Top 10: Cover Versions That Are Better Than The Original Song

There used to be a time when I snobbishly snorted every time a cover version came on the radio. “Why do people even bother?”, I’d think. “Either the song sucks, then it can not be made better, or it doesn’t suck, then why change it?”

Time passed and I grew wiser. [Though not a lot.] The realisation came gradually. Actually, cover version can do a whole lot. For good songs and for bad songs. They can be funny, they can make the original more complex, or they can just sound good.

Recently, I became a little obsessed with cover versions. Mark Ronson‘s Version, The Baseballs’ Strike! and the BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge feature prominently on my playlist and when I hear of cover versions today, my first reaction is to get excited.

So, therefore I thought I’d share the glory of cover versions that are actually better than the original.


10. Paul AnkaIt’s A Sin

Okay, ususally I’m not that much of a Paul Anka fan. But his Rock Swings album is pretty cool. The original is okay (far from being the best song the Pet Shop Boys ever had), but the swing version is just fun.

The Original by the Pet Shop Boys:

The Cover:

Unfortunately, I can’t find a video, but you can listen to it here.

9. The Baseballs – Bleeding Love

I’ve talked about The Baseballs before, a German band who make 50s style cover versions of modern songs. Probably the song where they make the most from the least is Bleeding Love.

The Original by Leona Lewis:

The Cover:

8. Soft CellTainted Love

One of the bands who managed to make the cover so completely their own that most people don’t even know that it is a cover. Though the original isn’t bad.

The Original by Gloria Jones:

The Cover:

7. Marilyn MansonSweet Dreams

Okay, okay, the Eurythmics version is good, and more importantly cult, but Marilyn Manson’s version is a better music-lyrics fit in my opinion. So go bother somebody else.

The Original by the Eurythmics:

The Cover:

6. José GonzálezHeartbeats

José González has a knack for cover versions. [You should also check out his Teardrop version.] But Heartbeats is especially beautiful.

The Original by The Knife:

The Cover:

5. Mark Ronson feat. Daniel MerriweatherStop Me

Though I love The Smiths dearly, in this case, all the points go to Mark Ronson and Daniel Merriweather who took one of their mediocre songs and made it absolutely awesome.

The Original by The Smiths:

The Cover:

4. ElbowIndependent Women

Okay, who doesn’t love Elbow? You? Do you know them? No? Didn’t think so. ;)

Anyway, here we have the prime example of not only taken a mediocre song and making it better but taking a bad song and making it completely addictive. Have fun (and check out this video as well).

The Original by Destiny’s Child:

The Cover:

3. TravisHit Me Baby One More Time

No comment needed, I think.

The Original by Britney Spears:

The Cover:

2. Moulin Rouge! – (El Tango de) Roxanne

I might not be completely unbiased here, because for some reason I really don’t like Sting’s voice. But combining Roxanne with a very good Tango rythm (thank you, José Feliciano) and Ewan McGregor‘s singing kills me every time.

The Original by The Police:

The Cover:

1. Johnny CashHurt

Somehow when Johnny Cash sings this song, it seems less emo and more honest than when Trent Reznor sings it (don’t hit me for saying that)! [Trent Reznor scores on the attractiveness meter big time though… if that’s any consolation.]

But in all seriousness, this cover is number one on this list because the original is already really, really, really good. The cover is just a little better. [Maybe it’s also only more poignant because Cash died so shortly after recording it.]

The Original by the Nine Inch Nails:

The Cover:


  1. The Soft Cell version of “Tainted Love”? Really?
    Marilyn Manson, hands down.

    I’ve got a few other lovely cover versions for your consideration:

    Kate Nash – Men’s Needs (made a silly misogynist tune smart and funny)
    Taken By Trees – Sweet Child O’ Mine (yes, really)
    Arctic Monkeys – Diamonds Are Forever
    Newton Faulkner – Teardrop (you mentioned José Gonzales’ version…but I’m partial to this one as well)
    José Feliciano – Light My Fire (again, yes, really…I’ve known that version forever and ever, and because it’s not depressing)

    I’ll probably think of lots more over night.
    Right now, I’m yawning almost constantly…it’s weird…like my body is trying to tell me something ^.~

  2. Bizarre Love Triangle by Frente >> Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order. And I haven’t heard anything else by either band.

    • I like Blue Monday by New Order. But I don’t know anything else by them either. Or better, I didn’t know anything else; now I know Bizarre Love Triangle. ;)

      I have to admit that I don’t like the Frente version – makes me fall asleep. And the New Order version isn’t much better.

      Here’s Blue Monday:

      • Grrr…

        Frente = awesome
        New Order = compulsory listening (along with Joy Division)

        However, I recently came by an Iron&Wine cover of New Order’s “Love Vigilantes” that simply blew me away. Very poignant song in this age – you should give it a listen. You probably won’t find the original as it’s an album track from 1985(ish).

  3. ohhh woher kenn ich die coverversion von elbow? werbung? radio? fernsehen? auf jeden fall eine der coolsten versionen, echt :)

    ‘hurt’ ist uebrigens auf der downward spiral 1994 erschienen, da war trent ca. 30 jahre alt, den song wurde also von einem twentysomething geschrieben und interpretiert, das macht natuerlich einen großen unterschied zu einer legende wie johnny cash..
    ich mag den neuen trent nicht. traurig, aber wahr. ich mochte den abgefuckten, drogensuechtigen skelett-trent :p i know, das ist echt mies… aber dieser glueckliche muskelmann, dem will ich nichts so recht abkaufen. mh.

    ein paar meiner lieblings cover songs :)

    (ueberhaupt, amanda palmer hat soviele unfassbar tolle coverversionen gemacht, von fake plastic trees ueber mein herr ueber perfect day und die seeraueber jenny und und und… und jeder song ist gelungen. gott, ich liebe diese frau.)

    stop me find ich auch super, aber ich verehre ja auch die smiths und morrissey, insofern..
    die lassen sich uebrigens auch super covern!
    siehe hier:


    aber was ich eigentlich sagen wollte: in deiner liste fehlt die unglaubliche coverversion von mad world. one of the best ueberhaupt, oder?

    • Ich wüsst nicht, wo die Coverversion von Elbow noch aufgetaucht ist… vielleicht auf einem Filmsoundtrack? Keine Ahnung.

      Jedem sein eigener Trent – ich finde er war noch nie so geil wie jetzt. ;) Aber es stimmt schon – zu der Art Musik, die er macht, passt der frühere Trent eigentlich besser.

      Ach! Die Los Colorados kannte ich schon, hatte ich aber schon wieder vergessen – genial!

      Und Eisbär von den Dresden Dolls hat es nur ganz knapp nicht auf die Liste geschafft. Ich hatte es schon oben, aber dann… weiß nicht, irgendwie ist es wieder runter gefallen. ;)

      Auch die Mad World Coverversion war auf der Liste schon drauf und ist dann wieder runtergefallen. Manchmal sind 10 Plätze einfach zu wenig.

      The Smiths sind genial, absolut genial. Aber Stop Me wird halt meiner Meinung nach erst im Cover richtig super. Stimmt auf jeden Fall, dass sie sich sehr gut covern lassen. Besonders, weil sie einfach so viele tolle Lieder haben.

  4. I just thought of another guy who would make my list, were I the list-making kind: Jamie Cullum

    I <3 that man.
    Check out his version of "High and Dry", at least. And "Frontin'"…and "Mysterious Ways"…and…and…*grins*

  5. The very first version of “Drift Away” was recorded in 1972 by John Henry Kurtz, a year before Dobie Gray made it a hit in 1973. So, technically, the version that was on all the charts is a cover, too.

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