The List: Best Cover Songs

We're taking a look at some of the all-time best cover songs. 

Last week I was talking about my love for Paramore’s cover of Drake's Passionfruit. It made me think about all the cover songs I’ve heard over the years.

I think for a cover song to be great, the original needs to have its own identity and the artists performing the cover need to make it their own. Here are some cover songs that have made my list as some of the best over the years.

Wonderwall by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is a master of cover tunes. Just one listen to his cover of Taylor Swift's entire 1989 album and you will agree. Adams truly makes these covers his own and at times makes them better.

Here he takes one of the biggest hits by Oasis and makes it dark and melancholy. This totally changes the Brit Pop version of the original. I feel the lyrics match the tone here even better than the original which is hard to top.

Jolene by The White Stripes

While one of Dolly Parton’s most beloved songs has been covered many times over the years, none compare to The White Stripes version. Jack White take this song and makes it his own.

From the passion in his voice to the roaring jam he and Meg White play, this is one of White’s finest moments and shows his musical genius.

Killing Me Softly by The Fugees

Roberta Flacks R&B hit was huge in the 70s. Twenty years later, The Fugees gave it a hip hop update. Lauren Hill’s incredible voice gave Flack a run for her money. This is a cover that could come out today and still be a hit.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Guns and Roses

Bob Dylan’s original folk classic gets a rocking update from one of the greatest bands of all-time. A standard of their live shows going back to their beginnings, Guns and Roses have made this song their own and to this day it still tears the house down at their live shows.

Easy by Faith No More

The Commodores Motown hit gets one amazing update from Faith No More. One band you would never think to remake this song; they totally knock it out of the park.

Mike Patton proves why he is one of the best rock voices around. This is one of my favorite FNM tracks and one of those songs you love to hear on a “chill out” mix.

Baba O’Reilly by Pearl Jam

Go to a Pearl Jam concert and guaranteed you will hear a few covers. The band pays tribute to their biggest influences nightly. Eddie Vedder’s biggest has always been The Who.

For me and my fandom, this is my favorite cover to hear by the band live. It’s always a great way to bring the crowd together one more time as their shows come to an end.

Higher Ground By Red Hot Chili Peppers

The song that got me into the Chili Peppers as a kid. The band took a funky Stevie Wonder classic and funked it up even more. The Chili’s energy is on full blast here and you can’t help but get a little crazy yourself listening to it.

I’m bouncing in my seat while I write this listening to it. It was a great treat to hear the band play it when I saw them over the winter.

You Really Got Me by Van Halen

How do you take a killer track by The Kinks and turn it up a notch? If you’re Van Halen, it’s easy. Between Eddie Van Halen’s insane guitar work and David Lee Roth’s craziness, you have a bonafide classic remake of a classic.

Sweet Dreams By Marilyn Manson

Let’s get a little creepy for this one. The 80s synth pop hit by the Eurythmics got a redo from the one and only Marilyn Manson. Sweet Dreams would become the band’s first hit and really their introduction to the world.

Here, Manson and company twist the song into a scary fairy tale, and the song has become a staple of theirs ever since. Make sure to watch the video with the lights on. I still remember creeping my mom out when she saw this.

Before we get into my top three covers that I feel are the best of the best, my editor Morgan has a few cover songs to add.

The Sound of Silence by Disturbed

Disturbed is known for being one of the most popular nu-metal bands to emerge out of the early 2000s. One of their most famous songs, Down With The Sickness, is the perfect example of singer David Draiman’s signature vocal style.

However, in a song that came completely out of left field, Disturbed gained fame in a surprising new way with their cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic, Sound of Silence. Here, Draiman’s vocals pull every ounce of emotion from the song, and the end result is a truly haunting tribute.

No Quarter by Tool

Nothing compares to the original No Quarter by Led Zeppelin, but there’s something almost hypnotic about Tool’s cover of the track that serves to make it stand out as something altogether different.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Maynard James Keenan and his vocals, which I honestly can’t place into any one genre. His sound is very malleable, and adapts to the heart of a song. This is on full display here. Words don’t do it justice, just listen.

Thanks for those examples, Morgan. Now on to my top three cover songs!

Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley

From Manson to Hallelujah. Leonard Cohen’s song has been covered more time than I can count. It may be the most covered song of all time. But no other version comes close to touching the late Jeff Buckley’s amazing version of the song, even the original.

The haunting version will always be associated with Buckley who sadly drown at age 30 and robbing music fans of one the great young talents of his generation.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night by Nirvana

The original was an old blues tune by blues legend Leadbelly. The cover was sung by Kurt Cobain in what I feel is his finest moment as a musician. Ending Nirvana’s incredible Unplugged set, Cobain cemented his legacy here.

The way Cobain puts everything he had into this song is nothing short of legendary. The way he sang that final verse still gives me chills all these years later. This is a perfect cover.

Hurt by Johnny Cash

During the last few years before his death, Cash worked with Rick Rubin on a series of albums and on these albums there were a handful of amazing covers. Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails Hurt, took one of the most depressing songs ever recorded and used it as what felt like a farewell.

Cash passed away shortly after this and the tone of the song and the video was a man facing his mortality and looking back on his life and regrets. I think it was a perfect close to Cash’s legacy. A finer cover there may not be.

For more Lists, check out some of the best album closers since 1990. If covers aren’t your thing, maybe you enjoy collaborations. Here are some of the best.