The 2022 Update of the Most Covered Songs and Artists of All Time
I have added some streaming numbers to this issue and increased the most covered singles list to 20 songs. 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 three years. On the whole, the major artists in each list mostly stayed the same but may have shuffled positions. Keeping in mind the people on these lists are among the most important and iconic Singer-Songwriters of all time and recognized around the world. Having said that I certainly acknowledge there are many legendary international artists not included as the focus here for the most part is on Western and English speaking artists. The information in this blog is from statistics collected on or around Sept 4, 2022.
There is a more recent update of this post for 2023.
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: Listed as 2021/2022
1. Bob Dylan: 352/357 songs
2. Paul McCartney: 331/341 songs
3. John Lennon: 244/269 songs
4. David Bowie: 220/220 songs
5. Frank Zappa: 208/209 songs
6. Tom Waits: 196/198 songs
7. Bruce Springsteen: 186/194 songs
8a. Keith Richards: 186/188 songs
8b. Mick Jagger: 186/187 songs
9. Stevie Wonder: 179/181 songs
10. Carole King: 175/181 songs
I checked to see who was next. It’s Neil Young still at 174 covered songs and Brian Wilson with 164/168.
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, hence the increasing numbers.
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 2021 to 2022 the top 10 remain the same but Carole King and HanK Williams switched spots.
1. John Lennon: 20,163 to 21,934 (top solo song “Imagine” – over 500 versions)
2. Paul McCartney: 19,999 to 21,659
(top solo song “Wonderful Christmastime” – over 100 versions)
3. Bob Dylan: 6,679 to 7250 (“Blowin’ in the Wind” – close to 400 versions)
4. Stevie Wonder: 3,599 to 3827 (“You Are the Sunshine of My Life” over 310)
5. Keith Richards: 3,278 to 3482 ((I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction over 351)
6. Mick Jagger: 3,267 to 3470 ((I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction over 351)
7. Hank Williams: 3,164 to 3372 (“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” over 306)
8. Carole King: 3,188 to 3348 (“You’ve Got a Friend” over 388)
9. Paul Simon: 3,133 to 3310 (“Bridge over Troubled Water” over 584)
10. David Bowie: 2,807 to 2901 (“Space Oddity”over 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 (again just for pop artists): 11. Elton John with 2685, 12. Björn Ulvaeus (ABBA) with 2611, 13. Barry Gibb with 2571, 14. Joni Mitchell with 2394, 15. George Harrison with 2388, 16. Robin Gibb 2303. Next in line for pop artists but just outside the top 100 overall are at 17. Sting with 2182, 18. Willie Dixon with 2120, 19. Chuck Berry with 2089 and at #20 is Maurice Gibb with 1839 total covers.
As you can see there are 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 top 20 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. Numbers are 2021/2022
1. “Yesterday” Covered 1,009/1082 times, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney
2. “Eleanor Rigby” Covered 633/690 times, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney
3. “Bridge over Troubled Water” Covered 584/613 times, written by Paul Simon
4. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” * Covered 555/603 times, written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach
5. “Can’t Help Falling in Love“*written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss / Covered 522/564 times
6. “Michelle” Covered 522/555 times, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney
7. “Fever” Covered 528/554 times, written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell
originally sung by Little Willie John.
8. “Let it Be“, covered 501/551 times, written by Paul McCartney
9. “Hey Jude” covered 508/550 times, and as all of The Beatles songs were, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, this one was written by Paul McCartney.
10. “Something” Covered 519/549 times, written by George Harrison
10. “Unchained Melody” * Covered 515/549 times, written by Hy Zaret and Alex North
11. “Imagine” written and recorded (post Beatles) by John Lennon covered 497/542 times
12. “Here, There and Everywhere” by The Beatles at 496/539
13. “Love Me Tender” * a 1956 release by Elvis Presley; covered 501/532 times, written by Ken Darby and based on the song “Aura Lee” from 1881 written by George Poulton and W.W. Fosdick.
14. “And I Love Her” covered 490/528 times, written primarily by Paul McCartney
16. “The Look of Love“, covered 483/514 times, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
17. “Blackbird“, covered 468/507 times, written by Paul McCartney
18. “God Bless the Child“* covered 471/495 times, written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.
19. “House of the Rising Sun” (adapted from Rising Sun Blues), covered 488 times, Traditional
20. “Hallelujah” covered 300/486 times, written by Leonard Cohen
Several of these songs (marked *) were not initially considered a ‘pop’ song per se. For example “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. That song was the first english translation of a South African Zulu song that has a long story, so another day perhaps I will talk about Solomon Linda’s 1939 Isicathamiya style song “Mbube”, that became “Wimoweh” that became “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.
The Beatles Still Dominate
Still holding in 2022, the only artists that appear on all three lists are John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It’s quite remarkable that from 2020 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. Two years ago 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; “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” at 426 and “Come Together” at 411 covers have 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 comes 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 ample opportunity for someone to surpass them.
The Beatles catalogs first digital release was on Apple Itunes in 2010, before the streaming revolution. First available on Spotify in 2015, followed by other streaming services. They started 2022 having surpassed 10 Billion streams on Spotify alone. On all platforms they have over 16 billion streams which when combined with other numbers such as physical and digital sales has them still ranked as the #1 Best Selling Artists of all time. At #2 on that list is still Michael Jackson followed by Elvis Presley, Queen (ranked #1 in Streaming from artists on this list at 21 billion), Madonna, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Elton John and U2 to round out the top 10.
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 now 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 2022 they have had at least 422 million annual users and 188 million have paid subscriptions. Worldwide, music streaming has been used by billions of people.
How can you rationally compare Ed Sheeran’s single “Shape of You” which still tops the all time Streaming charts (August 2022) at 3.19 billion to The Beatles “claimed sales” (an industry term) at 600 million? Still The Beatles music since 2015 is streamed on Spotify alone, on average over 1.4 billion times per year. Keeping in mind their last release was 52 years ago. Compare that to the still active Rolling Stones who have about 900 million on average per year but still an impressive 6.3 billion total streams. Yes I know this does not include the listening habits of many a luddite, troglodyte or myself for that matter… but we don’t come out of the basement for a head count very often.
After that look at The Beatles and the Stones numbers I thought that it would be interesting to see how these legendary artists from the first two lists are doing as individuals (only Lennon and MCCartney qualified) along with other solo artists for the top streaming totals.
According to Chartmasters.org and using the top covered artists lists I mentioned above, each have the following streaming numbers (only those included on the 161 all-time top sellers list).
David Bowie: 6.8 billion
Stevie Wonder 5.2 billion
Bruce Springsteen: 5.1 billion
Paul McCartney: 4.1 billion
Bob Dylan 3.7 billion
John Lennon: 2.2 billion
Just to give some perspective Drake has the most at 69 Billion streams and other top artists include; Taylor Swift at 41 Billion, Justin Bieber at 50 Billion, Ed Sheeran at 51 Billion and Ariana Grande at 44 Billion.
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 445 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 185,497 artists, 130,383 original songs and 1,184,382 covers as of Sept 7, 2022. 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; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Originally edited by Richelle Dafoe, revised, errors and all on September 7, 2022
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5 thoughts on “The 2022 Update of the Most Covered Pop Songs and Artists of All Time”
Thanks for taking the time to comment, much appreciated.
Remarkable post, the information you have mentioned is really knowledgeable and engaging for us, I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing. Pop Music Child Musician
I agree with you. Secondhandsongs.com is a real education as well as a resource for me. I enjoy the steve hoffman site also. Thanks for commenting.
I'm 'frankly' stunned that there are so many Zappa covers, since I don't recall ever hearing one. But poking around I see there are a number of them out there. I guess Frank is what you'd call an artist's artist. A few good ones listed here: https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/cover-versions-of-zappa-songs.88989/
Wow! Glad you are keeping all this straight for us!