The 2022 Update of the Most Covered Songs and Artists of All Time
Readers might remember that earlier this summer, we ran a Turntable Talk feature on “cover songs”, with various regulars here weighing in on what makes a good cover song , or when they were utterly redundant. Well, that caught the attention of one of our readers, Randy who is so interested in the concept that […]September 13 – The King Of Cover Songs — A Sound Day
Follow the above link for my contribution to Dave’s blog. I wrote a piece on the motivations to cover a song and focused on the most covered pop song of all time, “Yesterday” by The Beatles.
I have dedicated two posts to Elvis and his name pops up over 50 times throughout my blog, more than any other artist. Now there is a new biopic out and from what I have heard and read it was very well done with some amazing vocals from Austin Butler, Elvis impersonator number 19,350,108 (serious fans will understand that figure). If you include singing in the shower this is a low estimate of people who have tried to sing like Elvis Presley. According to Wikipedia there have been an estimated 400,000 full blown costume, hair, voice, the whole thing impersonators. I am sure many of us have heard some very good ones, but Butler maybe the best of them all. Really looking forward to seeing the film. I am no expert on Elvis, but I do know a bit about his music, particularly in the early years, and I’m learning all the time. I titled this post with an oxymoron as I believe the life story of Elvis is full of contradictions and events that make his very existence a labyrinthine that intertwines not only the history of Rock and Roll, but three decades of changing times, culture and the events that led to his untimely death at the age of 42. For that story you need to watch some of the many films or read one of the many biographies.
We all know of the King of Rock and Roll, a title he never accepted, and we at least recognize a song or two, afterall he holds the record for the most certifications ever from the RIAA (Recording Industry Arts Association) in the USA. For example he had 54 Singles obtain Gold Record (500,000 sold) status, for all his album and other milestones you can see the Guinness World Records link here. Why do we (maybe not you but a lot of us) still listen to Elvis songs, many of which are now over 60 years old? As I write this it was 68 years ago today, meaning we are just two years away from the 70th anniversary of the recording of his first release, July 5, 1954. Music for most of us is a personal thing, we like what we like because somehow on some level we can connect with it. Why is it when we play our favorite song for someone else they often offer a friendly nod or say, “that’s nice”? Why don’t they love it as much as you do? It could be the style or genre, maybe the artist, melody or the lyrics they don’t connect with, maybe it’s just missing the context that made you love the song. We could say it’s the music of our youth that sticks with us, but many people change their preferences over time. Hey, my sister talked me into going in on buying a The Partridge Family album when I was 12 so I know this is true!Read more
Elvis passed when I was in high school and I’ll admit he was on the periphery of my music radar, unlike my girlfriend at the time who would have gleefully tossed her panties on stage. But I came to enjoy that amazing voice and his unique way of delivering a song on a record, let alone on stage or in film. Elvis wasn’t known for his songwriting abilities and like many artists he didn’t read or write music. And though he played guitar, bass and piano as well as other instruments, typically he is not remembered for this talent. All was surpassed by the love of his voice and grant you, his looks and swinging hips for some. The focus of my blog is centered around cover songs and given the plethora of Elvis information both pre and in, the new film, I will talk about him from a different perspective. Focusing on his early career, here is a selection of songs and many of them were not Elvis originals but he certainly added something special and made most any song his own.
While researching in May of 2018, I found there were 485 documented (by Secondhandsongs.com) songs that Elvis covered. In 2019 they had 507 listed and as of July 2022 that number has grown to 514, researchers are uncovering and adding new songs to the list all the time. The original Elvis songs he did total 271, which even for a 25 year recording career is very impressive. Not that it’s a competition but just to give you a comparison, Rod Stewart in his 50 plus year career has recorded about 50 (Elvis 271) or so original songs and approximately 315 (Elvis 514) covers. I took the time to add up the number of covers of just the top 10 of the 271 original songs by Elvis and there are currently 2,179 versions, add in the rest for a grand total of 5916. This makes him the fifth most recorded artist of all time, behind The Beatles, Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby and Bob Dylan. Expect a spike in these numbers as the new movie will inspire a lot of singers.
Thanks to YouTube and various posters who have done my work for me I can give you video or audio of some of these songs. And thanks to Secondhandsongs.com I have a great reference library! Here is a selection of covers that Elvis did early in his career with reference to some original songs as well.
The first songs to be recorded at Sun Studios and then released on July 19, 1954 were “That’s Alright” a cover of Arthur Crudup, and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” from Bill Monroe.
“You’re a Heartbreaker” was his first original song (written by Jack Sallee) recorded December 8, 1954 and released on Jan 8, 1955. It was the ‘B’ side of the single “Milkcow Blues Boogie” a cover of Kokomo Arnold from 1934. Neither song charted, his first original song that would become a hit was “Heartbreak Hotel”, released a year later on Jan 10, 1956. This was his first release with RCA Records and it was a worldwide smash #1 song.
At this point in the timeline I would like to talk about the great Little Richard. I did a post on him a while back and you can check that out here, so I may repeat myself a bit here. First I will say he was a key figure and pioneer in Rock and Roll. When Specialty Records released his sixth single and first successful song, “Tutti Frutti” in October of 1955 it hit #18 on the then equivalent of the Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B chart. He would follow with “Long Tall Sally”, “Rip it Up”, “Ready Teddy” and “Lucille” all with the exception of “Ready Teddy” hit #1 on the R&B charts and all had varying success on the mainstream charts. All fantastic stuff.
Pat Boone was the first to cover Richard, his version of “Tutti Frutti” which was a ‘B’ side, charted at #12 in 1956. Elvis was next do the song and he would record Richard’s songs seven times but none of them charted. Was Little Richard a victim of the the exploitation experienced by performers, and many of them Black, absolutely. This practice is a stain on White culture, particularly in the US, but also Canada and the UK. Is Elvis to blame for any of this? I think not, and again these are issues I have tackled in many of my past posts on Rock and Roll and Blues history. Elvis recorded Little Richard songs as a tribute not as an attempt to “rip him off” or steal his music. He recorded covers of many Black artists, because they were great songs. Did Elvis pick up some pointers from the dynamic Little Richard, yes, did Little Richard pick up some tips from other artists such as Esquerita? Yes.
Little Richards’ woes at least from a royalty and financial perspective were due to a bad record deal. It is true Black artists were notoriously paid less than the popular White artists. If you do some research you will find that recording artists both Black and White have been getting screwed over by Record Companies and Managers since the beginning of recorded music. Both Black and White record executives often underpaid their artists, also Black and White executives stole or hid royalty fees from both Black and White performers, and the list goes on. Black artists have covered other Black artists. Black artists have also covered White artists many times, every hear of “Maybellene” or “Blueberry Hill”? This is a debate that has been going on for a very long time and has come into mainstream again with the movie release. Just thought I would include this perspective as it not about a Black and White divide, though a little education on this topic would go a long way.
While I am tangenting again, just one more aside, here is a sampling of bona fide early Rock and Roll songs by date of recording/release to give more perspective on this. I can go back several years but let’s just begin with Big Joe Turner’s original “Shake Rattle and Roll”, Feb/April 1954, covered by Bill Haley June/August 1954 after he covered”Rock Around the Clock” April/May 1954, Elvis with “That’s Alright” July/July 1954, Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” May/July 1955, Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” September/October 1955. James Brown’s first hit was “Please, Please, Please” Feb/Feb 1956. Buddy Holly’s first hit release was “Blue Days – Black Nights” Jan/April 1956. These and many other artists were in the mix as pioneers of Rock and Roll, did any of them invent it? No. On to more Elvis songs.
“Blue Suede Shoes” was written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in December 1955, Elvis recorded the song in February 1956 and easily the best know version.
“Money Honey” was written by Jesse Stone and originally recorded by Clyde McPhatter and Drifters 1953. Elvis released it in 1956.
“My Baby Left Me”, another song by Arthur Crudup from November 1950. Elvis released it May 4,1956
“Shake Rattle and Roll” again a song written by Jesse Stone (Alias Charles Calhoun) and first released by Joe Turner and His Blues Kings in June 1954. The best-known version of this song for most is from Bill Haley and His Comets from July 1954, but Elvis was the seventh to try this one, released in 1956.
In total Elvis would release 26 covers and 11 original songs in 1956. Notable originals include; “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” followed by “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Paralyzed”. Adding to the list of memorable covers that year were:
“Hound Dog” originally from Willie Mae Thornton, albeit via Freddie Bell and The Bellboys, but Elvis would find his own style for the song. Check out this clip from ‘Big Mama’ Thornton, “Everything Gonna Be Alright” and you will hear why she came to people’s attention beyond “Hound Dog”, she was an incredible talent who was unfortunately much overlooked in her all too short time with us.
“How’s the World Treating You” written by two major stars in the music world, Chet Atkins and Boudleaux Bryant, first released in 1953 by the Beaver Valley Sweethearts. Elvis did it in October 1956.
“Love Me Tender” has original lyrics written by Ken Darby who was a singer and vocal director on the Wizard of Oz soundtrack. He wrote more songs for Elvis as well as Marilyn Monroe and Bing Crosby. It is classified as a cover however because the melody is from a Civil War song circa 1861 called “Aura Lee” written by George Poulton, the original lyrics were not used but they were written by W.W. Fosdick.
As we know Elvis served in the Army from March 1958 to March of 1960. Recorded on June 10, 1958 before he left for Germany they released “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I” in March of 1959 as a ‘B’ side song. It was gaining popularity so they re-released it as an ‘A’ side and it hit #1 in the UK and #2 in the US. The first ‘A’ side was an original Elvis song, “I Need Your Love Tonight” which hit also #1 in the UK and #4 in the US.
After his return he and The Jordanaires were right back at it and I mean hard at it, he released 29 cover songs in 1960 alone and another 13 original songs. In 1960 and 1961 he would have “Surrender” and “Stuck on You” both hit #1 and “A Mess of Blues” was #2 in the UK. “Little Sister” reached #5 in the US, however the song, along with the singles flipside “(Maries the Name) His Latest Flame” both hit #1 in the UK. For covers it would be “It’s Now or Never” which was another song with original lyrics but the music was from “O Sole mio” composed by Eduardo di Capua in 1898, and “Are Lonesome Tonight” which was originally from 1926. These two hit #1 in the US, UK, Canada and Australia as well as several other countries in the top five. “Fever” which was about the 11th version of the song first recorded by Little Willie John was not a hit for Elvis but one of my favorites. For me it’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” at the top of my list, it has original lyrics from the dynamic trio of Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss. Although the music was adapted from “Plaisir d’amour”, which was a popular French love song composed in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini.
In 1962 ‘Good Luck Charm” would hit #1 in the US and eight other charts, “Return to Sender” hit #2 in the US and #1 on seven other charts. He would chart another three singles that year. In 1963 he charted two singles, “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ peaked at #3 in the US and #1 on eight other charts.
Elvis’s time was dedicated to a string of movies (1964-66) so his recording releases were largely restricted to songs from those films. Unless you are an Elvis fanatic you may not know that an album was released in 1999 of ‘home’ recordings from 1964-67. Some of the songs are just Elvis solo, several were used for a later Gospel album and other songs include an ensemble such as “500 Miles“. It’s a folk favorite written by Hedy West first recorded by “The Journeymen” (John Phillips, Scott McKenzie and Dick Weissman) in 1961. The song was based on the words and melody from this traditional folk song – the first recording is called “I’m Nine Hundred Miles from Home” by Fiddlin’ John Carson (1924).
Just how far back can we go to find a connection to a song Elvis covered? So far (that I’ve found at least) as mentioned is “Love Me Tender” as it’s roots go back to 1861 and you can check it out my Love Songs post. But here is another, “The Gospel Train” or “Get On Board” is a traditional gospel song dating back to at least 1872. Here are the Tuskegee Institute Singers (1916). Based on this same melody is “Cindy” by Riley Puckett and Clayton McMichen, first recorded in 1927. Hope you are following along OK, now a song based on that melody was recorded as “Cindy Cindy” (words and music by Darrell Fuller, Buddy Kaye and Ben Weisman) released by Elvis in June of 1971.
Here are some more songs;
In an earlier post I talked about Aretha’s cover (1971) of “Bridge over Troubled Water’ from Simon and Garfunkel (January 26, 1970) but Elvis , and an astounding 52 other artists did a cover of this in that first year (1970) alone.
Trivia. The Queen song “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (1979) was written by Freddie Mercury in about 10 minutes while lounging in a bath. It was a tribute to Elvis. It was the first time Freddie composed a song using a guitar which he admittedly “couldn’t play for nuts” and the band completed and recorded the song in half an hour. It went to #1 in the US, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands and sold close to 3 million copies worldwide. A great cover by the very talented Dwight Yoakam the closest thing to a legit ‘Country Elvis’ you’ll ever find, he hit #1 on the Canadian Country chart in 1999.
Interesting fact that top ranked (Rolling Stone Magazine) music icons Elvis (#3), Aretha Franklin (#9) and Robert Johnson (fifth greatest guitarist) all passed away on August 16.
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I write this blog because I enjoy the subject matter and it interests me, last year I recapped some stats on my third anniversary; as of the end of April 2021, there were a record over 4,500 page views for the month and in total had just passed the 100,000 mark. An increase of 44,000 over 2020 and the number of different countries went from 83 to 107. This is my “passion project” I guess you could say, a hobby that was not designed to make money. Nevertheless I will admit I was pleased enough with the growth that I continued to write in the past year. Now as of May 1, 2022, I have reached 122 countries and over 180,000 pageviews, representing an increase of 80,000 views and 13 countries in the past year. I exceeded my one week record of 13,000 pageviews. My updated post on The Most Covered Pop Artists and Songs of All Time not only continues to be the most popular but the pageview count has risen by more than 3,000 in one year. At nearly 8 thousand pageviews it is by far my most viewed post out my 159 written to date. That’s quite enough of a walk down vanity lane, I should get to the point. I have reached the 4 year mark and while that has surpassed my expectations I continue to struggle with the time and effort invested, so my posting may be less consistent going forward.
A little bit about Music Blogging
There are many blogs that talk about cover songs, but very few embrace the history of vintage music the way that I do. The majority of people are interested in current music, and that’s a good thing. But contemporary music, with several exceptions I will say, interests me much less. While I have no idea as to the demographics of my readers I suspect the vast majority are 50 plus. Which is of course relates more to the eras I talk about, for the most part stuff I know and familiar with, the added benefit is that I always learn something new during the course of my research.
So if we take any given song from any year from even the biggest stars in let’s say 2004 that may even have been covered a dozen or so times does not typically grab my attention the way a tune from 1904 might. Actually the most covered song from 2004 is a great tune from their first album Hot Fuss by the Rock Band The Killers, “Mr. Brightside” with an impressive 69 versions. However the history is not there and as far as I can see there’s not much of a story either.
Conversely, and this a great example of what I am talking about, the most covered song from 100 years prior has a story. Now I had just picked 2004 at random so I looked at what the most covered songs were from that year as noted. So now we go back to 1904 and the #1 most covered tune is one everyone will recognize. “Aloha Oe” written by Liliuokalani, this is the pen name for the last reigning Monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii which itself dates back to the 15th Century. Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamakaʻeha (September 2, 1838 – November 11, 1917) had her short lived reign of two years overthrown in 1893. I will give a very short version of a long and fascinating story. She had attempted to bring about a more democratic government and allow people to vote on their leaders. This was seen as contrary to American interests and with the help of the US Marines the country was seized and pro American leaders put in place. This, not surprisingly was mostly about money and resources. Though later exonerated she was put on trial and when her closest friends and family were threatened with hanging, she wrote a letter confessing to supposed wrong doings to help justify the coup. She served a period of confinement, albeit in the Palace. We all know how that turned out as eventually Hawaii was made the 50th State in 1959.
While under house arrest she continued to write several more beautiful songs. Liliuokalani composed “Aloha Oe” 1878 and in 1904 she recorded it in Hawaiian along with her sister Princess Likelike and two other ‘girl’s. Credited as the Quartet of Hawaiian Girls from Kawaihao Seminary. The first commercial version of the song was the English adaptation by Bing Crosby in 1936. Also recorded by Elvis Presley for the movie Blue Hawaii in 1961. Among the more than 125 recordings is a lovely version from Oregon native Evynne Hollens in 2019 for the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. Now, while you may argue the merits of my writing, I barely scratched the surface of the story behind a tune that half the planet can hum along to nearly 125 years after it was written.
It’s stories like these that lead me to quite frequently go off on little tangents from the theme of a post. Believe it or not, I have used a fair bit of restraint in that regard. As a consequence I have had a few thoughts on songs I have talked about or as with “Aloha Oe”, newly discovered ones. I didn’t get to fleshing these out enough for a dedicated post and/or they got clipped out of post during the editing process. So here are some of them.
We hear terms such as ‘legend’ or ‘icon’ to describe artists and I have used them myself several times. “That’s an iconic song” or “She is a music legend”, but what do the the terms actually mean? Often times when I read the terms from others writing or social media comments it is a substitute for “one of my favorites”. I have to say I am fairly well read on music history so when I come across the terms in reference to someone or a song that I have never heard of, well I question the use of the labels. But who decides whether a singer or musician or group is legendary? What makes a song iconic and worthy of the designation? Many times you will find the words in an Obituary or Biographical pieces, and the editorial nature of them opens the door for the use of the noun(s). The word icon for example has many meanings, such as the small picture on your computer screen or phone, a religious object, painting or a person that represents something in a larger or universal way.
This is an example of what it takes to be labeled an Iconic song. “Bésame mucho” (Kiss Me A Lot) originally written by Consuelo Velázquez in Spanish. First recorded in 1940 by Los Cadetes del Swing. Later the singer songwriter Selig Shaftel known by his stage name as Sunny Skylar would translate and sing an english version, so that “Besame mucho” was first recorded by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra in 1944. Also recorded by The Beatles, the most recent of the over 624 versions is by Martina Balogová from the Czech Republic in 2021. Songs that are currently very popular must stand the test of time to become iconic. Check out his interesting article on iconic songs, https://www.eonline.com/ca/news/699788/here-are-the-most-iconic-songs-of-all-time-according-to-science
The Culture Beyond the Music
In my recent post on the 1970’s I edit out this tangent from the topic of Punk Music; I can see the sway of Punk Culture, aside from the musical influences, in other art forms. From what I have read there is connection by way of more than just a coincidental use of the word or name “Punk” in the Sci-Fi book concepts/genre of Cyberpunk (coined by William Gibson in 1979, btw his Neuromancer is a great read) followed by Steampunk (author Kevin Jeter). They and others found their writing inspiration from earlier authors including HG Wells and the eccentric William S. Burroughs, a bit later also the likes of Michael Moorcock. But to my point, more recently when transformed into visual art such as comics, it comes out looking like Punk fashion and the characters persona reflects that renegade lifestyle. The stories themselves are often set in Dystopian environments with Victorian Era style ‘steam’ technology. There are many short stories, novels, comic book series and video games are designed in the Steampunk and/or Cyberpunk style. Although it is based on a 1968 Book by Philip K Dick (another odd man but a brilliant author I’d recommend) the ‘look’ of some of the characters in the movie Blade Runner from 1982 is an example. For video games there is the popular Borderlands series and yes (guilty pleasure time) I admit to owning that ;).
Also from the 1970’s post I had researched a bit on the origins of Song Sampling; For example, if we look at Song Sampling which is not normally my thing, there are tens of thousands of excerpts taken from songs of this decade and inserted, for the most part into Rap, Hip Hop, Funk and R&B songs. Sampling by definition is the use of a previous recording in whole or part and inserted into a new piece of music. For the beginnings of this phenomenon we can look to pioneer James Tenney and his experimental “Blue Suede” in 1961 which incorporated clips of Elvis Presley’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes” along with audio distortions. One of the first commercial examples would be the use of a “Sousa” March from American composer John Philip Sousa, which had been previously recorded by George Martin and Geoff Emerick and inserted into The Beatles “Yellow Submarine” recording in 1966. Followed by the more well known use of a BBC King Lear broadcast into “I Am the Walrus” in 1967. However it was in the 1970’s when Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and others were more regularly using this technique. Sampling began to really impact the recording industry, particularly as new technology was created in 1970’s. While growing common among live DJ performances it was still a fairly sparse practice until the 1980’s, once the R&B/Hip Hop/Rap genres really got hold of it, a new art form was created. As far as songs from the 70’s that have had samples taken from them, “Think About It” (1971) by Lyn Collins (which was written and produced by James Brown) has been sampled 3077 times according to whosampledwho.com . If you include his singing and writing credits Brown is the most sampled artist in almost 14,500 songs. In Hip Hop, Drum beats are the most sampled sections of songs and Browns “Funky Drummer” from 1970 has been sampled 1750 times.
So this is just a short post today to make a mark for my four years of blogging and thanks to my buddy Shayne for his support and the note today acknowledging that bit of trivia. A special thanks to my family (aka my patient and understanding wife), friends and regular readers. Also thanks to those that take the time to pass on a note or comment, especially David and Darren, for without feedback I operate in a bit of a vacuum. Some of my FB friends share my blog posts, and to Judy-thanks for doing that every time. My dear friend Steve and I have talked about music almost every week for the last 45 years or so, and that helps keep me going as well. I would also like to thank all those who have visited my site and read a blog post or two. Happy reading and happy listening.
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 »
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 »
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 into what now is 162 posts about cover songs, this one has 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:Read More »
Whether you view the upcoming holidays as a secular event, religious or a bit of both there’s one thing that’s synonymous with this time of year- Christmas songs! You don’t have to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday to enjoy a good song. Maybe you celebrate “Festivus” on December 23 which is a fictional/parody holiday created by Daniel O’Keefe of Readers Digest fame, it was of course made popular by Seinfeld as an alternative to Christmas. The topic of many songs is based on love, family and fellowship. So what’s wrong with that? Nothing I say! I have issued a post each year at this time and because of that I’m getting lazy this year and including much of that material with updated stats and links in today’s post. Read More »