Cover versions are a huge part of pop and though many regard the original version of a song as the definitive, there are plenty of people who reckon it takes a cover version to really make a song sparkle.
We look at 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?
Speaking of higher… one of 2019's unlikeliest, yet biggest hits, brought together a late, great legend and a Norwegian DJ. Whitney Houston's cover of Higher Love had long languished as a bonus track on the Japanese versions of her third album I'm Your Baby Tonight, before Kygo got his hands on it for a cheeky remix and took it to Number 2. The original, from Steve Winwood, didn't even make the Top 10 when originally released in 1986 – it stalled at Number 13.
Whitney Houston and Kygo
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 - are you keeping up? - finally beat the original, hitting Number 2 in 2010 after an electric performance at the BRIT Awards.
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.
Florence and Dizzee at the BRIT Awards.
Dancing on My Own
Alongside her Number 1 with Kleerup, With Every Heartbeat, one of Swedish popstar Robyn's biggest UK hits was the mighty Dancing On My Own, which peaked at 8 in 2010. The track was famously outpeaked by a cover by Britain's Got Talent star Calum Scott, who took his slowed-down version to Number 2 in 2016.
X Factor winner Alexandra Burke 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.
Alexandra Burke on The X Factor (Rex/Shutterstock)
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 in 2013.
It's a Jackson classic, but given it was released as the seventh single from his Bad album, it peaked at (a still-impressive) Number 8 in 1988. 13 years later, US punk-rock band Alien Ant Farm took their energetic cover of it all the way to Number 3.
The original version of this song, which hit Number 17 for LaBelle 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.See the chart runs of each version of Lady Marmalade.
Erasure vs ABBA
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. See all ABBA's singles and albums in their Official Chart archive
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. Look back at Fast Car's chart history here.
Snow Patrol’s sweeping ballad did well on release in 2004, reaching Number 5 and selling over 475,000 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.
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 Andrews and Gary Jules scored the Official Christmas Number 1 in 2003.
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.
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.)
It was thought Don McLean's 1972 original couldn't possibly be covered – at eight and a half minutes long it was a stone-cold classic but not really single material. 'Hold my macrobiotic beer,' said Madonna, who lopped a full four minutes off the track, got William Orbit to do some knob-twiddling, Rupert Everett (!) on backing vocals and did what Don had failed to do: took American Pie to Number 1 in 2000. Don had only made it to Number 2. Your grandad was probably up on arms and musoes lined up to slate Madge's rendition, but Don himself said Madonna was 'magnificent' and that her cover version was 'outstanding'.
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!
I Will Always Love You
Whitney again, this time with her cover of I Will Always Love You, written and recorded by Dolly Parton in 1973 as a farewell to her former mentor and business partner. Despite several re-reissues over the years, Dolly's version has never entered the Official UK Chart, while Whitney's power ballad reworking for her film The Bodyguard took it to Number 1 in 1992, spending 10 weeks at the top, including that year's Christmas Number 1. Given Dolly is the song's sole writer, we're sure she's not too disappointed.
Always On My Mind
Pet Shop Boys covered this Elvis 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’ version reached Number 9 in 1972.
Originally recorded in 1964 by US artist Gloria Jones, a cover by British synthpop duo Soft Cell took the song into the UK's Official Chart for the first time in 1981, going all the way to Number 1. It's been covered by numerous artists since - including Marilyn Manson, who scored a Top 5 hit with it in 2002 - but only Soft Cell took it all the way.
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.
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Article image: Press (Whitney Houston/Dolly Parton/Pet Shop Boys) Rex/Shutterstock (Elvis Presley)