It’s not by accident that when you ask musicians how they started, you’ll often hear of an artist’s first cover band. Where there are undoubtedly complex emotions a young person wants to express, often times it doesn’t get more pure than when they are singing someone else’s words. That’s why that even when a songwriter finds some success on their own, cover songs will still creep their way into recordings and performances. Heard songs still have their effect, and sometimes the best way to spread a love of music is to reinterpret a beloved piece for a new audience.
Funny enough, often times a musician’s covered songs can eclipse their own work in popularity. Take Pearl Jam, a band that is without a doubt best known for their own grunge rock, but found their best charting moment in a charity cover of Wayne Cochran’s “Last Kiss”. Whitney Houston remains one of the most iconic voices in the history of pop, but her own mega hits have to compete against an ubiquitous version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”. Even guitar god Jimi Hendrix, who had no trouble penning rock and roll classics by his lonesome, was iconized by his Bob Dylan cover of “All Along the Watchtower”, becoming a significant moment in rock ‘n’ roll history.
But what happens when a cover song becomes the defining moment of a career? For some, like The Ataris, it could wind up being the only musical legacy you leave behind outside of core fans. For others, like The Fugees, it can be an anomaly, an asterisk next to an otherwise tremendous recording career that featured far more artistic heights than the song that most people know. The following 10 artists never could quite shake the cover song that became their signature, and for better or worse, their recording life became defined by it.