10. Prince – Maybe Your Baby
“Get it real dark in here,” Prince entreats at the top of his lowdown, slow-boiling cover of “Maybe Your Baby,” setting the tone for the steamy jam to come. Drawing closely upon Stevie’s original Talking Book arrangement—already heady and gloriously gooey on its own—Prince unfurls “Maybe Your Baby” in one long, funky roll. The performance feels like a notably intimate audience with the Purple One, and, in some practical sense, it was: alongside the New Power Generation, Prince performed this cover specifically for the occasion of inaugurating the Miami location of Glam Slam, his own (short-lived) chain of nightclubs. – Ben Easton
9. Joan Osborne – Love’s In Need Of Love Today
In the mid-1970s, when Wonder released Songs In The Key of Life, album tracks that weren’t released as singles were generally considered to be weaker songs, and “Love’s In Need of Love Today” wasn’t one of the five commercial or promotional singles deemed worthy, nor did it even merit being included as a B-side. Which, in retrospect, is pretty amazing, because the song is great, with an uplifting message of love. That being said, and at the risk of blasphemy, I kind of like Joan Osborne’s version better. Recorded in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks and released about a year later on her all-covers album How Sweet It Is, Osborne’s soulful, upbeat take on the song has stayed with me since I first heard it nearly two decades ago. – Jordan Becker
8. Fugees – Blame It on the Sun
Fugees’ live cover of “Blame It On the Sun” was recorded in-studio for the BBC’s Peel Sessions in February 1996, just nine days after the career-peaking release of The Score. The trio’s sheer enthusiasm here could arguably be enough to bring the cover into the rankings: the live cover captures the group at the proper height of their creative powers, and you can feel their collective fire. But the Fugees also go the extra mile to make “Blame It On the Sun” fully their own: building out, and slowing down, its groove; strategically deploying the refrain a few extra times; and, notably, spreading Lauryn Hill’s verses throughout. “Blame It on the Sun” still feels full and immediate, entirely of a piece with the Fugees’ own sharp, cerebral sounds. – Ben Easton
7. Frank Colón – Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
It’s true, the vocals need a bit of acclimatization, but it is the arrangement that is king here. Taking the Chicano hit of Stevie’s original, this is about as authentically Fania as you can get, exquisitely so. The congas and the bossa nova piano is glorious. Colón was born in Puerto Rico, moving stateside at the age of five. He actually only made three purely solo albums, but was a quintessential sideman, appearing on albums by and co-credited on albums by a who’s who of Latino music and beyond, mainly tilted towards the jazzier end of the spectrum. – Seuras Og
6. Meklit and Quinn – I Was Made to Love Her
Back in 2012, we named Meklit Hadero and Quinn Deveaux’s debut (and so far only) album together Meklit and Quinn one of the best cover albums of the year. The San Francisco duo tackled everyone from Lou Reed (“Satellite of Love”) to Arcade Fire (“Neighborhood #1 [Tunnels]”), but their jazz training never came out stronger than this wonderful duet version of “I Was Made To Love Her.” Horns and backing vocals flick in and out, but the stars are their two emotive voices. – Ray Padgett
5. The Wailing Souls – True to Your Heart
Stevie Wonder + 98 Degrees + the Mulan soundtrack? The original had me hooked, playing as the movie wraps up and Mulan’s family guardians start to party. It could have been a very different song, though. It was originally written for Hanson, but when the deal mmm-bopped away, the song was altered to be more in line with Stevie Wonder’s sound. Now there is a reggae version; what a wild ride! This cover is the perfect song to ring in the changing of the season. The sunshine is finally out. We can finally be true to our hearts and frolic in the sunshine. Even with the laid-back ambiance that reggae music typically brings, the tempo is upbeat enough and the message is uplifting enough to encourage us to open our eyes and keep swaying in the breeze. – Sara Stoudt
4. The Dirtbombs – Livin’ for the City
Right off the bat The Dirtbombs are clearly going for raw energy here more than anything else. That’s not to take away from the excellent vocals or steady rhythm section, but this is Stevie Wonder turned up to 11. The fuzzy guitar that keeps the pace in the intro eventually explodes backed by additional guitars that sound like they showed up for the punk show but are happy to go along with a hardcore Stevie Wonder cover. The cover is only about half as long as the original, which is really the only downside: a full 7 minutes of this would be awesome, but you might need to take a nap afterwards. – Mike Misch
3. Sparks – Fingertips
Sparks offer up an unabashed and Hi-NRG tribute to Stevie —“Little” Stevie, to be precise. The seminal art pop-duo’s version of “Fingertips,” released as the sole cover on 1985’s Music That You Can Dance To, transforms the early Wonder hit into a smarmy Eurodisco romp. Vocalist Russell Mael really finds his inner wünderkind/Wonder Kid here: his performance, delivered in bawdy falsetto, cops each turn of 12-year-old Little Stevie’s original call-and-response down to the note. Keyboardist/arranger Ron Mael’s soundscape is campy and massive too, crowding the dance floor with battalions of synthesizers and wild guitar shredding. To the uninitiated, Sparks’ take here might seem a little much. But the Mael Brothers’ beautiful awkwardness and excess are lovingly by design. With their version of “Fingertips,” Sparks embrace the fact that they’re truly un-funky, and as far away from 12-year old “Little” Stevie Wonder as possible — landing on a cover that’s both knowingly bizarre and wholly reverential. – Ben Easton
2. Macy Gray – I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)
Macy Gray covered the entire Talking Book album in 2012, releasing it to rave reviews (read ours here). You could make a case for any of the tracks on it to be worthy of inclusion here. I’m choosing the last one because “I Believe” was such a great album closer in its original form (though it took the end credits of High Fidelity to introduce it to me). Gray maintains that greatness; with her trademark rasp, she conveys all the joy of Wonder’s version, and she brings spiritual love into the picture to go with the agape so movingly spoken of by Martin Luther King. She doesn’t just make her own version; she adds brush strokes to the original to expand on it, a daring and wholly rewarding choice. – Patrick Robbins
1. John Prine – I Just Called to Say I Love You
Here at Cover Me we’ve written a lot about John Prine over the years. Shortly after he passed from complications from COVID-19, we compiled a list of the best covers of his songs. In 2018, his cover of “I Just Called to Say I Love You” earned the number one spot on our list of top covers of the year. And it tops another list today. Prine reinvented Wonder’s often-derided original into a somber, country ballad, shedding new light on Wonder’s lyrics. Until hearing Prine’s take, I never comprehended that it’s a sad song. For that reason alone, the cover deserves this spot. But listening to the song now, it feels as though Prine was predicting the future. For me, the track became one of the defining songs of the COVID era. As events we all once took for granted were canceled, words like “No Halloween/ No giving thanks to all the Christmas joy you bring” took on new meaning. When he sang the chorus about the joys of reconnecting in a time of darkness, it’s like he perfectly captured the time in which we live. – Curtis Zimmermann
Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including The Smiths, The Cars, The Rolling Stones, and more.
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?