What is the greatest cover song of all time?

January 06, 2021 2 min read

What is the greatest cover song of all time?

As the saying goes, if writing a great song were easy, we’d all be doing it.

Writing a classic track is an art form. It’s part of the reason that we laud great songwriters.

I think there’s also something to be said, though, for those that interpret other people’s songs and manage to make them their own.

Coming up with a great cover is an art in itself. Effectively, you’ve got to take a strong template established by someone else and rework it enough that your voice shines through, while retaining the integrity of the original piece.

It certainly isn’t easy. When you think about it, there have been many, many cover versions released over the years, but only a minority of those can hold a candle to the original version.

The canon of great covers – those that match, or even surpass the impact of a cherished original – is very narrow indeed.

Off the top of my head, there are a couple of notable examples.

Jimi Hendrix’s electrified – and electric – take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” is one. The drama and dynamics of Hendrix’s version took Dylan’s understated original to a new level. Dylan himself admits that he prefers Hendrix’s version

“It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took licence with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”

And, testament to his love of Hendrix’s take, he’s performed Hendrix’s arrangement over 2000 times in concert.

You’ve also got Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

One of the most covered songs of all time, Buckley’s take on “Hallelujah” certainly wasn’t the first. In fact, in terms of arrangement, it actually cribs pretty heavily from another cover - John Cale’s take from the 1991 Cohen tribute album “I’m Your Fan.”

But Buckley’s rendition was certainly the take that pushed the song to legendary status, and for many, his emotive delivery remains the benchmark when it comes to interpreting the track.

So those are two exceptional covers. But there are more out there.

And that’s where you come in. Let us know what your favorite cover version of all time is. And, more importantly, tell us why you think it’s worthy of inclusion in the great cover canon. What did it do to improve upon the original? What is it about that artist’s interpretation of the song that makes it so special?

As always, share your stories in the comments section. If we get enough responses, we may do a follow-up story with the best of Thalia readers’ insights.



Also in Fingerboard Stories

Google, I want to learn guitar...
Google, I want to learn guitar...

June 07, 2024 4 min read

If someone were to ask me where they should look for lessons on the Internet, these would be my top three suggestions. There are dozens more, each with its pros and cons, but these would be good places to start.
Getting Modal Using Pentatonics
Getting Modal Using Pentatonics

May 31, 2024 4 min read

The pentatonic scale is a five-note scale that takes notes from either a major or minor scale. If the A minor scale contains the notes A, B, C, D, E, F and G, the minor pentatonic includes the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th degrees of that scale (A, C, D, E, and G).
Notes From The Rising Sun
Notes From The Rising Sun

May 17, 2024 5 min read

To listen to Fujita is to hear someone deeply versed in the language of blues, jazz, and fusion. He can hang with the heaviest players while playing with a sound and feel reminiscent of Larry Carleton, Joe Pass, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. If that wasn’t enough, he also plays a mean slap guitar!