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The best and worst cover versions of all time

Elisa Bray
Friday 05 December 2008 01:00 GMT

Which are the best and worst cover versions of all time? Jimi Hendrix doing ‘All Along the Watchtower’? Madonna’s version of ‘American Pie’? We've made our selection but let us know what you think by scrolling down to the comment section below.


1. Jeff Buckley,

Hallelujah 1994 (Leonard Cohen 1984)

He took Leonard Cohen’s underwhelming half-spoken version into the heart-wrenching timeless classic we all know.

2. Jimi Hendrix

All Along the Watchtower 1968 (Bob Dylan, 1967)

Hendrix turned the easy listening ballad into a technically brilliant rock classic with that legendary guitar solo.

3. Sinead O’Connor

Nothing Compares 2 U 1990 (Prince 1981)

This heart-breaking version of Prince’s song broke the Irish singer into the mainstream in 1990 and remains to this day her most famous hit.

4. Ryan Adams

Wonderwall 2001 (Oasis 1995)

Master of the heartbreak song, Ryan Adams takes the Britpop hit it to a deeper level with his haunting, emotive acoustic version. Noel Gallagher likes the American country star’s arrangement so much he’s performed it in concert.

5. The Futureheads

Hounds Of Love 2004 (Kate Bush 1985)

If I say this is better than the original I’ll be hunted down by outraged Kate Bush fans. It’s different, in a good way, the high energy and faster pace bringing the catchy melody to the fore.

6 Johnny Cash

Hurt, 2002 (Nine Inch Nails, 1994)

So simple, but so desolate. Cash’s world weary voice spells out suffering; more hauntingly effective than the overloaded tortured original.

7. Vampire Weekend

Everywhere, 2008 (Fleetwood Mac 1988)

These Brooklyn exports strip back and inject a little minimal Afrobeat-cool into the Fleetwood Mac hit for the lucky few who have caught it live – it’s not yet been recorded.

8. Saint Etienne

Only Love Can Break Your Heart, 1990 (Neil Young 1970)

The best covers completely rework the original and this one is no exception – you couldn’t get much more different to the Neil Young original off After The Gold Rush than this dance gem.

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9. Soft Cell

Tainted Love 1981 (Gloria Jones 1964)

Another case of the cover making the original popular. Marc Almond’s tense vocals over a slick staccato synth backing transformed Gloria Jones’ punchy soul original.

10. The Byrds

Mr Tambourine Man, 1965 (Bob Dylan 1964)

Layered harmonies transcend this ballad into pure folk pop loveliness.


1. Madonna

American Pie, 2000 (Don McLean 1971)

Is it the monotony of the Queen of pop’s sickly-sweet and curiously one-dimensional vocals or the cringeworthy synth backing that makes this so unlistenable?

2. Joss Stone

Fell In Love With a Boy 2003 (Fell in Love with a Girl, White Stripes 2001)

Limp and slouchy; this pseudo-jazz pop version is everything the White Stripes’ infectious high energy rousing song isn’t.

3. Tatu

How Soon Is Now? 2002 (The Smiths 1984)

The teenage Russian lesbians’ take on The Smiths’ greatest strips all the soul and pathos, replacing it with their best Alvin, Simon and Theodore impression. Ghastly.

4. Duran Duran

911 Is A Joke, 1995 (Public Enemy, 1990)

How can Simon Le Bon sing about getting shot and the police being slow on the case due to him being black?

5. William Shatner

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (The Beatles 1967)

OK, a comedy one, from the actor who insists it was from the perspective of an LSD user. Widely regarded as the worst cover ever, and proud of it.

6. Avril Lavigne

Knockin' on Heaven's Door 2003 (Bob Dylan, 1973)

Though she does what she does well, when she applies the “oooos” and “yeah yeah yeahs” and her simplistic clean guitar chords to Bob Dylan’s soulful country classic, all hell breaks loose. At least the Guns n Roses offering had passion.

7. Will Young

Light My Fire 2002 (The Doors 1967)

When he performed it as the winner of Pop Idol’s first series, the warbling Will Young took The Doors’ classic straight to the top of the chart.

8. Atrocity

The Sun Always Shines on TV, 2008 (A-Ha 1985)

You’ve got to watch the video to fully appreciate how bad this really is. It’s not until the metal thrashed-out chorus that you realise they’re not joking.

9. Ronan Keating

Fairytale in New York (The Pogues 1987)

A pointless cover, with Kirsty MacColl's part sung by Maire Brennan.

10. Marilyn Manson

Personal Jesus, 2004 (Depeche Mode, 1989)

It adds nothing to the original hit except Manson’s growling.

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