There is a saying that once a musician puts a song into the world, it doesn't belong to them anymore. When other musicians cover a song, they might change the style or inherent meaning of the piece by virtue of playing their own version.
When Amy Winehouse died in 2011, Bruno Mars organized a tribute to her in which he sang the song “Valerie” with a full band accompanying him. Winehouse's version of The Zutons' original, with instrumental tracks reworked by Mark Ronson, made such an indelible impression on listeners that it became Winehouse's song in a way. Many people don't know that it was technically a cover.
A song can “belong” more to its cover artist at times when it takes on a new cultural significance. Most prominently, Aretha Franklin transformed Otis Redding's “Respect” into a symbol of women's rights, and Cyndi Lauper's version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” also became a feminist song of sorts.
Even if a cover song does not necessarily eclipse its predecessor in popularity, it can still provide a new way of hearing the song, with new instrumentation and literally a new voice. An example is Kings of Leon's decelerated version of Robyn's “Dancing on My Own,” in which the (all male) band turned a club hit into a rock ballad and even kept the female point of view.
Stacker has put together a list of popular songs that many listeners might not realize were written by someone other than the performer who made them famous. The list was compiled via a combination of websites, including VH1.com, Buzzfeed, and Culture Trip. Information on song and artist background comes from a variety of sources, including NPR, MTV, and the New York Daily News.
Information on chart performance was taken mainly from the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as the U.K. Official Singles Chart, the British Phonographic Industry, and the Australian Recording Industry Association. Data on singles sold was derived from the Recording Industry Association of America, the U.K. Singles Chart, and ARIA certification status.