What Are The Best Cover Versions of Beatles Songs?

Beatles in Tuxedos Magical Mystery Tour Inside EP

Like brain surgery, rocket science or popping across the road for a quick drink with Bill Cosby, there are some things you need to really think about before you commit to going through with them.

It’s the same with performing a Beatles cover version. It is a truth universally acknowledged that you have to be either brave, stupid, or both to try to better the arrangement that The Fab Four chose themselves.

It seems that they considered every arrangement, and then found the best one before the rest of us had managed to even memorise the lyrics. The pop charts are a veritable graveyard of bad cover versions of Beatles records, from Candy Flip’s lamentable attempt at Strawberry Fields, William Shatner’s predictably so-bad-it’s-almost-good-but-actually-is-just-bad “Lucy In The Sky”, whilst if you have never heard Cathy Berberian’s cover of “Ticket To Ride” then just imagine Linda McCartney’s singing combined with Heather Mill’s whining, and you’ll have a pretty decent picture of what that sounds like.

However, there are some brave souls that have managed to transcend the original. Frank Sinatra may have described George Harrison’s “Something” as one of Lennon and McCartney’s finest songs, but few will deny the old crooner managed to pull off a decent attempt at it.

But it is going to take more than The Rat Pack to excite the turntable of Every Record Tells A Story. I have therefore trawled my record collection and, indeed, other people’s record collections to find the best cover versions of Beatles songs. There are a couple of obvious ones (that means you Joe Cocker) but also, I hope, a couple that may be new to you. All I can say is that I think these versions are so good, were they in Tesco, they would be in the “Finest” range, if in Sainsburys they would have “Taste The Difference” written across them, and if in Asda you’d find them buried under a load of cardboard boxes whilst someone trampled over you to nab the last fifty inch TV in the sale…

Here’s my first five, in no particular order. Five more next time….

Doris Troy – Get Back
Starts slow, but then those high tempo drums come kicking in, then the horns, and the song builds to a high energy version compared to the laid back groove of the original that appeared on Let It Be. Troy sang backing vocals on Dark Side of the Moon and was signed by The Beatles to Apple Records in 1969, releasing her self titled album the following year, co-produced by Troy and George Harrison.

Lowell Fulson – Why Don’t We Do It In The Road
Now this is a special one. A throwaway White Album song becomes a tour de force with a grinding riff in the hands of West Coast bluesman Fulson.

The Supremes – You Can’t Do That
Given that The Beatles began their days interpreting their favourite R&B hits from Motown (and elsewhere in the USA), it is no surprise that those artists were better than most at re-interpreting them back. This is a good example of a song that might have been written just for The Supremes.

Stevie Wonder – We Can Work It Out
This is so good, when Olly Murs covered We Can Work It Out on X-Factor, it was Wonder’s version, rather than The Beatles version, that he picked. And yes, there’s a *little* bit of sarcasm in that sentence. But it is a great cover, given a little extra twist of Stevie Wonder.

Joe Cocker – With A Little Help From My Friends
“It was just mind-blowing” said Paul McCartney about hearing Cocker’s version of this song for the first time. Cocker’s lung-busting calling card has topped these kind of lists for decades and they’re not wrong. NB. Jimmy Page played lead guitar on this track. RIP Joe.

Five more in the next post….

What’s your favourite?



Categories: Music

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26 replies

  1. I’ve always loved Junior Parker’s version of Taxman. It may or may not be the best cover version, but it’s the funkiest:

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  2. Excellent article and some fab choices. I made a playlist of Revolver covered a while back: http://open.spotify.com/user/minibreakfast/playlist/0IafQ0FJ6RdqQIxxshhIv2

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice list. I have three favourites – Aerosmith’s Come Together (produced by George Martin), Aerosmith’s Helter Skelter (out of all the rock bands that have covered it, I think their version is the best – I can’t stomach U2’s version), and a cover of Hey Bulldog by a late ’90s Britrock band called Honeycrack (who turn it into a very bubblegum pop song).

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  4. Awesome list! I was never really a Beatles fan so to say, but I appreciate the greatness of everything they created and the freedom they gave other artists to use their music. I enjoyed all of the performances by young artists in Across The Universe.
    Love the video too!

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  5. I can think of three attempts at “Helter Skelter” by hard rock/metal bands. Well, one wasn’t a band, she was Pat Benatar and hers was a reasonable attempt. Then Motley Crue recorded it on their “Shout at the Devil” album, again, not bad. The final version was done by Vow Wow in 1987 or 88.

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  6. Great post and very worthy topic!

    I’m not a huge Joe Cocker fan, but he does a great job of taking the song an making it to be something very different.

    Around here, favorites are The Fray’s cover of “Fixing a Hole” and Cornershop’s “Norwegian Wood.” Jason Faulkner of The Grays has some great instrumentals from Bedtime With The Beatles, which are a bit chilled out, but that’s the point of course

    I thought Ed Sheeran did a good job with “In My Life” on the tribute program last year.

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    • I like your taste in Beatles songs. I really liked the Cornershop version of Norwegian Wood – wasn’t expecting the song to be in a different language! It’s a lovely song to play on acoustic guitar, that one.
      The Fray version is nice enough, but the bass was bugging me for some reason, and so I played the original – and I think it just tells me what a great bass line McCartney came up with there, and what a great version The Beatles’ one is…

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  7. Awesome post! Made this Beatlemaniac very happy… I do Beatles covers myself, so I like being able to listen to how others interpret wonderful songs. (Or not so wonderful songs. I’d like to hear a ‘Revolution 9’ cover. Or even better, a cover of Johnandyoko’s ‘Two Virgins’ album…)
    My favourite Beatles cover — as I said in a recent post — is probably The Black Keys’ ‘She Said She Said’. The Joe Cocker cover is the centre of a large inside joke in my family, so I like it a lot. I shall have to give the others a listen…
    (But, y’know, my ACTUAL favourite Beatles covers are actually William Shatner’s ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, that screaming that Yoko did over Paul’s attempt to play ‘Martha My Dear’ at the Get Back Sessions, the Jonas Brothers’ ‘Hello Goodbye’, Miley Cyrus’s ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, Justin Bieber’s ‘Let It Be’, and of course One Direction’s ‘All You Need Is Love’. Not.)

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  8. One of my favorite Beatles tracks is “Tomorrow Never Knows.” It resonated with me when i first heard it at the age of 11. So when the it was covered as “TNK” by 801 (Phil Manzanera, Eno, Bill MacCormick, Simon Philips, Francis Monkman and LLoyd Watson) in 1976, I was delighted.
    (yes, it plods along compared to the original with Ringo’s intriguing drumming, but it was still fun to hear it being covered)

    P.S. The “I Am Sam” soundtrack has wonderfully beautiful covers.

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  9. Who can argue with The Fabs in any way shape or form? That said, for me a cover that “works” is one that finds something completely unexpected in an otherwise familiar song. Anyone can do a note-for-note cover (which seems to be the trend in recent years). You have to work to find something different, like the melancholy in this minor-key reworking of Paul McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face” by Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole.

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  10. Lovely list. Love Doris! Can’t agree about Joe Cocker though. I refer you to Bill Oddie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMaB0cqwcvI

    Here’s a list of Beatles covers I did myself just a few months ago: http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2014/oct/01/beatles-songs-cover-versions-10-of-the-best

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    • Hi Jon,

      Thanks for sharing this. Really enjoyed your playlist

      this afternoon.
      Particularly liked that version of Sexy Sadie which just goes off on one. the Score are new to me, and we’re good. I see that you included the Junior Parker “Tomorrow Never Knows” cover that is mentioned elsewhere on one of these threads and which I only heard for the first time earlier today – it is outstanding. Cornershop has also been suggested here – good to see some great minds thinking alike as well as some new suggestions.
      Charles Wright’s version was very good too.
      As for Bill Oddie? I’m as big a fan of The Goodies as anyone, but he can stick to Blackbirds. Nice parody though!
      Cheers again for sharing your article – that was a great read!

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  11. I hadn’t actually heard most of those! How exciting. I do adore the Cocker one of course, and really dig Bowie’s Across the Universe!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wilson Pickett’s Hey Jude is pretty special

    Liked by 1 person

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