What’s the Best (or Worst) Cover Version of a Song?

Bob Varettoni
2 min readMar 25, 2023
Singing “Angel from Montgomery” on the streets of Helen, GA.

What’s the best (or worst) cover version you’ve heard of a favorite song?

I’m “asking for a friend” because — somewhere in Bergenfield, NJ (I won’t say precisely where or when to protect the innocent) — I recently heard a performance of the worst cover version in the history of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.”

It was jangly and upbeat, and I rushed home just to play the original version to restore balance in the world. That’s when I also stumbled up another cover of the same song by Johnny Cash. It was heart-breakingly good. Give it a listen.

Around the same time, Cash also recorded his famous cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” — which is here, if you’re not one of the several hundred million people who have already streamed it.

Perhaps my all-time favorite great cover is Springsteen’s version of “Jersey Girl,” originally by Tom Waits. Here are 10 others I love:

  • “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley (originally Leonard Cohen)
  • “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell (Gloria Jones, and “our song,” according to someone I once dated)
  • “Angel from Montgomery” by Bonnie Raitt (John Prine)
  • Just about any cover version of “Creep” (although Radiohead’s original version is classic)
  • “Mad World” by Gary Jules (Tears for Fears)
  • “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed (Paul Simon, a bold choice, considering how Paul’s “American Tune” is perhaps my all-time favorite song)
  • “Me and Bobbie McGee” by Janis Joplin (Kris Kristofferson)
  • “Hasten Down the Wind” by Linda Ronstadt (Warren Zevon)
  • “Sweet Jane” by the Cowboy Junkies (Lou Reed)
  • “Songbird” by Eva Cassidy (but only as a homage to Christine McVie)

As for bad covers, I think I remember The Muppets once singing “We Built This City” about a dozen years ago. But maybe I was hallucinating, and I never much liked original by Jefferson Airplane/Starship anyway.

Perhaps — having just watched the final episodes of “Daisy Jones & The Six” last night — I’ll say my least favorite cover is U2’s version of the otherwise haunting “Dancing Barefoot.”

Covering a Patti Smith classic? Some things just shouldn’t be done.

What do you think?

Originally published at http://varettoni.blogspot.com.

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Bob Varettoni

Posting here about writing, books, tech, family, baseball. More about me at bvarcommunications.com