Best R&B Covers of Popular Songs
R&B and soul songs have often been covered by rock and pop acts. While it’s not as prevalent in the former genre, some R&B and soul acts are known to have borrowed songs that were originally recorded by rock and pop artists. With that said, here are our top picks for the best R&B covers of rock and pop songs.
“Proud Mary” – Ike & Tina Turner
“Proud Mary” was originally recorded by the classic rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival and was written by lead singer and guitarist John Fogerty. This is another one of those cover songs where the artists who remade it identity with it as much as its original performers.
Ike and Tina Turner released their cover of “Proud Mary” in 1971 and included it on their album Workin’ Together. Their version differs greatly from the original recording. It combines elements of soul, funk and rock, and Tina and the Ikettes offer gospel-influenced vocals.
The song reached No. 4 on the pop charts and won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group in 1972.
“Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” – Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey coproduced her cover of this song with Randy Jackson for her ninth studio album, Charmbracelet. “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” is a ballad originally recorded by British rock band Def Leppard.
Carey has cited the song as a lifelong favorite, and she completely reworked it, making it superior to the original. Dep Leppard lead singer and guitarist Joe Elliott gave it a positive review, and though some critics praised the song, general reception wasn’t as favorable. Despite the fact that it is a solid piece of music, “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100.
“We Can Work It Out” – Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder covered The Beatles‘ song “We Can Work It Out” on his 1970 album Signed, Sealed and Delivered. The song is written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, and Wonder’s extraordinary version is perhaps the funkiest Beatles cover of all time.
The song made it to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned Wonder a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. When McCartney was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990, Wonder performed the song in his honor. He also performed the song at the White House in 2010 when McCartney was awarded the prestigious Gershwin Prize by the Library of Congress.
“Closer” – Maxwell
The song appears on NIN’s 1994 album The Downward Spiral, and is widely recognized as the group’s best-known song. The risqué and controversial song and video were huge hits, so it’s no wonder why Maxwell chose to cover the song.
At the time of Maxwell’s visit to “MTV Unplugged,” he only had one studio album under his belt, but the network saw something in the young R&B artist. Maxwell intended to release a full album of the session, but he clashed with his label and a seven-song EP was released instead.
“Fire” – The Pointer Sisters
The song was up for grabs and The Pointer Sisters got a hold of it. Their version was released as a single and appears on their 1978 album Energy. Their sultry take makes it hard to believe “Fire” was originally intended to be a rock song. It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was also a huge international success. The Pointer Sisters’ version became their first gold single and marked a turning point in their career.
Springsteen would later include “Fire” into the setlist during his 1979 Darkness Tour, and it’s been a concert staple of his ever since. He eventually released it as a single, and while it was successful, it wasn’t nearly as successful as The Pointer Sisters’ cover.
“This Woman’s Work – ” by Maxwell
Kate Bush, the eccentric British pop singer, wrote and recorded “This Woman’s Work” for her 1989 album Sensual World. The song peaked at No. 25 in the United Kingdom.
Maxwell’s sweet, seductive version, which he first performed live in 1997 on “MTV Unplugged,” fared much better. He rerecorded the song for his 2001 studio album Now. As a single, it peaked at No. 16 on the R&B charts and at No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100. His version appears in the films “Love & Basketball” and “Stomp the Yard,” and he also filmed a music video for the song.