10. Vanilla Fudge – You Keep Me Hangin’ On (The Supremes cover)
Long Island band Vanilla Fudge proved massively influential when they had the audacity to recast the Supremes’ tight and poppy “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” as a powerful psych-rock number in 1967. The group took serious note of Lamont Dozier’s very direct lyrics in the song about a woman trapped in a relationship with a man who doesn’t love her, and decided to make a version that properly portrayed that kind of hurt and emotion. Cue a slow and heavy rock arrangement, tortured vocals, bursts of baroque organ, insanely energetic drumming, and a highly distinctive debut hit around the world. And if this wasn’t enough, the band doubtless inspired Alabama soul legend Wilson Pickett to perform his own emotional makeover of the song in ’69. – Adam Mason
9. Massive Attack ft. Tracey Thorn – The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game (The Marvelettes cover)
The Marvelettes’ “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” is about the last song one would expect to drop into the soundtrack of a ‘90s superhero film. Thankfully though, trip-hop ensemble Massive Attack and vocalist Tracey Thorn (plus a brilliant music supervisor) had the foresight to adapt this Motown classic for the Batman Forever soundtrack, taking the original song’s high drama and sultry instincts and scaling them both up to blockbuster proportions. Harmonicas, vocal hums, and the song’s chipper drum shuffle becomes a web of icy synthesizers and whirring beats, a perfect backdrop to a steamy eve in Gotham. Massive Attack’s end product with “Hunter” is, by turns, garish and comically dark. But like the best summer blockbusters, its also a gratifyingly cheap thrill to hear these threads of the original song teased out so cartoonishly. – Ben Easton
8. The Raveonettes – My Boyfriend’s Back (The Angels cover)
How would you describe the intro beat of this cover? How about the sound you hear when you try to jump and hit a box that doesn’t turn out to be a coin in Super Mario Brothers? Rejection! The Raveonettes pair that noise with the more overtly taunting “hey la”s upgrade the attitude of this spunky song. If those cues aren’t enough for you, there is also an extra threat thrown in there towards the end: “And he knows about your cheatin’ / Now you’re gonna get a beatin’.” – Sara Stoudt
7. Deniece Williams – It’s Gonna Take a Miracle (The Royalettes cover)
The Royalettes’ original version of “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle” from 1965 is one unspeakably gorgeous rainstorm of sound. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s hard to believe that anyone could get even close to its sublime perfection–but in 1982, Deniece Williams did just that. The fact that Williams is mostly known for her frothy bubblegum #1 song from the Footloose soundtrack “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” is, in a word, criminal. Her otherworldly octave defying voice is best showcased and served within the framework of the lovelorn ballad. That is her wheelhouse. It is her home field. And if you want to hear Niecy truly shine, look no further than her 1982 cover of “Miracle.” Her eternally girlish, virtuosic voice sets the song airborne within seconds and the ascent never ceases. Just listen to those stratospheric “cra-hay-hay-hazy about”s she casually throws into the chorus during the last minute of the song. – Hope Silverman
6. The Detroit Cobras – He Did It / Putty in Your Hands (The Ronettes / The Shirelles covers)
From the garage rock scene in guess-which-city come the Detroit Cobras, who have made a career of being a cover band who could play a full show without you realizing it was all covers. They dig deep into their boxes of old 45s and give them a tough strutting sound. Here are a couple times they touched on some unknown girl-group numbers – “He Did It,” by the pre-Spector Ronettes (only marginally tougher than the original) and “Putty In Your Hands” by the Shirelles. I’ll confess here and now that I thought the song as I knew it was a Yardbirds original, not a Shirelles cover. Either way, the Cobras give the songs a bashed-out sound that make them sound like good dirty fun. – Patrick Robbins
5. Smith – Baby It’s You (The Shirelles cover)
Smith was a late ‘60s rock group that had just one big hit, a cover of “Baby It’s You.” The single charted higher than either the Shirelles’ original or the Beatles’ cover. The group played it as a slow piece of psychedelic soul, with a syncopated drum beat and an eerie organ arrangement. Vocalist Gayle McCormick delivers a thunderous finale, transforming the song from a piece of youthful longing into one of gut-wrenching obsession. – Curtis Zimmermann
4. Glasvegas – Be My Baby (The Ronettes cover)
The Ronettes have their own fair share of notability in the rock and roll community, being 2007 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame and having toured with both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Glasvegas may not have those bragging rights, but this Scottish indie rock band did “Be My Baby” justice in their rendition (this shoegazey electric one, though the more widely-circulating acoustic version is good too). “Be My Baby” has plenty of spunk embedded in its DNA, and Glasvegas managed to kick up the distortion and electricity to turn it anthemic, with howling vocals over a resonating guitar. The band took the spectacular melody and ran with it, creating an epic indie rock cover. – Ally McAlpine
3. The Beatles – Boys (Live at the Hollywood Bowl) / Please Mr. Postman (The Shirelles / The Marvelettes covers)
Girl group covers were a regular part of the Beatles’ early repertoire, so much so that they included three on their British debut album Please Please Me. On their second album, With the Beatles, they perfected the formula with their manic take of the Marvelletes’ “Please Mr. Postman.” The quick-paced recording served as an ideal showcase of the lads’ ability to sing intricate vocal harmonies. The mop tops showed that young boys could be equally emotional as their female counterparts when waiting for the postman to “deliver de-letter.”
While the Beatles are not remembered for their great concert recordings, their live cover of the Shirelles’ “Boys” stands out as a perfect snapshot of Beatlemania. Recorded for the live album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, the cover features Ringo Starr on lead vocals and a short, ripping solo from George Harrison. But the real star is the audience itself. Every single note is punctuated by shrill screams from the thousands of young ladies in the audience. They could not get enough of the Beatles, and neither can the rest of us. – Curtis Zimmermann
2. Hole – He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss) (The Crystals cover)
This is a very troubling song, to say the least, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, based on comments by their babysitter/singer Little Eva about why she continued to put up with abuse by her boyfriend. If you can ignore the lyrics, it sounds fine, as would be expected from the team of Goffin/King, the producer Phil Spector (who has his own issues, of course), and the Crystals, who were consummate pros. Even in 1962, the ickiness of the song led to limited airplay. King (a victim of domestic abuse in a later marriage) and Crystals singer Barbara Alston have both repudiated the song. Despite all of that, “He Hit Me” has been often referenced in other songs and other media, and has even been covered a few times. This version, by Hole from a 1995 MTV Unplugged performance, sounds like a Hole song, and is introduced by Courtney Love as “a really sick song. It’s one of those Spector songs and it was written by Carole King, which… you have to think.” At the end of the song, Love says “Nice feminist anthem.” In her snide and sarcastic version that honors the melody while pointing a finger squarely at the appalling message, it almost is. – Jordan Becker
1. Janis Joplin – Maybe (The Chantels cover)
“Maybe” by the Chantels is considered one of the very first girl-group songs, with its focus entirely on the work of Arlene Smith and her soulful vocal. But if Smith was a wave, Janis Joplin was a tsunami. She recorded “Maybe” for her first solo album I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, which saw her moving away from psychedelic rock toward an R&B sound. But having an audience was what gave Joplin the chance to really soar. Watch her in this clip from The Music Scene. The applause at the start seems overwhelming – until Joplin shows them what overwhelming is. The awe in the faces of the young women watching her sing “Maybe” couldn’t be faked, any more than Janis could be. – Patrick Robbins
Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Bob Dylan, and ABBA.
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!