The 20 Most Covered Songs of All-Time
Most songs are recorded once. Often, they fail to make much of an impression, thus resulting in them sinking back into oblivion. A smaller number receive covers.
Generally speaking, they receive one or two. However, some have hundreds. Unsurprisingly, these songs tend to be well-known, even if interested individuals don’t know their names off-hand.
Here are 20 of the most covered songs of all time:
20. “Someone to Watch Over Me” – Gertrude Lawrence – 695 Covers
The Gershwin brothers were one of the most successful songwriting teams of the 20th century. “Someone to Watch Over Me” is an excellent example of their output.
It started as the centerpiece of Oh, Kay!, which ran for 256 performances in New York City and then another 213 performances in London. Gertrude Lawrence was the one who played the musical’s main character in both productions. As such, she sang the song before anyone else.
19. “What a Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong – 695 Covers
“What a Wonderful World” is a song that needs no introduction. After all, Louis Armstrong’s version remains one of the most famous recordings ever.
Curiously, it reached the top of the charts in the United Kingdom but made a much weaker impression in the United States when it first came out. That is because the head of the record label wanted something else entirely, so he refused to do any promotional work.
18. “Stella By Starlight” – Victor Young – 703 Covers
“Stella By Starlight” is a jazz standard based on material for a 1944 movie. However, it didn’t receive lyrics until 1946. Since then, “Stella By Starlight” has become one of the most popular jazz standards in existence.
17. “Fly Me to the Moon” – Kaye Ballard – 712 Covers
“Fly Me to the Moon” is another song that needs no introduction. Chances are good that interested individuals will recognize it because of the Frank Sinatra cover.
That said, Kaye Ballard’s version predated that one by a decade. She emerged as a musical comedian in the 1940s before branching outwards, thus resulting in a long, fruitful career.
For instance, Ballard remained active into the early 2000s. Subsequently, she seems to have retired, though she did appear in a movie called Senior Moment in 2017.
16. “Love For Sale” – Fred Waring – 728 Covers
“Love For Sale” is another song that came into existence because of a musical. Specifically, it was in The New Yorkers, which was successful enough to run for 168 performances in 1930.
That might not sound very impressive. Interested individuals should remember that the Great Depression hit Broadway with the same force it hit most sectors of society, which is why theaters folded left and right. Regardless, “Love For Sale” was somewhat controversial in its time.
That is because its title refers to the act of prostitution. Something that was rampant in those days but was nonetheless seen as something people shouldn’t bring up so publicly.
15. “The Girl From Ipanema” – Pery Ribeiro – 734 Covers
Strictly speaking, “The Girl From Ipanema” is “Garota de Ipanema.” It was a Brazilian song that went international in the 1960s. For instance, “The Girl From Ipanema” claimed the Grammy for Record of the Year. Moreover, it reached the number five position on the Billboard Hot 100, which was similar to its results in other countries.
14. “Night and Day” – Fred Astaire – 788 Covers
“Night and Day” was written by the same individual – Cole Porter – as “Love For Sale.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, it comes from a musical called Gay Divorce. Nowadays, people tend to remember Fred Astaire because of his movies.
The thing is that he lived around the time when movies were emerging as entertainment products. Some actors managed to make a successful transition, whereas others did not.
Astaire was one of the former, meaning people saw him on stage before they saw him on the screen. That said, Gay Divorce was the man’s last Broadway show.
13. “Sweet Georgia Brown” – Ben Bernie – 789 Covers
“Sweet Georgia Brown” is another popular jazz standard. Supposedly, Ben Bernie came up with the idea after meeting a Georgia state representative named George Thaddeus Brown, whose colleagues declared he should name his daughter for their state.
12. “Georgia On My Mind” – Hoagy Carmichael – 803 Covers
Speaking of which, “Georgia On My Mind” has the honor of being Georgia’s official stage song. To be exact, that is true for Ray Charles’s 1960 cover. “Georgia On My Mind” is quite a bit older than that.
After all, Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell collaborated on the songwriting before Carmichael recorded the first version three decades before that.
11. “Moon River” – Audrey Hepburn – 824 Covers
“Moon River” is associated with more than one well-known artist. The first of them was Audrey Hepburn, who performed it in the movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961. It didn’t just earn her an Oscar; it also earned her two Grammys.
Reputedly, “Moon River” relaunched the songwriter Johnny Mercer’s career, which was well-earned because the lyrics drew so much inspiration from the man’s childhood. That makes more sense when one realizes the song isn’t directed at a specific individual so much as an idea.
10. “Stardust” – Hoagy Carmichael – 895 Covers
Stardust is an evocative term. As a result, there are several songs either named “Stardust” or named something including “Stardust.” This would be the Hoagy Carmichael song he wrote towards the start of his storied career.
By 1940, it was already considered a standard, which speaks volumes about its reception by the American public.
9. “Caravan” – Barney Bigard and His Jazzopaters – 898 Covers
“Caravan” comes from the 1930s. The first version came from Barney Bigard and His Jazzopaters. Interested individuals should have no problem guessing that Barney Bigard took the lead in recording this song.
The extra-neat part is that the Jazzopaters included several other well-known artists. Examples included Cootie Williams, Juan Tizol, and Duke Ellington. Indeed, the latter two were the ones who wrote the song. It is interesting to note that “Caravan” has lyrics that see little use.
8. “St. Louis Blues” – Charles A. Prince’s Band – 913 Covers
Blues originated in the mid-19th century. Still, it is no exaggeration to say that “St. Louis Blues” was a pioneer for the genre, seeing as it was one of the first blues songs to find widespread success as popular music.
Charles A. Prince was the man who directed Columbia Records’ house band, which produced an instrumental version of the song back in 1915. If people need an example of the song’s influence, they should know the NHL team is named for it.
7. “Round Midnight” – Cootie Williams – 946 Covers
Thelonious Monk was the one who wrote “Round Midnight.” It isn’t 100 percent clear when he did so. The popular belief is that Monk did so in 1940 or 1941. Despite this, there are claims that he might have started writing it as far back as 1936, which was when he was still in his late teens. Regardless, Cootie Williams was the first one to record it after Bud Powell talked him into doing so.
6. “All the Things You Are” – Tommy Dorsey – 967 Covers
By this point, it shouldn’t be surprising to see another song from a musical show up on this list. Jerome Kern composed the music, while Oscar Hammerstein II penned the lyrics. The latter was one half of the duo Rodgers and Hammerstein, who kickstarted another golden age for Broadway.
However, the II is necessary because his grandfather Oscar Hammerstein was also notable in American theater. In any case, two recordings of “All the Things You Are” were made in 1939, though Tommy Dorsey seems to have been the first rather than the second.
5. “My Funny Valentine” – Fairchild and Carroll and Their Orchestra – 1,159 Covers
Richard Rodgers had a career outside of Rodgers and Hammerstein, just like Oscar Hammerstein II did. He and Lorenz Hart were the ones who did the musical Babes in Arms in 1937, which contained the song “My Funny Valentine.”
The two had a very successful partnership in their own right. Unfortunately, they started experiencing issues towards the end because Hart became more and more unreliable.
Even so, Rodgers and Hart collaborated one last time on a revival of A Connecticut Yankee in 1943, the opening of which was followed by Hart’s death just a few days later. Of course, “My Funny Valentine” and other songs stand as lasting testaments to their combined capabilities.
4. “Body and Soul” – Ambrose and Jack Hylton – 1,213 Covers
“Body and Soul” is sometimes associated with a boxing movie of the same name in 1947. That said, the song predated the movie by a considerable margin. Reputedly, it was written for Gertrude Lawrence, who performed it for audiences in the United Kingdom. Still, Ambrose and Jack Hylton’s orchestras produced the first recording in 1930.
3. “Over the Rainbow” – Judy Garland – 1,343 Covers
Somehow, The Wizard of Oz remains much-beloved even though it came out in 1939. Thanks to this, Judy Garland’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” remains surprisingly well-known to a wide range of people from a wide range of backgrounds.
It has been covered hundreds of times, but some of these covers stand out more than others. For instance, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole did a medley of “Over the Rainbow” with “What a Wonderful World” back in 1993, which sold millions of copies just in the United States alone.
A more recent cover would be Ariana Grande’s version in 2017, which was released to raise money for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing. An incident that is known to have shaken her because she was the one who had just finished a concert when it happened.
2. “Summertime” – Abbie Mitchell – 2,169 Covers
As mentioned earlier, the Gershwin brothers were one of the greatest songwriting teams of the 20th century. They were the ones who made “Summertime” for the opera Porgy and Bess, though Ira Gershwin had some help with the lyrics from DuBose Heyward. Several of its songs have become classics. “Summertime” is one of them.
Abbie Mitchell became the first to record it in 1935, which makes sense because she was the one to originate one of the major characters in the opera. Mitchell was born to an African-American mother and a Jewish-German father.
At the time, the producers’ insistence on casting African-American performers for the African-American characters was seen in a controversial light. Despite this, Porgy and Bess is regarded in a somewhat mixed light, not least because of the perception that it is racist and outdated.
1. “Yesterday” – The Beatles – 2,200 Covers
It is difficult to describe just how popular the Beatles were at the height of their fame. Thanks to that, the band has continued to exert enormous influence over music long after its breakup in 1969. “Yesterday” is one of the best examples of that long-lasting legacy.
The inherent challenges of counting covers make it hard to tell whether it is the most covered song ever for sure. Either way, there can be no doubt about the fact that it is one of the most covered songs ever because there have been more than 2,200 covers.
Moreover, the number continues to increase because artists continue to keep “Yesterday” well and alive by releasing their takes on the song.
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