The 1970s was a decade that witnessed the birth of some of the most iconic music in history, and with great music comes great remakes and covers. From classic rock hits to soulful ballads and pop anthems, the 70s saw a plethora of artists taking on songs that had already made their mark, breathing new life into them and making them their own.
We’ll be taking a look at the 20 greatest remakes and covers of the 1970s that still stand the test of time and continue to resonate with audiences today.
1. Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone – The Undisputed Truth (1972) | The Temptations (1972)
“Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” was originally recorded by the Motown group The Undisputed Truth in 1972, but it was The Temptations’ version that became a huge hit the same year. The song is about a young man who learns that his father was a womanizer and a rolling stone who left his family to chase his dreams. The Temptations’ version features a powerful instrumental section and the iconic spoken word introduction, “It was the third of September.”
2. Midnight Train to Georgia – Jim Weatherly (1972, “Midnight Plane to Houston”) | Gladys Knight & the Pips (1973)
“Midnight Train to Georgia” was originally written by Jim Weatherly as “Midnight Plane to Houston” in 1972, but it was Gladys Knight & the Pips’ 1973 cover that made it a classic. The song tells the story of a woman who leaves Los Angeles to return to Georgia with her man, who has given up his dreams of becoming a star. The song features soaring vocals by Gladys Knight and a memorable chorus that has become a sing-along classic.
3. Me And Bobby McGee – Roger Miller (1969) | Janis Joplin (1971)
“Me and Bobby McGee” was written by Kris Kristofferson and first recorded by Roger Miller in 1969. However, it was Janis Joplin’s 1971 cover that became the definitive version. The song is a mournful ballad about a woman’s search for freedom and love, and Joplin’s raw, emotional delivery perfectly captures the song’s themes. The song’s chorus, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,” has become an iconic line in popular culture.
4. Black Magic Woman – Fleetwood Mac (1968) | Santana (1970)
“Black Magic Woman” was originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac in 1968, but it was Santana’s 1970 cover that became a hit. The song is a bluesy rock tune with a hypnotic guitar riff that has become one of Santana’s signature songs. Santana’s cover features a Latin-inspired rhythm section and Carlos Santana’s searing guitar work, which takes the song to new heights.
5. Killing Me Softly With His Song – Lori Lieberman (1972) | Roberta Flack (1973)
“Killing Me Softly with His Song” was written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel and first recorded by Lori Lieberman in 1972. However, it was Roberta Flack’s 1973 cover that became a smash hit. The song is a soulful ballad about a woman who is moved to tears by a singer’s emotional performance. Flack’s version features her powerful vocals and a lush instrumental arrangement that perfectly complements the song’s emotional themes. The song has become a classic and has been covered by numerous artists over the years.
6. War – The Temptations (1970) | Edwin Starr (1970)
“War” was a powerful anti-Vietnam War protest song originally recorded by the Temptations in 1970. The song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and was an instant hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts. Edwin Starr, another Motown artist, released a cover of the song that same year, which became even more successful than the original. Starr’s version topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts and is widely regarded as the definitive version of the song. Both versions feature driving rhythms and powerful vocals, and their message of protest against war still resonates with audiences today.
7. Oye Como Va – Tito Puente (1963) | Santana (1970)
“Oye Como Va” is a classic Latin song originally recorded by Tito Puente in 1963. The song’s catchy melody and infectious rhythms made it an instant hit and it quickly became a staple of Latin music. In 1970, Santana released their cover of “Oye Como Va” on their album “Abraxas,” and the song became a hit once again, this time with a wider audience. Santana’s version features Carlos Santana’s signature guitar work and a more rock-oriented sound, but it still retains the song’s original Latin flavor. “Oye Como Va” has since been covered by many other artists and remains a beloved classic in Latin music.
8. Drift Away – John Kurtz (1972) | Dobie Gray (1973)
“Drift Away” is a timeless classic originally recorded by John Kurtz in 1972. The song’s gentle melody and heartfelt lyrics struck a chord with audiences and it quickly became a favorite on the radio. However, it was Dobie Gray’s 1973 cover of the song that truly made it a classic. Gray’s version features a more soulful arrangement and his powerful vocals take the song to new heights. “Drift Away” has since become a staple of classic rock radio and has been covered by many other artists, including Uncle Kracker in 2003.
9. Lady Marmalade – The Eleventh Hour (1974) | Labelle (1974)
“Lady Marmalade” is a funky disco classic originally recorded by The Eleventh Hour in 1974. However, it was Labelle’s cover of the song that became a worldwide hit and a disco anthem. Labelle’s version features a more upbeat tempo and infectious rhythms, as well as powerful vocals from Patti LaBelle. The song’s provocative lyrics and catchy chorus made it an instant hit, and it remains a beloved classic in disco music. “Lady Marmalade” has since been covered by other artists, including Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, and Pink for the soundtrack of the 2001 movie “Moulin Rouge!”
10. Without You – Badfinger (1970) | Harry Nilsson (1971)
“Without You” is a timeless classic originally recorded by the British band Badfinger in 1970. The song’s haunting melody and heartfelt lyrics struck a chord with audiences and it quickly became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. However, it was Harry Nilsson’s 1971 cover of the song that truly made it a classic. Nilsson’s version features a more stripped-down arrangement and his powerful vocals take the song to new heights. “Without You” has since been covered by many other artists, including Mariah Carey, whose version topped the charts in 1994. The song remains a beloved classic and a testament to the enduring power of a great ballad.
11. Burning Love – Arthur Alexander (1972) | Elvis Presley (1972)
“Burning Love” was written by Dennis Linde and recorded by Arthur Alexander in 1972, but it wasn’t until Elvis Presley covered the song that it became a massive hit. Presley’s version was recorded the same year and became his last Top 10 hit in the United States. The song is known for its rockabilly sound and catchy chorus, which made it an instant classic.
12. Smiling Faces Sometimes – The Temptations (1971) | The Undisputed Truth (1971)
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” was a hit for The Undisputed Truth in 1971, but it was originally recorded by The Temptations the same year. The song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and it’s a cautionary tale about people who pretend to be your friend but are really out to harm you. The Undisputed Truth’s version was more psychedelic than the original, but both versions have a haunting quality that makes them memorable.
13. Cocaine – J. J. Cale (1976) | Eric Clapton (1977)
“Cocaine” was written and performed by J. J. Cale in 1976, but it was Eric Clapton’s 1977 cover that made the song famous. Clapton’s version is more upbeat than the original and features a guitar riff that is instantly recognizable. The song is about the dangers of drug addiction and the toll it can take on a person’s life.
14. I Shot the Sheriff – Bob Marley (1973) | Eric Clapton (1974)
“I Shot the Sheriff” was written and recorded by Bob Marley in 1973, but it was Eric Clapton’s 1974 cover that made the song a hit. Clapton’s version is more guitar-heavy than the original and features a solo that is often considered one of the best in rock history. The song is about a man who claims to have shot the sheriff in self-defense, but the lyrics also have a deeper meaning about standing up to authority.
15. You’re No Good – Dee Dee Warwick (1963) | Linda Ronstadt (1974)
“You’re No Good” was originally recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1963, but it was Linda Ronstadt’s 1974 cover that made the song a hit. Ronstadt’s version features a more rock-oriented sound than the original and became one of her signature songs. The song is about a woman who realizes that her lover is no good for her and decides to leave him behind.
16. You Really Got Me – Kinks (1964) | Van Halen (1978)
“You Really Got Me” was originally recorded by the British band The Kinks in 1964. The song’s iconic distorted guitar riff has made it one of the most influential songs in rock history. In 1978, American rock band Van Halen covered the song on their debut album, which was a huge commercial success. Their version of “You Really Got Me” features Eddie Van Halen’s signature guitar solo, which showcases his incredible technical skills and has become one of the most recognizable guitar solos of all time.
17. Video Killed the Radio Star – Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club (1979) | The Buggles (1979)
“Video Killed the Radio Star” was originally recorded by Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club in 1979, but it was the version by The Buggles that became a huge hit and is now considered a classic of the 1980s. The song’s catchy melody and futuristic lyrics were a perfect fit for the dawn of the MTV era, and the music video for the song was the first ever to be played on the network. The song’s success helped to cement The Buggles’ place in pop music history and made “Video Killed the Radio Star” an enduring favorite.
18. Blinded By The Light – Bruce Springsteen (1973) | Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1976)
“Blinded by the Light” was written by Bruce Springsteen and originally released on his 1973 debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. While Springsteen’s version of the song received critical acclaim, it wasn’t until 1976 when Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released their own version of the song that it became a commercial success. Their cover features a more uptempo beat and a catchy synthesizer riff, making it an instant hit on the dance floor. The song’s opening line, “Blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night,” has become one of the most famous in rock history.
19. Love Hurts – The Everly Brothers (1960) | Nazareth (1974)
“Love Hurts” was originally recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1960, but it was the version by Scottish hard rock band Nazareth that became a hit in 1974. Their cover features a slower, more melancholic tempo that emphasizes the song’s emotional lyrics. The song’s message about the pain of love and heartbreak has resonated with listeners for decades, and it has been covered by many artists since its initial release.
20. You Are So Beautiful – Billy Preston (1974) | Joe Cocker (1974)
“You Are So Beautiful” was written by Billy Preston and Bruce Fisher, and was first recorded by Preston in 1974. However, it was Joe Cocker’s version of the song that became a hit later that same year. Cocker’s version features a soulful, heartfelt vocal performance that perfectly captures the song’s romantic lyrics. The song has since become a staple of romantic playlists and has been covered by many other artists over the years.