Musicians making new renditions of existing songs goes back to the very creation of music itself, really. But the modern phenomenon of artists covering other artists' songs for commercial profit and critical appeal more or less kicked off around the 1950s, back when record companies first started focusing more on using catchy cover versions to reach a wider audience or appeal to a specific listener demographic.
As a historical note, it was common for white performers to re-do songs first made popular by Black artists. Just one famous example is Elvis Presley's watershed recording of "Hound Dog." The song earlier recorded by the blues singer Big Mama Thornton helped skyrocket Presley's career.
And today, the business of covering songs is still alive and well. While we hope it's not as purely motivated by corporate reach as it is creative experimentation and respect and admiration for the original material, there's still seemingly always money to be made in making the old new again.
Surely, some of your favorite songs are probably cover songs. For more, look at the list below to see 10 rock and metal cover songs that ultimately became more famous than the originals:
Quiet Riot, “Cum on Feel the Noize” (1983)Original by: Slade (1973)
English rock band Slade first released “Cum on Feel the Noize” as a single in February of 1973. It reached No. 1 in the U.K. Singles Chart, making it the band’s fourth No. 1 hit, and remained in the chart for 12 weeks. Fast forward to the ‘80s, Quiet Riot was reluctant to cover the track. Eventually giving in, the song became an instant hit and helped the band’s album ascend to No. 1, the first heavy metal Billboard
200 chart-topper. (Listen to the original here
Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower” (1968)Original by: Bob Dylan (1967)
Bob Dylan originally released “All Along the Watchtower” in 1967 for the album John Wesley Harding
. Since the late ‘70s, he has performed the track in concert more than any other of his songs. Although it’s been covered by many different musicians in many different genres, Jimi Hendrix’s rendition has remained the most popular. Hendrix must have been a fan of Dylan, as he adapted a total of three Dylan songs to his sound during his tragically short career. (Listen to the original here
Maneskin, "Beggin'" (2017)Original by: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons (1967)
Italian rock band Maneskin recorded their cover of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons’ “Beggin’” in 2017 after performing it on X Factor Italia
. Following the band’s Eurovision
win in 2021, the song went viral on TikTok. As of the time of this writing, the song has been used in about 10 million videos on the social media app. Although it didn’t receive quite the same level of success for Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, the track was featured in an ad campaign for Adidas in the early 2000s. (Listen to the original here
The Clash, "I Fought the Law" (1979)Original by: The Crickets (1960)
The original version of “I Fought the Law” was written in 1958 by Sonny Curtis of The Crickets. The Clash discovered a popular Bobby Fuller Four version of the track on a jukebox in the late ‘70s. Their version first appeared on their 1979 EP The Cost of Living
and was the Clash’s first single released in the United States. (Listen to the original here
The Animals, "House of the Rising Sun" (1964)Traditional folk song
“House of the Rising Sun” is one of those songs that has been covered countless times. What’s interesting about this one is the fact the original artist is unknown. The track is a traditional folk song, sometimes called “Rising Sun Blues,” that is speculated to have been first collected in Appalachia in the 1930s. The most successful commercial recording of the song was made by The Animals, who brought it to No. 1 hit on the U.K. Singles Chart.
Eric Clapton, "Cocaine" (1977)Original by: J.J. Cale (1976)
“Cocaine,” not to be confused with “Cocaine Blues,” was originally written and recorded by J.J. Cale. A year later, Eric Clapton made his own rendition, which charted on the Billboard
Hot 100. Clapton once described the track as an “anti-drug” song intended to warn listeners about the effects of cocaine. But it might be the more ambiguous lyrics that make it one of Clapton’s most popular tracks. (Listen to the original here
Nirvana, "The Man Who Sold The World" (1994)Original by: David Bowie (1970)
“The Man Who Sold The World” is the title track of David Bowie’s third studio album. Nirvana performed the song on MTV Unplugged
in 1993, introducing the song to a whole new audience. It received a fair amount of airplay and was in heavy rotation on MTV, becoming one of MTV’s most played videos in 1995. (Listen to the original here
Judas Priest, “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” (1979)Original by: Fleetwood Mac (1969)
“The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” was written by Peter Green during the final months of his stint with Fleetwood Mac. Judas Priest took the song and ran with it a decade later, accelerating the pace and turning it into a heavy metal anthem. Apparently, that was just what the song needed to reach commercial success. Now, the cover is not only considered one of the band’s best songs, but it’s also succeeded in becoming far more famous than the original version. (Listen to the original here
Santana, "Black Magic Woman" (1970)Original by: Fleetwood Mac (1969)
Another track from Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green era. “Black Magic Woman” didn’t become a hit until Santana covered it shortly after its Fleetwood release. Santana’s version spent 13 weeks on the Hot 100. It also helped the album Abraxas
go platinum five times. “Black Magic Woman” is now one of Santana’s biggest hits. The two versions are pretty comparable, but the gnarly guitar riffs and smooth vocal stylings of Santana's version is what truly set it over the edge. (Listen to the original here
Joan Jett, “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” (1981)Original by: Arrows (1975)
This is one of Joan Jett and The Blackhearts’ most well-known songs, so it wouldn’t be surprising if you didn’t know it was a cover. The original is by the U.K. combo The Arrows. To their credit, the original is almost as — dare we say, rock ‘n’ roll?— as the Jett classic. Unfortunately for then, her’s was the one to get a platinum certification and placement in the Grammy Hall of Fame. (Listen to the original here