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The Most Covered Pop Artists and Songs of All Time

The Most Covered Pop (Popular Music) Artists of All Time

There are three categories here; 1. Most song titles covered that an artist has authored 2. Most cover versions combined 3. Most covered pop singles.  These numbers are for artists that write and record their own songs. I'll dedicate another post to writers and composers who primarily are songwriters, not performers. The statistics come courtesy of and are verified via strict protocols. Numbers change daily so this is as of Dec. 12, 2019. 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 out there I tap into as well but I do keep away from other cover song blogs to make sure I stay on my own path. Other than the odd personal anecdote or opinion, I'm using information and knowledge, not to mention YouTube posts that already exists. I'm kind of like a cover song myself, just reinterpreting stuff I find interesting and so far it seems a few others of you out there do as well.

Paul McCartney wrote the song "Yesterday", that is one of the 314 songs he has written that have been recorded by other artists. There are at least 772 documented versions of this one song, which is part of the total 15,365 versions of all the 313 other (covered) songs he has written.

Most song titles covered
Top 10 Artists in songs written (by the most individual song titles that they have *authored and have been covered by other artists)
  1. Bob Dylan, 339 songs
  2. Paul McCartney 314 songs (65 solo songs)
  3. John Lennon, 240 songs (49 solo songs)
  4. Davie Bowie, 205 songs
  5. Bruce Springsteen, 174 songs
  6. Mick Jagger, 173 songs (7 solo songs)
  7. Keith Richards, 172 songs (2 solo songs)
  8. Frank Zappa, 170 songs
  9. Tom Waits, 170 songs
  10. Stevie Wonder, 161 songs
Because I was curious myself I checked to see who was at 11. Brian Wilson, 155 songs and 12. Neil Young, 148 songs

Just to point out the artists on the above list have written many more songs (in the case of Dylan perhaps hundreds). Included in the total are songs they never recorded but were done by another singer. Also many songs have not been officially recorded at all, and/or been documented by Secondhandsongs as having been covered. Most songs in fact don't get recorded by another artist at all, just so happens these artists are so popular a large portion of their songs continue to be covered. 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.

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 has the most versions of his songs at 15,453 (Imagine=393)
  2. Paul McCartney 15,365 (Maybe I'm Amazed=71)
  3. Bob Dylan, 5874 (Blowin' in the Wind=317)
  4. Stevie Wonder, 2936
  5. Keith Richards, 2636
  6. Mick Jagger, 2630
  7. Carole King, 2609
  8. David Bowie, 2367
  9. Paul Simon, 2347
  10. Hank Williams, 2323
I checked to see who would be numbers 11. Joni Mitchell, 1751 and 12. Elton John, 1749.

Artists that appear on both lists are; John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and David Bowie.

*Including the 209 songs John Lennon and Paul McCartney co-wrote while with the Beatles. As with Jagger and Richards approximately 172 songs they co-wrote together, King/Goffin nearly 100 songs and the other artists also shared credits with other songwriters. From my research even though he did co-write it appears Bob Dylan has written virtually all of this songs as a solo songwriter, but I have to say I didn't count them all!

Most covered pop singles 
The top 10 Most Covered Pop Songs. Regardless of the author but you can see the top three are still songs written by the artists themselves.
  1. 784 covers of "Yesterday" credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney (written by Paul McCartney)
  2. 503 covers of "Eleanor Rigby" credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney (written by Paul McCartney)
  3. 468 covers of "Bridge over Troubled Water" written by Paul Simon
  4. 466 covers of "Fever" written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, original by Little Willie John.
  5. 439 covers of "Unchained Melody" written by Hy Zaret and Alex North
  6. 428 covers of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach
  7. 421 covers of "Can't Help Falling in Love" written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss
  8. 412 covers of "The Look of Love" written by Burt Bacharach, Hal David
  9. 401 covers of "Something" written by George Harrison
  10. 399 covers of "Michelle" credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney (written by Paul McCartney)
Again at number 11. 397 covers of "God Bless the Child" written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr. and number 12. 395 covers of "Hey Jude" credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney (written by Paul McCartney). Last week for example "Imagine" was #12 at 391 versions and "Hey Jude" was at # 11 at 390 versions.

Some of the songs on the above list were not written as "pop" songs per say but over time were recorded by Popular Artists and therefore reached a wider audience. They would have appeared on music charts at some time, such as Billboard's Hot 100. The links refer to the most well known versions.

The only Artists that appear on all three lists are John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It's quite remarkable that four of the top 10 songs are by the Beatles. Having been tracking these numbers for many years and given the fact they are so far ahead of other artists, I can't imagine they will ever be surpassed.

Please note, all song statistics are as compiled by and may conflict with other available data and or lists. For example  lists "Both Sides Now" as being covered 1247 times. lists 314 versions of the song written by Mitchell and originally recorded by Judy Collins.

While I've discussed the definition of a cover song before, and acknowledging there is a history (for another day) behind the term, I just wanted to flesh it out a bit more. I think in my last post I skirted around both the assumptions and definition, as I suppose I have since I started writing about cover songs.

Simply put today: a cover song is a re-recording of an original song

A cover can include what some refer to as a remake, a revamp, a rendition, adaptation, revival or "cover version" or even a copy. It can include the release of recording of a live performance but would not include the version you hear in your local club. Yes it may be a 'cover band' but unless its recorded and released it, it's not a 'cover'. While I'm still on the fence regarding cover songs on YouTube and other social media platforms I can't deny there are legitimate artists releasing some good work and Secondhandsongs based on certain criteria, is adding some of them to their database. Then there is sampling, which is not a cover but the use of a song in a new production where the original songwriter must be credited.

A cover can also include songs that take melodies and or words from other songs to a greater degree, in the lesser degree (or used in small part such as sampling) it would just mean the original songwriters would need to be co-credited on the new song and it would not necessarily be a 'cover' song. Sometimes the use of another song is inadvertent, when you think about the millions of songs there are it's understandable that this happens from time to time.

As an example “My Sweet Lord” (covered over 100 times) released by George Harrison in 1970, after a lawsuit writing credit was given to Ronnie Mack in addition to  George Harrison. This is because “He’s So Fine” (covered 15 times) was written by Ronnie Mack and recorded by the 'Chiffons'. The lawsuit was upheld that this song was the original. George Harrison admitted this song may have been in his head while writing "My Sweet Lord' and he inadvertently used the melody. I completely believe it was not intentional. If you listen to both songs it's pretty clear to me one is not a copy of the other.

The original of a song is the first recording and release the song

Any original song in many cases was not actually written by the singer(s). So the songwriting "credits" go to the author of the song, not the singer(s). It just so happens that sometimes the singer may have also written the song. Bob Dylan for example almost exclusively sang the songs he wrote himself, as did the Beatles, as does Adele, Taylor Swift and many other well known artists. That's sometimes how they get to be so well known, they have talent, they write original songs that set them apart from everyone else and...boom you get 'U2'.

Not to say we have not seen our fair share of very successful vocalists that did not write much or in the case of Elvis Presley any of his songs. Frank Sinatra comes to mind, Linda Ronstadt and many others did not write their songs. In fact when it come to most music the idea a singer would write their own material was very much the exception.

This does not make these artists cover singers, if they release it first it's an original no matter who wrote it.

Often new versions are based on another artists cover of someone else's original song rather than the original itself. A cover of a cover.  People use that newer version, not the original to come up with theirs. For example, "Stagger Lee" written by Lloyd Price and his collaborator Harold Logan, released by Price in 1958. It became a #1 Billboard hit song in 1959. His lyrics are taken from a song first recorded in 1923. Based on a real life event where a Billy Lyons was shot by a criminal named "Stag" Lee Shelton. Many of the words are based on the account of Billy taking Shelton's Stetson hat and paying for that with his life. Here is the oldest known recording available, "Stack O' Lee Blues" by "Ma" Rainey with Her Georgia Band. We see this sometimes with very old songs that get a new arrangement or words added or subtracted. In the case of this song the original writer is not known and is listed as 'Traditional'. Over the years it was recorded in different ways, some more bluesy, folksy or with a Jazz twist. Lloyd Price didn't directly cover 'Ma Rainey', he used the storyline and added his own music and practically made it a brand new song, hence gaining songwriting credits he did not have to share with an 'original' writer. His version has been covered over 70 times. 'The Levon Helm Band' (2014).

Or there are songs I've blogged like this, "Respect" from the writer and original recording Otis Redding and the cover from Aretha Franklin where she added new words, music and arrangement to song that was only two years old. It's still a cover song but people tend to use the Franklin version over the Redding version when making a new cover. Songwriting credit still just goes to Redding, not Franklin. Having said that the owners of the rights to the song, in this case the estate of Otis Redding could have (he died in 1967) given a portion of the credits and/or therefore royalty payments to Aretha Franklin (her version came out in 1967) and now of course her estate as she passed August 16, 2018. To my knowledge this has never happened.

Again please note these numbers may exclude additional versions and are subject to change as new ones are recorded and/or added to the database daily.

References; ,

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