The Best Cover Versions in Musical History


I’m not interested in the paint-by-numbers ones designed to make a quick buck.

Here are the six cover tunes that I feel brought the most originality and fresh energy to standard tunes, making it more than worth the effort to do the remaking.

6. “It’s My Life” by No Doubt (2003)

Gwen Stefani gave the old Talk Talk song both a defiance and a girliness which made it spunkily endearing — her trademark, after all. A lovely dance hall surprise.

5. “I Say a Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin (1968)

This was supposed to be the B-side of Aretha’s “The House That Jack Built,” but it went top 10 all on its own. As opposed to Dionne Warwick‘s relatively breezy version, this one is sexy and passionate, and is given an extra twist in the way Aretha pretty much sits out the choruses, letting the Sweet Inspirations do the huffing and puffing.

4. “Walk on By” by Isaac Hyes (1969)

Again, Warwick got remade, and this time, Hayes added a deeply felt hurt, along with some soulful riffing, that makes it a unique take on an abandonment classic. It almost feels like a whole new song.

3. “Kiss” by Tom Jones, with Art of Noise (1988)

The gyrating Welsh singer was a perfect match for this erotically needy Prince tune. Jones gives it a hormonal oomph, singing it in a guttural, throaty belt far removed from Prince’s wispy falsetto. Some people find this version camp. I find it genius.

2. “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell (1981)

Redoing Gloria Jones’s hit, Soft Cell benefits from a throbbing synth beat and Marc Almond’s piercing wail. The song lashes at you like a whip, Almond belting out in serious retribution. A great cover version that’s a surefire dance-floor winner through eternity.

And the best cover of all …

1. “A House Is Not a Home” by Luther Vandross (1981)

Luther remade this wrenching Bacharach/David ballad into a three-act opera filled with dramatics, scat eruptions, and one very dramatic pause. By the way, it’s another cover of a Dionne Warwick song (though Brook Benton’s version beat her to the charts by two weeks)! And I happen to adore all of Dionne’s versions, too. The woman just happened to spawn great covers!