100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #76-100

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
76. “Flip Flop and Fly” is a song by the same collection that brought us the classic “Shake Rattle and Roll” written by Jesse Stone (credited to his pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun) and Lou Willie Turner, sung by Big Joe Turner (1954). The first time I heard this song was at a club in my hometown I’ll say around 1979 or so, performed by the talented Canadian Blues band Downchild Blues Band(1973), later known as just ‘Downchild’. Still the best cover for me although I’ve heard many fine ones out of some over 70 versions, this is a standard blues song sung in venues around the globe. Have a listen and you’ll hear I’m not just being a homer, it really is a well made piece of music. I was fortunate there were a few places noted for booking blues artists like the amazing Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy and attending them with my buddies-for just the music you understand, got me hooked on the genre. I have to sneak in this version from the Geraint Watkins Band (1978) who is a real blast to see perform live.

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100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75

25 more of the Greatest Cover Songs

There has been a very positive response to the first two ‘Greatest’ posts. So the list continues and the songs become no less in their timeless quality compared to numbers one through fifty. I will post a #76-100 edition soon.

51. “I Put a Spell on You” written and originally recorded by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1956. There have been many really good covers of this song but Nina Simone (1965) was just the second person to cover this song. I just can’t get over how overlooked this artist was in her time, a high class version that turns the song on it’s ear to give it an entirely different sound.Read More »

100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #26-50

The next 25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #26-50

In part one I listed 25 of the greatest cover songs and to date it’s been one of my most viewed blog post. There are so many more added to the list so I’ve updated the posts on #’s 51-75 and 76-100 and will publish those as well.

This list in part comes from many of the songs that I have already posted since I started blogging. As for how songs make it on my list there are a few criteria, while I don’t dismiss music from more recent years a song has to have stood the test of time for me, hence much of the list are songs of some vintage and just plain old, like the writer. Next, the original song itself must have some character and some degree of popularity. And preferably the artist and or songwriters are of interest as well. I have read other lists of great cover songs from books, articles and google searches and you’ll find much similarity, but some of them contain songs I just don’t think warrant the attention or at the very least should be much lower on the ‘great’ scale. Last but not least I have to like the songs and most of these I put on my ‘songs I love’ list.Read More »

100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #1-25

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs-2022 update

Nothing quite grabs the attention more than a list of the greatest this or that, so at 85 posts about cover songs I did this one and now it’s been updated with new links. As I advised with my other ‘Greatest’ posts we all have our favorites so anytime there is a list, something or someone ‘great’ gets left off. And the debate ensues, why is this and that at #11 not #4 and vise versa. My list therefore, shall be no different for it is not scientific but subjective and it is biased by my own tastes and exposure to music. Having said that it’s hard for me to have missed many of the truly great cover songs of all time, indeed I think I’ve talked about quite a few:

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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.

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What is a Cover Song?

What is a Cover Song?

Simply put: a cover song is a re-recording of an original song. And the original song has to have been recorded first and in most cases, released on some recognizable format be it vinyl, video or digital. It’s sometimes splitting hairs as there have been many songs that are written and recorded but not released by the record company. Said company may give that song to another artist who may release it first. Technically, there is no formal legal definition of a cover song, and one could even argue the first recording is now a cover song once it is released. I will talk more on that in a bit. Regardless, after a song is released it is now free game for anyone to obtain a mechanical licence and cover it. I gave an example in a previous blog where Bruce Springsteen blocked Bette Midler from releasing one of his songs, that’s because he had only performed it live and he nor anyone else had released it yet. Though as soon as it’s recorded, the artist would lose that veto power.
A cover can include what some refer to as a remake, revamp, adaptation, revival, “cover version” or even a copy. I run across people referring to original songs as a rendition, but that’s incorrect. A rendition is, by definition, a performance or interpretation of a piece of music. There, I said it and quite frankly I feel better for it! It can include the recording of a live performance but would not include the version you hear in your local club. Even if you heard the tune from a ‘cover band’, if it hasn’t been recorded and released, it’s not a true ‘cover’. While I’m still on the fence regarding cover songs on YouTube and other social media platforms, I can’t deny there are legitimate artists releasing some good work and Secondhandsongs.com, based on certain criteria, is adding some of them to their database.
A cover can also include songs that take melodies and/or words from other songs to a substantial degree. That can include just the lyrics, just the music or both and with a new arrangement it can sound like a different song completely. Still the best example is Aretha Franklins reworking of Otis Redding’s “Respect”. If you listen, the two songs are different in tone, perspective and lyrics, yet not enough of a change to get Franklin song writing credits nor the millions of dollars in royalties from her own recording. So, it qualifies as a cover song as it still retained the core words and most of the music to make it ‘legally’ a cover version. Otherwise it’s just an issue of copyright and payments if it does not really sound like the other song. Again, there is not a standard legal definition of how much or how little is reused but, in most songs, you know it when you hear it.
In the case of sampling, it means using any sized portion of the actual recording itself.  In all instances, the original songwriters would need to be co-credited on the new song but it would not be a ‘cover’ song. If you use a cover version of the original in your sample, you will also have to pay royalties for that as recording artists still own their performance part of a song.  A remix or mashup is more likely to fall into this category as well. As mentioned, regardless, if copyright is violated and you don’t have legal permission, the owners of the song can sue for damages. There is no such rule that says you can legally use a portion of a song and not pay for a mechanical license and or royalties. However, people still get away with it.

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Artists that Sing Covers = Not as talented

Artists that Sing Cover Songs are not as talented (as those who don’t).

Ok hold your hand up if this is what you believe. Ok good, only a few of you did but you few are apparently not alone. The more research I do the more I run across some misinformed or misguided sentiment that if you ‘only’ cover a song(s) you are somehow not as talented. And some are wondering if perhaps there is some truth in this, the short answer is NO! The longer explanation is a bit more complicated. First, different genres have different ‘feelings’ for lack of a better term about who writes, who sings and who plays. But songwriters come from all over the music map, and making music is a lot more than just about the writers. With the odd exception as …

 once in a century you get a Bob Dylan

He can play several musical instruments, he can write songs like few others and he can sing. This Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees list of accolades include a Pulitzer Prize special citation, 10 Grammy’s, an Academy Award, a Nobel Prize in Literature and the list goes on. Now, just for fun let’s just suppose for a moment that if Bob Dylan were in to Classical music he would be interpreting Beethoven and DeBussy and not writing “Like a Rolling Stone“. And unless you were listening to Classical music you most likely never would have heard of him. A silly supposition but it helps (I hope) to try and prove my point. Would Bob Dylan the Classical musician be any less talented than the Bob we have come to know and love? No. Would Bob Dylan be composing (writing) as is the term, new music in this genre? Most certainly, but who would actually notice? Would Bob Dylan then be a popular musician? No, at least not outside of the Classical circle and maybe the odd Movie soundtrack. So getting back to reality, if Bob Dylan the writer of hundreds of songs now covers someone else’s song which he has done over 200 times, so…is he now somehow less talented? The question seems as absurd as it was at the beginning of this post. So you say well that’s Dylan, he gets a free pass on cover songs. So then it gets more absurd trying to and pick and choose who is talented based on whether they cover just one song, just a few or hundreds.Read More »

Hallelujah

The word is Hebrew in origin and means “Praise you, Jehovah” and is the older of the similar “Alleluia” which is apparently of Christian origin. We all know how the word/phrase gets used in everyday life, literature and of course song.  According to Secondhandsongs.com there are over 20 songs with one of these two words in the title. When you hear the word, if you are like me the song “Hallelujah” written by Leonard Cohen (1984) comes to mind. I’ve read Cohen had drafted some 80 different versions of this song before landing on the one recorded in June of 1984 for his seventh studio Album, “Various Positions“.  Cohen’s strain is one of those songs that has taken on a life of its own, covered ‘officially’ 300 times both vocal and instrumental, unofficially this song has been sung no doubt millions of times. Suffering from over exposure due to programs like American Idol and to any local talent production as well inclusion in movie and tv show soundtracks, many have grown sick of this song. If you stick to some of the following versions you can regain an appreciation for one of the greatest songs ever written.

Not uncommon with many songs of substance it went somewhat unnoticed (beyond the context of being a Cohen song which in of itself was not insignificant in many circles) until it got covered.  First covered and (along with k.d. Lang) my personal favorite version(s) by the Welsh singer John Cale in 1991, on a tribute album cleverly named ‘I’m Your Fan’. Cale was a founding member of the ground breaking band ‘The Velvet Underground‘. Next to cover the song was Jeff Buckley (1994). Buckley was a talented and promising musician who died at age 30 due to an accidental drowning, his biological father, also a recording artist died at age 28 due to what has been described as an unintentional drug overdose. Many consider Buckley’s rendition which is based on Cale’s interpretation to be the ‘definitive’ version. It’s on the list of the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

I mentioned this song in my blog on Cohen and made reference to this being used in the movie “Shrek”, the actual excerpts used were from Cale’s version, the soundtrack issue however was from Rufus Wainwright (2001). He connected to the song through his admiration of Jeff Buckley and later recorded this tribute song “Memphis Skyline” in 2004. The inclusion of the song in the movie has unleashed millions of unknowing little Cohen fans whose parents might be somewhat mortified to hear the whole song and understand some of the sexual overtones. That said after Buckley’s cover a forgettable version was recorded by one of the top selling artists of all time Bono (1995).

The next one to cover the song was a group called ‘Angelou‘ with lead singer Holly Lerski, this first version by a female is superbly done and vastly overlooked.

Needless to say I can’t list all of the versions of this song and by the time I’ve published my blog someone else might release another rendition, but I will list some of the more notable ones; Bob Dylan sang this live in concert (1988) before John Cale recorded it in 1991, Allison Crowe (2003), worth another mention a brilliant performance from k.d. Lang (2004), Willie Nelson (2006), Sara Gazarek (2007), I have some of her stuff and was pleasantly surprised she’d done a wonderful job on this, I think she’s great. A popular version from Bon Jovi (2007), Justin Timberlake & Matt Morris feat. Charlie Sexton (2010), Neil Diamond (2010), Colm Wilkinson w/Aine Whelan and/or Siobhan Pettit perhaps?(2010), Pentatonix (2016), Popa Chubby (2017) and Julia Westlin (2019).

The Juno Awards are on Sunday March 17 from right here in London ON. For those of you who may not know, in Canada the Juno’s are our equivalent to the Grammys and they started in the the 1970’s. I’ve mentioned many past recipients in my posts and in this issue there are; Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and k.d. Lang. Both Bon Jovi and Justin Timberlake have taken home International Album awards. This years show is hosted by Sarah McLachlan who has been nominated for 29 Juno’s and has been awarded ten, as well as three Grammy Awards. It is always a great show and you can live stream it via CBC, though I’m not sure how that might work from out of the Country. Here is a link to an article about just a small bit of London’s musical history.

Thanks to everyone who shares my posting on your Facebook page, the vast majority of page views I get comes from FB, so keep sharing!

References: https://secondhandsongs.com/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

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Country Covers of Classic Country Songs (Part 3)

Country Covers of Classic Country Songs (Part 3)

I’ve talked more than a bit about Hank Williams and there’s certainly much more to say, here is another great song that’s been covered over 120 times. “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” written by Hank Williams (1951). A great cover from Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez (2005). If you are wondering where the duet idea came from here is an old television clip Hank Williams & Anita Carter (1953).

There are many great versions of this song so I’ve put together a playlist which includes Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and a home recording from Elvis Presley.Read More »

Country Covers of Classic Country Songs (Part 2)

For this edition I’m looking to the women of Country Music for some inspiration, and there are plenty of great covers to choose from over the years.
Here is a notable song to start with, a rarity in that it’s the first country female artist to have a million seller (1935). She wrote the song while missing her then boyfriend in 1934, the melody is based on the great Stuart Hamblen’s tune “Texas Plains”.Read More »