Putting Together a Great Cover List on Spotify

by Lewis Papier about a month ago in playlist

Super Hits and Their Best Covers https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1rxjLMsI6pqdCi4a6iEuYk?si=ipFporfXTQSe7_0nJNqqAw

Why do I like covers so much? Honestly after hearing the original songs so many times, it’s nice to hear different renditions. I now have over 9,000 songs on my Super Hits and their Best Covers playlist on Spotify. You can make your own list too!

Go to Spotify and search for your favorite songs. Then one by one, hit “songs” and Spotify will bring up a list of the original and covers. If it’s a popular song like the Beatles’ "Yesterday," the list will almost be endless. Instead of going through each one, I suggest going to secondhandsongs.com and bringing up a list of all the covers. You might then want to go back to Spotify and search for the artists you’ve heard of that you found on secondhandsongs. But if you search on Spotify, you’ll also find covers by not so well-known singers and they could be gems too!

Once you’ve put together a sizable covers list on Spotify, why not pick out your Top 25 songs of all time? Believe me, it’s not easy, but see what I’ve come up with below. Yes, you can use these songs on your Spotify cover list. To confess, I’m very partial to 60s, 70s and 80s music, so you’re not going to find a lot of rap here.

Check out my Top 25. One rule: only one song from a band or individual artist.

1. "She Loves You" (The Beatles, 1964)

Picking the greatest Beatles song is next to impossible. But if I had to pick one, it would be "She Loves You." It was the Beatles #1 best-selling single and featured some very cool, unusual lyrics where (as Wikipedia informs us) a narrator acts as a “helpful go-between for estranged lovers.” Most of the covers I’ve found are done by Beatles Cover bands. One worthy of mention is The Rumba Liverpool’s Band version on their Rumba Tribute to the Beatles Vol 1. Another is a live version by a group called “The Bootleg Beatles” on the Danish Kronike soundtrack.

2. "Xanadu" (Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra, 1980)

It comes from the Xanadu movie soundtrack and it’s a song I never tire of listening to. Jeff Lynne wrote it and he’s been quoted as claiming this is his favorite song he ever wrote. While the film was a box-office flop, it later became a bit of a cult classic. Film fans take note that this was Gene Kelly’s last film. And of course the lead is done by the phenomenal Olivia Newton-John (dig the incredible power as she sings the last few notes!). And here are three exceptional covers: Delta Goodrem, Juliana Hatfield and Reese Oliveira.

3. "Calilfornia Dreamin’" (The Mamas and the Papas, 1965)

When Michelle and John Phillips wrote this song, John didn’t like Michelle’s line, “stopped into a church.” Years of parochial school turned him off to any mention of religion in a song. Fortunately, John was voted down by the rest of the group and the iconic line remained. It’s a song inspired by Michelle’s homesickness. It features an incredible and different type of instrumental solo (alto flute). So many great covers. Here are a few: Roch Voisine (Canadian pop star); DJ Sammy (great disco version); Shaw Blades (from the Californication TV series); Jane McDonald (UK reality TV recording artist); Jose Feliciano (acoustic folk classic); The New Love Generation (German band devoted to 60s pop hits); Wilson Phillips (group consisting of the daughters of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys and of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas); The Starshine Orchestra (from the Forrest Gump soundtrack); Queen Latifah (mellow soul/pop version); MonaLisa Twins (Austrian twin duo mainly devoted to 60s music); Beach Boys (iconic 60s group); David Hasselhoff (Baywatch TV star); Gabriela Teran (Latin version in Spanish).

4. "You Never Can Tell" (Chuck Berry, 1964)

What I love about this song is that’s about a young teenage couple, and everything goes right after marriage. How many songs have such an optimistic message? It’s one of Berry’s few songs where the guitar isn’t prominent—instead the piano and sax are emphasized. Emmylou Harris had a Top 10 cover in 1977, renaming it "(You Never Can Tell) C'est La Vie." Rounding out the field are Aaron Neville, Chely Wright, Lynda Carter and Donny and Marie Osmond’s versions.

5. "It’s All Over Now Baby Blue (Bob Dylan, 1965)

Like the Beatles, how can you possibly choose Dylan’s best song? Again I’ll give it a shot. The lyrics have to be in his top three. The way I interpret it, “Baby blue” is actually Dylan’s younger self, who has just left home for good and must endure the shock of giving up his former (safe and protected) life. My favorite cover is Matthew Sweet’s and Susanna Hoff’s pop version on their Under the Covers Vol. 1. You also might want to check out Joan Baez (who some feel could be Baby Blue). Also Van Morrison and Them as well as The Bryds (Version #1).

6. "Closer to Fine" (Indigo Girls, 1989)

I’m not a great fan of the Indigo Girls except for their one big hit—a phenomenal song that put the group on the map (and sustains them to this day). Emily Saliers, who wrote the song, said it’s “about not beating yourself up too hard to get your answer from one place.” In order to become “balanced” or “closer to fine,” you should incorporate and note experience from more than one source. According to Saliers, the “Doctor of Philosophy” in the third verse isn’t a real person—more a critique of academia in which real-life appears to trump the study hall. The cover band “Done Again” has a real nice version of this song. Check it out.

7. "Don’t Stop Believin’" (Journey, 1981)

This song was not a tremendous hit when it first came out. But in 2003, it was featured in a movie called Monster starring Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos and it began to take off. It was later selected as the last number in Rock of Ages, a jukebox musical about the 80s, as well as in the final scene of The Sopranos. It’s an unusual song in that the chorus doesn’t appear until 3:20 into the song. A real oddity is the reference to “South Detroit”; it was later pointed out there is no South Detroit (if you go in that direction, you end up in Canada!). The Glee Cast probably has the most well-known cover, but there are many others: Rock of Ages Soundtrack (Musical Theater); Love Canon (Bluegrass); Sweet Signatures (a Capella); Vocal Works (Gospel Choir); Liquid Blue (prolific cover band); Jake Coco (acoustic); Starship (Jefferson Airplane reincarnated in the 80s); Anthem Lights (Christian); Samantha Cole (disco); Broz Rodriguez (Mexican Dance Music); Terry McDermott (The Voice Performance).

8. "Over the Rainbow" (Judy Garland, 1939)

I went through about 800 covers on Secondhandsongs.com and came up with approximately 80 gems which I included on my Super Hits and their Best Covers Spotify Playlist. This is the song that’s been voted the greatest song of all time—and hey it just may be! Special mention goes to the late Hawaiian ukulele player Israel Kamakawino’ole, who created a completely new arrangement, covered by such luminaries as the Glee Cast. If you are interested in some live performances, check out Judy Garland at the Coconut Grove as well as Kristin Chenowerth, Andrea MacArdle and Barbra Streisand. There’s also a special version I’d like to single out by an exceptional acapella group called Pentatonix. And here’s a small list of some of top artists covering "Over the Rainbow": Judy Collins, Doris Day, Susan Boyle, Frank Sinatra, Faith Hill, Harry Connick Jr. Anne Murray, Olivia Newton-John, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Mandy Patinkin, Michael Bolton, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Mathis, Jo Stafford, Josh Groban and Peter Hollens.

9. "Greensleeves" (or "My Lady Greensleeves," traditional circa 1580)

A song entitled "A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves," was registered at the London Stationer’s Company in 1580 by a Richard Jones. It was twice mentioned by Shakespeare in his plays and there were also rumors that it was written by King Henry VIII about Anne Boleyn. Whatever its history, it’s a haunting song that has stood the test of time. Lyrically, it’s about a man who pines for his Lady Greensleeves, who apparently has rejected him. A beautiful instrumental version was written by the British composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. Check out these great versions: Nolwenn Leroy (French pop star); Barbara Dane (American folk singer); The King’s Singers (a capella); Blackmore’s Knight (former Deep Purple guitarist). From well-known artists check out Julie Andrews (instrumental selected by her), Olivia Newton-John and Perry Como. Lesser known artists also have some incredible versions: Eleanor McCain, Loreena McKennitt, Peter Hollens and Tim Foust, Kelliana, Siobhan Owen, Rachel Ann Morgan and Katey Segal and the Forest Rangers from The Sons of Anarchy soundtrack.

10. "My Heart Will Go On" (Celine Dion, 1997)

Some people consider this song to be pure “schmaltz,” but I completely disagree. Written by Will Jennings, the prolific lyricist based the lyrics on a real-life centenarian whom he had met and admired. The song of course was used in the mega-hit Titanic and became known because of the film. Notable covers include songs by: Jane McDonald (UK pop star); Celtic Woman (Dynamic Irish ensemble); Vienna Boy’s Choir (World’s oldest musical organization); Neil Diamond (iconic singer); Onyria (Italian rock rendition); Adele Taylor (Disco); Bailey Pelkman (Acoustic version by Youtube sensation); Sylvia Yacoub (The Voice Performance); Caleb and Kelsey (Christian husband and wife duo); Jackie Evancho (America’s Got Talent winner) with Joshua Bell (acclaimed violinist); and Anthem Lights (Heralded Christian pop ensemble) with Caleb and Kelsey.

11. "Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting" (Elton John, 1973)

Another very difficult choice with Elton John having so many great songs. I like this one for its unbridled energy. Song Facts informs that lyricist Bernie Taupin usually tried to write his lyrics geared toward co-writer Elton’s life but in this case, it was all about Taupin’s own experiences as a teenager attending British dance clubs. The song is prominently featured in Elton’s bio film Rocketman, with Taron Egerton coming up with a decent rendition. Even more impressive is Tony-Award winner Lena Hall’s semi-acoustic cover. Other notable covers: Sylvain Cossette (French-Canadian pop star); Nickelback (post-grunge Canadian rockers); Top of the Poppers (prolific cover band); L.A. Band (from the film Gnomeo and Juliet).

12. "Cactus Tree" (Joni Mitchell, 1968)

I was almost going to choose “Marcie” or “Morning Morgantown,” but this one, which appears as the last cut on her first album, Song to a Seagull, really captures this exalted artist’s essence. Torn between the lovers she’s met and the freedom she desires, Joni chooses freedom. Two very strong covers are by Judy Collins and Caroline Herring. There’s also another one by Jeanette d’Armand which I like.

13. "Without You" (Harry Nilsson, 1972)

Nilsson’s version is a cover. Badfinger wrote it originally in 1970 but it doesn’t come close to Nilsson’s version. Other very popular covers come from Mariah Carey and Air Supply. If you like duets, there’s Juice Newton and Glen Campbell who blend very nicely on this tune. Other luminaries covering this song include Shirley Bassey, Chris de Burgh, Elaine Paige and Clay Aiken.

14. "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" (Simon & Garfunkel, 1966)

Song Facts has much interesting information about this song. It’s actually two songs put together from traditional English melodies and lyrics. Paul Simon was accused by folksinger Martin Carthy of stealing his arrangement while he was on tour in England. Simon later acknowledged failing to give Carthy credit but claimed he was unaware he had to do so at the time. There was also a monetary settlement with the publisher, but apparently Carthy never saw any of it. Great covers include: Sarah Brightman (noted musical theater and pop singer); The Stanford Mendicants (Vocal Group); Mike Massé (acoustic arranger); Kelliana (her version is entitled "Scarborough Faire"); Celtic Woman (Irish ensemble); Peter Hollens; Laura Wright; Petra Berger (Netherlands); Jess & Matt (Australia); and Nolwenn Leroy (France).

15. "The Winner Takes It All" (ABBA, 1980)

There’s so much emotion in this song, it just feels like this is ABBA’s best. Written by ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus, it’s about his breakup with fellow bandmate Agnetha Fältskog. As it ended up, Bjorn was going to sing the lead but then decided it would be much better if Agnetha took the reins. There are many strong covers. Here are a few: Abbacadabra (Tribute band); Martine McCutcheon (British pop star); Glee Cast; Susan Boyle (International recording star); Jane McDonald (first successful UK reality TV recording artist); Disco Fever (Disco version); Edsilia Rombley (Netherlands pop artist); Cher (from her 2018 Dancing Queen album); Meryl Streep (from the Mama Mia Soundtrack); and Mama Mia! (From the New Musical Cast).

16. "Everything I Own" (Bread, 1972)

Bread’s David Gates penned this in honor of his father. It’s the perfect song honoring a parent. Rod Stewart, with that original gravelly voice, transforms the song into something quite different than Gate’s gentle, smooth version. Other quite interesting covers include: The Marvelous Wonderettes, Kidzone, NSYNC, and Jamz (Brazilian pop group).

17. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (Mariah Carey, 1994)

Most people know Mariah Carey wrote the lyrics, but it was the noted arranger Walter Afanasieff who came up with the musical ideas. This one is one hell of a catchy tune. Justin Bieber held his own in a duet with Mariah Carey in 2011. Straight No Chaser does an excellent acapella version, and check out the Glee Cast, who usually comes up with top notch covers. If you like big band music of the 30s and 40s, the Puppini Sisters bring us back to that era with this unusual version. Vocal Works Gospel Choir reminds me of the Supremes with some very strong female backing harmonies. Other great versions include: Kendall K, L.A. Band, Caroline Sunshine, Kidz Bop Kids and Lady Diva.

18. "Love Will Keep Us Together" (Captain & Tennille, 1975)

I just graduated from college when this song came out, and it always brings back memories for me from that era. But it was originally written and recorded by Neil Sedaka with the help of a co-writer, Howard Greenfield. The song has nothing to do with love between a couple; rather, it’s an expression of mutual admiration between Sedaka and Greenfield. Married couple Captain & Tennille’s version catapulted Sedaka back to the top of the charts (Toni can be heard singing “Sedaka is back” at the end of "Love Will Keep Ss Together"). Notable covers include: Tracy Huang, Kim Wilde (Synth driven pop by UK pop artist), Daniel (Israeli indie-folk artist), The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Hit Crew, and Sheila (French pop rock).

19. "A Thousand Years" (Christina Perri, 2011)

Perri wrote this beautiful song for the Twilight movie soundtrack. It’s such a moving song that I used it on a slideshow video tribute to my late cousin Natalie, who died at the very young age of 65. When I hear it, I think of Natalie as if she’s still alive. And I think of all those who knew her and loved her for “a thousand years.” There are so many strong covers. Here are a few: Kurt Hugo Schneider, Peter and Evynne Hollens, Celtic Thunder, Allison Adams Tucker, Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, L.A. Band, Collabro, Barfalk and Honey Belle Pears, Sawyer Fredericks, Matt McAndrew, Celica Westbrook, and the Glee Cast.

20. "When You Say Nothing at All" (Alison Krauss & Union Station, 1995)

Originally written by country songwriters Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, the late country artist Keith Whitely first hit the top 10 with it in 1988. Alison Krauss had great success with this song, and her version is the one I like the most. Ronan Keating also hit it big, topping the charts in the UK and Ireland too. What’s the appeal of this song? The song elevates “saying nothing” as a virtue—here non-verbal communication is paramount. So simple but brilliant! There are many, many covers: The Pitchforks (acapella), Susan Wong (Hong Kong, Australian, Nashville singer); Engelbert Humperdinck (very popular UK artist), The Harvard Opportunes (another noted acapella group), Frances Black (noted Irish singer), Alexander Klaws (German Pop Idol Winner), Tinner Linford (The Voice). Here are other artists on Spotify with no bios listed: Harriet, Swordbelt’s Band, Amanda Faith, Anjali Joseph, John Arthur Martinez, The Macdonald Brothers, Agot Isidro, John Fleming, Jimmy Robbins, Catherine Reed, Ryan & Rachell O’Donnell, LA Band, and AVID All-Stars.

21. "MacArthur Park" (Richard Harris, 1968)

Who cares if the lyrics hardly make any sense? Jimmy Webb, the songwriter, says it’s about the end of a love affair. And the lyrics are a bit “surrealistic” as he says the song was written in the era when those type of lyrics were written. Musically, it’s quite sophisticated, and Richard Harris’ performance is quite intense and moving. Special mention: Donna Summer’s disco version which became a hit in itself. Other noted covers include: Frank and Nancy Sinatra (each), Glen Campbell, Waylon Jennings and Elaine Paige. Less heard of performers include: Ariana DeBose, Jay Jay, Tracy Hamlin and Top of the Poppers.

22. "Downtown" (Petula Clark, 1964)

This was a tremendous hit for UK artist Petula Clark when it first came out. Clark feels the lyrics aren’t so “chipper,” suggesting it’s more about loneliness. And check out Clark’s French version of the song, "Dans Le Temps." Believe it or not, Dolly Parton had a lot of airplay with a rock version and even Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder covered it on the Girl Interrupted soundtrack. One of the strongest covers is by Liz Callaway, the noted Broadway and Film Soundtrack singer. Alan Sherman’s parody, titled “Crazy Downtown,” is a hoot, and check out Mary Byrne, the oldest X Factor contestant who secured a recording contract after having been eliminated from the show. Other great covers include: Barry Manilow, Glee Cast, Golden State Sunshine Singers, The Saw Doctors, Dana Winner and Liquid Blue.

23. "Mexico" (James Taylor, 1975)

Some people say the song has to do with using heroin. I don’t know about that, but to me, "Mexico" is probably James Taylor’s catchiest song. It doesn’t hurt to have David Crosby and Graham Nash doing the backup harmonies. The only good covers I’ve found are by Jimmy Buffet and The Grassmasters.

24. "Last Christmas" (Wham!, 1984)

Written and sung by George Michael, it’s probably the most unusual Christmas song ever. It really has nothing to do with Christmas but rather it’s all about a failed relationship. Great covers abound: Cascada, Darren Hayes, Fortunate Ones, Celtic Thunder, Jimmy Eat World, The Blenders, The Swingle Singers, Kidz Bop Kids, Contrazt, ACM Gospel Choir, First to Eleven, Hawk Nelson, Carly Rae Jepsen, Damian McGinty, Glee Cast, Kim Wilde, Taylor Swift and Ashley Tisdale.

25. "You Said You’d Grow Old with Me" (Michael Schulte, 2012)

Thought I’d end my list with a somewhat obscure song compared to the rest. It’s a beautiful song about loss. So far I’ve found no covers, so if you find one, let me know at [email protected]

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