Cover songs often end up being far more popular than the original recordings. For instance, the 1981 cover of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts is a firm favorite around the world, even though it first hit the charts in 1975 after it was originally recorded by British band, The Arrows.
“Make You Feel My Love” was written by Bob Dylan but was released first by Billy Joel under the title “To Make You Feel My Love” in 1997. Dylan’s version appeared on his album, Time Out of Mind, later that same year. To date, the song has been covered by more than 450 singers, with Adele’s version arguably getting the most attention.
On this list are some original recordings that led to success for those who covered it later.
10 “The First Cut Is The Deepest”- P.P. Arnold
“The First Cut Is The Deepest” became a big cover hit for Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow, among others, in 1977 and 2003 respectively. It was written by Cat Stevens in 1967 and appeared on his New Masters album in December that year. The song was however, originally released by P.P. Arnold in May 1967. She reached No 18 on the UK Singles Chart and her version was used many years later on the soundtrack of the 2012 film, Seven Psychopaths. Arnold also enjoyed success in the UK with her version of “Angel of the Morning.”
While the Stewart and Crow versions are the most recognizable and popular today, there is something very good to be said about the Arnold original which features strings, horns, and a harpsichord.
9 “Lady Marmalade”- Labelle
Christina Aguilera, Lil’Kim, Mya, and P!nk recorded the quintessential 2000s song, “Lady Marmalade” in 2001 for the film, Moulin Rouge. Their version was a hit, staying at number on the Billboard Hot 100 for 5 weeks and reaching number one on the UK charts. Before this, girl group All Saints, recorded their version in 1998 and it peaked at number one on the UK Singles Chart.
“Lady Marmalade” was written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan and was recorded by R&B group Labelle in 1974. The lyrics were inspired by Crewe’s personal experiences in New Orleans as well as the sex workers in the area. The song stayed at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for a week and their version was selected by the Library of Congress in 2021 to be preserved in the National Recording Registry.
8 “Suspicious Minds”- Mark James
Elvis Presley will forever be associated with “Suspicious Minds.” Presley recorded the song in 1969 and it was credited with being one of the tracks that revived his popularity in the US. It was also his last number one single in America. In 1986, the band Fine Young Cannibals, recorded their version of the song in honor of Presley. Vocalist, Roland Gift, said that Presley had appeared to him in a dream and told him that the band would record the greatest version ever of the song. Their cover became a Top 40 hit in many countries around the world and was used on the soundtracks of three 80s movies.
“Suspicious Minds” was written by songwriter Mark James in 1968 and he recorded the original version as well. Sadly, his version was a commercial failure.
7 “Kaw-Liga”- Hank Williams
While staying at a cabin alongside Lake Martin in central Alabama, country star Hank Williams wrote the lyrics to “Kaw-Liga” which tells the story of a wooden Indian who falls in love with an India maid in an antique store. Kowaliga is a lakeside community in Alabama, so named after a legendary Indian who had a wooden statue erected near the lake in his honor. Williams could see the statue from his cabin and was inspired to write the now infamous lyrics.
“Kaw-Liga” was recorded during Williams’ final recording session in September 1952 and was released posthumously in January 1953. It remained at number one on the Billboard Country chart for fourteen weeks. A host of other artists covered the song, most notably Charley Pride whose live version made it to number 3 on the Country Singles chart in 1969. Williams’ son, Hank Williams Jr. also recorded a cover in 1980 and performed it live with Johnny Cash during a TV special.
6 “Last Kiss”- Wayne Cochran
In 1999, Pearl Jam’s version of “Last Kiss” made it to number two in the US and Canada, which made it the band’s highest charting single in both these countries. Vocalist Eddie Vedder discovered an old record of the song and the band performed it live a few times in 1998 before it was recorded.
The original version was recorded by Wayne Cochran in 1961 but failed to ignite the charts. He re-recorded the song under a different recording label in 1963, but it was only truly revived when it was covered by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers and later Pearl Jam.
5 “Big Yellow Taxi”- Joni Mitchell
In 2002, Counting Crows released a cover of the song “Big Yellow Taxi” with backing vocals provided by Vanessa Carlton. It ranked in the top 5 of three different Billboard listings and became Counting Crows’ only top twenty single in the UK. The song was also featured in the romantic comedy, Two Weeks Notice.
“Big Yellow Taxi” was originally written, composed, and recorded by singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell in 1970 and became a hit in Canada, Australia, and the UK. She didn’t have much luck in the US, but a live version of the song recorded in 1974 was slightly more popular, peaking at number 24. She became inspired to write the lyrics to the song during her first trip to Hawaii. When she woke up in the hotel on the first morning after being taken there by a taxi, she gazed out the window at the mountains in the distance. As she looked down however, she saw a massive parking lot which to her seemed like a ‘blight on paradise.’
4 “All Along The Watchtower”- Bob Dylan
In January 1968, The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded “All Along The Watchtower” in London. The song was re-recorded, overdubbed and some parts wiped for months until it was finally released as a single in September 1968. It became Jimi Hendrix’s highest ranking single in the US. The Hendrix version also features in dozens of films including Watchmen and Forest Gump.
“All Along The Watchtower” was written and originally recorded by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and first appeared on his John Wesley Harding album in 1967. He subsequently recorded different versions of the song for four different albums.
3 “Blue Suede Shoes”- Carl Perkins
“Blue Suede Shoes” is another song that is synonymous with the legendary Elvis Presley. He recorded it in 1956 as the opening track of his debut album and also performed it on national television. His version of the song was certified as a gold record by the RIAA in 1999.
This popular song was written and recorded by Carl Perkins in 1955. It reached number 2 on the Cashbox Best Selling Singles chart and hung around for 16 weeks. Johnny Cash is said to have provided the inspiration for the lyrics, after he told Perkins about an airman who had referred to the shoes worn by military regulation airmen as “blue suede shoes.” The airman also mentioned that no one was to step on or scuff the shoes.
2 “Mad World”- Tears for Fears
In 2001, the song “Mad World” was covered and released by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews for the film Donnie Darko. It formed part of the 2002 CD containing the film’s soundtrack but was released as a single due to popular demand. The song became the Christmas number one in the UK in December 2003 and remained on the UK Singles Chart for three weeks.
British band Tears for Fears originally recorded the song in 1982 and it became their first chart hit, reaching number three on the UK Singles Chart and the Top 40 in many countries. Songwriter, Roland Orzabal, was 19 when he became inspired by the Duran Duran song “Girls on Film” and wrote the lyrics to “Mad World.”
1 “Hallelujah”- Leonard Cohen
Songwriter, John Cale, put his own spin on the now-iconic song “Hallelujah” in the early 90s which in turn inspired Jeff Buckley to record his own version. The Buckley version appeared on his album Grace in 1994 and was re-released as a single in 2007, a decade after Buckley’s death. Most of the song’s success came after Buckley’s death, as it only started charting in 2006. In 2014, this version of the song was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
“Hallelujah” was first recorded by Leonard Cohen who also wrote the lyrics. It was included on his Various Positions album in 1984, but Cohen had little success with it. It remains his most famous composition, however. The song has since been covered by over 300 artists.