Paul Fitzpatrick: London, April 2022
Colin and I recently accepted a request from one of our American blog buddies, Dave at Sound Day, to write a piece about the Beatles.
Colin is fairly ambivalent about the fab 4, so I took on the task and focused on the topic of Beatles cover versions.
Dave’s excellent music blog, ‘Sound Day’ is worth checking out on…. https://soundday.wordpress.com/
I’ve no idea how many Beatle’s covers exist, but when you consider there are over 1,600 versions of the song ‘Yesterday’ then you’ve got to imagine there’s a fair few kicking around.
Everyone from Alvin & the Chipmunks to Wu-Tang Clan have had a go at covering a Beatles song, which is hardly surprising given how many standards they’ve written.
Growing up in the 60s I started getting into music just as the Beatles were heading towards their long and winding road. Truth be told I didn’t really appreciate their genius until I’d gone through my various Rock, Funk, and Fusion phases, but I got there eventually and learned to appreciate how talented and ground-breaking they truly were.
I have all the Beatles stuff and most of their solo stuff (sorry Ringo) but the fact that there’s a dearth of Fab Four covers in my music library is an anomaly to me.
For that reason, I decided to take a deep dive into the world of Beatles covers in the expectation that there must be a lot of overlooked gems that I’ve missed or ignored over the years.
That’s how I came to spend a tortuous afternoon recently, crunching through my personal music library as well as Apple Music & Spotify, searching for treasures…. truth be told it was a long day.
As an example, I love Aretha Franklin and the Beatles classic, ‘The Fool on The Hill’ is a favourite, so I had high expectations when I came across Aretha’s version. Similarly, I stumbled across a Santana version of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps‘, potentially another winning combination, but both versions left me underwhelmed, as did the vast majority of the Beatles covers I listened to that afternoon.
As mentioned previously, there are a zillion Beatles covers out there so I’m sure there will be a few notable omissions from my listings below, for which I apologise in advance…. but like they say, ‘beauty is in the ear of the beholder’
My Top 5 Beatles Covers + 1
1) Hey Jude by Wilson Pickett – Pickett makes the song his own with his rasping vocals, a great Muscle Shoals arrangement and the introduction of a young Duane Allman who marks his recording debut with a blistering guitar solo.
2) We Can Work It Out by Stevie Wonder – When I think of this song I immediately think of Stevie’s version, with the fuzzy clavinet intro and the trademark harmonica solo. Recorded in 1970 when Stevie was on the cusp of greatness and ably backed by the ubiquitous Funk Brothers.
3) With a Little Help from My Friends by Joe Cocker – Another rare case of a Beatles cover being better than the original, a fact endorsed by McCartney himself.
Cocker took this breezy Ringo Starr version from Sgt Pepper and turned it into a soul anthem featuring another cameo from a guitar great, the legendary Jimmy Page.
And of course, this song reminds me of the fabulous ‘The Wonder Years’
4) Got to Get You into My Life by Earth Wind & Fire – Recorded for the Robert Stigwood backed Sgt Pepper project in 1978. The movie bombed and the soundtrack was a flop, but this cover, given the full EW&F treatment with their potent horn section front and centre, was head and shoulders above any other Beatle’s cover on the soundtrack.
5) In My Life by Johnny Cash – The subject matter and the fact that this was one of Cash’s last recordings makes this Rick Rubin stripped-down version even more poignant.
Honourable mentions go to
Eleanor Rigby by Aretha Franklin
Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da by The Marmalade
Dear Prudence by Siouxsie and the Banshees
Strawberry Fields Forever by Todd Rundgren
Come and Get It by Badfinger (although technically Badfinger released this track before The Beatles)
All of the above are all great versions of Beatles standards but my favourite Beatles cover isn’t available on vinyl or even as an audio download… fortunately though it was captured on film.
The song is ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps‘ and it was performed by an all star band as a tribute to George Harrison at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
The band consists of Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Steve Ferrone, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison, George’s son, who looks on in bewilderment as Prince steals the show with a captivating performance and guitar solo that his father (and Clapton) would have been proud of.