Career musicians are complicated souls, who pour their blood, sweat and tears into their art to provide incredible glimpses into the human experience. However, many of the best artists of all time live by the adage “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” The art of crafting the perfect cover song involves reimagining a classic and breathing new life into the material, in the hopes that you have what it takes to elevate the original track.

For some artists, their covers become so ubiquitous that many fans forget about the original track entirely. On the other side of the coin, some musicians take a seedling of a track, and expand upon the central idea or instrumentation until their cover barely resembles the original. Here we’ll dive-in to seven cover songs that create stunning musical soundscapes, including a few that will leave you completely shocked. Here are 7 of the best covers of all time.

7. “Jolene” by Beyoncé

While it may just be recency bias placing this track here, the freshly released “Jolene” cover by Beyoncé is our first entrant into this list. This track comes from Bey’s recently-delivered foray into country with her album Cowboy Carter. In the cover, Beyoncé puts her own thought-provoking spin on Dolly Parton’s classic country track, with a new-age feminist approach. While Parton’s original piece, released in 1973, expresses desperation and groveling toward her man’s titular side-piece, Beyoncé approaches the subject matter with a murderous warning, letting her own Jolene know that her family is not to be messed with.

Beyoncé’s cover manages to take the same beloved elements that made the original “Jolene” a classic, and update the lyrics with themes of women’s empowerment, while also including some sly references to her own decades-long relationship with Jay-Z. Dolly Parton herself gave the track her blessing and expressed great excitement at the cover before its release. While it may technically be too soon to list this track amongst the best covers of all time, it’s certainly a worthwhile contender.

6. “We Can Work It Out” by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder appears multiple times on this list, on both sides of the aisle. In “We Can Work It Out,” Wonder flips the original Beatles record, with a lively funk that only he could accomplish. The Beatles’ may have taken this record to the top of the charts before Stevie snatched it, but these days, most fans of the track prefer the Stevie Wonder version. This is particularly due to the cover’s joyful instrumentation, smoothed-out bridge, and powerful vocal mix. Rather than providing a simple re-do of a track he enjoyed, Stevie Wonder put his own spin on “We Can Work It Out” that makes it fresh, new, and full of life, even 50+ years later.

5. “Hurt” by Johnny Cash

This inclusion on the list of best covers of all time may leave some readers shocked, as many fans of the iconic song don’t even realize that it’s not a Johnny Cash original. “Hurt” was originally written and performed by the rock band Nine Inch Nails, who offered a powerful enough performance that only an artist with the gravitas of Johnny Cash could show them up. Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor reportedly expressed concern at the thought of clearing the track for Cash’s cover, fearing that the song wouldn’t read well in Cash’s trademark shakey vibrato. These concerns were instantly assuaged, with Cash delivering a career-best performance on the cover, with a moving music video to match. Johnny Cash succumbed to complications of diabetes and tragically passed away just months after shooting the iconic video, making the track a testament to his staying power in the musical world.

4. “Superwoman” by IDK

Another fairly recent inclusion on this list sees Baltimore hip hop artist IDK teaming with Musiq Soulchild to recreate and reinvigorate Stevie Wonder’s two-part soul ballad “Superwoman.” The song, originally released in 1972, offers a glimpse into Stevie’s relationship with an attention-seeking woman who thirsts for the spotlight, and eventually leaves him to follow her dreams of becoming a superstar. In the second part of the song, the woman returns, only for Stevie to express “where were you when I needed you last winter?”

In IDK’s rendition, the rapper belts out incredible harmonies, letting his love and pain flow through his powerful voice. The cover, which closes out IDK’s 2023 album F65, features clearer vocal mixing, refreshed instrumentation choices, and hard-hitting low-end bass. While the track certainly doesn’t erase the legacy of Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman,” it does update the song for a whole new generation of listeners.

3. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin

Those who didn’t grow up obsessing over early 20th century Motown may be shocked to learn that Aretha Franklin is not the original creator of the hit record “Respect.” In fact, the original song was written and performed by the late, great Otis Redding in 1965, two years before Aretha would transform the track into the banger that we all know and love today.

While Redding’s rendition serves as an excellent skeleton for Franklin’s feminist anthem, it’s missing a few key aspects which make her version one of the best covers of all time. For instance, the classic spelled-out refrain of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” is an Aretha Franklin original, along with a few intense vocal flourishes which could only have come from the Queen of Soul herself. “Respect” has become so intertwined with the legacy of Aretha Franklin that the 2021 biopic about the celebrated songstress utilized the song title as its namesake.

2. “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix

In another shocking revelation for those who may not know, Jimi Hendrix did not originally craft his hit single “All Along The Watchtower.” Instead, the track was originally credited to Bob Dylan, who helmed the song with his trademark acoustic folk sound. Hendrix covered many Bob Dylan tracks over the course of his career, and described himself as a super-fan of the Minnesota-born singer. Listening to Dylan’s original, you quickly realize why the cover is so coveted by fans of all genres, as Jimi Hendrix’s ripping guitar chords create a powerful freight train of sound which elevate the track to the next level. Hendrix’s iteration of “Along The Watchtower” has definitely eclipsed Bob Dylan’s version in the public zeitgeist, making it one of the best covers of all time.

1. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

In a fitting terminus to our exploration of music, this list both begins and ends with Dolly Parton covers. In this case, Whitney Houston’s absolutely iconic cover of Dolly Parton’s original track “I Will Always Love You.” Though Dolly had already created massive buzz with this chart-topping single in 1974, and again with a rerelease in 1982, the song has since become unmistakably intertwined with Houston’s legacy. In Whitney Houston’s version, the late singer uses the moving lyrics as an opportunity to flex her unmatched vocals and immaculate ability to perform on the microphone. This song is undoubtedly the best cover of all time, having spent 14 weeks at number one on the Billboard music charts, and still remains the record-holder for best-selling female single in all of music history.