50. David Bowie & Mick Jagger – Dancing in the Street (Martha and the Vandellas cover)
Martha & The Vandellas’ recording of “Dancing In The Streets” is one of the best singles of all time. It’s a great party song, but it also gained a secondary meaning as a civil rights anthem. It’s been covered many, many times. Is this cover, by David Bowie and Mick Jagger, two of the biggest stars in the history of rock music, the best of the bunch? No. Is the video they produced one of the worst ever? Maybe. This cover was created by the two mega-stars in 1985 with the best intentions, to raise money for the Live Aid charity. The original idea was to perform it live at different stages on two continents, but this was scrapped because the satellite delay would have made it awkward. Instead, Jagger joined Bowie in the studio, and they cut the song in four hours. Producer Alan Winstanley thought it sounded “fucking awful.” Nevertheless, it was had a successful single release and has performed well in polls and surveys. The video, though, created after the studio session, consists mostly of Bowie and Jagger mugging and dancing badly – in Dennis Miller’s words, “two loosey-goosey rock stars frolicking around an urban slum like Fred and Ginger on an ecstasy tab” – and often makes lists of the worst videos ever. If you wanted to put one video into a time capsule to represent both the successes and excesses of the ’80s, this might be the perfect choice. It’s a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.- Jordan Becker
49. St. Vincent – And Then She Kissed Me (The Crystals cover)
You’ll note the slight change in point of view in the song title (it’s not the first time, though; The Beach Boys have also taken the more active approach in “Then I Kissed Her”). This version of “And Then He Kissed Me” was featured on an album of LGBTQ+-friendly wedding songs “reimagined” so the love interest has the same pronouns as the singer. With just a frantic beat machine and synth as accompaniment, St. Vincent recounts the story of the kiss, almost as if just in spoken word with friends, “kissed” by a hint of melody. – Sara Stoudt
48. New York Dolls – Great Big Kiss (The Shangri-Las cover)
“When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V!” David Johansen snarled those words at the start of the New York Dolls’ “Looking for a Kiss,” but you could almost hear the quotation marks around them – they came from the start of the Shangri-Las song “Give Him a Great Big Kiss.” The Dolls were unabashed fans, going so far as to hire the song’s writer/producer, Shadow Morton, to produce their second album. So it’s no surprise the band covered it, matching their predecessors in attitude and super-broad Queens accents while exceeding them in punk energy. – Patrick Robbins
47. Cherrelle – Baby It’s You (The Shirelles cover)
As the covers on this list show, the material recorded by the classic girl groups is surprisingly malleable, capable of being recast into a variety of different molds whilst still retaining echoes of its 1960s origins. In the ’90s, contemporary R&B that could trace its roots back to the soul of thirty years earlier was coming to the fore, making it only fitting that ‘90s stars like Cherrelle chose to draw from the Girl Group songbook. This cover of The Shirelles’ 1961 hit “Baby It’s You” (music by Burt Bacharach) trades the sha-la-las of the original for a more modern sound, but still manages to look fondly into the past. – Tim Edgeworth
46. Whitney Rose ft. Raul Malo – Be My Baby (The Ronettes cover)
The original, written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector, and produced by Spector in full Wall of Sound glory, features only Ronnie Spector from the Ronettes along with the Wrecking Crew. Brian Wilson named it as the greatest pop record ever (yes, the Beach Boys covered it). This version pairs Whitney Rose, who possesses a classic country voice (despite her upbringing on Prince Edward Island), with the mellifluous singing of Raul Malo. Malo also produced and played on Rose’s 2015 album Heartbreaker Of The Year after Rose opened for The Mavericks on a Canadian Tour. The two convert the song into a smoldering country ballad with shimmering guitars. – Jordan Becker
45. Soft Cell – Where Did Our Love Go (The Supremes cover)
In contrast to Gary Numan, John Foxx, the Human League, and other fellow trailblazers of British synthpop, Soft Cell wanted to make electronic music that had soul. To this end, they famously covered Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love” in 1981, but they also came to the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go.” Singer Marc Almond gave it an extraordinarily emotional vocal performance, his breathy, sultry voice soaked in hurt and heartbreak, while keyboardist Dave Ball laid down a sleazy and minimalist electro backing. They forged, in the process, an entirely new kind of dance track, and released it with “Tainted Love” to become an absolute highpoint of early ’80s New Pop, notably as a two-track medley on the A-side of the 12″ version. In fact, by failing to credit writers Holland-Dozier-Holland on that record, they convinced some listeners that the song was their own seamless coda to the Gloria Jones number. It wasn’t. – Adam Mason
44. The Action – In My Lonely Room (Martha and the Vandellas cover)
Martha and the Vandellas’ 1964 anthem of effervescent misery “In My Lonely Room” is one of those true woulda-coulda-shoulda Motown singles. As hard as it is to believe, the rousing gloriously melodic haven of horns, handclaps, and heartache only got as high as #44 on the Billboard Pop Chart (though it did get to #6 on the R&B chart). So it is perhaps fitting that one of the most woulda-coulda-shoulda bands in ’60s UK pop history, The Action, are responsible for the finest cover of the song. In their 1965 version, the band serve it up with all of the sweet reverential love you’d expect from a devoted band of mod fanboys. Produced by none other than George Martin, The Action’s version sounds like it has a shy crush on the original, with singer Reg King’s trademark rough-romantic ad-libs in the coda turning something already super-fine, super-finer. – Hope Silverman
43. Isaac Green And The Skalars – Beechwood 4-5789 (The Marvelettes cover)
Isaac Green and the Skalars were a ska band formed by students at Washington University in St. Louis. The group became a fixture on the ‘90s underground ska scene after signing to Moon Ska Records. They even had a video appear on MTV’s alternative show 120 Minutes. Despite the name, Isaac Green was not actually the frontman. He served as an M.C. and dancer for the group, similar to Ben Carr of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The vocal duties belonged to a rotating cast of female singers: Jessica Butler, Michele Rae and Amy Scherer, all three of whom also played saxophone. On their 1996 debut album, Skoolin’ With the Skalars, the band included this cover of the Marvelettes’ “Beechwood 4-5789.” They performed it as a peppy two-minute blast of traditional, horn-powered ska. It’s enough to make you want to pick up that rotary phone, if only you could figure out how to dial it. – Curtis Zimmermann
42. Jane Olivor – He’s So Fine (The Chiffons cover)
Olivor’s voice floats through a gorgeous world of jazzy acoustic guitar and soft saxophone in this 1978 cover of “He’s So Fine.” Her vocals are beautiful, but almost outshined by the excellent production, with crisp drums, a grounding bassline, and supporting backup vocals. Almost, but not quite. With a less talented singer this song would still be worth listening to, but Olivor takes it to another level. – Mike Misch
41. The Donnas – Da Doo Ron Ron (The Crystals cover)
The Donnas provide a much more upbeat and up-tempo “Da Doo Ron Ron” with vocals that come off a little dissonant, contrasting the more sing-songy original. This version even changes up the lyrics. “Bill” is replaced by “Bruno” who is a little bit edgier (the Donnas’ parents don’t like him because he has a gun). They meet at a rock and roll show (maybe still on a Monday?), and The Donnas aren’t waiting around to be walked home; they’re perfectly able to “take him home” themselves. – Sara Stoudt
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Great list, and even after your “honorable mentions” there are still a ton of other contenders. I personally like Jeff Beck and Imelda May’s version of “Remember (Walking In The Sand),” that you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjdkjGwGJQc.
Also, speaking of the Shangri-Las, their version of “He Cried” was actually a cover of Jay & the American’s hit song, “She Cried,” which ITSELF was a cover! Thanks again.
Imelda May & Jeff Beck – (Remember) Walking in the Sand
Rachel Sweet – Be My Baby/And Then He Kissed Me
The Stray Cats – You Can’t Hurry Love
Lucius – You Keep Me Hanging On
If we accept that My Sweet Lord was rightly found to be a reworking of He’s So Fine, then this cover that blends both those tunes qualifies for this list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90V–oQ8IwM
Did I zip through your list too fast and miss where you featured Laura Nyro and LaBelle from Gonna Take a Miracle?
I’ll pick this one from among the several options off the record: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3JpeBNBrkg
You did miss it, Kevin; go to #20 and you’ll see we picked the same song as you, and then one more for good measure!