Skip to main content

The Most Covered Pop Artists and Songs of All Time




The Most Covered Pop Artists and Songs of All Time



There are three categories in today’s blog: 1. The most covered songs written by a single artist, 2. The most cover versions combined and 3. The most covered Pop songs.  These numbers are for artists that write and record their own songs. For more on songwriters, read my series I Write the Songs. The statistics come courtesy of Secondhandsongs.com and are verified via strict protocols. This website posts 'covers' submitted from around the globe and in many different languages, edited by very knowledgeable experts in music recording. There are other resources as cited but other than the odd personal anecdote or opinion, I'm using information and knowledge, not to mention YouTube posts that already exist. In addition, the numbers change daily, and I had originally written this blog in December 2019 so it’s been interesting to see the changes in less than a year. On the whole, the artists in each list stayed the same but may have shuffled positions. The information in this blog is from statistics collected around Oct. 10, 2020.  I'm kind of like a cover song myself, just reinterpreting stuff I find interesting and lately interest in my blog seems to be picking up again, so thanks for joining me here!

The most covered songs written by a single artist


Here are the Top 10 Artists with the most individual song titles (that they have authored) which have been covered by other artists:

1. Bob Dylan: 340 songs and counting from the legendary Poet.
2. Paul McCartney: 314 songs (includes post and non Beatles songs)
3. John Lennon: 240 songs (includes post and non Beatles songs)
4. David Bowie: 215 songs
5. Tom Waits: 183 songs
6. Mick Jagger: 176 songs
7. Keith Richards: 174 songs
8. Bruce Springsteen: 174 songs
9. Frank Zappa: 174 songs
10. Stevie Wonder: 169 songs

Because I was curious, I checked to see who was next. It’s Carole King with 161, Brian Wilson with 159 and Neil Young with 151 covered songs.
Just to point out the writers on the above list may have written more songs, so some are either not covered, covered but not documented and/or they may have songs not yet recorded by themselves or others. In general most songs don't get recorded by another singer at all, but it just so happens these singer songwriters are so popular that a large portion of their songs, sometimes 100% continue to be remade. Just from the time I drafted this on Dec, 9, 2019 to the final version, the number of covers for each artist on the top 10 went up.

The most cover versions combined 

Top 10 total number of all covers of songs recorded (written by individual Pop Recording Artists of any songs they have written, including instrumental covers). 

1. John Lennon: 17,606 (top solo song “Imagine” - 443 versions)
2. Paul McCartney: 17,422 (top solo song “Wonderful Christmastime” - 95)
3. Bob Dylan: 6,196 (“Blowin' in the Wind” - 348)
4. Stevie Wonder: 3,188 ("You Are the Sunshine of My Life" -265)
5. Carole King: 2,883 ("You've Got a Friend" - 336)
6. Keith Richards: 2,845
7. Mick Jagger: 2,840
8. Hank Williams: 2,710 
9. Paul Simon: 2,665 
10. David Bowie: 2,505 

I once again checked to see who would be next in line and the numbers there have changed quite a bit since my research in December. The following artists represent numbers 11-15: Elton John with 1956, Willie Dixon with 1921, Barry Gibb with 1911, Joni Mitchell with 1826 and Chuck Berry with 1818.

Artists that appear on both Top 10 lists are: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. These lists include the 160 songs credited as John Lennon and Paul McCartney that were written and recorded while in The Beatles. As with Jagger and Richards, it includes the approximately 170 songs they wrote together with The Rolling Stones. Carole King wrote nearly 100 songs with Gerry Goffin that were recorded by dozens and dozens of artists, additionally they shared writing credits with other songwriters. Even though Dylan did co-write some songs, it appears he has written virtually all of his own songs as a solo songwriter.

The most covered Pop singles


This list doesn’t focus on the author, but you can see that several songs were written by the artists themselves. 

1. "Yesterday" Covered 894 times, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney
2. "Eleanor Rigby" Covered 559 times, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney
3. "Bridge over Troubled Water" Covered 524 times, written by Paul Simon
4. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" * Covered 490 times, written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach
5. "Fever"  Covered 488 times, written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, originally sung by Little Willie John.
6. "Unchained Melody" * Covered 476 times, written by Hy Zaret and Alex North
7. "Can't Help Falling in Love" & "Michelle" Covered 464 times, written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss / Covered 464 times, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney
8. "Something" Covered 457 times, written by George Harrison
9. "The Look of Love" Covered 447 times, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David

More notable songs coming in just after the top ten are:  "Imagine" written and recorded (post Beatles) by John Lennon covered 443 times, "Love Me Tender", a 1956 release by Elvis Presley; covered 442 times, written by Ken Darby and based on the song "Aura Lee" from 1881 written by George Poulton and W.W. Fosdick. By The Beatles; "Hey Jude" covered 441 times, and as all songs were, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney and "Let it Be", covered 438 times, written by Paul McCartney, and “God Bless the Child" covered 422 times, written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr. 

*These two songs (4 & 6) from the above list were not written as "pop" songs per se, but over time they were recorded by more modern Popular Artists and therefore reached a wider audience. They both would have appeared on music charts at some time, such as Billboard's Hot 100. The links refer to the most well-known versions. “Can't Help Falling in Love” though based on a melody from "Plaisir d'amour" composed by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini in 1784, it is otherwise considered an original song. Released by Elvis in 1961 and as noted above written by the well known George David Weiss (What a Wonderful World) with Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore. The trio also wrote a childhood favorite of mine by the Tokens, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” also from 1961. This was the first english translation of a South African Zulu song that has a long story, so another day I will talk about Solomon Linda’s 1939 Isicathamiya style song "Mbube", that became "Wimoweh" that became "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".




The only artists that appear on all three lists are John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It's quite remarkable that 7 of the top 15 songs are by The Beatles or it's members. Pop music aside, based on a combination of every cover song list, Lennon and McCartney are ahead of all music composers such as Richard Rogers, the Gershwin’s, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington. Having been tracking these numbers for many years and given they are so far ahead of other artists, I can't “imagine” they will ever be surpassed. In fact, since my draft in December, not only did their numbers increase but some of their songs have moved up the list as well. 

Note, all song statistics are by Secondhandsongs.com and may conflict with other available data and or lists. For example JoniMitchell.com lists the song she wrote and recorded "Both Sides Now" as being covered over 1200 times, where Secondhandsongs.com currently lists only 336 versions (originally recorded by Judy Collins). Keeping in mind that while I believe they are accurate, the Joni Mitchell numbers come from a small team solely dedicated to researching her songs, whereas Secondhandsongs.com  is currently listing 155,941 artists, 107,060 original songs and 90,4951 covers.

Trivia Question. Although all songs were credited to Lennon/McCartney, who was the main composer on the most Beatles songs?
Answer. John Lennon at 73 songs, Paul McCartney was on 70 and the two share close to 50/50 on 17 other songs. George Harrison managed to squeeze in 22 songs and Ringo got just 2!. The balance of what they recorded were cover versions. 

All of the songs (referenced above) have been clearly identified as 100% (or very close to that) as written by either John or Paul, verified by their own statements.


References; 1234567
Images; 1

Edited by Richelle Dafoe

If you like my blog, please consider filling in the follow by email link at the top right hand of the page. Remember to confirm the subscription when you get the first email. Confidentiality is assured unless you are a close friend or family member then all bets are off. While I can compile data from my blog it's not tracking in terms of anyone's identity. For past blog posts click on the menu at the top right corner. Pass it along to a friend who might enjoy it as well or post it to your timeline on FB. And many thanks as always for reading my blog!










Comments

  1. Wow! Glad you are keeping all this straight for us!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm 'frankly' stunned that there are so many Zappa covers, since I don't recall ever hearing one. But poking around I see there are a number of them out there. I guess Frank is what you'd call an artist's artist. A few good ones listed here: https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/cover-versions-of-zappa-songs.88989/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you. Secondhandsongs.com is a real education as well as a resource for me. I enjoy the steve hoffman site also. Thanks for commenting.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Thanks for any feedback!

Popular posts from this blog

One Hit Wonders (not!)

One Hit Wonders (not!) Yesterday (Sept. 26) was the 50th Anniversary of Abbey Road, the Beatles last recording session together and the second last album before Let it Be was issued May 8, 1970. And also Happy belated One Hit Wonder Day! (Sept. 25th) so I thought it would make a good blog topic. The simplest definition I found is from music journalist Wayne Jancik "an act that has won a position on a national, pop, Top 40 record chart just once." This from the 'The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders' (1998). So we aren't talking one #1 hit. It's not a term I like as it implies (and some truth to that) these artists have had just a brief moment in the spotlight, perhaps undeservedly so and then fallen off the music map. I know other and deeper definitions are a bit more broad and go beyond the absolute single hit idea. They also consider many artists that have still maintained a quality career and just not reproduced another 'top 40 hit' song an

Old Country New Country

Old Country/New Country What exactly I am about to attempt to demonstrate I confess I'm not 100% certain, but what I do know is that there has been a bit of a downward sliding scale regarding the enduring quality of mainstream Country Music songs. Apologies in advance for rambling and ranting at various points. This is not a history of Country Music but my opinion on the current state of things in general with the genre. It's murky waters that I'm swimming in here as there is an evolution involved in any music genre so direct comparisons are perhaps inappropriate. I am somewhat aware of the influence the so called Country Music "establishment" has had on this evolution. One need only look at examples like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Garth Brooks and others who were criticized and in some cases "shunned" for their unconventional approaches who are now celebrated as part of that same 'establishment'. So there is some hypocrisy at play

Sweet Soul Music

Sweet Soul Music Sam Cooke Arthur Conley co-wrote this song with Otis Redding and it's a tribute to some of the early greats of Soul Music . The song's melody (and words for that matter) borrowed heavily from the Sam Cooke song " Yeah Man " and a subsequent lawsuit brought by A.W. Alexander who managed Cooke's songs after his untimely death added his name to the song credits. The resulting song however was a huge hit for Conley and it reached #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 and R&B Chart in 1967 and #7 in the UK where Soul Music was gaining popularity particularly amongst a subset of British youth. The lyrics reference the co-writer Otis Redding, James Brown and songs by The Miracles, Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett, some of the key figures in early Soul Music. "Sweet Soul Music" covered 30 times, The Jam (1977). Soul music is a fusion of R&B, Gospel and Jazz. Known generally for it's more upbeat tempo it's fun to lis

Rock artists sing the Blues

Rock artists sing the Blues I have talked about this frequently throughout my posts but more particularly in the series on the Delta Blues and the History of R&R parts 1- 4 . Truth be told, most of the greatests 'Rock' artists owe much of their inspiration to the Blues. Rock bands and solo artists have cut many sides early and throughout their careers of blues songs. Thanks to artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley who were obviously very well known and successful, their covers of some of the great blues songs served as a conduit and exposed them to artists and listeners alike. Here are some 'Blues' that inspired Rock artists, a few of these songs are more well known than others. Confessin' the Blues by The Rolling Stones was recorded  June 11, 1964 and released on a 7" record of five songs on August 14. Written by Walter Brown (vocals) and Jay McShann (piano and bandleader) originally released in June of 1941. Covered about 35 times includin