The Five: Coolest Cover Songs and Their Originals

Have a listen to five original songs, made greater by their covers. Which is better? You be the judge.

It’s always a point of discussion in the music community…which is better — the original song or the cover? Countless songs have been re-recorded, spliced, diced, rearranged and remixed. There is actually a good chance that some of your favorite songs are covers! So this week, we have pulled together a list of five songs that, both the original and cover version, blew us away. These will be a little more obscure than the familiar covers like Dolly and Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You” or Roberta Flack and The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly”…which were both actually covers of Lori Lieberman’s original song!

All right, let’s get started! (And be sure to hear these songs, and the previous week’s picks, on our Spotify mix, The Five!)


Rolling Stones
Photo courtesy Rolling Stone Magazine

“Time is on my Side” by Irma Thomas and The Rolling Stones.

Soul and R&B singer, Irma Thomas, released this hit in 1964, and The Rolling Stones quickly followed suit not even a year later. However, it was actually first recorded by jazz trombonist, Kai Winding in late ’63 without any lyrics. Originally, the song only consisted of the words, “time is on my side” and “you’ll come runnin’ back.” Moments before Thomas arrived at the studio, songwriters Jimmy Norman and H.B Barnum finished the famous lyrics. The song is on Thomas’ B-Side for her single “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand).” The Rolling Stones recorded the song twice — once in 1964 and again in 1965. The 1964 version is loose-sounding and receives less airtime. The recording released in 1965, on The Rolling Stones No. 2, has the distinctively popular guitar lead and is heard on the majority of the Stones’ compilation records. Both renditions take a strong cue from Irma’s initial direction.

Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone Magazine
Photo courtesy BBC UK

“Can’t Nobody Love You” by Solomon Burke and The Zombies.

Solomon Burke, who married soul, gospel and R&B, originally sang “Can’t Nobody Love You” in 1964. Burke’s smooth and soulful (and often times gritty) voice carries this powerful song. Though “Can’t Nobody Love You” isn’t one of Burke’s top hits, an English rock band that went by the name The Zombies re-recorded it for their debut album, Begin Here, in 1965. The rock and psychedelic pop band, influenced by R&B, is most known for hit songs such as “She’s Not There”, “Time of the Season” and “Care of Cell 44”.

Photo courtesy of Vice
Photo courtesy All Music

“96 Tears” by ? & the Mysterians and Big Maybelle.

“96 Tears” by both ? & the Mysterians (pronounced Question Mark and the Mysterians) and Big Maybelle may be one of my favorite songs to compare. Question Mark is an American garage rock band most notably known for this particular song. In fact, the song has been recognized as “one of the first garage band hits” and has even been given credit for “starting the punk rock movement,” according to Billboard Book of Number One Hits. The song, recorded in 1966, went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 later that year. So when you hear Big Maybelle’s soulful and boldly loud version of 1967, I guarantee you’ll smile. I just love it when two very different music genres record the same song, don’t you?!

"Velvet Underground" Portrait
Photo courtesy Rolling Stone Magazine
Photo courtesy Billboard
“Pale Blue Eyes” by The Velvet Underground and The Kills

“Pale Blue Eyes,” originally written by Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground in 1969 has been covered multiple times and by many people, most notably by Patti Smith, Hole and R.E.M. However, current indie-rock band The Kills’ renditions is one of my favorites. To cover The Velvet Underground takes courage and, to be honest, I think the Kills did a “killer” job with their 2012 rerecording.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia
“Stop Breakin’ Down (Blues)” by Robert Johnson and The Rolling Stones.

Some of the best music came from the 1930s, and Robert Johnson is among its greats. The Rolling Stones were not shy about their love for the blues and Johnson was one of the pioneers. I absolutely love the original version, recorded in 1937 , but the song didn’t gain popularity until the various and numerous re-recordings that followed over the years. The Rolling Stones (who have covered and re-recorded 25 songs throughout their career) try to stay true to the blues with strong guitar, soulful harmonica and pounding piano on their 1972 album, Exile on Main Street. Many years later, The White Stripes recorded it for their debut album in 1999.

+Now it’s your turn! Which versions do you prefer and, on another note, what are some of your favorite cover songs not on this list?

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8 years ago

Such a great idea for a post! Thanks so much -listening now :)