The following was posted in news:rec.music.pop-rock-r+b.1960s by Tim Neeley
Most people use the two interchangeably today. I've been known to do this myself. I cringe, but don't criticize, when people do this, because I am sometimes guilty, too. But a "cover" is a very specific kind of record. A "cover" refers to a version of a song recorded shortly after the original (usually within weeks, sometimes within months) with the intent of somehow deflecting attention from the original version. The most notorious and reviled "covers" are the "pop" versions of R&B songs. For example, almost all of Pat Boone's 1955-56 hits were covers ("Ain't Thata Shame," "Tutti Frutti," "I'll Be Home," "At My Front Door" for example,though whether his version of "I Almost Lost My Mind" is strictly a cover is debatable, as the original by Ivory Joe Hunter was from 1949 and Pat didn't record it until 1956). Other "cover" artists included the McGuire Sisters ("Sincerely"), the Fontane Sisters ("Hearts of Stone"), Gale Storm ("I Hear You Knocking"), and the Diamonds ("Church Bells May Ring," "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," and the one cover that most consider to be superior to the original version, "Little Darlin" -- ironically, it was one of the last R&B covers to have a significant chart life). Some of the last of these "covers" were the Diamonds' version of "Silhouettes" and "Daddy Cool" (both sides of the Rays' hit) and Teresa Brewer's "You Send Me," all in late 1957. But they aren't the only "covers."
Sometimes, a country hit would be "covered" by pop artists for the pop charts (examples: "Cold, Cold Heart" by Tony Bennett, "Jambalaya" by Jo Stafford). And the reverse happened, too ("Riders in the Sky" by Sons of the Pioneers). In fact, this kind of "cover" still occurs today ("I Swear" by All-4-One was a cover of John Michael Montgomery's country hit, Aerosmith's hit "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" was covered for the country charts by Mark Chesnutt).
There are also same-genre covers, done by record labels in hopes of getting a piece of the action. For example, when Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" came out in 1954, it was quickly followed (and superseded at the time) by a cover by Marty Robbins. The same year, when the Jewels recorded "Heart of Stone," the Charms did an R&B cover for Federal. This was standard industry practice until 1958 or so: If one label had a hit with a song, every other label did a version in hopes of having success, too.
Until rock 'n' roll took over the charts, the most prominent listings in the trade magazine ranked the success of the *songs*. Billboard's version was called "Honor Roll of Hits" and it got much larger play than the "Most Played by Disc Jockeys," "Best Sellers in Stores" and "Most Played in Juke Boxes" charts of the same era. Those three charts did mention specific versions of songs, but the HROH ranked the *songs*, then listed all the known currently available versions of that song underneath. Sometimes, it's very difficult to tell which is the "original" and which are the "covers," if it can be determined at all! This practice continued into the 1960s with pop-oriented music, especially with songs from Broadway or Hollywood; for example, whose version of "My Coloring Book" is definitive? "The Shadow of Your Smile"? "Call Me Irresponsible"? As the versions from the shows/movies themselves rarely came out as singles from the soundtrack LP (this, too, was standard industry practice until relatively recently), numerous "covers" competed for attention, essentially canceling each other out and rendering the song much more familiar than any specific artist's version of it.
There also are the budget-label covers. In the USA, Bell and Tops (1950s) and Hit (1960s) were the most popular of these labels. No-names, demo singers and other wannabes would "cover" the current hit, then these labels and others would sell them (sometimes in picture sleeves) for a fraction of the cost of the original. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, whole LPs of "sound-alike" covers would dominate the UK charts (and give up-and-coming Brits such as Elton John and David Bowie a steady paycheck before they became famous).
Another kind of cover is the more recent practice in the USA of recording sound-alike versions of current hits for the specific purpose of making a single available. For example, there are USA cover versions of such hits as "Barbie Girl," "Tubthumping" and "Who Let the Dogs Out," for which singles by the hit artists either were not issued or issued in minuscule numbers.
I think that covers covers (sorry). In sum, the biggest difference between a "cover" and a "remake" is the TIME element. Someone is trying to cash in on the *current* success of someone else's version of the same song.