Musicians often cover songs from other artists to more easily get their name out to fans of the artist they're covering or to show respect.
People like hearing new artists with new music, but they also enjoy listening to popular songs they're already familiar with.
Here are the 27 best songs to cover as a musician.
1. “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen
Song year: 1984
Since this beautiful song came out in 1984, over 50 different versions have been released by top-name artists and hundreds more from aspiring artists — the version by Jeff Buckley in 1994 is the most well-known today.
Cohen's original is a simple, acoustic rendition, while Buckley's cover is much more atmospheric, with electric guitars and reverb-drenched vocals.
Covers of “Hallelujah” have been used in major films and shows, such as West Wing, The O.C., and Shrek.
Other well-known covers include those by John Cale, k.d. lang, and Rufus Wainwright. It's also not surprising to hear it during church services, given the religious overtones, including the song title itself.
It has a gorgeous melody, a soft tone, and a heart-warming message. The verses can be low and slow to foster contrast from the chorus, which is higher and more intense.
Given the relative simplicity of the original song, musicians have found many ways to cover it. Some musicians opt for a similarly inspiring mood, while others sing it more joyfully in praise, and others still take a more melancholy or bittersweet approach.
2. “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan
Song year: 1967
This song was initially written and performed by Bob Dylan in 1967 (and released in 1968), but the cover by Jimi Hendrix in 1968 is the version that's best known today.
Since then, “All Along the Watchtower” has been covered by various artists in various genres, including U2, Dave Matthews Band, Neil Young, and Eric Clapton.
The song is about a narrator who watches as the world goes by, observing people in their everyday lives. The lyrics are open to interpretation, but some see it as a commentary on society, while others view it as more of a personal reflection.
The music is relatively simple, with a slow, steady beat and Dylan's signature harmonica playing in the background.
Hendrix's cover made it more of a rock song, with electric guitars and a more upbeat tempo. Other covers have followed suit, making it a popular choice for those looking to put their spin on a classic song.
3. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
Song year: 1991
This 1991 Nirvana hit was one of the songs that ushered in the grunge era of music in the early '90s. The original is a hard-hitting rock song with heavy guitars and drums.
The lyrics are famously nonsensical, with lead singer Kurt Cobain later admitting they were just “gibberish” meant to sound cool.
The song became an immediate hit and has been covered by a wide range of artists over the years. Most notably, Paul Anka released a big band jazz version of the song in 2006.
Other covers have been more faithful to the original, such as those by Blink-182, Foo Fighters, and Avril Lavigne.
4. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
Song year: 1992
This song was written and performed originally by Dolly Parton in 1974, but Whitney Houston's version created for the film The Bodyguard in 1992 made it a global hit.
The song is a ballad about heartbreak and loss and about continuing to love someone even after they're gone.
Houston's version is a slow, soulful rendition that showcases her powerful vocal range. The song starts out relatively quietly but builds to a notable climax, with the chorus belted out at full volume.
This also makes it one of the best songs to “cover” during Karaoke!
Since its release, the song has been covered by many other artists, including Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, and Carrie Underwood.
5. “Yesterday” by The Beatles
Song year: 1965
“Yesterday” is a classic Beatles song written by Paul McCartney in 1965. The original is a simple, acoustic ballad with McCartney's emotive vocals front and center.
The song is about nostalgia and looking back on happy times in the past. It's been covered by countless famous and aspiring musicians over the decades, including James Taylor, Boyz II Men, and Maroon 5.
“Yesterday” has been featured in many films and television shows, solidifying its place as one of the most well-known, respected, and loved songs of all time.
6. “I'm Yours” by Jason Mraz
Song year: 2008
This feel-good song was written and performed by Jason Mraz in 2008 and became an instant hit. It's a catchy, upbeat tune with positive lyrics about starting anew and taking a chance on love.
The original is acoustic-based, with Mraz's signature raspy vocals front and center.
Since its release, several artists have covered the song, including Justin Bieber and Colbie Caillat.
It's also been featured in many films and television shows, including The Lucky One and Parks and Recreation.
7. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
Song year: 1968
This Motown classic was originally written and performed by Smokey Robinson in 1966, but Marvin Gaye's version two years later made it a hit.
The song is about a man who's been cheated on by his woman and is struggling to deal with the betrayal.
The original is a slow, soulful ballad, but Gaye's version cranks up the tempo and intensity, making it one of the most iconic breakup songs of all time.
8. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
Song year: 1967
“Respect” was first written and performed by Otis Redding in 1965, but Aretha Franklin's cover two years later made it a hit. “Respect” is about someone asking for respect and admiration and not to be taken for granted. It’s become an empowering anthem for women everywhere.
The original is a slow, soulful ballad, but Franklin's version cranks up the tempo and intensity, making it an anthem for the Civil Rights movement.
Aretha's track is a fast-paced R&B song with a strong beat. Aretha Franklin's vocal performance is powerful and full of attitude.
Many artists have covered this hit song, including Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson. It can be turned into a slower and more sentimental ballad or kept as an uptempo R&B jam.
9. “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King
Song year: 1961
“Stand By Me” was originally written and performed by Ben E. King in 1961, but it's been covered by numerous artists over the years.
The song is about love (whether romantic or platonic) and standing by someone through thick and thin.
The original song is a smooth, soft Motown hit, but many covers have added different instrumentation and arrangements, including electric guitars and drums.
The famous band Imagine Dragons did a particularly impressive job covering this song.
10. “Love Me Do” by The Beatles
Song year: 1962
“Love Me Do” was actually the first single released by The Beatles in 1962, and due to its cheery and dynamic instrumentals and vocals, it has been covered by a plethora of artists over the years.
“Love Me Do” is a straightforward love song about asking the person you love to love you back.
The original is an acoustic ballad, but many covers have used different arrangements such as pianos, horns, or with no background music.
11. “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran
Song year: 2014
“Photograph” was written by Ed Sheeran in 2014, and it's become one of his most famous songs.
The lyrics are about a relationship that's ended and how the protagonist struggles to move on. It speaks to how love is a powerful emotion that can hurt but also heal.
The original is a simple acoustic ballad, but many covers have added different instrumentation and arrangements, including electric guitars, drums, and horns. There are several highly watched YouTube covers for “Photograph’ that you can watch for ideas.
12. “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri
Song year: 2011
Christina Perri's “A Thousand Years” was originally written for the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 soundtrack in 2011.
The song is a slow, emotional ballad about everlasting love. The original track is soft, riveting, and passionate, with Perry's soothing voice gracing the instrumentals.
It's been covered by many artists, including country singer Jason Walker and rock band One Direction.
13. “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton
Song year: 2002
Right when the piano starts playing the song's first notes, you know “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton. The pop songstress released the track in 2002, and it quickly blew up, becoming one of the most popular songs of the early 2000s.
The lyrics are about being far away from the one you love and longing to be with them.
The original is a slow, emotional ballad, but many covers have switched up the instrumentation and either sped up or slowed down the original song.
Because it is such a classic hit, switching things up too much might not be the best idea. And it might be best to stick with the piano with this song as well.
14. “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion
Song year: 1996
“Because You Loved Me” quickly became a hit in 1996, thanks to its relatable lyrics and Dion's powerful vocal performance.
The song is about how the love of a good partner can help you through tricky times and make you a better person.
The original track is a steady, smooth, and passionate ballad, with Celine Dion's warm and full voice. It's a very emotional and meaningful love song, which is why people worldwide enjoy covering it.
15. “Easy On Me” by Adele
Song year: 2021
Adele's “Easy On Me” is a beautiful ballad released in 2021. Adele is undoubtedly one of the best vocalists of our generation, and this song is a perfect example of her talent.
The lyrics of this song are about how a partner can help ease the pain and make life feel more bearable. She explains how she had a lot of growing up to do and made many mistakes in the past.
The original track is soothing, graceful, and extremely sentimental, with a piano instrumental. Some covers stick with the piano, while others use acoustic guitars.
Given that Adele is so talented, it might seem intimidating to cover one of her songs, but this beautiful song is worth giving a shot if you have a bold, natural, and full voice.
16. “Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift
Song year: 2017
“Look What You Made Me Do” was released in 2017, and it was an instant chart-topper.
This song has various interpretations and meanings, namely related to Taylor's hectic, highly publicized life but is essentially a clap back song against her haters and the people who've hurt her.
The original track is a catchy, uptempo pop song with an electro-pop beat. The lyrics are biting and sarcastic, and Swift's vocal performance is fierce and intense.
The cover to the song can take a variety of approaches and work very well, given its dynamic original cover. It can easily be turned into a slower and more somber song or a fast and high-tempo rock song.
17. “Not Afraid” by Eminem
Song year: 2010
Eminem's “Not Afraid” was released in 2010, and it's an incredibly powerful and motivational song. The lyrics are about how Eminem overcame his struggles with addiction and found the strength to move on.
The original song is an uptempo rap song with a strong beat. Eminem's lyrics are intense and personal, and he delivers them with raw emotion.
This song is perfect for covers because it's so multi-dimensional. It can be turned into a slow and emotional ballad or a high-powered rock song.
The final cover will ultimately depend on the interpretation of the lyrics and the vocalist's delivery.
18. “Don't Stop Believin'” by Journey
Song year: 1981
Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'” is a classic rock song released in 1981. It's a highly optimistic and motivational song, with lyrics that encourage the listener to pursue their dreams.
The original track is a fast-paced, upbeat rock song with a strong guitar riff. Steve Perry's vocal performance is full of energy and passion.
“Don't Stop Believing'” has been covered by a wide range of artists. It's been turned into a slow and emotional ballad, heavier rock songs, or even an a cappella jam like this cover by the Glee Cast.
19. “Rocket Man” by Elton John
Song year: 1972
“Rocket Man” by Elton John is a beautiful, space-themed ballad released in 1972. It's a song about how a person can be homesick, even when they're living their dream.
The original track is a slow and sentimental ballad with a gentle piano melody. Elton John's vocal performance is full of emotion, and he hits some incredibly high notes.
Several artists, including Mike Masse and Connie Talbot, have covered this song. Musicians can turn it into a faster-paced rock song or a more mellow and acoustic track.
Dua Lipa also has a disco song called “Cold Heart” that is not necessarily a cover but samples this song and features Elton John himself.
20. “Imagine” by John Lennon
Song year: 1971
John Lennon's “Imagine” is a beautiful, peaceful song that was released in 1971. ‘Imagine” is about how we should all live in peace and harmony, without borders or division.
The original hit is a soft and gentle ballad with a piano melody. John Lennon's vocal performance is calming and soothing.
This song has been covered by a number of artists, including Ariana Grande and Jack Johnson. It can be converted into a more upbeat pop song or kept as a slow and emotional ballad.
21. “Love Story” by Taylor
Song year: 2008
Another Taylor Swift song that musicians and singers love to cover is her chart-topping “Love Story.” This song is notably different from her other hit on this list, “Look What You Made Me Do,” as it paints a fairytale-like picture of true love and happily ever after.
This country-pop track is cheery, upbeat, and fanciful.
People who want to cover it may decide to focus on the vocals by minimizing their instrumentals or include various instrumental arrangements to make it sound like a completely different song altogether.
22. “All Of Me” by John Legend
Song year: 2013
John Legend's “All Of You” is a beautiful love song that was released in 2013. It's a song about how someone is completely in love with their partner, and they would do anything for them.
The original track is a slow, sensual R&B ballad with a gentle piano melody. John Legend's vocal performance is smooth and sexy.
Many artists appreciate covering this song due to its beautifully written lyrics and inviting melodies. It can be turned into a more upbeat pop song or kept as a slow and emotional R&B track.
23. “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse
Song year: 2007
Amy Winehouse's “Valerie” is a retro track that was released in 2007. It's a song about how someone is missing their partner, and they would do anything to see them again.
The original track is a fast-paced, upbeat soul song with a strong horn section. Amy Winehouse's vocal performance is full of energy and sass.
Many artists have covered this beautiful song, including Bruno Mars, as a tribute to Winehouse. It can be turned into a slower and more sentimental ballad or kept as an uptempo soul song.
24. “You've Got The Love” by Florence + The Machine
Song year: 2009
Florence + The Machine's “You've Got The Love” is an upbeat and positive track released in 2009.
It's a song about how love is the answer to everything, and it will always find a way. The original track is a fast-paced and uptempo indie rock song with a strong drumbeat. Florence Welch's vocal performance is full of energy and passion.
“You've Got the Love” has been covered by a number of artists, including The X Factor U.K. winners Little Mix. It can be turned into a slower and more mellow ballad or kept as an uptempo rock song.
25. “Ain't No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
Song year: 1971
Bill Withers' “Ain't No Sunshine” is a retro track that was released in 1971. It's a song about how someone is feeling down, and they miss the happiness that used to be in their life.
The original track is a slow and mellow R&B song with a simple guitar melody. Bill Withers' vocal performance is sad and emotive.
This song has been covered by plenty of artists, including Michael Jackson and Alicia Keys. It can be turned into a more upbeat pop song or kept as a slow and emotional ballad.
26. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston
Song year: 1987
Whitney Houston's “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is an uptempo and fun track released in 1987. It's a song about how someone is looking for a dance partner, and they just want to have a good time.
The original track is a fast-paced, uptempo pop song with a strong dance beat. Whitney Houston's vocal performance is full of energy and enthusiasm.
People like covering this song because it's a feel-good track that always gets people moving. It can be turned into a slower track or kept as an uptempo party song.
27. “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Song year: 2018
Last but not least, “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper is a beautiful ballad released in 2018 for the movie A Star Is Born.
This is a popular song to cover because of its simple but effective lyrics and melody. The original track is a slow, passionate ballad with just a piano accompaniment.
Top Songs to Cover As A Musician, Final Thoughts
These are just some of the best songs to cover as a musician.
You can cover a wide variety of songs; it all depends on what you feel inspired by emotionally and creatively. But the best songs to cover as a musician tend to have strong melodies and lyrics that people can relate to.
For more inspiration, you can check out some of the covers on YouTube. You might find your new favorite song to perform.