This week finally sees the release of Prince's original version of Nothing Compares 2 U – his very first recording of the song Sinead O'Connor would take to Number 1 in 1990. While Prince's version, or the subsequent cover by The Family when Prince passed it on, never made it past B-side status, we couldn't help but think of cover versions that managed what song purists would call unthinkable – they charted higher than the original!
Remember, we’re not talking about sales – the only numbers that count here are those all-important chart positions. The higher you go, the better, right?
Calum Scott – Dancing On My Own
Britain's Got Talent star Calum Scott caused a stir with his slowed-down reimagining of Swedish popstar Robyn's happy-sad misery-disco floorfiller Dancing On My Own in 2016. Calum's ballad version had its critics, but it reached Number 2 in comparison to Robyn's Number 8 six years earlier.
Jonas Blue & Dakota – Fast Car
Lots of vintage tunes have got a new lease of life thanks to dancefloor-focused cover versions, and eventually it was the turn of Tracy Chapman's mournful Fast Car.
Tracy's original hit the Top 10 twice – first reaching 5 in 1988, and following an appearance on Britain's Got Talent, hitting a new peak of 4 in 2011. Along comes Jonas Blue, however in an even faster car. The 2015 cover version went turbo and overtook the original to peak at 2.
Florence and the Machine – You’ve Got The Love
The Source and Candi Staton’s version of You Got The Love – itself not the original, and actually borrowing a backing track from Frankie Knuckles' tune Your Love – first reached 4 in 1992. A remix improved on that by one place in 1997. A cover by Florence and the Machine – retitled You’ve Got The Love – made Number 5 in 2009, but You Got The Dirtee Love, a remake of the song with Dizzee Rascal, finally beat the original– it hit Number 2 in 2010 after an electric performance at the BRIT Awards. Basically, this song's history is so complicated it would be a nightmare organising a Christmas dinner for everyone involved in its success. Candi Staton's version of You Got The Love made it into the Top 10 for a third time in 2006 – this time making it to Number 7. It seems we really do got the love for that tune.
Alexandra Burke – Hallelujah
X Factor winner Alexandra had a Number 1 with this cover of a Leonard Cohen track in 2008. The original never charted but following an outcry by fans, it did reach Number 36 the same week Alexandra’s went to Number 1.
Another cover by the late Jeff Buckley sat right behind Alex’s, but the X Factor star won the race, selling over 1.2 million copies, and you can't argue with a million-seller. Well, you could try, but they'd only throw all those zeros at you – and they always have more than you.
Fugees – Killing Me Softly
Fugees scored their first of four Top 10s with this cover of a song Roberta Flack took to Number 6 in 1973 under the full title Killing Me Softly With His Song. Lauryn Hill’s powerful vocal – plus, of course, Wyclef Jean saying “one time” in the background quite a lot – helped the Fugees’ version rocket to Number 1 for 5 weeks beginning June 1996. Not only that, it’s a million-seller! A subsequent version by The Voice contestant Leah McFall managed a Number 36 placing last year.
The original version of this song, which hit Number 17 in 1975, has been bested TWICE. Two alternate versions went to Number 1: first All Saints in 1998, then a raucous team-up from Pink, Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim and Mya in 2001.
Erasure – Abba-Esque
As well as being an excellent excuse to play dress-up, Erasure’s Abba-esque EP gave the duo their first and (so far) only Number 1 in 1992. While lead track Take A Chance On Me had been a chart-topper for ABBA back in 1978, its other tracks had never made the Number 1 spot. SOS only made it as far as 5 in 1975, Voulez Vous was a Number 3 hit in 1979, and Lay All Your Love On Me had to settle for 7 in 1981.
Leona Lewis – Run
Snow Patrol’s sweeping ballad did well on release in 2004, reaching Number 5 and selling over 460,000 copies. But it was the vocal acrobatics – and an all-important key change – from Leona Lewis that spent two weeks at the top in 2008. Leona also had another cover outranking its original when she took Hurt to Number 8 in 2011. Johnny Cash’s version, itself a cover of an unreleased (in the UK, at least) Nine Inch Nails song, peaked at 39.
Michael Andrews feat. Gary Jules – Mad World
British group Tears For Fears took the song to Number 3 in 1982, but this cover and an appearance in cult movie Donnie Darko sent it stratospheric. It's not the most festive of themes (dreams about dying figure quite heavily), but Michael and Gary scored the Official Christmas Number 1 in 2003.
Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse – Valerie
The Zutons’ scored their second Top 10 hit in 2006 with this tribute to what a tabloid newspaper might call "a mystery redhead". Amy Winehouse saw the song’s potential and recorded an acoustic version for Radio 1’s Live Lounge, but it the magic of Mark Ronson took a rejigged, upbeat version of the song with Amy’s vocals to Number 2 in 2007.
Communards – Don’t Leave Me This Way
A couple of versions of Don’t Leave Me This Way came along in quick succession in 1977, with Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes feat.Theodore Pendergrass ending up victorious over Thelma Houston, scoring a Number 5 hit to Thelma’s 13.
But, nine years later, Jimmy Somerville’s band the Communards made the song the smash it had been waiting to be. The group’s storming version spent four weeks at the top in 1986. Altogether now: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah BABY! (You did that in your head – admit it.)
George Michael – Somebody To Love
Queen’s original almost made it to the top – stalling at 2 in 1976. It was a cover by George Michael, recorded at a tribute concert following Freddie's sad death in 1991, that finally saw the song make it to Number 1, spending three weeks there in 1993. Queen can still share some of the glory, though – they performed it with George on the night and got an official credit so the Number 1 belongs to them too!
Pet Shop Boys – Always On My Mind
Neil and Chris covered the King’s classic in a TV tribute on the tenth anniversary of Elvis’s death in 1987, and never intended it to be a single. The general public, however, had other ideas, and demand was so high, the single was released midway through the campaign for the Pet Shop Boys’ second album Actually. It gave them a third chart-topper and was Christmas Number 1 that year. Elvis’s version reached Number 9 in 1972.
Robson & Jerome – Up On The Roof
Before this chirpy duo got their hands on it, Up On The Roof was a Number 10 hit for Kenny Lynch in 1962 – itself a cover of the Drifters, which did not chart. Julie Grant also released a cover in 1963, peaking at 33. But the stars of TV show Soldier Soldier marched all the way to the top. Paired with Frankie Laine’s Number 1 I Believe as a double A-side in 1995, it topped the Official Singles Chart and became a million-seller.
Atomic Kitten – The Tide Is High
We just threw this one in just for fun, as both releases hit Number 1 – the first being Blondie's in November 1980, staying there for two weeks. Of course, real chart geeks will tell you that Blondie's version was itself a cover of a song previously sung by the Paragons and Gregory Isaacs – but Blondie were the first act to take it into the chart.
However, Atomic Kitten’s rendition – which added a jaunty bit in the middle and was retitled The Tide Is High (Get The Feeling) – held on to Number 1 for THREE weeks in September 2002, so technically, enjoyed slightly better chart success. We’ll leave fans of both bands to argue that one out, shall we? We don't want any trouble.