10 heavy metal cover songs more popular than the originals (according to Spotify)

Photos of Metallica, Ghost, Disturbed and Guns N Roses onstage
(Image credit: Metallica: Nigel Wright/Mirrorpix/Getty Images | Ghost: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images | Disturbed: Steve Jennings/WireImage | Guns N’ Roses: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

It’s a rare thing for a cover song to outdo the impact of the original, and this is especially true in heavy metal music. Metal bands love taking pop megahits or olden classics and making them heavier and nastier, which – although yielding some incredible results – does inherently limit their commercial potential. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, however. When the stars align, a metal cover can eclipse the first version and reach even more ears. Here are 10 times where that’s happened, with streaming numbers on Spotify as of October 2023 being used as the measurement.

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Metallica – Am I Evil? (Diamond Head cover; Creeping Death b-side, 1984)

From the Creeping Death single’s b-side to 1998’s Garage Inc. and hundreds of live performances, Metallica have carried Am I Evil? with them for almost the entirety of their career. Said career has seen the thrashers blossom into metal’s biggest-ever band, so it’s no surprise that their take on the track has beaten the original in terms of listens: 20 million streams against Diamond Head’s 10 million. The good news is that the royalties have helped sustain the career of one of Metallica’s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal idols.

Ghost – If You Have Ghosts (Roky Erickson cover; If You Have Ghost, 2013)

Roger “Roky” Erickson was a legend in the psychedelic and blues circles of the US Deep South. His original version of If You Have Ghosts was released in 1980 as an uptempo rocker and has an enduring popularity, boasting two million Spotify streams. However, when Ghost got their hands on it in 2013, it felt like a signature rallying cry. With the lyric “If you have ghosts, you have everything” tweaked to the singular If You Have Ghost by its parent EP, it felt like a declaration of the band’s sinister presence. Their eerie reinterpretation currently has almost 30 million streams.

Guns N’ Roses – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover; Use Your Illusion II, 1992)

Here’s a true battle of the heavyweights for you. Guns N’ Roses are one of the most commercially immense rock bands ever, largely thanks to their all-time classic debut Appetite For Destruction, while Bob Dylan is among the greatest American songwriters to ever live. Both parties have such rich legacies that they won’t even care about comparisons, but there’s one indisputable metric where Axl Rose and the boys come out on top: their Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door cover has 632 million streams, which is 290 million more than Dylan’s earnest original.

Disturbed – The Sound Of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel cover; Immortalized, 2015)

Disturbed have never been ones for subtlety. Although their cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s pensive Sound Of Silence eschews the barrel-chested riffing of their usual material, it still goes big. What was at first a quiet piece with just two voices and an acoustic guitar exploded into a booming, orchestral ballad. The redo went incredibly viral, accruing 700 million streams while its live performance became the most-watched video on Conan O’Brien’s YouTube channel. It’s even escaped the shadow of the original, which has 500 million streams.

Judas Priest – The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown) (Fleetwood Mac cover; Killing Machine, 1978)

Before Fleetwood Mac became the generational superstars responsible for Rumours, they caught a glimpse of commercial stardom as the ’60s became the ’70s. The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown) was the band’s fourth consecutive single to crack the UK top 10, before their later material made that success seem tame in comparison. As a result, Fleetwood’s version was overshadowed for later generations, while Judas Priest’s 1978 cover remained in the Metal Gods’ setlist. The Brummies’ take today has seven million streams, beating the five million of Fleetwood’s.

Five Finger Death Punch – Bad Company (Bad Company cover; War Is The Answer, 2009)

Boy do Five Finger Death Punch love the US troops! For their second album, 2009’s War Is The Answer, the arena-metal jocks took the self-titled song by supergroup Bad Company – which likened the band to Old West gunslingers – and updated it as a dedication to military veterans. With the war on terror being a very hot-button topic at the time, the cover resonated with American audiences and became a mainstay. Today, it’s been listened to 318 million times on Spotify alone, dwarfing the original’s 100-million-stream tally.

Korn – Word Up! (Cameo cover; Greatest Hits Vol. 1, 2004)

Funk/hip-hop prospect Cameo are a guaranteed good time no matter which song of theirs you play. But, let’s call a spade a spade: they’re also a one-hit wonder. 1986’s Word Up! remains their sole single to crack the US top 10, not counting that time they guested on a Mariah Carey tune. In contrast, by 2004, Korn had a decade of mainstream relevance and all the momentum in the world behind them. It’s no surprise their cover’s outshone the original as a result, with 130 million streams against 100 million.

Anthrax – Got The Time (Joe Jackson cover; Persistence Of Time, 1990)

Got The Time has been a setlist regular for Anthrax since 1990 and today stands as their second-most-streamed song on Spotify. Because of this, it comes as a surprise to some people when they learn it’s not an original, but a cover of a deep cut by English new wave artist Joe Jackson. Jackson’s original closed his debut album Look Sharp, and apparently he loathes this thrashier rendition. The numbers don’t lie though: 43 million streams versus six million. Although Jackson may not love the music, we’re confident he enjoys the cheques.

Deftones – Do You Believe (The Cardigans cover; Diamond Eyes deluxe edition, 2010)

Deftones one-upping the commercial standing of The Cardigans’ Do You Believe was never going to be a difficult task. The electropop piece was the most buried of deep cuts before the California alt-metal band got their hands on it, having been put on the latter half of Cardigans’ Gran Turismo album and rarely getting played. On the other hand, Deftones made their version a bonus track on their return-to-form album, Diamond Eyes, casting it into six million Spotify users’ ears. The original has just 1.5 million streams.

Quiet Riot – Cum On Feel The Noize (Slade cover; Metal Health, 1983)

Here’s another instance where plenty of people will be stunned to learn that this is a cover. Cum On Feel The Noize is undeniably Quiet Riot’s signature song, enjoying pride of place on Metal Health (the first metal album to top the US Billboard chart) and 343 million streams. By contrast, the band’s second-most-popular track has just 75 million. The original version was Slade’s, though, which has only 24 million streams nowadays, despite climbing to number one in the UK charts in 1973. Still, with both bands becoming glam legends, there’s no real loser here.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.