Song covers more famous than the originals, from Respect to Valerie

These re-recordings of famous songs by Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, The Fugees and more give the originals a run for their money

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When it comes to song covers, most music aficionados would agree that the originals are usually better.

However, there are always exceptions to the rule, especially when the covers not only add a little something extra, but go on to become more famous than their predecessors.

Dolly Parton recently sang a cover of Let It Be with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, a reminder of how sometimes other versions of songs have found more immense popularity than the original.

Think Sinead O’Conner’s 1990 version of Nothing Compares 2 U, which eclipsed Prince’s mostly forgotten earlier offering. Or Joe Cocker’s lung-busting rework of The Beatles’ much milder With A Little Help From My Friends.

Here are 14 songs where the cover versions are (arguably!) more famous than the originals.

1. I Will Always Love You

Original by: Dolly Parton, 1974

Covered by: Whitney Houston, 1992

Singer-songwriter Parton wrote the song about her business partner and mentor Porter Wagoner as she split from him to pursue a solo career.

It reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot Country Songs in both 1974 and 1982.

In 1992, Whitney Houston recorded the song for the soundtrack to her film The Bodyguard and it stayed at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for a then-record-breaking 14 weeks, becoming the best-selling single of all time by a female solo artist, according to Guinness World Records.

2. All Along the Watchtower

Original by: Bob Dylan, 1967

Covered by: Jimi Hendrix, 1968

US singer-songwriter Bob Dylan wrote the song, which appeared on his eighth studio album John Wesley Harding.

The song has been re-recorded by the likes of Eric Clapton and U2, but Hendrix’s cover arguably remains the most famous, appearing on the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s third studio album Electric Ladyland, released just six months after Dylan's original recording.

3. Nothing Compares 2 U

Original by: Prince, 1985

Covered by: Sinead O’Connor, 1990

Written by Prince, the song appeared on his band The Family’s eponymous (and only) album in 1985 but was never released as a single.

Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor, who passed away in July, recorded the song for her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, turning it into a global smash hit, accompanied by the famously stark video featuring a shaven-headed O’Connor.

4. Hallelujah

Original by: Leonard Cohen, 1984

Covered by: Jeff Buckley, 1994

The song appeared on Canadian singer Leonard Cohen’s 1984 album Various Positions, but failed to set the charts alight.

John Cale, a founding member of The Velvet Underground released a version in 1991, which inspired the 1994 recording by US singer Jeff Buckley.

The song has also been performed by Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi.

5. Tainted Love

Original by: Gloria Jones, 1965

Covered by: Soft Cell, 1981

Singer Gloria Jones first released the song, which was written by songwriter Ed Cobb in 1964.

Although she is from the US, Jones achieved wider fame in the UK thanks to her involvement in the Northern soul musical movement of the 1960s, which is how British synth band Soft Cell heard the track.

They re-recorded it in 1981 with vocalist Marc Almond and it reached number one in the UK.

6. Respect

Original by: Otis Redding, 1965

Covered by: Aretha Franklin, 1967

This track has become so synonymous with Aretha Franklin that many consider Respect as her signature song. However, she wasn’t the first person to record it.

Soul singer Otis Redding originally wrote and recorded it, releasing it on his third album Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul in 1965.

It was a hit for Redding, but a bigger hit for Franklin who tweaked the lyrics to turn it into a feminist anthem, winning her two Grammys.

7. Always on My Mind

Original by: Brenda Lee, 1972

Covered by: Elvis Presley, 1972

Covered by: Pet Shop Boys, 1987

Written by songwriting trio Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James, country and pop singer Brenda Lee – one of the biggest recording stars of the '60s – released her version in June 1972.

Months later, Elvis Presley recorded the song in the wake of his split from wife Priscilla.

Country singer Willie Nelson won a Grammy for the song in 1982, while British synth-pop duo The Pet Shop Boys released the track in 1987 and it became the UK’s Christmas number one, keeping The Pogues' legendary Fairytale of New York off the top spot.

8. Twist and Shout

Original by: The Top Notes, 1961

Covered by: The Isley Brothers, 1962

Covered by: The Beatles, 1963

The song was written in 1961 by songwriters Phil Medley and Bert Berns.

While the original recording was made by RnB group The Top Notes, it wasn’t until The Isley Brothers released their version in 1962 that it came to prominence, reaching number seven on the US Billboard Hot 100.

A year later, The Beatles included their take on the song on their debut album Please Please Me, with John Lennon performing the song in one take.

Released as a single in the US in 1964, it reached the number two slot in the charts in the week that The Beatles held all five top places.

9. Knockin’ On Heaven's Door

Original by: Bob Dylan, 1973

Covered by: Guns N’ Roses, 1990

Bob Dylan wrote and recorded the song for the soundtrack to the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

American rock band Guns N' Roses started performing the song as part of their live shows in 1987 and released a live version that year on 12-inch single Welcome to the Jungle.

They would go on to release a studio version in 1990 for the soundtrack of the Tom Cruise film Days of Thunder.

10. Red Red Wine

Original by: Neil Diamond, 1967

Covered by: UB40, 1983

Written by US singer-songwriter Neil Diamond, the track appeared on his 1967 album Just for You, peaking at number 62 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart the following year.

When Diamond split with his record company, they re-released the song the following year with an added choir without his permission.

In 1983, British reggae-pop band UB40 released a cover version that would top the charts in the UK and reach number one in the US upon its 1988 re-release.

11. Proud Mary

Original by: Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969

Covered by: Ike & Tina Turner, 1971

While the Ike & Tina Turner version of the song is undoubtedly the more famous, the original actually did better on the charts.

Written by Creedence Clearwater Revival founder John Fogerty, the song reached number two in the US in March 1969.

Putting her own unique spin on the hit, Tina Turner and her then-husband Ike took the track to the number four spot in 1971, winning a Grammy in the process for RnB Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

12. Killing Me Softly

Original by: Roberta Flack, 1973

Covered by: Fugees, 1996

RnB and soul singer Roberta Flack's version of the song – co-written by Charles Fox, Norman Gimbel and Lori Lieberman – topped the charts in Canada, Australia and the US, and peaked at number six in the UK.

She also won the 1974 Grammy for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

It had originally been sung by Lieberman with the title Killing Me Softly with His Song. She says she was inspired to write it after watching Don McLean sing Empty Chairs live, but her version did not make it to the chart.

The Fugees' version, released in 1996, was a number one hit in 20 countries and won the 1997 Grammy for Best RnB Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

13. Valerie

Original by: Zutons, 2006

Covered by: Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse, 2007

A year and plenty of critical acclaim separate the two versions of this popular song.

Appearing on their second studio album Tired of Hanging Around, the song was written by Zutons singer Dave McCabe (in only 20 minutes he says!).

Peaking at number nine in the UK, the souped-up collaboration between US producer Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse took the track to number two and became the UK’s ninth biggest-selling single of 2007.

14. With a Little Help from My Friends

Original by: The Beatles, 1967

Covered by: Joe Cocker, 1968

Appearing on their seminal 1967 album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the song was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and sang by drummer Ringo Starr, but not released as a single.

A year later, British blues singer Joe Cocker reached the number one spot in the UK with his dramatically reworked version, which he would go on to perform at Woodstock in 1969.

Updated: August 25, 2023, 5:51 AM