Music covers are becoming more commonplace in film, TV and commercials, but we’re sure we’ll surprise you with some tracks you had no idea were covers!

What Is a Cover?

A cover (or cover song/cover version) is when an artist records an already existing song written by a different artist. Bands usually do this to fill up an album or re-imagine a famous track. The Scissor Sisters covered Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb in their debut album in a way that is far removed from the original but very fitting to their sound, making it an all-around great interpretation.

Labels released cover songs in the early days of music recordings around the same time as the original song to strike competition. For example, Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote Let It Be. However, Aretha Franklin released Let It Be two months before The Beatles after Paul McCartney shared it with Atlantic Records, hoping Franklin would record a cover.

What Are the Legal Requirements for Creating and Releasing a Cover?

You will need a mechanical license if you want to record a cover of any song. With a mechanical license, you can use an original composition and record your reimagined version. However, if you wanted to use of the original audio, remaster the original track or sample any of the original sounds, you would need a master license

Once you have created a cover, this now has a new and different master license from which you can profit. However, you must give the original artist their publishing royalties, as the cover artist does not own this. 

How to Obtain a Sync License for A Cover Song

Getting sync licensing for covers can be tricky, as you must approach the original publisher or composer and negotiate a deal. Cover songs tend to be cheaper than the original, as the master rights of a cover song typically cost less within a sync license deal.

Songs You Didn’t Know Are Covers

All By Myself – Celine Dion vs Eric Carman vs Rachmaninoff

All By Myself was originally written and performed by Eric Carman. However, Carman based much of the composition around Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op 18: 2nd Movement. While Rachmaninoff’s work was in the public domain in the USA, it was still under copyright outside the USA. Rachmaninoff’s estate agreed with Carmen for a share of 12% of the royalties. Celine Dion’s version contains the iconic key change at around 2 minutes 50 seconds.

I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston vs Dolly Parton

Originally recorded in 1973, Dolly Parton wrote I Will Always Love You to her business partner Porter Wagoner when parting ways to seek a solo career. Elvis Presley tried to convince Parton to sell him the rights to I Will Always Love You, but Parton refused. Houston and producer David Foster reworked it into a soul ballad for the soundtrack of The Bodyguard in 1992. Houston’s version reached number 1 in the charts on a global scale.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye vs Gladys Knight and The Pips

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote I Heard It Through the Grapevine for Motown Records in 1966, and Gladys Knight and The Pips released it in 1967. It quickly became the biggest selling Motown single to date. That was until Marvin Gaye’s version was released in 1968 after being picked up by Radio DJ’s and became a classic soul record.

I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown vs Yvonne Fair

This is a bit of a double bluff, as James Brown wrote I Found You for Yvonne Fair and The James Brown Band. This version was initially released it in 1962. James Brown then released the version we all know in 1965.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper vs Robert Hazard

Recorded in 1979 by Robert Hazard, Girls Just Want to Have Fun originally had more of a punk rock sound. Cyndi Lauper then released her version in 1983 within her debut album She’s So Unusual. Lauper approached the cover with a different but notorious synth wave sound. Lauper adapted some lyrics, and Girls Just Want to Have Fun became celebrated as a feminist anthem, shouting that all women really want is to have the same experiences that men can have.

Honourable Mentions

Make You Feel My Love – Adele vs Bob Dylan

My Prerogative – Britney Spears vs Bobby Brown

Respect – Aretha Franklin vs Otis Redding

Hey Joe – Jimi Hendrix vs Billy Roberts

When The Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin vs Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie