The Most Covered Songs by Women

Let me say right off the start that I think it is unfortunate that I have to write a separate piece on the most covered songs. The music industry really forces our hand in this regard. If we are looking at how women are represented and in general poorly recognized, cover songs are a reflection of that in many ways. Without taking too much time you can see that women are on the short end of the drum stick when it comes to prominent songwriters. If the most celebrated names are male, then the most covered songs will come from this source. Now, I am a big Beatles fan and I like most of names you find on the cover lists that I create. However they are heavily skewed toward men. I do realize we have to look at the bias that brought us here in the first place, again I take nothing away from the obvious talents of the men at the top, but there are worthy women who don’t get the same exposure.

When I research cover songs, there are a number of ways to look at the data. As I always do, I’m relying on for the information. Following the format of my periodic update on Pop Cover Songs, if I work down the list of The most covered songs written by a ‘singer/songwriter/recording artist‘. Currently the only woman on the top 10 list is Carole King, who is currently at #8 with 182 of the songs that she wrote or co-wrote having at least one cover version. The next category is The most cover versions combined. Again the only women on the top 10 list is Carole King with 3,382 versions of songs she has written. The third major category is The top 20 most covered Pop singles. The only female songwriter on the top 20 list is co-writer Billie Holiday at #18 with her song “God Bless the Child” having been covered 501 times.

For todays list I will go outside of the Pop music genre and look at the most covered songs of all time. I have talked about these songs at various stages and points in my past posts but I have not titled one that includes this particular list. It just so happens that this is the only list where we see women appear quite prominently. Working down the list of all genre, I have created The Top 10 Most Covered Songs with Original Vocals by Women. Somewhat ironically Carole King songs don’t rank quite high enough to appear here.

So for a point of reference I will first give the Top 10 most covered songs of all time, as Christmas, Holiday Songs and Carols dominate the list, I will exclude those. As well as songs that are solely Instrumentals, however many of these songs include instrumental versions. All data is from

The Top 10 Most Covered Songs with Vocals

  1. “Summertime” from the play Porgy and Bess, the words were written by the Author, DuBose Heyward and the music by George Gershwin. Currently there are 2,600 versions.
  2. “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of OZ, lyrics by E.Y. Yarburg and words by Harold Arlen. There are just under 1,600 versions.
  3. “Les Feuille Mortes” written by Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert. Including the English translation of “Autumn Leaves” there are 1,484 versions.
  4. “All the Things You Are” from the Musical Very Warm for May, music by Jerome Kerr and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. There are 1,422 versions
  5. “Body and Soul” music by Johnny Green and lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton. There are just under 1,400 versions.
  6. “My Funny Valentine” for the Musical Babes in Arms, music by Richard Rogers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart. There are 1,319 versions
  7. “Yesterday” words and music by Paul McCartney. There are 1,139 versions.
  8. “Stardust” written by Hoagy Carmichael. There are 1,084 versions
  9. “St. Louis Blues” written by W.C. Handy. There are 1,071 versions
  10. “Sweet Georgia Brown” written by Ben Bernie, Kenneth Casey and Maceo Pinkard. There are 953 versions.

The Top 10 Most Covered Songs with Original Vocals by Women

On the above list, three of the top ten songs were originally performed by women.

  1. “Summertime” is also #1 from the above list, in the play Borgie and Bess it was first performed by Abbie Mitchell. She was also the first to record the song in 1935 but the first release was from Helen Jepson that same year. The next version was by Billie Holiday in 1936. The words are based on a song from a book written by DuBose Heyward with music written by George Gershwin. Currently this is listed as the most recorded song of all time with 2291 versions. There are sources that site there are as many as 25.000 recordings. Again I am using verified numbers.
  2. Over the Rainbow” is also #2 on the above list, vocals by Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz which was released August 12, 1938. First recording by Judy Garland on October 7, 1938.
  3. “My Funny Valentine” is #6 on the above list, Mitzi Green sang the song in the play, first performed April 14, 1937. The first released recording in 1945 was by Hal McIntyre and His Orchestra. Vocal Refrain by Ruth Gaylor.
  4. “Moon River” would be #12 on the overall list with 934 versions, with music by Henry Mancini and words by Johnny Mercer. This is a bit of technical issue as most anyone will point to Audrey Hepburn singing it in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s which was released August 5, 1961. Remarkably her record of the song was not released until 1993. This puts the version by Henry Mancini and His Orchestra and Chorus (in which Audrey Hepburn did not sing) as the first recording and indeed the hit song most would know. Comparing the above list we move out of the top 10, this song is #12 overall.
  5. “Girl from Ipanema” is another one of those songs with a technical qualification. It was written by Antônio Carlos Jobim, Norman Gimbel (English lyrics) and Vinícius de Moraes. It was first performed in Portuguese with the title “Garota de Ipanema” by João Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes in 1962. However the rendition that set it on its course to be covered 847 times was the version with the shared vocals. Joao Gilberto sings the first part of the song in Portuguese, followed by (his then wife) Astrud Gilberto, sings in English. This version was released as Getz/Gilberto in 1964. At the time Astrud spoke not one word of English but sang the words phonetically with perfect diction.
  6. “What is this Thing Called Love” was written by Cole Porter for his musical review Wake Up and Dream in 1929. First performed by Elsie Carlisle for the London production. The first record was released in 1929 by Jack Hylton and His Orchestra. At that time vocalists were quite secondary and often they would just say “with vocal refrain” on the record, in this case I believe it to be Sam Browne. Elise’s recording was released in May of 1929 and is accompanied by Jay Wilbur and His Orchestra. At 829 versions the songs sits at #16 overall.
  7. Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)” was written by Bart Howard and according to was first performed in Cabaret shows by Felicia Sanders in 1954. The first recording was released that same year by Kay Ballard. who also performed the song on stage in The Golden Apple. There are 826 versions of this song and it sits at #17 overall.
  8. “Love For Sale” would appear at #17 on the overall list and it was written by Cole Porter for the stage production of The New Yorkers, the first live performance by Kathryn Crawford, June Shafer, Ida Pearson and Stella Friend was November 12, 1930. The first record release was sung by the same women but credited as Waring’s Pennsylvanians -Vocal Refrain by The Three Waring Girls and released on December 4, 1930. There are 824 versions of this songs, placing it #18 overall.
  9. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” was written by Gene de Paul and Don Raye for the Abbott and Costello movie Keep ‘Em Flying from 1941. It was performed by Carol Bruce but it was cut from the movie. Ella Fitzgerald would be the first to record and release the song in 1941. There are 811 versions and #19 overall.
  10. “Someone to Watch Over Me” was written by George and Ira Gershwin for their Broadway play Oh, Kay! in 1926. Performed by Gertrude Lawrence and her recording was released in 1927. With 793 recordings it sits at #21 overall.


First, the authors of the songs on both of the lists are male. We have to go down to #42 on the list to find the first female author, “Bésame mucho” was written by Consuelo Velázquez. The top songs are of course Standards, with the exception of just two songs they are from what is defined as the American Songbook. So this male dominance points to the systemic bias in music, if you didn’t know that or perhaps don’t believe it, there are plenty more statistics to support it. I have talked about this numerous times in several posts, so you can look all of this up. I will provide some links at the end so without rehashing it all I will just say, any ‘greatest’ list of songs from any era in most genre is heavily skewed toward male artists and bands. The most recent song on the above list is from 1962, but if we leap ahead to today’s Pop music, this is the only other exception where women fair better than the average. Having said all this women singers as noted fare quite well when we look at some of the most recorded songs of all time and include all genre. This list is dominated by the Jazz Vocal or American Standards. “Summertime” and “Over the Rainbow” are not considered as Pop Songs, so in some respect they skew the numbers. As I noted in my recent post on Country Cover Songs, I had to work way down the list, and found the great Dolly Parton as the first women but well outside of the top 20 songs. If you focus on Blues, Rock, R&B, Rap or most any genre or subgenre outside of Pop and Jazz vocals, female names are rare and mostly absent from these top 10, 20, 50 or even 100 lists.

So why does this bias exist? Well, music is not the only field where this is an issue, but sticking to the subject it has always been difficult for women to enter as a singer, a songwriter or in more modern times one of the various other positions such as Producer, Artists and Repertoire (A&R), Sound mixing or Record Executive. Historically and I know things are changing but Women have traditionally been the primary caregiver, often exclusively for children and aging family members. When you have a full time job raising kids, cooking, cleaning etc. there is not a lot of time to work on your craft, no matter how talented you are. The second major issue is that women were not thought capable enough to write songs or enter into one of the other music related fields. I will not belabour this point but just look at the stats. If one just happened to make it through all the barriers, they were usually told what they should be doing, right or wrong, by a man.

When it comes to recognition, woman are systematically overlooked. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee list is a great example. Just take a look at the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists list from Rolling Stone Magazine there are two women on that list; Joni Mitchell at #75 and Bonnie Raitt at #89. Women fair no better on the list from Guitar World or Guitar Player, no women on the top list for any genre they talked about with the exception of a list on Acoustic Guitar. Otherwise Women make it as footnotes only with honourable mentions to legends such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Elizabeth Cotten, Maybelle Carter and Memphis Minnie. I could go on but I think I will save the guitar rant for another day.

There are of course exceptions for singers over the years, you know some of the names such Blues legends Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, from Country Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and of course Dolly Parton. But the names are few and even the ones I mentioned overcame tremendous pressure by a male dominated industry to be able to stand out. Women had to be great but they also had to have dogged perseverance. But names like Nina Simone and Tina Turner as a solo act get overlooked, Celine Dion didn’t make the Rolling Stones list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time. Really?

So am I speaking out of both sides of my mouth on this? If women fair so well on the one list from above, doesn’t that make up for all the others? No, it does not, not by a long shot. Why, because as I mentioned I have researched it. If you look at the top all time artists sales numbers, past and present,with few exceptions (Madonna) the list is male dominated, if you look at radio airplay for most all genre female artists are underplayed, if you look at year end and all time chart positions, count the female names, it doesn’t take that long. Yes I do know about Taylor Swift… So, you may say, well historically all the popular names just happen to be male. This is exactly my point.

As I tend to have several writing projects and blog posts on the go at any given time I have been working on this one for over two weeks. I have warmed the same cup of coffee three times and it’s still half full, so I have a short attention span! However, by way of musical coincidence, as I was editing this post this morning my wife (not knowing what I was working on) sent me a link to an op-ed in The Guardian from Courtney Love, she tears into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and references some of the names I have talked about, you go girl!

Some other links you may find of interest, one of my blogging friends from WordPress is Lisa. She is doing a great series on women in music to honour Women History Month on her blog Tao Talk. Some of my past posts on this topic include; Women in Music, Women of Rock, Sexism in Song, Get the Message Songs, Nina Simone, Rebel Girls, Linda Ronstadt and Aretha Franklin among others.

23 thoughts on “The Most Covered Songs by Women

  1. Agree that it’s unfortunate, as you said, but you’ve done an excellent job highlighting valuable pieces of history, and with such excellently fine-tuned detail. Have to say I agree with the others who say this should be a book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comments, it’s a bit of a labour of love but not enough to get to a book! One major issue is that some of the songs on these types of lists are separated by very few versions. If I did this again, other than the top 3 the positions would all be different.


  2. Very interesting blog. Like Max said, you might consider making a book at some time, it would be a good read. On this one, some of the top 10 surprise me, very cool to see the list. Now, to be the devil’s advocate – I WILL agree that there seems to be , or at least until recently, some bias against women in pop and especially country music. I also agree there have been some brilliant women songwriters – Dolly Parton, Carly simon , Carole King etc , wrote stuff better than most of their male counterparts. Likewise, there have been fantastic female musicians. BUT… gotta say it, I think the reason the lists are so skewed towards males is frankly, many more young men take to playing and writing music, especially rock, than females. Certainly many young women do too; but with young guys, particularly in the Beatles/British invasion era, it seemed almost to be the expected hobby or outlet…if 1000 young men in a city start bands and 20 young women do, seeing ten male bands but only one female one hit the bigtime from there is not surprising , for instance. All that said, I like Dolly and even, yes I’ll say it, now Taylor Swift for their work to open doors for ladies who do want in to the game.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You bring up a good point and there’s no debating your calculations. But one could argue the cultural bias towards women in bands was quite negative. Just like they weren’t supposed to be mathematicians or engineers. Plus the role models for these young guys were all male. For that matter so was everyone else in the business, including the DJ’s.


  3. This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. Randy, have you ever thought about writing a book about covers? It’s so detailed…I would buy it!

    It is a shame that they are overlooked.
    Sharon Sheeley is one that gets looked over.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Randy, this is a MUCH APPRECIATED write-up on an issue that needs to be acknowledged in the world of shared music. Thank You! Do you mind if I re-blog it at Tao-Talk? p.s. Thanks for the nod 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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