Most covered songs of all time
If you agree with the old proverb that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then cover songs serve as tributes to their original artists. Sometimes, a cover version vastly outshined its original. Such is the case with “Summertime,” originally written for the 1935 George Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess,” which Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong put a jazz spin on in 1957 to make it an international hit.
To learn more about the most covered songs in musical history, Stacker mined data from WhoSampled.com, whose goal is to build the most comprehensive database for music. The site, which is managed by a team of 49 moderators, features more than 653,000 songs and more than 215,000 artists as of Feb. 26, 2020. Aside from Beatles tunes, Christmas music accounts for a number of the most covered songs, including Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” in 1942: the second-most covered holiday song with more than 50 million copies sold internationally to date.
Along with each slide, you will find information about the song’s meaning, some of the more notable or unique covers, as well as reasons behind the song’s success. Beatles fans will enjoy going down “The Long and Winding Road” of the most covered songs, as the Fab Four of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are featured prominently in this list.
In fact, The Beatles penned the basis for more than 4,000 cover versions of their songs through the years. One of their most popular, “Yesterday,” almost never saw the light of day because McCartney found it so easy to write, he thought he had stolen it from someone. It would go on to be covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marvin Gaye, and inspired a 2019 movie of the same name.
Continue reading to find out which songs are among the most covered of all time—and check out Stacker's playlist on Spotify, inspired by this story.
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#50. ‘Help!’ by The Beatles
- Covers: 118
“Help!” is off the 1965 soundtrack album of the same name, which was nominated by the Grammys for Album of the Year and produced by George Martin. The tune has been covered by a range of iconic artists including The Carpenters in 1970, Dolly Parton in 1979, and Tina Turner in 1984.
#49. ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ by Harry Reser & His Orchestra feat. Tom Stacks
- Covers: 118
From Ella Fitzgerald to a Kidz Bop cover, the quintessential Christmas song first released in 1934 has many do-overs. More than 100 artists have belted out the song since, including the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Beach Boys, Justin Bieber, Natalie Grant, and Faith Hill. The song also served as the title for a 1970 film narrated by Fred Astaire, starring Mickey Rooney.
#48. ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen
- Covers: 119
Nearly four decades after the original 1984 release, “Hallelujah” has been covered many times over, from Bob Dylan performing it at a few shows in 1988 to Bono performing a tribute to Leonard Cohen in 1995. Other notable covers include Jeff Buckley in 1994 and Willie Nelson in 2006. Rolling Stone in 2019 marveled at Cohen’s ability to bring together concepts surrounding sex and religion into the song’s lyrics.
#47. ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ by The Harry Simeone Chorale
- Covers: 119
Since the 1958 original, this classic Christmas song telling the story of a poor drummer boy at the feet of baby Jesus had years of reprisals: It was featured in a rare Jimi Hendrix rendition in 1969 and found its way into dozens of holiday compilation albums from artists as wide-ranging as Whitney Houston in 2003 and Justin Bieber in 2011.
#46. ‘The Long and Winding Road’ by The Beatles
- Covers: 122
Off of the 1970 “Let it Be” Album, the Beatles classic “The Long and Winding Road” has been covered by the likes of George Michael, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles with Count Basie. Coincidentally, as the Beatles 20th and final #1 hit together, the song’s lyrics depict the long and winding road of a broken love story—much like the group’s end. Paul McCartney, who wrote the song, had Ray Charles in mind while composing and did not approve of track’s final take that included dozens of violins, cellos, harps, and trumpets. Nevertheless, Charles covered it in 1971 on his own.
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#45. ‘How Deep Is the Ocean?’ by Paul Whiteman
- Covers: 122
The title of this song, written by Irving Berlin, is one question of many pondered throughout the 1932 tune by the famous composer. Eric Clapton, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Liza Minnelli, Bing Crosby, and Pat Boone have all added their own touch to the tune since.
#44. ‘House of the Rising Sun’ by The Animals
- Covers: 123
While the ultimate meaning of ”The House of the Rising Sun” being a brothel or prison in this traditional 1964 folk song remains a mystery, artists continue to cover it decade after decade. “King and Queen of Folk” Bob Dylan and Joan Baez each recorded a solo version of the song, country legend Dolly Parton performed it with a twang, and Jimi Hendrix along with psychedelic band Frijid Pink lengthened the tune and put their own spins on it.
#43. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ by The Beatles
- Covers: 124
Written by Beatle George Harrison while reading the oldest Chinese text "I Ching," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" features Eric Clapton on lead guitar. A year after the original 1968 recording, Harrison walked out of the recording studio and told his bandmates he was done with The Beatles. John Lennon immediately suggested swapping Clapton in to take Harrison’s place—a move that never happened as the band slowly dissolved over the next several years.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” has been performed in a variety of settings from a 1980 "Muppet Show" episode to the 2019 Carlos Santana version featuring India.Arie and Yo-Yo Mama.
#42. ‘All My Loving’ by The Beatles
- Covers: 124
Paul McCartney first composed music and lyrics for “All My Loving” in 1963, when the band toured with Roy Orbison. It was also The Beatles’ debut performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," which notably kicked off the group’s stateside fame. Renditions of “All My Loving” range from Annette Funicello in 1964 to the Smithereens in 2007.
#41. ‘Amazing Grace’ by John Newton
- Covers: 126
Though professionally covered 126 times, the 1779 Christian hymn “Amazing Grace” is reportedly performed at least 10,000 times annually and has appeared on more than 11,000 albums. While some renditions of the song are considered superior, including the Harlem Gospel Choir, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Leann Rhimes, and Steven Tyler, other, less famous covers were recorded by the Dropkick Murphys, U2, and Willie Nelson. The song, written by an atheist slave trader named John Newton, ironically reemerged as a civil rights anthem and has been sung publicly by U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.
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