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10 Best Covers of Percy Sledge’s ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’

Hear Bette Midler, Frank Ocean and a pre-teen Ryan Gosling rework the Southern soul classic

Percy Sledge

Percy Sledge

Val Wilmer/Getty

An instant standard, the late Percy Sledge's debut single and greatest hit, "When a Man Loves a Woman," has been covered again and again over the past half-century: as a heartsick country tune, as a schmaltzy torch song, as lighter-waving rock & roll, as a jazz instrumental and even as a bizarre vaudeville/garage-rock hybrid. Here are 10 of the most notable versions.

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UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Bette Midler Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Bette Midler (1979)

One of the highlights of Midler's role as a doomed Sixties rock star in 1979's The Rose is her roaring, brassy onstage performance of "When a Man Loves a Woman," preceded by a rambling monologue about love and heartache – she sings it very much in the style of Janis Joplin, on whom her character was loosely based. Released as the first single from The Rose's soundtrack (yes, before the title track), it became a minor hit.

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Michael Bolton at taping of his PBS- VH1 special on 1/8/93 in Chicago,Il. (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)

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Michael Bolton (1991)

Pretend, for a moment, that it's not the Number One record from 1991 that won Bolton a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance; pretend it's a blue-eyed soul obscurity by somebody named, say, Michael Notlob, and hear it with fresh ears. The singer's still aiming for the rafters, bellowing and chewing the scenery, but the song's essential power endures. Bizarre factoid: In 1979 and 1980, Bolton was in a hard-rock band called Blackjack – and the year after they broke up, an unrelated group called Jack Grayson and Blackjack had a Top 20 country hit with their own version of "When a Man Loves a Woman."

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Barbara Mandrell (1991)

Mandrell's torchy rendition of "When a Man Loves a Woman" is cut from (a slightly twangier version of) the same cloth as Michael Bolton's – Bolton actually co-wrote another song on The Key's in the Mailbox, the album for which she recorded it. But Mandrell had been an aficionado of deep Southern soul from the get-go: Her first big single was a 1969 cover of Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)," which she swiftly followed with a cover of Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman – Do Right Man."

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Ryan Gosling (1991)

Before "hey girl," before The Believer, before even The Mickey Mouse Club, Ryan Gosling was a performer at Mormon talent shows – like this one, filmed by an audience member when Gosling was 10 or 11 years old. Only a half-minute fragment of Gosling's proto-American Idol rendition of "When a Man Loves a Woman" has survived, but we do also get to see him and his sister Mandi dancing fairly impressively to C&C Music Factory's "Everybody Dance Now."

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Frank Ocean, “Non-Stop” (2011)

Before Christopher Breaux started going by the name Frank Ocean, he recorded a mountain of tracks that were eventually released as the mixtape The Lonny Breaux Collection. "Non-Stop" is his update of "When a Man Loves a Woman" for the 21st century. Over a loop of Percy Sledge's original recording (modified by producer J.R. Rotem), Ocean sings a melody of his own about tormented, one-sided romance – a variation on Sledge's "sleeping out in the rain" worst-case scenario.

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