It takes a lot of balls to cover a country song that’s already been a hit for another artist. Some artists knock it out of the park, and some…well, some don’t.
I was listening to American Aquarium’s Slappers, Bangers and Certified Twangers 90’s country cover album recently and I’ve gotta be honest – there are some covers on there that I prefer more than the originals.
And that got me thinking: I wonder how many covers are out there that people prefer to the original song.
So I thought we’d put it to a vote.
I’ve picked songs that were hits for both the original artist and the artist that covered it. Plenty of artists have released killer covers just for fun, but I wanted to go with songs that at least made some noise on the charts for both artists.
And for this one, I stuck with songs where both versions were country songs. There are a lot of songs that were pop or rock hits for the original artist that later became country hits for the cover artist (like “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac and The Chicks or “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash) but that’s a different poll for a different day.
Before we get to voting, here are the songs that we’re going to look at:
“Where Corn Don’t Grow”
First recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1990, the song went on to become a major hit for Travis Tritt. And more recently, Riley Green released his own version in honor of both Jennings and Tritt.
“Pop a Top”
The original version of this song was a hit for Jim Ed Brown way back in 1967. Then, nearly 30 years later, Alan Jackson had a top 10 hit with his version that he released on his 1999 album Under the Influence.
“When You Say Nothing At All”
The late, great Keith Whitley took this one to the top of the charts in 1988. After his death, Alison Krauss recorded a version of “When You Say Nothing At All” for a Keith Whitley tribute album – and the song became an unexpected hit for Krauss too.
“Cover Me Up”
This one’s probably going to draw the most argument of any of them on this list. “Cover Me Up” was written and originally recorded by Jason Isbell on his 2013 album Southeastern before Morgan Wallen had a monster hit with his version – despite the fact that it was never released as a single.
This song was a top 10 hit for its songwriter, B.W. Stevenson, back in 1973, before it became a number one for Brooks & Dunn in 1996.
“The Race Is On”
Released by George Jones in 1965, Sawyer Brown would go on to have a top 5 hit with their cover of “The Race Is On” in 1989. (This song has been covered by countless other artists too, but these are the two versions we’re going with).
“Callin’ Baton Rouge”
A lot of people don’t even realize that this Garth Brooks hit is actually a cover – but it was originally recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys for their 1978 album Room Service, and again in 1989 by New Grass Revival before appearing on Garth’s 1993 album In Pieces.
Here’s another one that people may not realize was a cover: “Fancy” was originally written and recorded by Bobbie Gentry, and was a hit for Gentry on both the country and the Hot 100 charts. Then of course there’s Reba’s 1991 version, which has become one of her signature songs.
This classic Hank Williams hit also turned out to be one of the late, great Charley Pride’s earliest hits when he released a live cover version in 1969. And it was also a hit for Hank’s son in 1989.
Both Old Crow Medicine Show and Darius Rucker had monster hits with “Wagon Wheel.” And because of that and how many times I’ve had to hear it, I can’t stand either version of the song anymore.
Fun fact: This song was originally offered to George Strait after being written by Dean Dillon, who’s written many, many hits for the King. But he turned it down, and the original went to David Allan Coe. The song would also become a hit after being covered by George Jones in 1983, and of course again in 2015 when Chris Stapleton released his bluesy cover for his first album, Traveler.
So what do you think? Do you prefer the originals, or the covers?