6 Covers Better than the Original

Everyone likes to be a purist and say the original is better… but sometimes that’s just not the case.

Here are 6 of those sometimes.

To me, for a cover to transcend the original, it can’t just be a redux, it’s got to be different. The new artist has to simultaneously make it their own, while still leaving intact what made the original great.

All Along the Watchtower

I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan, but there are a bunch of examples of his songs being done better by other musicians. This is probably the best example. The original is great, an atmospheric acoustic production typical of 60’s era Dylan. But Jimi’s version… damn. And that intro…


I’d like to think The Man in Black himself heard “Hurt” and thought, “I could make a badass version of that.” And he did, even Trent Reznor says so.

Bobby McGee

This is another good example of the original artist freely admitting the cover is superior. I love Kristofferson’s version (which wasn’t even the first recording), but you can’t beat Janis. Easily one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Few song’s exemplify the 80’s more than this one. Cyndi Lauper’s classic is… actually a cover. I had no idea. The original is… weird. And not even from the 80s. And by a guy.


That guitar tone is just perfection. Leonard Cohen is a legend, but Buckley transforms this song into something incredible.

When The Ship Comes In

OK, one last Dylan track. The original is fine, nothing really special. But when the Clancy Brothers get on it, magic, and one of my favorite songs of all time.

When the Ship Comes In from Birdwatchr on Vimeo.

Honorable Mentions

OK, so these last two might not be better than the original, but they're still fantastic

This is at least equal to Bowie's.

And this is so radically different, and yet it still works. Not sure the original can be bettered, but she nearly does and absolutely nails it.

So, what are your favorite covers?

garysi's picture

I'll nominate Dwight Yoakam's cover of Cheap Trick's I Want You to Want Me. On the subject, Cyndi Lauper also did a cover of Money Changes Everything, but I did, and still think The Bad Brains' original was the definitive version, though I was influenced seeing them at CB's

garysi's picture

Sorry it was The Brains, not Bad Brains

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
I haven't heard these. I'll check them out. Thanks!
Tangential's picture

His version of With a Little Help From My Friends is superb!

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
GREAT cover! That is absolutely #7.
prerich45's picture

I Feel For You - Original Prince - Covered by Chaka Khan

Let'em In - Original Paul McCartney - Cover Kirk Whalum (Both are excellent I'm just a jazz fan).

cepheid's picture

…with Knockin' On Heaven's Door

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
Another of Bob's great's done better by someone else. In fact, in my head, I hear GnR's version when I think of this song...
YankeeTraveler's picture

Manfred Mann's cover of the Bruce Springsteen's song has got to be top 5.

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
Wow, yeah. Definitely!
sndchaser's picture

Sherl Crow's cover of Cat Steven's "the first cut is the deepest" is by far way superior than the original

Terrellb's picture

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - Michael Stanley Band (Stage Pass)
Abraham, Martin & John - Marillion (Unplugged at The Walls)
A Whiter Shade Of Pale - Annie Lennox (Medusa)
Magical Mystery Tour - Cheap Trick (Greatest Hits)
Rock-n-Roll Suicide - Neal Morse (Cover to Cover)

canman4pm's picture

k. d. Lang does a better version yet. Cohen called her version "definitive." Her version at his tribute is available on YouTube, but the best one was performed later that year, or the next at the JUNOs. I haven't been able to find that one.

canman4pm's picture

Or I could have that backwards. It's been a few years. Cohen said he thought the song was being over covered until he heard k. d. perform it.