Daily Double Top Five: Best & Worst Cover Songs

Johnny Cash American RecordingsAgain, we play catch up with a daily double top five, and this one focuses on cover songs.

So many great songs have been re-recorded over time.  Sometimes the new versions are so good that you discover something new about the original.  Other times, the new takes are so bad that you just wish they’d left well enough alone.

So today we ask: What do you think are the best and the worst cover songs?

For my five best, I’m picking versions that I enjoyed so much more than the originals that I rarely listen to the first versions anymore.  But you don’t have to do that!

Original artists are in parentheses after each pick.

Five Best Cover Songs

  1. Emmylou Harris, “The Boxer” (Simon & Garfunkel)
  2. Johnny Cash, “Why Me Lord”  (Kris Kristofferson)
  3. Reba McEntire, “Sweet Music Man” (Kenny Rogers)
  4. Alison Krauss, “Ghost in This House” (Shenandoah)
  5. Dwight Yoakam, “Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell)

Five Worst Cover Songs

  1. David Kersh, “Wonderful Tonight” (Eric Clapton)
  2. Brooks & Dunn, “Missing You” (John Waite)
  3. Rascal Flatts, “Revolution” (The Beatles)
  4. Gretchen Peters, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (Johnny Cash)
  5. Willie Nelson, “Time After Time” (Cyndi Lauper)

23 Comments

  1. I’m not good with covers so I’ll just say ones that work and ones that don’t
    Work:
    You & Tequila Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter Wild Child
    Gentle On My Mind The Band Perry
    Dixie Chicks Landslide
    Reba & Kelly Clarkson Because Of You
    Carrie Underwood I Told You So
    Even though not on any of her albums Carrie Underwood Remember When seriously look it up it’s beautiful.
    Don’t Work:
    Jimmy Wayne Sara Smile
    Miranda Lambert Little Red Wagon Seriously how can you guys like this song it’s garbage.
    ZBB Dress Blues Way to ruin a great song
    Justin Moore Home Sweet Home

  2. Best:

    1. Alan Jackson, “Pop A Top”
    2. Suzy Bogguss, “Let’s Chase Each Other ‘Round The Room”
    3. Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, “I Can’t Be Myself”
    4. Patty Loveless, “Crazy Arms”
    5. Trisha Yearwood, “There’s A New Kid In Town”
    BONUS: Reba McEntire, “Please Come To Boston”

    This is a challenge. I’ll have to think on the worst list.

  3. Best:
    1. Garth Brooks “Shameless”.
    2. Suzy Bogguss “Take it to the Limit”.
    3. Dixie Chicks “Landslide”.

    Worst:
    1. Johnny Cash “Hurt”. I hate that cover and what I hate even more is how everyone knows and loves it, especially people who have no idea who Johnny Cash was and would hate his other stuff if they knew about it.

  4. i just had to throw in the worst cover off all time to me is faith hills version of the janis joplin song “piece of my heart” just a soulless version that i turn off immediately if it comes on.

  5. Oh and one more of the worst:
    2. Rascal Flatts “Life Is a Highway”. Ughity ugh.

  6. I’ll have to say that I know of a few people who loved Cash’s “Hurt” and then ended up liking his older music too.

    I’ll be back with my lists, but I want to say that Jason Aldean does a really good job with Merle Haggard’s “Are the Good Times Really Over for Good.” However, there’s something unsettling about hearing somebody Aldean’s age/generation sing it while I can give Haggard or somebody from his generation a pass.

  7. Worst:
    Jack Ingram-Lips Of An Angel
    Tip to artists who want to cover pop songs…cover pop/rock songs that are actually well written. This terrible song by a terrible band really marked a decline in Ingram’s material that coincided with his attempt to go mainstream. Much like Pat Green, their labels did not truly understand why each man had and still have large fanbases in Texas/the South.

    Mark Chesnutt–I Dont Want To Miss A Thing
    One of the 90’s best acts trying desperately to court the pop-Country/soccer mom Country audience. Chesnutt has recorded a lot of great songs, but this wasn’t one of them and much like Ingram, marked a period in his career where the material he wrote/chose trended downward.

    Big and Rich-You Shook Me All Night Long
    Look, I love AC/DC as pure testosterone/dumb rock. They have a sound and they stick to it and they do it well…but Big and Rich sucked a lot of the testosterone and fun of this song right out of it.

    Rascal Flatts–Life is a Highway
    I’ll be honest, anything attached to Rascal Flatts makes me dislike it. They might be nice guys, but I cannot stand their music and this was no exception.

    Best

    David Nail–“Someone Like You”
    One the best pure vocalists in modern Country music covering a great song. The production is simple, Nail and a piano for the majority of the song. Nail’s radio singles have been hit or miss, but the guy has some great album cuts.

    Gary Allan-“Best I Ever Had”
    One of the my favorite albums of all time, Gary pours his heart out of in turn rips the heart out of the listener. Not my favorite Gary song, but damn if he didnt make this song his own.

    Johnny Cash–Hurt
    Yeah, yeah, it’s been popularized by people who know little of Cash beyond this song, but that doesnt change the fact it’s a DAMN good song.

    The Gourds–“Gin and Juice”
    It really shouldnt work…but damn if it doesnt.

  8. Best
    1. Travelin’ Soldier Dixie Chicks (Bruce Robison)
    2. El Cerrito Place Charlie Robison (Keith Gattis)
    3. Wrapped George Strait (Bruce Robison)
    4. Top of the World Dixie Chicks (Patty Griffin)
    5. Hurt Johnny Cash (Nine Inch Nails)

    Worst
    1. Life is a Highway Rascal Flatts (Tom Cochrane, Chris LeDoux)
    2. El Cerrito Place Kenny Chesney (Keith Gattis, Charlie Robison)
    3. When I Was Your Man Thomas Rhett (Bruno Mars)
    4. Angry All The Time Tim McGraw (Bruce Robison)
    5. Stay Florida Georgia Line (Black Stone Cherry)

  9. “Best covers” would be an ever changing cateogry. I am confident that if you asked me to make this list in a year, a month or even a week that it would change. There are so many cover songs that I enjoy that it is hard to narrow down to five; so I just went with these five, for now.

    The best cover songs:

    1. The Boxer
    Sung By: EmmyLou Harris
    Wrote By: Paul Simon

    2. Travelin’ Soilder
    Sung By: The Dixie Chicks
    Wrote By: Bruce Robison

    3. Always On My Mind
    Sung By: Willie Nelson
    Wrote By: Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher, Mark James

    4. The Ballad of a Runaway Horse (Originally Ballad of the Absent Mare)
    Sung By: EmmyLou Harris
    Wrote By: Leonard Cohen

    5. Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)
    Sung By: Dolly Parton
    Wrote By: Bob Dylan

  10. Five best cover songs:
    Martina McBride – Rose Garden
    Jason Isbell – Pancho and Lefty
    Janis Joplin – Me and Bobby McGee
    Willie Nelson – Georgia on My Mind
    Ray Price – You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

    Five Worst Cover Songs:
    Stand By Your Man – the Blues Brothers
    Sarah Smile – Jimmy Wayne
    Hunter Hayes – (There’s) No Getting Over Me
    I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing – Mark Chesnutt
    A Very Special Love Song – Ray Conniff Singers (which should have deserved a restraining order)

  11. Best:
    1. Cry – Crystal Gayle
    2. Stand By Me – Mickey Gilley
    3. Seven Bridges Road – Dolly Parton
    4. We’ve Got Tonight – Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton
    5. Daydream Believer – Anne Murray

    Worst (Yes I’m picking on a couple of people here)
    1. If I Were A Boy – Reba
    2. Slow Hand – Conway Twitty
    3. Touch Me When We’re Dancing – Alabama
    4. Cathy’s Clown – Reba
    5. The Rose – Conway Twitty

  12. I had to make a Best and a Best Texas:

    Best Mainstream:
    1. Lonestar, “Walking in Memphis” (Marc Cohen)
    2. Clint Black, “Desperado” (Eagles)
    3. David Nail ft. Lee Ann Womack, “Galveston” (Glen Camplbell)
    4. Tim McGraw, “Tiny Dancer” (Elton John)
    5. Sawyer Brown, “Six Days on the Road” (Dave Dudley)

    Best Texas:
    1. Aaron Watson, “Wildfire” (John Mayer)
    2. Stoney LaRue, “Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” (Brandon Jenkins)
    3. David Nail, “Grandpa’s Farm” (Adam Hood)
    4. Wade Bowen, “Please Come to Boston” (Dave Loggins)
    5. Josh Abbott Band, “I’ll Sing About Mine” (Adam Hood)

    Worst:
    1. Luke Bryan, “Apologize” (Timbaland ft. One Republic)
    2. Chase Rice, “Ride” (SoMo)
    3. The entire “Nashville Outlaws” Tribute to Motley Crue atrocity
    4. Florida Georgia Line, “Stay” (Black Stone Cherry)
    5. Big & Rich “You Shook Me All Night Long” (AC/DC)

  13. Worst is the easier list to compile, I can think of dozens of dreadful covers

    1) Great Balls of Fire – Dolly Parton (Jerry Lee Lewis)
    2) Blue Bayou – Linda Ronstadt (Roy Orbison)
    3) The Rose – Conway Twitty (Bette Midler)
    4) Slow Hand – Conway Twitty (Pointer Sisters)
    5) I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing – Mark Chesnut (Aerosmith)

    Covering Roy Orbison or Jerry Lee Lewis is a risky proposition at best. The others listed were just bad songs that weren’t all that good in their original versions

    Best
    1) Crying – Don McLean (Roy Orbison)
    2) Lonely Teardrops – Narvel Felts (Jackie Wilson)
    3) Drift Away – Narvel Felts (Dobie Gray)
    4) The Boxer – Emmylou Harris (Simon & Garfunkel)
    5) Beneath Still Waters – Emmylou Harris (George Jones)
    6) That’s The Way Love Goes – Johnny Rodriguez (Lefty Frizzell)

    Special mentions
    Cold Cold Heart – Tony Bennett (Hank Williams)
    I Can’t Stop Loving You – Ray Charles (Kitty Wells – first charted version)

  14. Best:
    1. Blue Bayou – Linda Ronstadt (Roy Orbison)
    2. I Wanna Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart – Suzy Bogguss (Patsy Montana)
    3. A Fool Such as I – Baillie & the Boys (Elvis)
    4. Mention My Name in Sheboygan – Everly Brothers (Beatrice Kay)
    5. Slow Boat to China – The Western Swing Authority (many)

    Worst:
    1. Cathy’s Clown – Reba (Everly Brothers) Agree with Caj. I’ve been a big fan of the Everly Brothers since they began their career in the late 50’s and I never cared for Reba.
    2 – 5 can’t think of any others right now.

  15. Best:

    1. I CAN’T HELP IT IF I’M STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU–Linda Ronstadt (covering Hank Williams Sr.)
    2. YOU WON’T SEE ME–Anne Murray (covering the Beatles)
    3. IF I COULD ONLY WIN YOUR LOVE–Emmylou Harris (covering the Louvin Brothers)
    4. ALWAYS ON MY MIND–Willie Nelson (possibly a tribute to Elvis, who first did the song in 1972)
    5. TRY ME AGAIN–Trisha Yearwood (covering a song that her spiritual role model Linda Ronstadt co-wrote in 1976)

    Worst:

    1. PIECE OF MY HEART–Faith Hill (people may think this is too easy a target because of Janis Joplin’s classic 1968 version, but I stand by it)
    2. WE JUST DISAGREE–Billy Dean (way too fast cover of a 1977 hit by Dave Mason, who was a member of the 1960s English rock band Traffic)
    3. FANCY–Reba McEntire (another one where I’m likely to take a lot of flak on, but I think Reba’s too hammy on this cover of Bobbie Gentry’s 1969 country/soul classic)
    4. T-R-O-U-B-L-E–Travis Tritt (it doesn’t have anywhere close to the swagger and authentic fierceness of Elvis’ 1975 version)
    5. AMIE–Lonestar (bland paleface cover of the 1975 C&W/rock classic by Pure Prairie League)

  16. Quite a few great picks have already been mentioned for the “best” lists! My favorites that haven’t turned up yet:

    1. Linda Ronstadt, “The First Cut is the Deepest.”
    Maybe a cheat here since she didn’t actually record this in the studio, but the live performance is as pristine and note-perfect as any studio recording likely would have been. Hers is my favorite rendition of this song.

    2. Pinmonkey, “That Train Don’t Run.”
    I love Matraca Berg’s bluesy original verision, but this underrated group kicked up the pace a bit and, somehow, managed to make the song sound even more plaintive.

    3. Mandy Barnett f Alison Krauss, “Blue, Blue Day.”
    My #1 single for 2014, and an example of simply flawless singing.

    4. Kelly Hogan & The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, “Papa Was a Rodeo.”
    Hogan’s one of contemporary (alt-)country’s best interpretive singers, and she took one of The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs and roped into the country genre where it always belonged.

    5. Dwight Yoakam, “Suspicious Minds.”
    It’s Elvis’ best single, but I still prefer Dwight’s version ever-so-slightly.

    Honorable Mentions: Candi Staton, “Stand By Your Man;” The White Stripes, “Jolene;” Joan Osborne, “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind;” Suzy Bogguss, “Drive South;” Dixie Chicks, “Am I the Only One (Who Ever Felt This Way);” Dixiana, “Waitin’ for the Deal to Go Down.”

    And some rotten low-hanging fruit has been mentioned for the “Worst” lists already! I don’t think Janis is untouchable (though I’m a huge fan), so I wouldn’t be one to complain about the “Piece of My Heart” cover as anyone’s #1 pick.

    1. Johnny Cash Remixed.
    Maybe a cheat here, as well, but this collection of shoddily-constructed EDM remixes of Cash’s singles remains one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard.

    2. Tim McGraw, “When The Stars Go Blue.”
    I’m a big fan of Ryan Adams, but I’ve never shared in the love for this particular song: That line about a “wooden shoe” is just indefensible. And McGraw is at his most bland and robotic on his version. The Corrs & U2 fared slightly better on their cover, but not by much.

    3. Dolly Parton, “Stairway to Heaven.”
    I love Dolly, but not all of her ideas are good ones.

    4. Melissa Etheridge, “I Will Always Love You.”
    Speaking of Dolly, Etheridge provded herself completely out of her depth, both conceptually and technically, on hands-down the worst track on the otherwise terrific tribute album to Parton.

    5. Billie Jo Spears, “I Will Survive.”
    Spears was a decent singer, but this cover is the very definition of inessential: Neither the performance nor the production bring anything to the table that wasn’t done better in Gloria Gaynor’s signature version.

  17. Best:

    1. The Little Willies, “Tennessee Stud”
    2. Rosanne Cash, “Tenessee Flattop Box”
    3. Randy Travis, “Don’t Think Twice”
    4. Dwight Yoakam, “Suspicious Minds”
    5. Reba, “Sweet Music Man”

    Worst:

    1. Rascal Flatts, “Life Is A Highway” (They took the most country part out of their country cover.)
    2-3. Big and Rich, “You’ve Got to Fight for Your Right to Party” and “You Shook Me All Night Long”
    4. Mark Chesnutt, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (It was a bad song in general, but Chesnutt does not have the vocal strength to cover Stephen Tyler.)
    5. Johnny Cash, “I Won’t Back Down”

  18. Never heard “First Cut Is The Deepest” sung by Linda Ronstadt, so I’ll need to look it up. I do remember the original version by the song’s writer Cat Stevens from around 1967 or 1968. That still strikes me as the best version I ever heard of the song

    I thought Janis Joplin’s cover of “Piece of My Heart” was terrible – I really liked the original recording by Erma Franklin (Aretha’s sister) and I liked the arrangement on Erma’s recording.

  19. I’m going with covers of well-known songs or songs where there are several notable versions because I think it’s tougher to release a quality version of a well-known song than to release a cover of a song no one knows.

    Best
    – “When You Say Nothing At All” (Alison Krauss)
    – “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” (Patty Loveless) – the definitive version
    – “Hallelujah” (Jeff Buckley) – the definitive version
    – “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (Amy Winehouse)
    – “Toxic” (Nickel Creek)

    Honorable mentions – “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” by Mariah Carey, “When You Walk in the Room” by Pam Tillis, “Please Remember Me” by Tim McGraw (docked by me for being the only truly known version), “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone, and “Best I Ever Had” by Gary Allan (also docked for being the only truly known version).

    Worst
    1. “Life is a Highway” (Rascal Flatts) – It’s a redundant pick at this point, but it also is that bad.
    2. “Piece of My Heart” (Faith Hill) – I get finding a new emotion in a song, but I don’t know what the aim was here.
    3. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” (Mark Chestnutt) – It was already an awful song, but then to have someone not equipped to sing it?
    4. “I Love Rock & Roll” -(Britney Spears)
    5. “American Pie” (Madonna)

  20. Quote by Paul W. Dennis:

    Never heard “First Cut Is The Deepest” sung by Linda Ronstadt, so I’ll need to look it up.

    Here it is (from an ABC-TV “In Concert” special of November 1973):

  21. I am surprised not to have seen Alabama’s cover of *NSYNC’s”(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time On You” on anyone’s “worst” list yet…

  22. Eh I find that song more meh than everything it just doesn’t stand out enough to truly hate.

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