15 Cover Songs That Are More Popular Than The Originals

Art is a cageless bird. A footloose, freeborn brainchild of an artist that is apt to explore beyond its creator's margins. Ed Sheeran wrote the 2015 heartrending pop song “Love Yourself” (originally intended for his album, Divide). Still, it became one of Justin Bieber's biggest hits, proving that true art belongs to its innovator and anyone gifted enough to redefine it.

It is common practice for singers to cover songs they fancy—almost as natural as it is for any random person to sing them. Beyoncé sang renditions of Etta James's “At Last” so much that the soul legend admitted feeling “left out.”

Whitney Houston's “I Will Always Love you” is one of the greatest love songs ever, which folks are now discovering Dolly Parton originally wrote. And there are other mainstream songs so popular that most people don't even know they are variations on the original. Here are fifteen of them.

1. When a Man Loves a Woman, Michael Bolton

This remarkable assertion of true love was first recorded by Percy Sledge as country-soul music in 1996. Other singers then created different versions of it. Notable ones include Bette Midler, Joe Cocker, John Wesley Ryles, and Michael Bolton.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” featured on Michael Bolton's seventh studio album, Time, Love, and Tenderness. Released in 1991, it became the leading rendition of the song. Michael Bolton's guttural, breath-taking rousing voice collided with the passional verses to create a deeply affecting love ballad.

The blue-eyed soul god has proved effortlessly through a career of over forty years how Midas' touch is child's play. He spun the record to gold, his angelic voice beautifully conveying the flaming emotions that inspired the Percy Sledge masterpiece.

Michael Bolton's cover peaked at number one on the US Billboard charts and won him a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

2. Unchained Melody, The Righteous Brothers

Alex North first wrote the music for “Unchained Melody” in 1955, alongside Hy Zaret, who wrote the lyrics. Todd Duncan sang it as the soundtrack for the 1955 film Unchained. “Unchained Melody” was one of the most flawless and passionate songs of the 20th century, hence its various versions and translations.

However, contrary to popular belief, The Righteous Brothers (Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield) were not the original crooners of the song. Still, they own the best-known version of it, which received a Grammy award nomination.

Bobby Hatfield, who sang the solo, jumped right into the slow, unchained melody with a hearty tenor and nostalgic effect, yearning for a lover's sweet touch after a “long, lonely time.” Singers have recorded “Unchained Melody” over a thousand times.

Other artists who recorded the timeless classic include the King of Rock' n' Roll Elvis Presley, Gareth Gates, Marc Martel, Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Rogers, George Benson, and even Tom Ellis on the season finale of Lucifer.

3. Without You, Mariah Carey

“Without You” is a song by American singer Mariah Carey, on her third studio album, Music Box, released in 1993. The sentimental lyrics describe a love so puissant that in its absence is a life of worthless existence haunted by the memories of her lover.

Like the singer, “Without You” aged superbly as a harrowing, soulful plea and made its mark as one of the best songs of her early career. However, the song by Mariah Carey was only a rendition of the original recording by the British rock group Badfinger.

Badfinger first released the song in 1970 as part of their third album, No Dice. They composed it off verses of original pieces written by the two band members, inspired by the heartbreak of their romantic relationships.

In 1971, Harry Nilsson released a cover, which was then nominated for record of the year. He won a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 1973. Regardless, Mariah Carey's version remains the ultimate rendition of the song, peaking on the charts and selling over half a million copies. Air Supply, Dido, and Chris de Burgh also sang covers of the song.

4. The Closer I Get To You, Luther Vandross Feat. Beyoncé

“The Closer I Get To You” originally belonged to American singers Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Roberta Flack released it on her gold-certified album Blue Lights in the Basement in 1997; it became one of her biggest hits.

Big enough to stand the test of time, as artists, including Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan on Rush Hour 3, have shown through striking covers of the song. One of which was outstanding enough to not only “cover” but overshadow the first version.

“The Closer I Get To You” featured on Luther Vandross' thirteenth and final studio album, Dance With My Father, and on Beyoncé’s debut album, Dangerously In Love.

Despite the controversies enclosing Beyoncé as the female vocalist, the dynamic pair added deepened emotions and a mildly smearing dose of sensuality—a distinct feature of both artists' discography—to a slower tempo than the 1977 Rhythm and Blues song. This version by Luther Vandross and Beyoncé is the most notable cover of it to date.

It won them a Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals, for which they also nominated Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.

5. Uptown Girl, Westlife

The poor-boy-rich-girl and vice versa classism is a dominant trope in the literary world, and if you're a fan of romance books, you would probably agree. But even music would dabble in the most common clichés if they make for good art, as boy band Westlife did in their famous pop anthem, “Uptown Girl.”

However, before their recording in 2001, American singer Billy Joel wrote and recorded its first and original version in 1983 for his album, An Innocent Man. With its catchy tune, the song soon became one of Joel's most successful records. It also became one of Westlife's best covers of an original song when they recorded it years later for their third album, World of Our Own.

Asides from breaking many worldwide charts, Westlife's rendition of “Uptown Girl” advanced to platinum certification in the UK. Earlier artists who covered it include Russ Abbot in 1985 and The Shadows in 1990.

6. Hound Dog, Elvis Presley

The original song was by Big Mama Thornton in 1952, and it was her greatest hit and one of the best-selling singles of all time. “Hound Dog” became a paradigm of Rock' n' Roll. It gained explosive recognition—even by the king of the retro-famous genre. However, there was a significant change in terms of genre and lyrical composition between both versions.

While Big Mama Thornton's Blues version hinted at a sly, penniless lover, Elvis' pop-rock rendition took jabs at a worthless imposter.

Although critics accused Elvis of cultural appropriation for this song and others he held to his credit, it didn't stop it from attaining a megahit status. “Hound Dog” was a number one hit for eleven weeks, and Rock' n' Roll's Hall of Fame listed it as one song that helped shape the culture. It went four times platinum.

American vocal group Freddie Bell and the Bellboys and early 1900s actress Betsy Gay both have song covers. Doja Cat also made a cover for “Hound Dog,” which was a part of the soundtrack in the 2022 biopic of Elvis Presley by Baz Luhrmann.

7. Respect, Aretha Franklin

Before Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Lizzo started singing girl empowerment, there was Aretha Franklin, who spun the reins on Otis Redding's record and shaped it into a feminist anthem for the late 60s and the entire 70s.

American soul legend Otis Redding, who some often regard as The King of Soul, recorded “Respect” as a single for his album, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul. Soon after its release, it became a commercial success, peaking at the fourth position on US Billboard's Hot Rhythms and Blues chart.

Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin fell in love with the song—but tweaked the lyrics. From a high-class man, willing to spend his money just as long as he got “a little respect” when he came home, to a self-confident, liberal woman who demanded a little respect. “Respect” was her biggest hit.

A rendition by Jennifer Hudson was part of the soundtrack of the 2021 biopic by Leisl Tommy, based on the soul queen.

8. Killing Me Softly With His Song, Fugees

“Killing Me Softly With His Song” is a song by Lori Lieberman, inspired by a Don McLean performance and released in 1972. Despite its ingenuity, the song remained a hidden gem. That is until Roberta Flack released a version of it one year after hearing it on an airplane.

Roberta Flack won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her version, which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. However, even though Flack created a masterpiece with her soulful rendition of Lieberman's piece, it is not the most popular version.

In 1996, Hip-Hip group Fugees released a sensational cover of the song. With Lauryn Hill, a.k.a L. Boogie, as she referred to herself throughout the song, on the mic, it became a quick, grand success. It won the 1997 Grammy award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal and peaked at number one on over thirty charts.

It went platinum in the UK and the US three times, becoming one of their greatest hits and best-selling singles.

9. Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper

The rebellion-themed, vivacious dance-pop song of the 80s is a delightful listen to any generation of girls who just want to have fun. And although Cyndi Lauper provided the music with the much-needed rockstar eccentricity and vocal versatility, Robert Hazard first recorded the hit in 1979.

Cyndi Lauper's version peaked at number one on many charts. It was the lead single from her debut album. Even more commendable was how she changed the lyrics, which first portrayed a hedonist in his ability to have “good fun” with girls “when the working day is gone.” She birthed yet another feminist anthem.

It received two Grammy nominations—one well deserved for her impressive vocal performance—and won two MTV awards for the music video. Pop diva Miley Cyrus also released a rendition on her second studio album, Breakout.

10. Twist and Shout, The Beatles

Everyone knows The Beatles. The band that broke the 60s through to 70s, infamous for saying they were “more popular than Jesus,” is also the best-selling musical group of all time. Among their biggest hits are “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Can't Buy Me Love,” which held number one on the charts. “Twist and Shout” followed closely at number two.

A less famous musical group, The Top Notes, released the first recorded version of “Twist and Shout” in 1961 through Atlantic Studios. However, it was not much of a success until hit-making R&B and Rock band known as The Isley Brothers did a cover for it one year later.

The Beatles' version came a year after The Isley Brothers' and is based on it. It was a single on their debut studio album, Please Please Me, and their biggest hit was a cover song. New York's influential Hip-Hop group Salt ‘N' Pepa also made a cover in 1988.

11. I Still Believe (Great Design), Tim Cappello

American rock band The Call, which was composed initially of the late Michael Been, Tom Ferrier, Scott Musick, and Jim Goodwin, first recorded “I Still Believe (Great Design).” Michael Been and Jim Goodwin wrote the song and released it in 1986 as a single on their album, Reconciled. The five-star album became their best-selling album to date.

Then in 1987, renowned instrumentalist and singer Tim Cappello, famous for his tall, sturdy sculpted body and slicked-back hair, made a cover of The Call's hit song, becoming more popular than the original when Capello played it during the 1987 American horror film The Lost Boys – and of course it landed on the soundtrack.

The Lost Boys, by Harvey Bernhard, was the franchise's first installment and was followed by two sequels. Christian artist Russ Taff also recorded a cover of I Still Believe in 1987 and in 2015, the Protomen recorded another version for their album The Cover Up.

12. Emotion, Destiny's Child

Australian singer Samantha Sang first recorded “Emotion” as a single for her debut album, released in 1978. “Emotion,” written by Barry and Robin Gibb of Bee Gees, became the biggest hit of her career. The song's legacy continued through different renditions—even one of Bee Gees.

Bee Gees originally recorded “Emotions” in 1994, but it featured in their retrospective collection, Their Greatest Hits: The Record. They are one of the most influential musical groups of the earlier century, often referred to as “The Disco Kings” for their distinctive style of music.

Each English band member, comprising three brothers, also had distinct voices, with parts blending in absolute harmony. The Bee Gees are among the best-selling artists of all time.

Shortly after their release, American girl band Destiny's Child sang their own cover of the song for their third album, Survivor, and distinguished it with extraordinary vocal riffs. It became an instant hit and climbed to number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

13. Cocaine, Eric Clapton

Despite its ambiguous title, “Cocaine” is a musical reflection intended to highlight the stimulant's dangers. In it, Eric Clapton described how a person can get so addicted that they might need to “take her out” to “kick them blues”. Perhaps the central theme (whichever way listeners interpreted it) resonated with thousands of people, but “Cocaine” was a number one song for the musician and became a staple of rock culture.

Initially, J. J. Cale wrote and recorded “Cocaine” in 1976 for his fourth studio album, Troubadour. Still, it gained the most critical acclaim when Eric Clapton released his version. He released “Cocaine” on his fifth studio album, Slowhand. In 2013, Rolling Stone included it in a list of Eric Clapton's best songs.

14. If I Were a Boy, Beyoncé

“If I Were a Boy” is a single by Beyoncé featured on her third studio album, I Am… Sasha Fierce. 

BC Jean and Toby Gad wrote the song, but BC Jean's record company rejected it. BC, however, published the recording on her personal sites—which she referred to when copyright controversies rose. Despite the song being hers, Beyoncé was the artist who brought it to fruition later that year.

The song explored the grounds of sexism and feminine roles in a male-dominated society through Beyoncé’s anguished vocals to deepen the evocative nature of the music. But on the remix featuring R. Kelly, he represented the male side of affairs. He explained how things were more complicated than dreaming in the shoes of the opposite gender.

The R&B/pop ballad peaked concurrently on different charts, and at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with “Single Ladies” holding the number one spot. It became certified platinum in the US and the UK. The single received high accolades from critics, who judged it to be one of her best songs of all time.

15. All Along The Watch Tower, Jimi Hendrix

American musician Bob Dylan wrote and recorded “All Along The Watch Tower” for his eighth studio album, John Wesley Harding, released in 1967. The rock song is one of his greatest hits. And eventually, it became one of Jimi Hendrix's best-known songs, so it may be hard to believe it was not an original song of his.

His cover thoroughly impressed even Bob Dylan, who later felt like he was doing a tribute to the late Jimi Hendrix each time he performed the song.

Jimi Hendrix's version got released in 1968 as a single on his third and final studio album, Electric Ladyland. It was part of the soundtrack of mainstream movies, such as Forrest Gump and Rush. It peaked at number 20 on the 1968 Billboard Hot 100 chart and appeared on Rolling Stone's music survey of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Check out our other list of amazing cover songs that are better than the originals!

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Boloere Seibidor, fondly called B.S. is a Nigerian based writer and poet. Her favorite topics to cover include music, especially Hip-Hop, film, lifestyle, and fashion. She's been published by Feral Journal, Fantasy Magazine, The Temz Review, and most notably, Wealth of Geeks. She enjoys romantic dinners, movie nights, and touring new sites. When she's not writing, she's delving back in time to the underground world of Hip-Hop, watching TikTok, or visiting the cinema.