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?