We’ve learned of several amazing cover songs by our favourite artists via our Music Minute and Way Back Wednesday segments but which of those tunes is truly the greatest of all? Enter this week’s Flaming Feature as we countdown updated versions of hits that have become classics in their own right and in some cases, even overshadowed the originals!
Whitney Houston’s octave-warbling rendition of “I Will Always Love You” cemented her place as a global superstar but is it really the best cover of all time? Were Ike & Tina Turner bold enough to shimmy pass the competition and top the list? Check out the lineup of the greatest cover songs below to find out:
10. Johnny Cash – “Hurt”
In 2003, Johnny Cash was in the twilight of his career and was largely unknown to young music fans whose favourite artists included ‘N Sync and Britney Spears. However, when the Country and Rock & Roll legend covered Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” during the last year of his life, he became an unlikely icon for the MTV generation.
Cash’s interpretation of “Hurt” was almost as haunting and emotional as its accompanying video, which depicted scenes from his tumultuous life. His death seven months after the release of the song made his rendition even more memorable as it became a chilling tale of his final moments. By the way, Cash’s wife June, who also appeared in the “Hurt” video, also passed away that year.
9. Patti LaBelle – “Over the Rainbow”
The Academy Award-winning “Over the Rainbow” instantly propelled Judy Garland into the history books as an icon of both film and song when she performed it in the standout scene of The Wizard of Oz. So, just imagine how difficult it would be for any artist to rival such a highly respected composition. Well, any artist except Patti LaBelle.
With a mix of Gospel and Soul, LaBelle revamped “Over the Rainbow” and made the song the centre piece of her concerts. Instead of the a little girl’s plea for a brighter day, LaBelle’s version of the “Over the Rainbow” was a gut-wrenching cry for salvation and earned her standing ovations on every stage imaginable as a clear testament of her talent.
8. Peggy Lee – “Fever”
Peggy Lee was never a fan of over the top vocal gymnastics or contrived melodrama. Rather, her trademarks were her subtle phrasing and unique tone, and both were brilliantly showcased on her cover of Little Willie John’s R&B hit “Fever” in 1958.
However, unlike the original, Peggy’s “Fever” was distinctly Jazz and the altered lyrics added a special twist to the already catchy tune, which peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. Dozens of artists, including Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and Sarah Vaughan, have since covered “Fever” but none have captured the essence of Peggy’s natural, nonchalant sex appeal on the track.
7. Mariah Carey – “Without You”
Although she prefers to write her own music, Mariah Carey has proven on many occasions that she can do just to almost any song. One of the best examples of that was her cover of Badfinger’s “Without You” (circa Harry Nilsson), which propelled her from US star to a force on the global charts.
Released in 1994, Carey’s “Without You” became her first #1 song on the Official UK Singles Chart and remains a staple on the talent show circuit almost two decades later. The diva’s interpretaron of the song was dark and emotional, and she captured the meaning of the lyrics by singing her chilling lower register. No wonder Carey prefers to cover songs by male artists. She is one of the few females who can match them note for note.
6. Etta James – “At Last”
Here is one of several songs on this list that you may not have known was a cover: Etta James’ “At Last”. Originally appearing in the musical Orchestra Wives as performed by Glenn Miller’s orchestra, Ray Eberle and Pat Friday, “At Last” was already quite popular on the Billboard Pop chart where it peaked at #2 in 1952.
James, however, made “At Last” a classic that has stood the test of time as the theme song of weddings and corny movie scenes. Her rendition of the track was so great that it was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999. You’d never guess that James’ cover only peaked at #47 on the Billboard Hot 100.
5. Nina Simone – “Feeling Good”
Forget Jennifer Hudson’s overbearing cover of the Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse-penned “At Last” because Nina Simone did it best. The song appeared on legend’s classic I Put a Spell on You album in 1965 and has since replaced the Cy Grant original as the standard.
Simone recorded several covers during her lifetime but as a result of Hudson’s Weight Watchers campaign, her Blues meets Jazz take on “Feeling Good” has regained popularity in the media. Thankfully, most talent show contestants follow Simone’s arrangement instead of bellowing the lyrics as if hungry for a Happy Meal.
4. Ella Fitzgerald – “Summertime”
“Summertime” is one of the most covered songs of all time but nobody has come remotely close to matching the pitch-perfect greatness of Ella Fitzgerald’s version. The tune first appeared in the Porgy & Bess Opera production of 1935 but when the First Lady of Song put her spin on it in 1957, it became a favourite on the Jazz circuit.
Several singers, such as Fantasia, Leona Lewis and Chaka Khan, credit Fitzgerald as an influence on their careers and they often cover her version of “Summertime” as tribute. Yet, regardless of how well they perform the song, none have surpassed her “original.”
3. Ike & Tina Turner – “Proud Mary”
Another cover song to add to your list of shockers is Ike & Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”. The famous tune was first released as a single by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969 but when Ike, who was one of the founding fathers of Rock & Roll, applied his genius to the composition in 1971, it became popular for a completely different reason than being just another catchy song.
Ike brought the music and Tina brought the energy, and together they scored their biggest hit as a duo with “Proud Mary”. The duo performed the song everywhere and Tina became increasingly popular for her incredible routines as well as her bold vocal performances, which have been imitated by drag queens in every major city across the globe.
2. Whitney Houston – “I Will Always Love You”
As part of our Way Back Wednesday subseries earlier this month, I asked you to name Whitney Houston’s signature song and “I Will Always Love You” won by a landslide of votes. However, similar to 99% of the late songbird’s discography, the record was actually written and even previously recorded by someone else.
Dolly Parton first released “I Will Always Love You” as a single in 1974 but her pleasant Country version of the song was swept away and drowned in the sea of Houston’s massive vocal range less than two decades later in 1992. The latter’s cover dominated the Billboard Hot 100 for fourteen weeks and for better or worse, became her signature song. Indeed, the popularity of Houston’s version was bittersweet because when she was unable to hit the notes in the final years of her life and it served as a reminder of how far she had fallen from grace.
1. Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
How many singers on this list can say that they turned a lukewarm hit into an anthem for entire generations of minority groups, specifically women and people of colour? Aretha Franklin covered Otis Redding’s “Respect” in 1967 and gave the Civil Rights Movement a much needed soundtrack as its members marched for political, cultural and social change.
The Queen of Soul demanded R-E-S-P-E-C-T and she got it from audiences around the world when it peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as #10 on the Official UK Singles Chart. Franklin’s “Respect” was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award (1987) and inducted into the US National Recording Registry by the Library on Congress. Not too shabby, huh?
What is the greatest cover of all time? What is the best tune from those listed above? What song was missing? Vote in our poll and share your opinion!