Some of the most successful singers of all time did not begin their careers as singers. They started out as songwriters. Ed Sheeran wrote songs for others before he became a megastar. So did Katy Perry. Some songwriters wrote songs for other artists throughout their careers. The Bee Gees did this regularly. They wrote “Islands in the Stream,” performed by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. They also wrote “Heartbreaker” for Dionne Warwick.
Among the examples of artists who performed songs written for other artists is Jose Feliciano’s restrained version of the Doors’ hit “Light My Fire.” Frank Sinatra, no admirer of rock ‘n’ roll, nevertheless said the Beatles song “Something” was one of the most beautiful love songs ever written and covered it with full orchestral treatment.
To identify the most covered song in music history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed listings in the online cover song database SecondHandSongs. Christmas songs and folk songs were excluded from consideration. It should be noted that the number of covers given is probably a minimum, as other sources list considerably more versions for some songs.
We considered many tunes from the so-called Great American Songbook, with its pantheon of composers like Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, and Cole Porter. Jazz giants Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk are represented, and many of these songs have become jazz standards, used as the basis for improvisation.
Other songs we considered were from more contemporary songwriters like bossa nova pioneer Antônio Carlos Jobim and like John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In one of Lennon’s last television interviews, on the “Tomorrow” show in 1975, host Tom Snyder asked him why he had recorded a cover of the Ben E. King classic “Stand by Me.” Lennon replied simply that a great song is a great song. That has been the rationale for multiple cover versions throughout the decades.
The most covered song in music history is “Summertime.” Here are the details:
- Covers: 2,169
- Originally recorded by: Abbie Mitchell
- Written by: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward
With almost 2,200 recorded versions, “Summertime” is the most covered song ever. Written by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, it was first performed by Abbie Mitchell in the opera “Porgy and Bess” in 1935 and first recorded by her the same year — with George Gershwin himself as pianist and bandleader. Pete Seeger, Lou Rawls, the Righteous Brothers, Al Green and Lawrence Welk are among the many who have tried to put their stamp on it, and the version by Janis Joplin remains one of that ill-fated singer’s most famous songs.
Click here to see all the most covered songs in music history.
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