There is an interesting thread on Quora with answers to the question: “What cover versions of songs could be considered better than their original?” Now “better” is a matter of opinion, but there are cover versions that without a doubt achieved greater sales and airplay than the original recordings.
In some cases, the covers became so popular that many fans believe they are the originals:
Respect – covered by Aretha Franklin, originally written and recorded by Otis Redding.
Proud Mary – covered by Ike and Tina Turner, original by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Me and Bobby McGee – covered by Janis Joplin, original by Kris Kristofferson
Blue Suede Shoes – covered by Elvis Presley, original by Carl Perkins
Hey Joe – covered by Jimi Hendrix, original by The Leaves
Black Magic Woman – covered by Santana, original by Fleetwood Mac
Superman – cover by REM, original by Clique
Then there are pairs so widely separated by time and style, that most listeners wouldn’t even guess there was an original:
Crossroads – covered by Cream, original by Robert Johnson
When the Levee Breaks – covered by Led Zeppelin, original by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie
Tainted Love – covered by Soft Cell, original by Gloria Jones
There are some covers that are not only more popular, but are really, really, wildly better (I know) than the original:
And some original songs never gained much popularity, while inferior cover versions (I still know) inexplicably became worldwide hits:
Thanks to Marcus Bruté for giving me a head start on the list.