Last but not least, 25 more of the Greatest Cover Songs
Ok here is the last of my list, I could go on and as a matter of fact I will, just not with another set of 25 plus “to infinity and beyond!” I have to say it was easy to come up with more songs to complete the total of 100 as this final list started at 43. But it was very difficult to decide which ones would make the cut, so these last 25 songs became a list with a number of great ones left for another day.
|Downchild Blues Band|
77. So you may guess the next cover is “Shake Rattle and Roll” which is the better known of the pair of songs and covered over twice as many times at 190 versions. The most identified version is by ‘Bill Haley and His Comets‘ released just as Turners was at #1 on the Rhythm & Blues chart in June of 1954. Haleys version was arranged by R&R Hall of Famer, Milt Gabler, who helped to “clean up the lyrics” as they were considered quite ‘racy’ for the times. Gabler and Haley would also make several tempo and instrumental changes making this an early R&R classic. Of note the very first television stage performance given by Elvis Presley in 1956 included a medley of these two (Flip, F&F and Shake, R&R).
78. “Where or When” is an American Classic which has been recorded well over 400 times. The music was written by Richard Rodgers and lyrics written by Lorenz Hart for the Broadway Musical, ‘Babes in Arms’ originally from 1937. The first record release was by Ruby Newman & His Rainbow Room Orch. featuring Ray Heatherton, March 12 1937. Very strangely omitting Mitzi Green who had co-performed the original live performance with Ray just a month earlier. So the question is ‘where or when’ would one go to find the greatest cover with so many to choose from? In my opinion, it surprisingly comes from a Rock and Roll guy, Dion and The Belmonts (1959).
79. “The Way You Look Tonight” first performed in the 1936 movie ‘Swing Time’ by the skilled dancer and singer Fred Astaire. Music written by Jerome Kern and lyrics written by Dorothy Fields, it’s another American Classic and Academy Award winner. Like “Where or When” it’s a part of what is referred to as “The Great American Songbook” which is really now become just a loose definition of “American Standards” and sadly as a trend ended with the popularity of Rock & Roll in the early 1950’s. The first recorded release was by ‘Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians’ in 1936, vocals by Guy’s brother Carmen (a couple boys from my hometown, London Ontario). To choose a ‘greatest’ cover version from over 660 renditions is a daunting task as there are many that are so well done. In 1936 alone there were 9 other recordings including Fred Astaire himself with the Johnny Green Orchestra. When in doubt for American Standards a sure bet for a masterful cover is Frank Sinatra (1964). Not a Frank fan?!!! Let’s go back to 1936 again, Billie Holiday.
80. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” is one of my most coveted ‘covered’ songs. Written by Fred Rose, who if you don’t know the name was not only a prolific songwriter (Hank Williams, Gene Autry and Bob Wills to name a few) he along with Roy Acuff formed the most successful music publishing company in Nashville (Acuff/Rose). Along with Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers he was one of the first three inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame. The first recording was by Elton Britt and The Skytoppers in February of 1947. Covered over 180 times and I have 11 versions in my library. This beautiful refrain was recorded by Rose’s partner Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys (August 1947) who also gave the very first ‘live’ performance on Jan. 28, 1947, so you’ll have to forgive the poster of the Youtube video for mistakenly claiming it was the first ‘recording’ as according to Secondhandsongs it was actually the third chronologically. Having such pedigree and sung by Country Music Royalty, including Hank Williams (1951), where does one get a single greatest cover? A tough call so I go to my favorite and I think quintessential version, Willie Nelson originally released on the ‘Red Headed Stranger’ Album in 1975, and he won a Grammy that year so clearly a few other people like this as well. If this ballad doesn’t melt your heart well then keep listening until it does 💗.
81. “How Long Has This Been Going On” originally recorded by the lovely and sometimes smokey voice of Lee Wiley with Max Kaminsky’s Orchestra (1940). Written by the amazing brothers; the composer George Gershwin and the lyricist Ira Gershwin for the stage production of ‘Rosalie’ which opened in 1928. Another from the ‘American Songbook’ with well over 300 versions. The legendary Canadian Jazz pianist and composer Oscar Peterson recorded it four times; first in 1958 as part of a medley with Stan Getz, then with Louis Armstrong in 1959, also with Sarah Vaughan, Joe Pass, Louie Bellson and Ray Brown in 1978. My favorite cover is from Oscar Peterson with the beautiful and versatile voice of Ella Fitzgerald in 1976. Canada and America together, “been going on” a long time! Speaking of Canadians how about this cover from Holly Cole Trio (2004).
82. “How’s the World Treating You” written by two major stars in the music world Chet Atkins and Boudleaux Bryant and first released in 1953 by the Beaver Valley Sweethearts. Elvis did it in October of 1956. A wonderfully done cover from Alison Krauss & James Taylor (2003).
83. “Baby Now That I’ve Found You” originally recorded by The Foundations in 1967 and was a #1 hit in both their native UK and Canada. Written by Tony Macaulay and John MacLeod. The lead singer was Clem Curtis and it would be his only hit as he was replaced by Colin Young before their next hit “Build Me up Buttercup“. Covered in 2005, once again the remarkable Alison Krauss.
84. “Twist and Shout” covered over 180 times to date it was written by Bert Russell and Phil Medley and recorded by the Top Notes in 1961. Produced by a rookie Phil Spector, it did not chart, but later The Beatles would do more of his productions. Bert Russell (Bertrand Russell Berns also know as Bert Berns) was unhappy with Spectors version so he produced The Isley Brothers in 1962 and it hit #17 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B chart. Then the song hit top 10 around the world (#1 on Cash Box) with The Beatles , who would be the third ones to cover this, based on the Isley’s arrangement it came out in 1963 on the “Please Please Me” album.
85. “When Will I Be Loved” was written by Phil Everly and recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1960. It was a top 10 hit and would be covered nine more times before Linda Ronstadt released a stunning version in 1974, which went to #1 in Canada, US Billboard Hot Country Singles and #2 on the Hot 100.
86. Wishin’ and Hopin’, recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1963 it was released as a ‘B’ side, a beautiful job but it did not chart. Written by the remarkable duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David who encouraged Dusty Springfield to record it, she did so reluctantly yet it turn out to be a hit and chart top ten in 1964 in the US but not in her native UK (it was not popular until much later). Here is Ani DiFranco for the film ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding‘ in 1997 with an extremely well done rendition.
87. “My Girl Sloopy” is another song written by Bert Russell (#84) this time with Wes Farrell and first recorded by The Vibrations in 1964 and charted at #50. Covered two more times including the Yardbirds before a release by The McCoys in July of 1965. This has a very interesting story as The McCoys did not exist until ‘Sloopy’. A group called The Strangeloves (I Want Candy) wanted to beat their touring partners The Dave Clark Five who said they were going to record the song when the got back to the UK. Sharing the stage were ‘Rick and the Raiders’ who provided backup vocals for The Strangeloves at a live concert in Dayton Ohio in July of 1965 singing “My Girl Sloopy”. Lead singer of the Raiders, Rick Zehringer (just turning 17) was flown to New York to provide the vocals for the already recorded music track by The Strangeloves and I believe some session musicians. The result was a reworked version called “Hang On Sloopy” (by the newly named ‘McCoys’ so as not to be confused with Paul Revere & the Raiders) beating the Dave Clark Five and producing a smash #1 hit. So enter the Ohio State Marching Band who first did this on October 9, 1965, just a week after it hit #1 on Billboard and it has pretty much become their Anthem and played at every home game. Apart from the first ‘version’ being played in Ohio, Rick Zehringer who would adopt the stage name Rick Derringer was born and raised in Ohio.
88. “You Don’t Know Me” is a tune that I thought was an original from Ray Charles (1962), so let’s get this out of the way, it’s the bestest cover! At well over 260 versions the original was released in 1956 by the Country hit producing Eddy Arnold, he gave the title and storyline to Cindy Walker who wrote the words and music. Mickey Gilley had a #1 Country chart hit with this in 1981.
89. “Sea of Heartbreak” was a #2 Country chart hit in 1961 for the accomplished Don Gibson. Written by the multi talented (singer, actor, lyricist and writer) Paul Hampton and Hal David. Hampton often collaborated with the aforementioned and Burt Bacharach. This song was on a list of 100 that Johnny Cash gave his daughter Rosanne at the age of 18. Johnny who would do this in 1996, deemed this list essential to Country Music and would lead to an album by Rosanne aptly named “The List” released in 2009. Here is her cover accompanied by Bruce Springsteen, what can I say other than this is an amazing version.
90. “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” (1952) by Kitty Wells, written by J.D. Miller (originally written by William Warren and Arlie A. Carter). Often credited as an original it was first recorded by Al (Alice) Montgomery earlier that same year so Kitty was actually the fourth woman to record this song. Her version was the first for a female Country solo act to hit #1(for six weeks) on the Country charts and #27 on the Billboard Hot 100. Yet these ‘racy’ lyrics got it banned by the Grand Ole Opry.
Written as an “answer song” (a popular thing in the 40’s and 50’s) to “The Wild Side of Life” written by William Warren and Arlie A. Carter, giving the female side of the original storyline. ‘Wild Side’ was released early in 1952 and immediately covered by Hank Thompson and it became a huge hit reaching #1 (15 weeks), yet unlike the Kitty Wells version it did not cross over and chart on the Billboard Hot 100. Both are based on a melody traced back to the 1920’s and 30’s. These tunes launched the careers of both artists, and the movie ‘Crazy Heart’ with Jeff Bridges is from a book based on Thompson. Combined these have been covered about 80 times. Dolly Parton covered this in 1963 and again in 1993 (with Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Kitty Wells).
For my money the best version is from Terri Clark, born in Montreal August 5, 1968, raised in Medicine Hat and from a long line of musicians, she was determined to make it as a Country singer. She saved her money working in a Chinese Food Restaurant and moved to Nashville in 1987 almost right after High School. Two #1 hit songs, 26 charted singles and 11 albums later she still lives in Nashville.
91. “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones is actually a cover. It was written and performed by Jesse Harris (& The Ferdinandos) in 1999. Jones version, released in 2001 would only reach #30 on Billboard’s Hot 100. In fact it was not even in the top 100 year end songs for 2001 yet hung around and hit #97 for the year end in 2003. Quite remarkably yet not undeserved it went on to win three Grammy Awards in 2003; Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
92. “Move It On Over” written and recorded in 1947 by the legend Hank Williams. This was Williams first big crossover hit reaching #4 on the Billboard Singles chart. Containing some rudimentary pre-Rock and Roll elements it’s tailor made for rockin’ out and that’s exactly what George Thorogood does on his version from 1978. Can you say ‘awesome’!!!
93. “Love Hurts” gets fine treatment by a band well known for rockin’ out, though on this one Nazareth goes ‘all ballad’. Another appearance from songwriter Boudleaux Bryant on my list, it was written for the Everly Brothers (1960). Also sung by the amazing Roy Orbison and a staple in the repertoire of the very talented Emmylou Harris.
94. “Cryin’ Time” was written by Buck Owens in 1964. Released as a ‘B’ side it did not chart yet has become a Country Classic. However the songs success comes from the first to cover it in 1965 and titled “Crying Time“, Ray Charles with some fine backing by The Raelettes, would have another top 10 hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. It would garner two Grammy Awards in 1967. Covered over 145 times by artists from many genres, but it comes back to it’s Country roots with this very fine version by Dwight Yoakam (2007) from the album ‘Dwight Sings Buck’.
95. “Fever” is written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, first recorded by Little Willie John in 1956 who topped the R&B charts and went to #24 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Peggy Lee would be the fifth artist to cover this and her 1958 rendition with altered lyrics and musical arrangement is perhaps the most well known version. It hit top 10 on charts around the world and became Lee’s signature tune that was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 1959.
96. “Let’s Get Together” was written by Chet Powers under his stage name of Dino Valenti. That clip was recorded in January of 1966 but it was not released until 1994. The first release was almost two years earlier by the Kingston Trio in May of 1964 and was not issued as a single but it was a regular song in their live performances. Since then it’s been recorded by some very big name artists such as David Crosby, Jefferson Airplane and The Staple Singers, it is perhaps best known by ‘The Youngbloods’ who had a minor hit with it in 1967. Labeled with the shortened title of “Get Together” their beautifully harmonized version would reach #5 in 1969 after a re-release, thanks to being used in a radio Public Service Announcement for the National Conference of Christians and Jews it was given a second chance.
97. “La Bamba” is by the amazing Ritchie Valens. Written by Valens and sung in Spanish it’s based on the story and melody of a Traditional Mexican folk song called “El jarabe veracruzano”, here is a recording from 1939, “La bamba” by El Jarocho. Valens version is the only non-english language song (#345) on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs. Los Lobos re-recorded it in 1987 for the movie ‘La Bamba‘ Their version hit #1 and finished the year at #11 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
98. The Wailers, “I Shot the Sheriff” (1973) was written by the unforgettable talent, Bob Marley. As they began ‘The Wailers’ were Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer (Neville O’Riley Livingston) in 1963. Cherry Smith, Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso were added later that year as singers and the band was soon billed as ‘Bob Marley and The Wailers’, they would add and subtract some members but the biggest shake-up would come when Bunny and Peter made their departure in 1974. “I Shot the Sheriff” was on the Burnin’ album which also included “Get Up, Stand Up”. Of course the most successful version was the cover by Eric Clapton, released in 1974. Clapton’s version hit #1 on Charts in the US, New Zealand and Canada with many other top tens around the world. Though the song was never nominated for a Grammy it did end up being added to Clapton’s list of over 20, this one was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003 in the category of “Historical/Lasting Rock Single”.
99. “After Midnight” was written and recorded (as a single) by the influential, understated and underrated artist J. J. Cale in 1966. Cale was an Oklahoma boy who was at the forefront of the ‘Tulsa Sound’ which includes Leon Russell, David Gates, Elvin Bishop and devotee Eric Clapton. Eric Clapton would cover several of Cale’s songs and helped bring him to a wider audience. Claptons cover was released in 1970 on the album ‘Eric Clapton’.
100. I’ll finish the 100 Greatest Covers Songs posts with another Clapton rendition of a J.J. Cale song, “Cocaine” released in 1977, not long after Cales original from the fall of 1976. Like “After Midnight” it is one that many believe to be an Eric Clapton original. Also like “After Midnight” it was not a big chart success for Clapton and it only appears on the Album ‘Slowhand’ which is considered a Rock Classic and is at #324 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time, hence the heavy airplay. While Clapton has too many recognizable songs to mention, “Cocaine” has surely become one of his signature tunes. Here is a clip of Cale and Clapton together from a live performance.
101. La Vie en rose (Cover or not a Cover)
This is one of those songs that gets overlooked on ‘lists’ of all time great songs, in the US in particular. It’s also a song that I debated on adding to this list of Cover Songs, hence the #101 position. While Piaf wrote the lyrics to the song “La vie en rose” the music was composed by her oft collaborator Marguerite Monnot. Though it’s not clear to me what extent Louis Guglielmi (Louiguy) played beyond copyrighting the song but it left Monnot off of the credits. Not that Louiguy did not have the musical chops for composition as later his melody was taken to the #1 spot on Billboard with Perez Prado’s “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom Red”. It’s a bit fuzzy surrounding Piaf’s ability to register copyright with SACEM which was and still is the professional artists/songs registrar or the French equivalent of BMI or ASCAP. Officially Louiguy would be entitled to a share of the royalties, which given the popularity of the song would be substantial. Anyway I’m getting off track a bit here. As her advisors at the time said the song, which was originally titled “Les choses en rose” was a non-starter, Piaf first offered it to singer Marianne Michel who recorded it in 1945 and she made a crucial change in the original placement of the wording – “les choses” (“things”) for “la vie” (“life”). The song however was not much of a hit for Michel.
This revised title was very appropriate as the song itself was inspired by the Bordello/Nightclub called La Vie en rose where Piaf sang as early as 1943. She began to perform the song in her live shows there and elsewhere in 1946 and it became an audience favorite, she would be the next to record it in 1947, so technically her rendition of her own song is a cover. This song was released 14 years into her career of dozens of recordings but it soon became her signature song and an international hit. In 1950 there were seven different English translations that hit the Billboard Chart. A feat that had never been accomplished nor has it since. According to Secondhandsongs.com, in 2019 they had accounted for 320 versions of this song of love and happiness, the total as of March 2022 is over 680. I believe the first english version is by Bing Crosby (1950) and some great covers by Yves Montand (1967), Grace Jones (1977), Michael Bublé featuring Cécile McLorin Salvant (2018) and seemingly the most popular version ever on YouTube at over 63 million views is by Daniela Andrade from Montreal.
I know this is a long winded post but just another comment before I close. Some of the originals and covers on this list(s) from #1 to 100 did enjoy a huge amount of sales and ‘chart’ success. Some are from plays and movies. But many were not ‘chart’ toppers, yet somehow they outlasted other tunes more popular at the time, not only to be instantly recognizable but more righty appreciated as legitimate works of art. Why do some songs get re-recorded a hundred or even a thousand times and yet we only know two or three versions? Yet others top the charts and are forgotten in just a few short years. And how does something written (for or by) and then recorded, from an otherwise obscure artist make its way into the lasting limelight? These and other questions are part of the mystic of the ‘cover song’ and it’s what keeps me writing. Thanks for reading.
References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, Secondhandsongs.com, grammy.com , billboard.com, variety.com, and “Cover Me” by Ray Padgett,
References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, Secondhandsongs.com, “to infinity and beyond!” from Toy Story said by Buzz, Woody et al.
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