The list of artists who reinterpreted and transformed songs made famous by other artists is endless. Think of José Feliciano’s restrained version of the Doors’ hit “Light My Fire.” Frank Sinatra, no admirer of rock ‘n’ roll, nevertheless said the Beatles song “Something” was one of the most beautiful love songs ever written and covered it with full orchestral treatment. The early Rolling Stones his “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was fodder for memorable – and un-Stones-like – versions by Otis Redding, Devo, and Cat Power. (These are cover songs that outperformed the original.)
None of those familiar recordings, however, are among the musical works that have been covered the most. The most covered song in music history is “Summertime.”
To make that determination and identify the other most covered songs in music history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed listings in the online cover song database SecondHandSongs. (Christmas songs and folk songs were excluded from consideration.) It should be noted that the number of covers given here is probably a minimum, as other sources list considerably more versions for some songs.
We considered many tunes from the so-called Great American Songbook, with its pantheon of composers like Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, and Cole Porter. Jazz giants Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk are represented, as many of their songs have become jazz standards.
Other songs we considered were from more contemporary songwriters like bossa nova pioneer Antônio Carlos Jobim and John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In one of Lennon’s last television interviews, on the “Tomorrow” show in 1975, host Tom Snyder asked him why he had recorded a cover of the Ben E. King classic “Stand by Me.” Lennon replied simply that a great song is a great song. That has been the rationale for multiple cover versions throughout the decades. (These are the most covered artists.)
That has certainly been the case with “Summertime.” Written by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, and DuBose Heyward, it was first performed by Abbie Mitchell in the opera “Porgy and Bess” in 1935 and first recorded by her the same year – with George Gershwin himself as pianist and bandleader. Pete Seeger, Lou Rawls, the Righteous Brothers, Al Green, and Lawrence Welk are among the many diverse performers who have tried to put their stamp on it, and the version by Janis Joplin remains one of that ill-fated singer’s most famous songs.
24. “In a Sentimental Mood”
> Covers: 678
> Written by: Mann Curtis, Duke Ellington, Irving Mills
> Originally recorded by: Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
The original recording of “In a Sentimental Mood” was made by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra in 1935. The Italian pop and jazz singer Elly and jazz vocalist Hilary Kole recorded the most recent covers of the song in 2021. Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, Phyllis Hyman, and Roberta Flack, among others, made memorable recordings of it in between.
23. “You Don’t Know What Love Is”
> Covers: 688
> Written by: Gene de Paul, Don Raye
> Originally recorded by: Carol Bruce
Actress and big band singer Carol Bruce first recorded “You Don’t Know What Love Is” in 1941. The song was written for the Abbott and Costello comedy “Keep ‘Em Flying.” Billie Holiday, Buddy Greco, and Marvin Gaye are among the artists who have performed the song subsequently.
22. “Someone to Watch over Me”
> Covers: 695
> Written by: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin
> Originally recorded by: Gertrude Lawrence
The song was written by George and Ira Gerswhin and performed in 1926 in the theater musical “Oh, Kay” by Gertrude Lawrence, who was also the first to record it. It’s been covered by such as Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Winehouse, and Willie Nelson.
21. “What a Wonderful World”
> Covers: 695
> Written by: George David Weiss, Bob Thiele
> Originally recorded by: Louis Armstrong
There have been 695 covers of this song, written by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele, but no one is more associated with it than Louis Armstrong, who was the first to record it, in 1967. Armstrong’s version was named to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
20. “Stella by Starlight”
> Covers: 703
> Written by: Victor Young, Ned Washington
> Originally recorded by: Victor Young and His Concert Orchestra – Ray Turner at the Piano
The first recording of this song was made in 1945 by Victor Young, who wrote the music as the theme song for a 1944 film, “The Uninvited.” Ned Washington added lyrics two years later. Frank Sinatra recorded a well-known version of it, and it became a favorite of jazz improvisers, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Art Blakey.
19. “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)”
> Covers: 712
> Written by: Bart Howard
> Originally recorded by: Kaye Ballard
Probably the most famous version of “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)” was Frank Sinatra’s 1964 recording — which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin actually had on board when they made their historic moon landing in 1969. However, the original version was introduced live by Felicia Sanders at Manhattan’s Blue Angel club in 1954, and initially recorded the same year by Kaye Ballard.
18. “Love for Sale”
> Covers: 728
> Written by: Cole Porter
> Originally recorded by: Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians
Eartha Kitt, Mel TormÃ©, Billie Holiday, and the duo of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga are among the many who have recorded interpretations of “Love for Sale,” but not before Kathryn Crawford, June Shafer, Ida Pearson, and Stella Friend performed it live in a Broadway play called “The New Yorkers” in 1930. It was considered somewhat shocking at the time of its debut, since it was sung from the point of view of a prostitute.
17. “The Girl from Ipanema”
> Covers: 734
> Written by: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes
> Originally recorded by: Os Cariocas
The worldwide Brazilian bossa nova hit “The Girl from Ipanema” (“Garota de Ipanema” in the original Portuguese) was introduced in concert by its composers, Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, along with João Gilberto, in 1962 — and first recorded the following year by the group Os Cariocas. An English-language version by jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and vocalist Astrud Gilberto, then João Gilberto’s wife, won Record of the Year and three other Grammys in 1964. Frank Sinatra later covered it with Jobim, and Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and The Supremes are among those who recorded it as “The Boy from Ipanema.”
16. “Night and Day”
> Covers: 788
> Written by: Cole Porter
> Originally recorded by: Fred Astaire with Leon Reisman and His Orchestra
“Night and Day,” the second Cole Porter on this list, was introduced onstage by Fred Astaire in 1932 in the musical “Gay Divorce” (later made into the movie “The Gay Divorcee”). Lena Horne, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Sammy Davis Jr., and Ringo Starr have all done versions of the song, and Frank Sinatra recorded it at least five times.
15. “Sweet Georgia Brown”
> Covers: 789
> Written by: Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard, Kenneth Casey
> Originally recorded by: Ben Bernie and His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra
This song, played when basketball entertainers the Harlem Globetrotters warm up before their games, was first recorded by Ben Bernie and His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra in 1925. Subsequent interpreters have included Bing Crosby, Jerry Lee Lewis, and such jazz figures as Django Reinhardt, Art Tatum, and Bud Powell.
14. “Georgia on My Mind”
> Covers: 803
> Written by: Hoagy Carmichael, Stuart Gorrell
> Originally recorded by: Hoagy Carmichael and His Orchestra
“Georgia on my Mind,” written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, and first performed by Hoagy Carmichael and His Orchestra in 1930, was adopted as the official song of the State of Georgia in 1979. Ray Charles had a hit with the song in 1960.
13. “Moon River”
> Covers: 824
> Written by: Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer
> Originally recorded by: Henry Mancini and His Orchestra and Chorus
“Moon River,” one of Andy Williams’ biggest hits, was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer for Audrey Hepburn to sing in the 1961 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Mancini and his orchestra first recorded it the same year. It has since been covered by artists as diverse as Pat Boone, Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, Morrissey, and (instrumentally) Duke Ellington.
> Covers: 895
> Written by: Hoagy Carmichael
> Originally recorded by: Hoagy Carmichael & His Pals
Another Hoagy Carmichael song covered by many artists — among them Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson with Wynton Marsalis, and Marvin Gaye — is “Stardust.” Carmichael recorded it first as an instrumental in 1928, with lyrics added the following year.
> Covers: 898
> Written by: Duke Ellington, Juan Tizol
> Originally recorded by: Barney Bigard and His Jazzopaters
Duke Ellington co-wrote “Caravan” with trombonist Juan Tizol, but it was first recorded by clarinetist Barney Bigard and His Jazzopaters in 1936 and released in 1937. It became a widely recorded jazz standard, but there are also versions by such non-jazz artists as Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, and Dionne Warwick.
10. “St. Mary’s”
> Covers: 907
> Written by: (Traditional)
> Originally recorded by: Unknown
SecondHandSongs lists 925 cover versions of this song, but that’s a little misleading. The tally includes versions of “St. Mary’s” and another similar traditional song, “Gallaher,” both first appearing in an 1829 songbook and probably based on Scottish folk tunes. It also includes recordings of “New Britain,” a mashup of the two melodies, and — most importantly — the song that grew out of “New Britain” when composer William Walker set a John Newton verse to it, to create “Amazing Grace.” That’s the song that has in fact been covered so many times, by performers ranging from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans to Elvis Presley to Carrie Underwood.
9. “St. Louis Blues”
> Covers: 913
> Written by: W.C. Handy
> Originally recorded by: Prince’s Band
Secondhandsongs.com cites ASCAP as saying that this early blues song was the most recorded song of the first half of the 20th century. Prince’s Band, led by conductor and pianist Charles Adams Prince, first recorded the song in 1915, releasing it the following year. A multitude of jazz, blues, swing, and pop recordings have followed.
8. “‘Round Midnight”
> Covers: 946
> Written by: Thelonious Monk, Cootie Williams
> Originally recorded by: Cootie Williams and His Orchestra
Trumpeter Cootie Williams and His Orchestra first released “‘Round Midnight” in 1944. He shares writing credit with the legendary pianist Thelonious Monk — who first recorded it himself in 1948. Among the many artists who have since covered the ballad are Miles Davis, Michel Legrand, and Dizzy Gillespie. At least three lyricists have added words to what was originally an instrumental, and there are vocal versions by the likes of Carmen McRae, Mel Torme, and even Linda Ronstadt.
7. “All the Things You Are”
> Covers: 967
> Written by: Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II
> Originally recorded by: Artie Shaw and His Orchestra with Helen Forrest
The songwriting team of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II collaborated on “All Things You Are,” written for the 1939 musical “Very Warm for May” and first performed live in the play by Hiram Sherman, Frances Mercer, Hollace Shaw, and Ralph Stuart. Clarinetist-bandleader Artie Shaw made the first recording about three weeks after its stage debut. It has become a standard of the jazz and pop repertoire, and has even been recorded by classical musicians.
> Covers: 1,015
> Written by: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
> Originally recorded by: The Beatles
The melancholy song “Yesterday” altered the perception of the Beatles as just another rock band from England. Since the Fab Four first recorded it in 1965, there have been more than 1,000 covers of it. Among the artists who have covered it are Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley, and Dionne Warwick. There are also versions in countless foreign languages.
5. “My Funny Valentine”
> Covers: 1,159
> Written by: Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart
> Originally recorded by: Fairchild and Carroll and Their Orchestra
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart penned “My Funny Valentine” for the 1937 Broadway musical “Babes in Arms,” in which former child star Mitzi Green, then a teenager, first performed it. The earliest recording, released the same year, was by an orchestra conducted by pianists and bandleaders Edgar Fairchild and Adam Carroll. It soon became a favorite of both jazz and pop performers, from Miles Davis and Chet Baker (for whom it became a signature song) to Rickie Lee Jones and Barbra Streisand.
4. “Body and Soul”
> Covers: 1,213
> Written by: Edward Heyman, Johnny Green, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton
> Originally recorded by: Ambrose and His Orchestra
The jazz standard “Body and Soul,” covered more than 1,200 times, was first recorded by English bandleader Ambrose and His Orchestra in 1930. Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra had a hit with the song later that year. A 1939 recording by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins is considered to have presaged the birth of bebop, and Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse covered it as a duet in 2011.
2. “Over the Rainbow”
> Covers: 1,343
> Written by: Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg
> Originally recorded by: Judy Garland
Movie and music history was made when a teenage Judy Garland sung this plaintive song, penned by Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg for the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.” Patti LBelle, Jewel, Faith Hill, Harry Connick Jr., and Jeff Beck are among the diverse interpreters who have covered the song since then.
> Covers: 2,169
> Written by: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward
> Originally recorded by: Abbie Mitchell
With almost 2,200 recorded versions, “Summertime” is the most covered song ever. Written by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, and DuBose Heyward, it was first performed by Abbie Mitchell in the opera “Porgy and Bess” in 1935, and first recorded by her the same year — with George Gershwin himself as pianist and bandleader. Pete Seeger, Lou Rawls, the Righteous Brothers, Al Green, and Lawrence Welk are among the many who have tried to put their stamp on it, and the version by Janis Joplin remains one of that ill-fated singer’s most famous songs.
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