There are plenty of songs which have been covered over the years, some far more than others. In fact, Mental Floss actually published a 2009 list of The 10 Most Covered Songs. Of course, that list has changed over the last six years, but this list remains reasonably reliable. In the interest of preserving the collective sanity of the people of Earth, I alone shall assume the mantle of Ultimate Hubris and determine which should be forever banned from being covered again *tongue shoved quite deeply in cheek*.
Yesterday, the Beatles.
Mental Floss says: “It has been covered more than 3,000 times, including by Joan Baez, Liberace, Sinatra, Elvis, Daffy Duck, En Vogue and Boyz II Men.”
My Verdict: Covering a song over 3,000 is like driving a car for so long, the driver and any passengers smell exactly like everything which has ever been in said vehicle (most of you understand this!) When Daffy Duck covers a song, it’s time to send it to the South Pacific for a long, peaceful retirement. For the love of every deity in all the various dimensional planes, I beg the music gods to shove this into a filing cabinet somewhere, lock it up, and throw away the key!
Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles.
Mental Floss says: “A somewhat surprising choice, I think, but it’s been covered 131 times by artists such as Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Aretha, Kansas and Swedish industrial metal band Pain.”
My Verdict: Upon hearing this song, I was actually pretty impressed with it. It’s not overdone and the covers are (mostly) not bad. It may stay.
Cry Me a River, Julie London.
Mental Floss says: “This jazzy number from 1955 has been covered by a huge range of people ““ Barbra Streisand, Joe Cocker, Aerosmith, Rick Astley, Bjork, Merle Haggard, and Olivia Newton John (the new Justin Timberlake Cry My a River is not a cover).”
My Verdict: The fact that Olivia Newton John, Merle Haggard, and Rick Astley managed to do decent covers of this (okay, Rick Astley is a stretch), keeps it safe.
And I Love Her, the Beatles.
Mental Floss says: “Covered by Bob Marley, Smokey Robinson, Sarah Vaughan, Barry Manilow and Vince Gill, among numerous others. I think this is one of the most gorgeous Beatles songs there is, so while I can’t really blame people for trying, I doubt anyone can top the original.”
My Verdict: Does someone at Mental Floss have a serious boner for The Beatles? I mean, really. That said, this one is pretty good for a cover. Still, once a song is covered in every conceivable genre (Bob Marley kinda clinched this one), it’s time for the shelf.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones.
Mental Floss says: “I bet most of us remember Britney’s rendition at the 2000 MTV video music awards ““ during the song, she ripped off her black suit, stripper-style. Then, in the nude-colored outfit underneath, she transitioned into Oops! I Did it Again. But it’s also been covered by Jimi Hendrix, Cat Power and Vanilla Ice.”
My Verdict: GAHHHH!!!! If I could beam this song into space, shove it into a black hole, pull it out in another dimension and run it through a “New Kids” machine wash, it still wouldn’t erase the image I have of Mick Jagger in nut-huggers at the Super Bowl halftime show. Good-fraggin-BYE!!!
Imagine, John Lennon.
Mental Floss says: “Joan Baez’s cover of this is no surprise, nor is Ray Charles or Elton Johns. Some more unconventional versions have been done by Avril Lavigne, Dolly Parton and Queen.”
My Verdict: This John Lennon classic is a great song on its own merits. I’ve heard several horrendous covers, but also some great ones. This is a good song for acoustic troubadours to cut their teeth on. Keep it.
Summertime, Abbie Mitchell.
Mental Floss says: “She’s the one who originally sang it, anyway, in the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The Janis Joplin cover is probably the most well-known, but Sonny and Cher did a version as well, and so did REM.”
My Verdict: I’ve heard it a few times, and it was actually not bad. As a cover, I’ve heard way worse, so it’s worth keeping.
Blackbird, The Beatles.
Mental Floss says: “Another one of the prettiest Beatles songs, in my opinion, and another one of the most-covered. I’d love to hear the Dave Grohl version, myself, but there’s also Phish, Jesse McCartney (hmm), Bobby McFerrin, Eddie Vedder (I bet that one is really good) and Elliott Smith.”
My Verdict: This song is the LAST Beatles song on the Mental Floss list (breathing a sigh of relief), but it’s pretty damned good. For a cover, it really is versatile, which is surprising since some of the Beatles songs are rather stylistic (especially the latter ones which feature heavy sitar influence). As a result, their covers are either really good, or really, really awful! Let’s keep it…for now.
Over the Rainbow, Judy Garland.
Mental Floss Says: “This one makes me wonder if there is a correlation between the most-covered songs ever and the songs most-frequently performed on American Idol auditions. Non-Idol cover versions include Willie Nelson, Patti LaBelle, Eva Cassidy, Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins, Tori Amos and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. That last version is the Hawaiian rendition that’s mixed with What a Wonderful World that has gotten a lot of play in the last few years.”
My Verdict: True Story – I once heard Martina McBride cover this song at the Strawberry Festival in Plant City, Florida and that performance was dynamite. That said, this song is considered a “standard bearer” among covers. Judy Garland’s original rendition remains the best, but there are many worthy renditions over the years. Something this good deserves to stay.
The Look of Love, Dusty Springfield.
Mental Floss says: “Written by Burt Bacharach and originally sung by Dusty for the first Casino Royale soundtrack in 1967, it’s been covered a lot. Just a few include The Zombies, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Shirley Bassey and Diana Krall.”
My Verdict: Any song which can be successfully covered by The Zombies, Gladys Knight and Shirley Bassey deserves to stay on this list. Besides, it’s from a non-canon Bond movie, so it can’t be all that bad.
WORTH A MENTION…
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac): This 1975 hit remains a definitive work for Stevie Nicks. Though only covered a few times, the most overplayed was the one done by the Dixie Chicks, and that rendition was highly overplayed. Smashing Pumpkins and the cast of Glee did right by it, It’s time to give the right of first play back to Stevie, and retire this tune from coverdom.
Drift Away (John Henry Kurts): This song has seen so many reboots, you’d think it was part of a bad Windows 10 update (rim shot). One of the most recent, by Uncle Kracker and Dobie Gray, was average, at best and badly overplayed. Time for it to take a breather.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell): The aforementioned dynamic duo of Motown Records fame brought this track to life, and Diana Ross later sealed it into pop immortality with her cover, but American Idol quickly relegated this particular song to the title of Most Insufferable Title in Cover History. Granted, this song tests the range of even the most talented singer, but seeing a dozen starry-eyed, naive contestants sing this repeatedly got so old, so fast, I prayed Marvin Gaye would actually pee on Simon Cowell’s head while they sang it.
Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffett): This song hasn’t been covered on radio that I am aware of, but it has been covered by tribute bands and awful lounge singers so much, I’m really surprised Buffett hasn’t sent out a mass cease-and-desist order! While there are some great tribute renditions, far more are simply the product of bad singers or (worse) karaoke competitors who really wouldn’t know a flat from a sharp.