From David Bowie to Bob Dylan: The 20 best covers of The Rolling Stones
One of the most famous bands on the planet, and most certainly one of the longest-running, The Rolling Stones have gathered up quite the array of admirers over the years. While the fans are in the millions, the musical admirers are just as vast.
Here in this list, we’re bringing you those musicians doing their best to try and pay homage to The Rolling Stones by covering one of their songs. Featuring some of the music industry’s best and brightest, we’ve compiled the 20 greatest covers of The Stones’ of all time.
Across this list is a plethora of musical talent, the glorious heights of rock music, and the repayment of an undying debt to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood—The Rolling Stones. They pick some obscure songs to make their own and pay tribute to the band by picking some of their greatest hits.
Expect to see DEVO, Debbie Harry, Otis Redding, David Bowie and so many more as we dive into the greatest Rolling Stones covers of all time.
20 best Rolling Stones covers of all time:
20. Elton John – ‘Honky Tonk Women’
Elton John shows off his piano chops on this cover the band’s 1969 hit ‘honky Tonk Women’ and somehow manages to add another bluesier layer to the track.
While John’s vocals are cleaner and far more refined he does pay homage to the original with a jive and jump that Jagger would be proud of.
19. U2 – ‘Paint It Black’
While normally we wouldn’t have U2 anywhere near a ‘best of’ list, we have to concede our argument on this very good cover of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’.
Featured on the band’s Achtung Baby, the Stones’ track gets put through the U2 pop machine and comes out the other side with a pleasing new sheen. While we’re not the biggest fans of Bono et al,there’s something wonderfully gilded about this cover of the Stones’ archetypal song.
18. Liz Phair – ‘Mother’s Little Helper’
One of the few anti-drug songs of the sixties worth its weight in moral gold, The Rolling Stones’ track transcended their image to deliver a message. A message that’s given extra gravitas with the addition of Liz Phair’s beautifully laconic vocal.
“What a drag it is getting old,” begins Phair with her sneering vocal, allowing a touch of sarcasm to shine through. It precedes a more than exemplary cover.
17. Björk and PJ Harvey – ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’
At the 1994 edition of the annual BRIT Awards, as two icons of the alternative music scene came together to give an unstoppable cover of one of Britain’s favourite sons’ songs.
Their performance of The Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ from PJ Harvey and Bjork is subverted, chopped and changed from the original. Yet it stands the pair apart from the crowd, and after all, is that not what The Stones’ always hoped for?
16. Bob Dylan – ‘Brown Sugar’
Dylan has made a career out of introducing cover versions to his live performances, especially in his later years. That said, putting his own spin on some of his more esteemed and well-known colleagues have always been a bit of a rarity.
Perry Ferrell’s magnetic vocals were yet to capture the masses when Jane’s Addiction recorded an eponymous live album for their growing number of fans. It was a bold move or the group and one that eventually paid off for all involved.
The live album not only had The Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock and Roll’ covered by also The Stones’ ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ — a cover which still sounds fresh today.
14. Johnny Cash – ‘No Expectations’
Before he got the polished work of Rick Rubin to come a-knocking, Cash was still in the business of covering the greats. One such great was this fun and a frivolous cover of the band’s ‘No Expectations’.
The country legend has taken on a whole host of incredible acts during his time, providing some of the definitive versions of songs (Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ is now secondary to Cash’s version). While this cover isn’t quite at that level, it still holds some weight. The rootin’ tootin’ Rolling Stones, ladies and gentlemen.
13. Tegan & Sara – ‘Fool To Cry’
One of the most beautiful ballads from one of The Rolling Stones’ more beleaguered albums Black & Blue, ‘Fool To Cry’ remains a stunning song. It’s something that Lena Dunham picked up on for the Girls soundtrack.
She turned to the Canadian duo Tegan & Sara to provide a beautifully touching and authentic cover of the original, but with a fresh modern twist. It’s a genius move and a quite brilliant cover of one of the Stones’ lesser-known tracks.
12. Cat Power – ‘Satisfaction’
Chan Marshall, AKA Cat Power, is one of our favourite artists of the last few decades. An empirical vocalist she manages to convey the emotion of every song she sings with every note that leaves her lungs. Her cover of ‘Satisfaction’ is just the same.
Power delivers a laconic vocal over the top of a simple guitar to reduce the song to a brand new flavour, a new taste. This is Power’s red wine reduction and it’s bloody gorgeous.
11. Merry Clayton – ‘Gimme Shelter’
Famed for her contribution to the original of this song Merry Clayton never truly got out of the shadow of The Stones’ after her mercurial display on ‘Gimme Shelter’. Fair dues then that the singer would take on the track for her debut solo record and unleash one hell of a cracker.
With the great Billy Preston on keys, Clayton gives a jumping and more rhythmic cover of the track which fits nicely between blues, Americana, and bouncing beauty of the original.
10. Little Richard – ‘Brown Sugar’
Now, this isn’t the best cover of ‘Brown Sugar’ you’ll ever hear but it most certainly is the only cover of ‘Brown Sugar’ which included the legendary Little Rochard, without which The Rolling Stones may never have existed. Like many acts of the 1960s, Little Richard was a foundational stone in their career building.
The singer is naturally flamboyant, fragrant and fun, there is a horn at every turn and a bop that is undeniably infectious. Listen below to the 1971 cover from Little Richard.
9. DEVO – ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’
Once heralded by David Bowie as “the band of the future”, one of Devo’s purest moments was looking back to the past as Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale and their robotic new wave vision were applied to The Rolling Stones’ iconic hit ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’.
Today it remains one of the band’s most subversive moments. It may well be one of the most famous moments of a Stones cover but it’s not quite the brilliant one we’re after.
8. David Bowie – ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’
The track, originally written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, was released in 1967 as a double-A side with ‘Ruby Tuesday’. It performed moderately well on the charts but was always held back by the song’s sexual nature. Enter Bowie.
Now if there’s one thing that is not up for debate, it’s that The Sundays’ own Harriet Wheeler may be one of the best vocalists to ever take on a Stones’ song in the first place. Her searing vocal cords offer up a taste of life’s fragility in every note.
With The Sundays cover of ‘Wild Horses’, which featured as a B-side in the ’90s, the band offer a tender and touching moment of jangling guitar, wonderful vocals, and a deep authenticity that’s missing on other covers.
6. The Animals – ‘Paint It Black’
Live at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, The Animals’ amazing cover of The Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’ was somewhat overlooked. At the event which launched the careers of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, Eric Burdon and his band’s performance is often forgotten.
We think Stones fans should revisit the performance below and marvel at the sumptuous cover. It would make the band’s album Winds of Change in 1967 but this live performance is the one that really hits hard. The Animals may well be one of the most overlooked influencers of the decade and below you get a taste of exactly how great they were.
6. Lindsey Buckingham – ‘She Smiled Sweetly’
In between the tos and fros of being in Fleetwood Mac, which we imagine can play havoc with anyone’s schedule, Lindsey Buckingham was in the midst of recording his own solo album.
The songs which recorded would find their way out to the public in drips and this cover, despite being recorded during the late nineties, would only see the light of day in 2011. It’s a beautifully aching rendition which shows off Buckingham’s incredible talent. Often maligned for his part in Fleetwood Mac’s demise, it’s worth remembering just how talented Buckingham is.
5. Linda Ronstadt – ‘Tumbling Dice’
While Ronstadt was at the height of her powers in 1977 the singer released her record Simple Dreams and received a wealth of acclaim. The album was full of covers including Buddy Holly’s ‘It’s So Easy’ and Roy Orbison’s ‘Blue Bayou’— as well as The Rolling Stones.
Backed by a plethora of incredible session musicians Ronstadt, equipped with her signature vocals, delivers an alt-country rock version of ‘Tumbling Dice’. She adds a flair of femininity to the normally Boys Club-orientated tunes. With it, Ronstadt provides a searing reminder of her unstoppable talent
4. Allman Brothers – ‘Heart of Stone’
When the Allman Brothers released their 2003 album Hittin’ The Note the word on the street was that they were back to their best. Despite the band now being without many of the founding members, their cover of ‘Heart of Stone’ is simply sublime.
Gregg Allman takes the track to new heights with his heartening vocal and makes the song the band’s own — a world-weary rendition. There’s something extra special about this cover and it shines with every single note.
3. Otis Redding – ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’
Otis Redding is an iconic singer and one of the bastions of soulful, heartfelt and authentic musicianship. The famed singer of some of the world’s most treasured hits does some of his best work on The Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’.
He may have got many of the lyrics wrong but Redding absolutely nailed the vibe of the track. Ronnie Wood would later say that Redding’s arrangement influenced the Stones’ live performance.
2. Debbie Harry – ‘Wild Horses’
We all know and love Debbie Harry as the stunning leader of Blondie. At the forefront of the punk movement in New York, she growled, strutted, sneered, and rocked her way to the top of the pile. That’s why this 1993 cover of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’ is so breathtaking.
Debbie was on her 1993 tour, aptly named the Debravation Tour, when she took on arguably one of the greatest songs The Stones ever produced and Harry adds a layer of vulnerability which elevates the song. The song’s sentiment is certainly one that Harry could connect with and it appears as though she has made it even more enriched with her angelic vocal.
1. Bryan Ferry – ‘Sympathy for the Devil’
Quite simply one of the finest covers of any song you’ll ever hear. Covered as part of Ferry’s standout LP These Foolish Things, the cover is everything great about signing someone else’s song. Ferry approaches the track with a swagger that is uncannily captivating and a style which is rich in texture and smoothness in equal measure.
It’s easily the best cover of a Stones song you’ll hear as it not only encapsulates the same unfurling brilliance of Jagger et al, but also sees Ferry dish out his own sense of the song alongside it. It’s a match made in heaven and one we’re happy to hear over and over again.