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.
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