What has happened to cover versions of popular songs?

20 May 2024

Every week, Australian radio station Triple J, invites a band or musician to record a cover of a song, for their Like A Version show. Anything goes here. About two years ago, Sydney based Australian DJ Dave Winnel performed a cover of Africa, by Toto, not the sort of music you’d usually hear on the jays.

While Like A Version recordings are archived on the Triple J website, I’m not sure many are released as singles, where they may, or may not, chart. The idea here is to have a bit of fun.

Cover songs, where one musician records a usually popular song by another recording artist, are an integral part of music history. Many well-known acts launched their careers by recording a cover of someone else’s song. The Rolling Stones first single, for example, from 1963, was a cover of Come On, by Chuck Berry.

But today though, covers are a lost art. Or, covers of popular songs, at least, according to this chart, compiled by American musician and writer, Chris Dalla Riva. The image makes for grim viewing for fans of cover songs. In the last fifteen to twenty years, barely any cover songs — of the popular variety, that is — have made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Surely this is not the end of the road for covers? Read more about Dalla Riva’s findings here.