The 2021 Update of the Most Covered Pop Songs and Artists of All Time

The 2021 Update of the Most Covered Songs and Artists of All Time

I have three categories in today’s blog: 1. The most covered songs written by a single artist, 2. The most cover versions combined and 3. The most covered Pop songs.  These numbers are for artists that write and record their own songs. For more on songwriters, read my series I Write the Songs. The statistics come courtesy of Secondhandsongs.com and are verified via strict protocols. This website posts ‘covers’ submitted from around the globe and in many different languages, edited by very knowledgeable experts in music recording. There are other resources as cited but other than the odd personal anecdote or opinion, I’m using information and knowledge, not to mention YouTube posts that already exist. In addition, the numbers change daily, I had originally written this blog in December 2019 so it’s been interesting to see the changes over two years. On the whole, the artists in each list mostly stayed the same but may have shuffled positions. The information in this blog is from statistics collected on or around Oct. 8, 2021.

The most covered songs written by a single recording artist

Here are the Top 10 Artists with the most individual song titles (that they have authored) which have been covered by other artists:
1. Bob Dylan: 352 songs
2. Paul McCartney: 331 songs
3. John Lennon: 244 songs
4. David Bowie: 220 songs
5. Frank Zappa: 208 songs
6. Tom Waits: 196 songs
6. Mick Jagger: 186 songs
7. Keith Richards: 186 songs
8. Bruce Springsteen: 186 songs
9. Stevie Wonder: 179 songs
10.   Carole King: 175 songs
I checked to see who was next. It’s Neil Young with 174 covered songs and Brian Wilson with 164.
Just to point out the writers on the above list may have written more songs, so some are either not covered, covered but not documented and/or they may have songs not yet recorded by themselves or others. In general most songs don’t get recorded by another singer at all, but it just so happens these singer songwriters are so popular that a large portion of their songs, sometimes 100% continue to be remade.

The most cover versions combined 

Top 10 total number of all cover versions of songs recorded (written by individual Pop Recording Artist(s) of any songs they have written, including instrumental covers). Comparing totals from 2020 to 2021, the top 10 remain the same but Carole King moved from #5 to #7.
1. John Lennon: 17,606 to 20,163 (top solo song “Imagine” – 509 versions)
2. Paul McCartney: 17,422 to 19,999
         (top solo song “Wonderful Christmastime” – 110 versions)
3. Bob Dylan: 6,196 to 6,679 (“Blowin’ in the Wind” – 378)
4. Stevie Wonder: 3,188 to 3,599 (“You Are the Sunshine of My Life” -310)
5. Keith Richards: 2,845 to 3,278 ((I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction-351)
6. Mick Jagger: 2,840 to 3,267 ((I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction-351)
7. Carole King: 2,883 to 3,188 (“You’ve Got a Friend” – 388)
8. Hank Williams: 2,710 to 3,164 (“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”-306)
9. Paul Simon: 2,665 to 3,133 (“Bridge over Troubled Water”-584)
10. David Bowie: 2,505 to 2807 (“Space Oddity”-263)
I checked to see who would be next in line and the numbers there have changed quite a bit since my research in 2020. The following artists represent numbers 11-17 (again just for pop artists): Elton John with 2511, Barry Gibb with 2341, Joni Mitchell with 2264, George Harrison with 2192, Robin Gibb 2100, Willie Dixon with 2043 and moving out of the top 100 including all genres to 101 is Chuck Berry with 2025 but still at #17 for pop artists.
As you can see there a number of record makers that appear on both Top 10 lists which include the 160 songs credited as John Lennon and Paul McCartney that were written and recorded while in The Beatles. As with Jagger and Richards, it includes the approximately 170 songs they wrote together with The Rolling Stones. Carole King wrote nearly 100 songs with Gerry Goffin that were recorded by dozens and dozens of artists, additionally they shared writing credits with other songwriters. Even though Dylan did co-write some songs, he has written virtually all of his own songs as a solo songwriter.

The most covered Pop singles

This list doesn’t focus on the author, but you can see that several songs were written by the artist(s) themselves.
1. “Yesterday” Covered 1,009 times, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney
2. “Eleanor Rigby” Covered 633 times, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney
3. “Bridge over Troubled Water” Covered 584 times, written by Paul Simon
4. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” * Covered 555 times, written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach
5. “Fever”  Covered 528 times, written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, originally sung by Little Willie John.
6/7. It’s still a tie a year later, Can’t Help Falling in Love“* & “Michelle” Covered 522 times, written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss / Covered 522 times, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney
8. “Something” Covered 519 times, written by George Harrison
9. “Unchained Melody” * Covered 515 times, written by Hy Zaret and Alex North
10. “Hey Jude” covered 508 times, and as all songs were, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney. This song was #13 last year at 441 covers and replaces “The Look of Love” which drops out of the top 10 to #16.
More notable pop songs coming in just after the top ten are:  11. “Love Me Tender“, a 1956 release by Elvis Presley; covered 501 times, written by Ken Darby and based on the song “Aura Lee” from 1881 written by George Poulton and W.W. Fosdick. By The Beatles, 12. “Let it Be“, covered 501 times, written by Paul McCartney, 13. “Imagine” written and recorded (post Beatles) by John Lennon covered 497 times, 14. “Here, There and Everywhere” by The Beatles at 496, 15. “And I Love Her” by The Beatles at 490 times, 16. “The Look of Love“, covered 483 times, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and 17. “God Bless the Child” covered 471 times, written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.
*These three songs (4, 6 and 9) and for that matter #17 are over 50 years old and were not written as “pop” songs per se, but over time they were recorded by ‘modern’ Popular Artists and therefore reached a wider audience. They all would have appeared on music charts at some time, such as Billboard’s Hot 100. The links refer to the most well-known versions. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” though based on a melody from “Plaisir d’amour” composed by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini in 1784, it is otherwise considered an original song. Released by Elvis in 1961 and as noted above written by the well known George David Weiss (What a Wonderful World) with Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore. The trio also wrote a childhood favorite of mine by the Tokens, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” also from 1961. This was the first english translation of a South African Zulu song that has a long story, so another day I will talk about Solomon Linda’s 1939 Isicathamiya style song “Mbube”, that became “Wimoweh” that became “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.

The Beatles songs, covers and more

Still holding in 2021, the only artists that appear on all three lists are John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It’s quite remarkable that from last year The Beatles (or it’s members) have moved from having 7 of the top 15 songs to 9 of the top 15. Pop music aside, based on a combination of every cover song list, Lennon and McCartney are still extending their lead ahead of all music composers such as Richard Rogers, the Gershwin’s, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington. Last year I said “I can’t “imagine” they will ever be surpassed” and so far it’s been proven to be true. Since last October (2020), their numbers increased and these songs; “Blackbird” at 468 versions, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” at 426 and “Come Together” at 411 covers have all moved into the top 30 Pop song list and into the top 150 most covered songs (all genre) of all time. We shall see if next year The Beatles (and it’s members) songs will (very likely) continue their trend of moving up the list.
The Beatles/members now account for 20 of the top 30 most covered ‘Pop’ songs of all time.
 
That above statement says a lot about how The Beatles music continues to be relevant to so many people. However in most countries the population responsible for making them popular is aging, so what will happen to their music in another 25 years? While I believe that cover songs are a strong metric that demonstrates popularity (among recording artists themselves in particular) and the enduring quality of the music, other measurements have to come into play as well.
If we look at the The Beatles/members remarkable showing in cover songs as noted above, how to they fair when it come to sales and streaming? They are still at #1 for record sales and since very few people buy actual records anymore (despite the vinyl revival) and with digital singles downloads being the predominant manner of purchasing music, it will be hard to top them. The last Beatle songs came out in 1970 and the strongest solo efforts from Lennon, McCartney (excluding collaborations with Kanye and Rihanna etc) and Harrison all came out shortly thereafter, so we have had 50 years of music and and ample opportunity for someone to surpass them.
As the 45 rpm record cut into album sales, and CD’s killed vinyl records by 1989, Streaming in turn killed the CD. Streaming of course has changed the music landscape in so many other ways. Historical “apples to apples” comparisons are hard to make. Even the Billboard rankings are heavily skewed toward Streaming numbers. Having said that these are the new metrics we have to gage the popularity of songs. Music is now more accessible than at anytime in history. If we look at the leading Streamer Spotify (launched in 2006), by 2015 they had 77 million users, in 2021 that has grown to 365 million. We also have Apple Play at 77 million users, and Youtube and Soundcloud are not far behind.
How can you rationally compare Ed Sheeran’s single “Shape of You” which still tops the all time Streaming charts at 2.9 billion to The Beatles “claimed sales” (an industry term) at 600 million?
I know it can be a little tedious to be constantly hearing about who is the best artist of all time, the top sellers, the most streamed etc. Not to mention a bloggers incessant references to the Fab Four! However here are a few Streaming numbers for The Beatles/members songs.
At #1 we have “Here Comes the Sun” (Abbey Road in 1969, written/lead by George Harrison) on all platforms has accumulated over 714 million streams, in 2015 it was the third most popular Beatles song. On Spotify alone we have “Come Together”- 451 million, “Let it Be”- 404 million, “Imagine” by John Lennon has over 390, “Yesterday” at 361 and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” at 321 million. Nielsen ratings put The Beatles ahead of Queen and Imagine Dragons (top single) for the most streamed Rock songs in the first half of 2020. In 2019 alone The Beatles songs collectively exceeded 1.7 Billion streams. The movie Yesterday in 2019 saw Patel’s version get over 4,000 sales the week of July 13 and over 2.3 million streams. That year The Beatles placed 6 songs on the Hot Rock Top 20 streaming chart.
Keep in mind that these stats (with the acception of the Yesterday movie) do not include the many versions of The Beatles songs that are covered and streamed every day, week and year. Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” has over 117 million streams on Spotify alone and there is  “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by Elton John, “Come Together” by Aerosmith/Run DMC, “Got to Get You into My Life” by Earth, Wind and Fire, Richie Havens’ version of “Here Comes the Sun” and many more hits that all continue to post, albeit modest numbers.
 
Note, all song statistics are by Secondhandsongs.com and may conflict with other available data and or lists. For example JoniMitchell.com lists the song she wrote and recorded “Both Sides Now” as being covered over 1200 times, where Secondhandsongs.com currently lists only 417 versions (originally recorded by Judy Collins). Keeping in mind that while I believe they are accurate, the Joni Mitchell numbers come from a small team solely dedicated to researching her songs, whereas Secondhandsongs.com  is currently listing 173,617 artists, 121,828 original songs and 1,079,869 covers as of October 8, 2021. To maintain a consistent and level playing field and quite frankly save myself 100’s of hours of research to verify individual artists, I use SecondhandSongs.com which is the most reliable information I have found.
Trivia Question. Although all songs were credited to Lennon/McCartney, who was the main composer on the most Beatles songs?
Answer. John Lennon at 73 songs, Paul McCartney was on 70 and the two share close to 50/50 on 17 other songs. George Harrison managed to squeeze in 22 songs and Ringo got just 2!. The balance of what they recorded were cover versions. For some slightly different numbers and a detailed statistical analysis check out this interesting link, “John or Paul? Data Resolves the Age Old “Who was the #1 Beatle” Question“.
All of The Beatles songs (referenced above) have been clearly identified as 100% (or very close to that) as written by either John or Paul, verified by their own statements.
References; 123456789101112
Images: 1

Originally edited by Richelle Dafoe, revised October 15, 202

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