on this day: covering the beatles

So.beatles covers

This is about Beatles as a cover band … and to my sister’s chagrin <possibly one of the biggest appreciators of Beatles all time> … covers of Beatles songs.

Why now? Two reasons.

Well. On July 16th in 1963 the Beatles had one of their best BBC sessions where they played requests on the radio <covering other artists songs as requested as well as some of their own ‘work-in-progress’ stuff>.


I was standing at Dave’s Cosmic Subs having just ordered my mother’s favorite, Dave’s Meatball Sub, when I overhear the young college coed behind the counter say “this is the only Beatles cover I think is worth a shit” … and what do I hear?

Joe Cocker singing “with a little help from my friends”. It is a classic.


–          With a Little Help from My Friends:  Cocker’s onstage machinations and his vocal reinterpretation of With a Little Help from My Friends is possibly the ultimate iconic Beatles cover. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCrlyX6XbTU


Look. I had trepidations writing about Beatles covers because when it comes to covers, especially Beatles covers, it can be difficult to really appreciate them because … well … frankly they aren’t better than the originals.

Most Beatles songs are so perfect … perfectly arranged, perfect length, perfect lyrics, perfectly performed … that any cover versions don’t sound right because they were … well … perfect in the first place.


In the 4 decades since the Beatles broke up … the band has impacted and influenced music in ways I don’t believe any of us could have imagined. McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and even Ringo have written songs that are as familiar to us as any songs we can remember. These songs have inspired us <listeners> as well as the musicians we listen to now.

Suffice it to say … I cannot think of one cover that is better than the Beatles original.

With that said.

I find a lot of enjoyment in a number of covers because they do a good job of reinterpreting the originals. I like when the new artist shows some creativeness and maybe even sounds a little off from the original because that’s the point of the cover.


Before I get to the covers of the Beatles songs … let me take a minute and talk about the Beatles as a cover band.

Whoa. Hard to believe that the Beatles were ever at a point in their career where they would not only play other artist’s songs … but actually take requests to do so.

They would wander into the BBC studios in 1963/64 and hook up the instruments and take calls for requests.

For example … in 1963 …

BBC Paris Studios, London. 3.00-5.00pm. Recording for BBC’s ‘Pop Go The Beatles’ (8th edition): ‘Pop Goes The Beatles’; ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You)’; ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping’; ‘Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!’; ‘To Know Her Is To love Her’; ‘The Honeymoon Song’; ‘Twist And Shout’; ‘Pop Goes The Beatles’. Here is Twist & Shout from that session:



As well as “Words of Love”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTG4abHBBhA


They did Long Tall Sally in a BBC Paris Studio, London. 6.00-8.30pm the same day.

<on a separate note: they also recorded Here Comes the Sun on July 16th in 1969 but this post is on covers>


beatles goodNow.

Beyond the Beatles covering songs <to give my post some legitimacy> I am now going to take a stab at sharing several musicians who I believe have given some amazingly fresh perspective to some of the Beatles originals.


To begin … I do have to step back in time with another older musician because not only is it a great cover but a spectacular story about a spectacular musician in his own right.

Jimi Hendrix.

First. The story.

Jimi Hendrix – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  There are moments in Rock n’ Roll history that serve as beacons of iconic transcendence, moments that stand out when musing on what point in music history we’d go back to if we had a time machine. On June 4th, 1967, three days after the release of Sgt. Pepper, Paul McCartney and George Harrison attended one of Jimi Hendrix’s first London shows in Saville Theatre. To their surprise, Hendrix opened his set with the title track to the Beatles’ newly released record.

McCartney recalls the night: “It’s still obviously a shining memory for me, because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished. To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honors of my career.

Second. The song itself … the live version that reminds you how great Hendrix was: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLEboBA-Xzk



Here is my Beatles cover list <in no particular order> of not only ones I like … but in my gut … I believe the Beatles would have appreciated.


Annie Clark <St. Vincent>- Dig a Pony

I begin with this one because it is frickin’ good. Annie Clark gives a an extraordinarily minimalist take on the only song recorded from the band’s famous Apple Rooftop performance. A distorted and fantastically chaotic solo at the song’s midpoint excellently complements Lennon’s deliberately nonsensical lyrics. Amazing rendition. Lennon would have loved it.

Long video if you want to be introduced to Annie <and St. Vincent> before the song begins.

<Dig a Pony begins around 3:35>



Aimee Mann & Michael PennTwo of Us

This track makes me think the married couple would do fine to give up their solo careers and make music together. They give this song … which already had a nice uplifting feel … an additional optimistic lift. It becomes a song from … well … two of us. Separately … it’s the best track of the strong Beatles tribute cd … the movie I Am Sam soundtrack.



Peter ToshHere Comes the Sunbeatles snob

Apparently Tosh <who was a founding member of the Wailers with Bob Marley> was not the most optimistic guy in the world.  Maybe that is why his reggae adaptation of such a beautifully optimistic song works so well.



EmmyLou Harris – For no One

Emmylou Harris’s cover of Paul McCartney’s heartrending depiction of a relationship gone awry offers a kind of motherly comfort and retrospection to the original. McCartney’s narrator in the original is confused and baffled by his partner’s sudden change of heart, but Harris’ narrator instead evokes understanding and acceptance.

Beautiful song. Beautiful rendition. I think Paul would like it.



The Black Keys – She Said She Said

First. The story behind She Said She Said is among the most amusing in the Beatles’ songwriting history. Tripping on acid at a Los Angeles party in 1965, John Lennon kept being badgered by actor Peter Fonda who incessantly pestered the Beatle with the phrase “I know what it’s like to be dead.” Lennon, so infuriated and frightened by Fonda’s untimely remarks (they were all tripping on acid after all), never let go of the memory and wrote She Said She Said as a dig at the actor.

Second.  I imagine The Black Keys’ cover would frighten <but not infuriate> Lennon just as much. It is completely stripped of its psychedelia and instead recreated with that typical Key’s jangly but stiff riff … and unrelentless distortion. I personally do not like the Black Keys but this is really well done.



The Breeders – Happiness Is a Warm Gun

Beyond Dig a Pony this may be my second favorite. Kim Deal infuses her inner  Pixie to the Breeders <with her sister> version of Happiness is a Warm Gun to inspire an even greater dark version of Happiness … to an already dark side of the Beatles.

It is jagged, they play like they are angry, and it feels twice as dangerous. This is an awesome example of a cover being done in its own style disregarding anything anyone may hold precious to the original. Plus … its Kim Deal for god’s sake <I believe Lennon would have loved it>.


<and  a live version just because the Breeders are one of the underrated bands in our lifetime>



Alison Krauss – I Will

Whew. This girl can sing. Whew. The Beatles could write a love song.

Krauss makes it hard to believe this was a Beatles song and not some classic country hit.

<a beautiful long intro to produced version>



<a live version to show how effortlessly she delivers the goods> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOvUQrG29VY


Aerosmith – Come Together

I hesitate to include this one because it is so commercial … but then I realized this is a contemporary version <and salute to Beatles> of Cocker/Hendrix doing the Beatles. Plus … Aerosmith puts such a swagger to a song that already had a boatload of swagger in it … and … well … its Aerosmith doing the Beatles.



Fiona Apple – Across the Universe

I really love this cover. Beautiful song in the first place … Fiona makes it languidly beautiful. She is a little bit of a wackjob but Fiona Apple has a beautiful voice and it works perfectly with this song … she pretty much nails it as she listlessly meanders through the song. This song was featured on the Pleasantville soundtrack.


beatles young covers

There you go.

July 16th and the Beatles.

There were a lot of songs I considered … In my Life being my favorite Beatles song of all time had an extraordinarily long list of possibilities … but in the end … the Beatles songs are so perfect they are difficult to do memorable covers of. That said. My list is short & sweet.

Hope you enjoyed.

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Written by Bruce