Special Report

Cover Songs That Outperformed the Original

When you hear the line “The whispers in the morning,” what singer comes to mind? Most music fans will probably imagine world-famous recording artist Celine Dion’s version of “The Power of Love.” And many will think of a certain rock-and roll singer when they hear “The Twist.” But in neither case was the tune initially performed by the artist most people associate it with. (These are the most covered songs in music history.)

Cover versions of songs aren’t usually more popular than the original – but there are exceptions. 

To assemble a list of cover songs that outperformed the original version, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on chart performance through May 14, 2022 on the Billboard Hot 100. Cover songs were ranked based on an inverted ranking of performance on the Hot 100 chart, wherein a week at position No. 100 is worth one point, a week at position No. 99 two points, and so on, up to a week at position No. 1 worth 100 points. Only cover songs whose performance on the Hot 100 outranks the original version to chart on the Hot 100 were included for consideration. 

Click here to see cover songs that outperformed the original

There is no single genre in which cover songs tend to chart better. The songs on the following list vary from classic country to rock to pop ballads. Some cover versions change up the genre, in fact, as when Donna Summer recorded a disco interpretation of the ballad “MacArthur Park.” 

Sometimes the cover artist is less famous than the originator of the song (for instance, the R&B quartet Jodeci, whose version of “Lately” outdid the first recording, by the iconic Stevie Wonder). Other times an artist outperforms him- or herself in a different context, as when Eric Clapton’s solo version of “Layla” did better on the charts than the original he recorded with his group, Derek & the Dominos. (Here are the best cover songs of all time.)

Whether you prefer the song as it was first released or in its newer incarnation is up to you, but there’s no disputing that these covers were more successful than the originals.

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