On the final day of the 2023 Sonic Temple Art & Music Festival in Columbus, Ohio, the Foo Fighters marked their third gig with their new live drummer, John Freese. With an impressive record of bands in Freese’s touring history, such as Blink-182, Guns n’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails, and several others, Dave Grohl introduced the new touring addition through covering notable songs from bands on Freese’s resume. It was the Foo Fighters’ third gig playing with Freese, and the audience was more than receptive with Dave Grohl’s introduction to the new addition.
Hildegard Von Blingin’ is a Canadian artist and musical mastermind who writes “Bardcore for the discerning clergyman, noble, or muck-gathering peasant.” The artist’s name references on one of the oldest and most well-known female composers: Hildegard Von Bingen. In this cover, Von Blingin has decided to tackle one of Nine Inch Nail’s most popular tunes. The lyrical twist the author offers us in this version is tastily medieval, coming in with the line “I fell upon my sword today” rather than “I hurt myself today”.
At Cover Me, our goal is to share great covers, whether they comes from artists with ten fans or ten million. But I am always vaguely curious what cover songs break out, which among the thousands we hear each year become genuine hits.
I was reminded of this when a recent Country Now headline crossed my Google Alerts: “Luke Combs’ ‘Fast Car’ Cover Is A Streaming Giant.” After only a month, the country star’s fairly faithful take on Tracy Chapman’s 1988 classic has racked up 33 million streams in the U.S. alone. Covers by famous singers come and go, but this one clearly has staying power.
So I decided to try to figure out which other covers from the 21st century have reached this level of breakout success. I’m not privy to Billboard‘s deep-dive chart data, so I used an easy metric available to an amateur like myself: Seeing how many plays something has on Spotify. As good a measure for “a popular song” as you can probably get these days, albeit still imperfect.
I found twenty-four 21st-century covers with over 100 million U.S. streams as of this writing (April 2023). Some very popular covers didn’t quite make the 100m+ threshold: Weezer’s “Africa” (75 million), Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights” (76 million), Fall Out Boy and John Mayer’s “Beat It” (89 million). Ryan Adams’ “Wonderwall” only just crossed the 100 million streams mark in the past couple months. And while older covers obviously have an advantage in more time to rack up plays, number one — by a lot! — came out only a few years ago.
Here’s the list of 24. No commentary since, for once, we’re not unearthing buried treasures here. Let’s count down the 24 most-streamed covers on Spotify, with the year of release and number of streams as of this writing. (And it’s possible, even likely, I missed a few, so feel free to suggest additions in the comments — if they qualify, I’ll add ’em.)
Brett Eldredge – Cold Heart (Elton John, Dua Lipa cover)
Against all odds for a rocker of his generation, Elton John had a genuine hit with a single he released just last year, at age 74: “Cold Heart.” It topped the chart in the UK – his first song to do so in 16 years. It did nearly as well in the States, reaching number 7 and topping a number of secondary charts. Having current pop hitmaker Dua Lipa on board no doubt helped, as did releasing it as a remix by Pnau (“Hot Dance/Electronic Songs” was one of those secondary U.S. charts). It also fairly shameless incorporates bits of earlier hit singles “Rocket Man” and “Sacrifice” as well as deeper Elton cuts “Kiss the Bride” and “Where’s the Shoorah?” In country star Brett Eldridge’s live cover, though, it all blends together seamlessly.
Arcade Fire – As It Was (Harry Styles cover)
We kick off this month’s list with not one but two Harry Styles covers! And both performed for the BBC Live Lounge, no less, which clearly went all-in on promoting Harry’s new solo album. First up is Arcade Fire, also currently doing the promo rounds for their own new album, tackling Harry’s new song “As It Were.” It speaks to how much classic-rock Styles has in his DNA that the song fits perfectly in Arcade Fire’s anthemic-rock template. Never ones to not go out, the cover features multiple twelve-string guitars and a dude playing a giant rack of tubes with a hammer.
Anyone who was paying attention to cover songs a decade ago will remember The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series. In the vein of the BBC Live Lounge and Triple J Like a Version, the entertainment web site would bring bands into their Chicago offices to cover a song. The concept, though, was the site started with a masters list of songs and the band had to pick one. The later they came in, the fewer song choices remained. It went on for years and the covers were ubiquitous (we must have posted a million of ’em). Practically every indie band of the era stopped by (many several times), and they often delivered something great.