30. Bettye Lavette – Hey Love
Stevie co-wrote and recorded this song at the age of 16. Steamy soul singer Bettye Lavette knew him well even at that tender age, and she covered this song relatively early in her career. She gives it a slightly darker reading than Wonder did; even in her youth, Lavette did things her own way. Her take on “Hey Love” became the B-side to her 1969 cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which was released on the Karen label. (If you don’t like her arrangement, go ahead and ask to speak to the manager of the Karen label.) – Tom McDonald
29. Nicotine – I Just Called To Say I Love You
Remember what I wrote in the intro about so many Stevie Wonder covers turning into schlock? Nowhere is that more true than “I Just Called To Say I Love You” – a wonderful performance in Stevie’s hands, but wedding-song cliché in most others. Not in Nicotine’s, though! This Japanese punk band ripped through a loud and ferocious cover on their oddly-titled 2000 album Pleeeeeeez! Who Are You?, starting out straight punk for the verses then flipping into ska upbeats for the chorus. Play this version at your wedding and get your guests skanking along. – Ray Padgett
28. Peter Frampton – I Believe (When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever)
A few years before Frampton Comes Alive elevated Peter Frampton to rock god status, he recorded a cover of “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” for his 1973 album with the less notable name Frampton’s Camel. Frampton transforms the song into an operatic, prog-rock power ballad, with searing guitars, hard-pounding drums and bombastic vocals. It might not be as well known as his hits from Comes Alive, but it’s equally good for some air guitar. – Curtis Zimmermann
27. Jean-Luc Ponty – As
The original “As” is about as trademark Stevie as you can get. That uber-jazz violin guru Ponty covers it should come as less a surprise if you realize it is Herbie Hancock on keyboards on the original, not Stevie. The new version is a whole lot slinkier than the original, with skittering keys, ahead of the “is it violin or is it synth” main melody. It’s violin, and is near entirely instrumental, with only a semblance of vocals in the chorus, with the speaking-of-Frampton famous mouth tube. It veers close to smooth jazz, jazz-lite even, but the little flourishes of almost Stephane Grapelli-like licks raise it above such a derogatory placement. – Seuras Og
26. The Beach Boys – I Was Made to Love Her
The Beach Boys’ soulful new direction on late 1967’s Wild Honey, so soon after the deeply troubled Smile Sessions that culminated in the anticlimactic Smiley Smile, sounded fresh, natural, and vital. At the heart of it was their cover of Stevie’s recent Summer of Love hit “I Was Made to Love Her,” which seemed to encapsulate their new band spirit that put paid to Brian Wilson as the studio-bound creative leader: the symphonic song structures, the comedy lyrics, the psychedelic effects, and the pitch-modulated harmonies of the “She’s Goin’ Bald” variety. Carl Wilson injected it with one of his most gutsy and life-affirming lead vocals, clearly recognizing that it was, as Stevie later confirmed, “a true song.” Simple. Heartfelt. No messing. He was aided, of course, by exuberant harmonies and a vibrant core sound of bass, organ, and honky-tonk piano, all making for a peerless celebration of lasting love. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find another two minutes of such unadulterated joy and energy within the Beach Boys’ monumental catalogue. – Adam Mason
25. A.GIRL – Higher Ground
This cover starts out with the same electric guitar groove and synth wail as the original with a more prominent bass that reminds me of the opening of Imagine Dragon’s “Believer.” A.GIRL takes a song that lists flaws with the world while still encouraging hope for higher ground and keeping on in the meantime, and she updates the list of grievances in an original rap in the middle. This interlude touches on the national debt, homelessness, war, the rights of indigenous people, and the rights of women. This is a much-needed reminder that we’re still not at that higher ground, almost 50 years after Stevie’s original. Ending with the last word, or sound, A.GIRL scats along with the electric guitar to close the song. – Sara Stoudt
24. Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. & The Zydeco Twisters – Reggae Woman
Dopsie actually discards the “Boogie On” from the title, Jr. being the son of the original Zydeco champion, continuing his father’s legacy of merging the blues with Cajun music. And here, clearly a touch of reggae, the joy being the accordion and washboard in the mix, the harmonica and muted wah-wah all a bit extraneous. The relief, as the solo tips in at last, is immense. The Frampton mouth tube (there it is again!) dates it dreadfully; the record was released in 2008, long after any flavor for that sort of thing had dissolved. But the squeezebox is a glory, and that’s enough for me. – Seuras Og
23. Donny Hathaway – Superwoman
Once Donny Hathaway covered a song, it became his (read about his wondrous and superior larceny skills here). And so yes, officer, I’d like to report a theft. “Superwoman” is the undeniable centerpiece of Stevie’s superfine 1972 Music Of My Mind album. It is an epic eight minutes in length and consists of two parts: the first half is a sweetly percolating, delicately funky bit of pop; the latter half, a swoonsome jazz groove. On the night of June 5, 1972, at the University of California in the city of Los Angeles, Donny Hathaway stole “Superwoman” from Mr. Stevie Wonder forever (though it should be noted that he did at least have the courtesy to acknowledge Stevie as a genius in the intro before he ran away with it). Donny both slows and strips the song down, sonically and structurally, editing out the upbeat first section and focusing solely on the swoony latter half. It is equal parts spacey and heartbreaking, and the escalating emotion in his vocal as the song progresses is just plain stupid beautiful. – Hope Silverman
22. Minnie Driver – Master Blaster (Jammin’)
Yes, that Minnie Driver, the actor one. Between 2004 and 2014 she made three albums, the first two largely self-written, the final one, Ask Me To Dance, all covers, and from which this comes. Possessing an entirely credible voice, Driver surrounded herself with sufficient hip young things of the day, the likes of Ryan Adams and the late Neal Casal, so as to get away with better reviews than most Hollywood A-listers slumming with musicians. Keyboard and shimmery guitar enshroud her voice, entreating like a priestess. – Seuras Og
21. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Uptight
One of the joys of seeing Tedeschi Trucks Band live (as I was lucky to do a few weeks ago) is that you never know exactly what you are going to hear. There will be originals and a slew of covers from pretty much any genre of popular music, and you can be sure that whatever you hear will be expertly performed. The band’s version of “Uptight,” from their first live album Everybody’s Talkin’, stretches the original’s under-three-minutes to an extended fifteen and a half-minute epic, featuring horn solos, a bass/scat section from Oteil Burbridge, and a long stretch of dueling drum solos. While some may consider this excessive, others, myself among them, just hear virtuosity. – Jordan Becker
Excellent list! I got some new ones here to buy.
I would add Art Garfunkel’s version of “I Believe When I Fall In Love” too – it’s lush, over the top, and awesome.
The Brand New Heavies 2006 cover of “I Don’t Know Why (I Love You)” should be on this list!
How could you miss O’bryan’s version of You and I?