Knows
Concrete Blonde
Leonard Cohen

Ray LaMontagne
Gnarls Barkley

Little Wing
Sting, The Corrs
Jimi Hendrix
Gordon Sumner (Sting) has recorded the Hendrix songs Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary, Up From The Skies and Little Wing.

Tears Of A Clown
English Beat
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles

Save It For Later
Pete Townshend
English Beat

Working Class Hero
Green Day
John Lennon

Battle Of Evermore
Led Zeppelin

Mercy Mercy Me
Robert Palmer
Marvin Gaye

Crimson And Clover
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Tommy James & The Shondells

Jersey Girl
Bruce Springsteen
Tom Waits

Ziggy Marley
The Cars

Come Together
The Beatles

I Can’t Make You Love Me
George Michael
Bonnie Raitt

Got To Be There
Chaka Khan
Michael Jackson

These Days
Gregg Allman
Jackson Browne

Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime
The Korgis

Dancing Days
Stone Temple Pilots
Led Zeppelin

Where Did Our Love Go
J. Geils Band
The Supremes

Take It Easy
The Eagles
Jackson Browne

Darling Nikki
Foo Fighters

Walk Away Renee
Rickie Lee Jones
The Left Banke

Just My Imagination
Rolling Stones
The Temptations

After The Gold Rush
Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt
Neil Young

Stone Cold Crazy

Cold Sweat
John Mellencamp
James Brown

With Or Without You

Got To Get You Into My Life
Earth Wind & Fire
The Beatles

Don’t Le Me Be Misunderstood
Elvis Costello
The Animals

Summertime Blues
The Who
Blue Cheer

Never Let Me Down Again
Smashing Pumpkins
Depeche Mode

Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon
Urge Overkill
Neil Diamond

Tori Amos
Rolling Stones

Nobody Does It Better
Carly Simon

The HyperTexts