As a boomer, I grew up in the 1960s and '70s. Sometimes I like to share some nostalgia from that time.
What are the best covers of '70s hit songs? That is, of course, an impossible question. Obviously, there were a huge number of "hit songs" in the 1970s, just as there is every decade. Any great song will entice future artists to try their hand at covering them. While some artists choose to closely duplicate the original sound and feeling of the music, others take the song into an entirely different genre. But, maybe that is proof of the quality of the original composition.
I've tried to capture a broad sampling of songs. However, a great song often ends up with a multitude of covers over the decades. Choosing the best is truly a matter of personal taste. Sample what I have below, then have your say if you feel there are better options out there or other '70s hits that should have been featured.
What Are the Best Covers of '70s Hit Songs?
- "American Woman" — Lenny Kravitz
- "Give a Little Bit" — Goo Goo Dolls
- "Come Together" — Aerosmith
- "I Can See Clearly" — Jimmy Cliff
- "Killing Me Softly With His Song" — Fugees
- "Bohemian Rhapsody" — Panic! At the Disco
- "Baby, I Love Your Way"— Big Mountain
- "Without You" — Mariah Carey
- "Everybody Plays the Fool" — Aaron Neville
- "Lean on Me" — Club Nouveau
- "Landslide" — Dixie Chicks
- "Your Song" — Lady Gaga
- "You're So Vain" — Marylin Manson
- "Ain't No Sunshine" — John Mayer
- "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" — The Fray
1. American Woman
"American Woman" was written by Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings of the Canadian band The Guess Who. It was supposedly composed on the spot during a performance and was formally written from memory and a recording of the live event. It was first released on record in November 1969 but the single came out in March 1970. It is considered an anti-war classic.
Since that time it has been featured in advertisements, in movies, and television. It has also been covered by a number of artists. One of the most successful was a version by Lenny Kravitz released in 1999, nearly 30 years after it's original release. You can hear it below.
2. Give a Little Bit
Supertramp was a band from the UK which wrote and recorded "Give a Little Bit." It was written by Roger Hodgson and was released in 1977. It has since been used for a few commercials and certainly to represent charitable giving.
Supertramp is gone of course, but Roger Hodgson with his unique voice still tours across Europe and North America as of 2018.
The Goo Goo Dolls recorded and released their version of the song in 2004. You can hear it below.
3. Come Together
The Beatles hit "Come Together" was recorded in 1969. It was written and sung by John Lennon. There have been a number of artists who have since done covers. Some of the more notable ones include Michael Jackson in the 1990's, Ike and Tina Turner, Joe Cocker in 2007, Soundgarden, Godsmack, and Aerosmith originally in 1978.
Aerosmith's version of the song, performed live in the 1990's, is below. Of course, Aerosmith did covers of other, earlier Beatles tunes like I'm Down from 1965 and Helter Skelter from 1968.
4. I Can See Clearly Now
The 70s hit "I Can See Clearly" now was composed and sung by Johnny Nash. He was an actor, singer, and songwriter hailing from Houston, Texas, USA. The song was released in 1972 and was almost instantly popular. Another hit for the artist was Stir It Up which enjoyed popularity soon after.
The tune has been recorded by a number of other artists, but one of the best covers is from Jimmy Cliff who recorded it for the movie Cool Runnings in 1993.
You can hear the remake below.
5. Killing Me Softly With His Song
Roberta Flack was a classically trained musician who spent a number of years as a teacher (music, English, piano) before being "discovered". She had a number of hits as a solo performer as well as with duet partners. Two of her bigger hits were The "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and "Killing Me Softly With His Song."
"Killing Me Softly" was composed by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel. It was sung by Lori Lieberman and released originally in 1971 but became very popular when recorded and released by Flack in 1973.
The song has been remade by various artists such as Luther Vandross and Perry Como but the most successful version since the '70s is the one released by the Fugees in 1996. Hear it below.
6. Bohemian Rhapsody
What a magnificent hodgepodge of musical styles "Bohemian Rhapsody" was. It was written by Freddie Mercury. It was released by British band Queen (Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon) in 1975. It had no chorus and was excessively long (almost 6 minutes). It had bits of opera, hard rock, and soft ballads. But it was progressive and, apparently, it stood the test of time based on the number of covers this 70's hit had in subsequent years.
Featured in movies and TV, it was covered by a number of artists from the Muppets, the Zac Brown Band (country) to Panic! at the Disco. You can hear the latter performed live below.
7. Baby, I Love Your Way
Peter Frampton, an English singer, songwriter, and producer, wrote and recorded "Baby, I Love Your Way" in 1975. It didn't really become a hit until it's re-release on his Frampton Comes Alive album in 1976. Frampton had a number of successful songs from that effort. He had a distinctive sound using the "talk box" guitar effect although it wasn't really used in this particular song. As of 2018, Frampton still performs live.
The song has been recorded and released by a number of other artists over the years since, including Will to Power in 1988 and Big Mountain in 1994. You can hear that latter recording below.
8. Without You
"Without You" is a 70's hit song which was originally released by British band Badfinger. It was written by bandmates Pete Ham and Tom Evans in 1970. The band had a few successful songs but also experienced a great deal of turmoil. Eventually, Ham committed suicide in 1975, followed a few years later by the suicide of Evans.
Covers of the song were released over the years with two of the most successful being Harry Nilsson's version in 1971-72 and Mariah Carey's version in 1994. You can hear Mariah's rendition below.
9. Everybody Plays the Fool
In 1972, The Main Ingredient recorded the hit "Everybody Plays the Fool." The group originally formed in Harlem, New York and by 1972 was comprised of Tony Silvester, Luther Simmons, and Cuba Gooding, Sr. The song was written earlier by J.R. Bailey, Rudy Clark, and Ken Williams. Just Don't Want to Be Lonely was their other hit from this period.
The best cover of this 70's song was done by Aaron Neville in 1991 and it's posted below for your enjoyment.
10. Lean On Me
Written and recorded by Bill Withers in 1972, the song "Lean on Me" was well received and continues to be highly recognizable today thanks to it's popularity with charitable organizations/drives. Withers grew up in West Virgina (USA) and later joined the Navy but after his discharge went into the music business. He had a handful of hits in the 1970's which also included "Ain't No Sunshine," "Use Me," and "Just the Two of Us" among others.
There are numerous versions of the song done by artists in just about every genre. Country, rap, dance, pop, and more have been done. One of the best, or most successful versions anyway, was done by Club Nouveau in 1986. It is below.
Fleetwood Mac was big in the 1970's. They recorded songs with a strong chart presence like "Sentimental Lady," "Rhiannon," "Go Your Own Way," "Don't Stop," and many more. They were a British-American band consisting of Stevie Nicks, Lindsay Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, and John Mcvie; as well as numerous other people over the years.
The song "Landslide" was recorded and released in 1975 after Nicks wrote it and was then re-released in the 90's as a single. Covers of the song have been done over the years with the one by Smashing Pumpkins in 1994 and later the Dixie Chicks in 2002 being among the favorites. The Dixie Chicks rendition is below.
12. Your Song
Elton John was another musical force in the 1970's. His hit "Your Song" was written as a collaboration with his lyricist Bernie Taupin in 1970. It was released by Three Dog Night and then by Elton himself. His version was a success on the music charts.
Elton is expected to wrap up his touring career in 2019.
Like so many 70's hits before it, the song has enjoyed rebirth through covers by various artists over the years from Ellie Goulding's version to Lady Gaga in 2018.
13. You're So Vain
One of the other big songs of 1972 was "You're So Vain" written and recorded by American singer, songwriter Carly Simon. Simon had a number of other popular tunes over the years including That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be, Anticipation, Nobody Does It Better, and others.
Marilyn Manson did a cover of You're So Vain in 2012 and it's posted below.
14. Ain't No Sunshine
"Ain't No Sunshine" was Bill Withers first big single. It was released in 1971. The next year a young Michael Jackson released his version. A few other version occurred over the years. John Mayer has included it in several of his live performance. One of those peformances is posted below.
15. Have You Ever Seen the Rain
Credence Clearwater Revival was an American band that played southern rock. Band member John Fogerty wrote "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" in 1970 and it was released that year. Since that time, the song has been played in live performances by more modern bands like the Lumineers.
It's also been recorded over the years by performers such as Rod Stewart (2006), Bonnie Tyler (1981), Joan Jett (1990), Spin Doctors, and many others. You can hear a version from The Fray below.
© 2018 Ruth Coffee
If You Know Another 70's Hit Song With a Great Cover, Tell Us What It Is!
Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on June 15, 2020:
Nice hub I loved the song covers.
Angel on November 21, 2019:
Please, listen "I'm not in love" interpreted by "The Pretenders"
Travis on October 12, 2019:
I got excited when I started reading your article then I realized I have all these songs already on my phone lol. It's a great list, but if you have any more songs let us know thanks
Mary Wickison from Brazil on April 20, 2018:
Great list of covers, I think they all did justice to the originals.
I remember singing 'Mama told me not to come' by Tom Jones and the Stereophonics and my kids were shocked that I knew all the words.
I told them, this 'new music' was, in fact, an old classic.
Reginald Thomas from Connecticut on April 20, 2018:
Great article! I love this list as many are still favorites of mine. Great job.