Listen Here: The Best Beatles Cover Versions (Part 2)

Welcome to the “liner notes” to the second of three mixes bringing you the very best Beatles cover versions.

You can hear all the tunes mentioned below by playing the embedded Mixcloud player at the top of the page, or by clicking this link for Mixcloud to open in a new tab. Mixcloud is a free service to listen to. Most of the songs mentioned below have been recorded directly from the original vinyl onto WAV file.

In the meantime, here’s some additional information about the songs and the musicians involved in making these great versions of The Beatles’ tunes. Enjoy!

Ike and Tina Turner’s album Workin’ Together reaches the top thirty in 1971 on the back of their most successful single “Proud Mary” and the album also featured two great Beatles covers, including this rip-snorting version of “Get Back”.

Junior Parker’s collaboration with organist Jimmy McGriff was a late highlight of Parker’s storied career, even if Robert Christgaugh disagreed, giving it a “C-“ in The Village Voice. Parker’s smooth vocals have aged better than Christgau’s immediate judgement, and the two Beatles covers on their album “The Dudes Doing Business” (later re-released as “Good Things Don’t Happen Every Day”) are minor treasures.

If ever there was a band to cover “Blackbird” then perhaps fellow avians Doves were the right one. Their typically atmospheric take on the White Album’s solo McCartney track was recorded for the soundtrack to series three of Sci-fi TV series Roswell in 2002 and is given just enough of a Doves treatment to make it worthwhile.

Paul McCartney saw Stevie Wonder perform at the Scotch of St James club in 1966, just as “We Can Work It Out” was dropping down the charts, having been at number one for five weeks. Wonder’s reworking of the folk-pop tune into a soul-funk smash hit the charts in 1971 on both sides of the Atlantic and is one of the most successful re-workings of the Fabs’ songs by any artist.

When Peter Gabriel left Genesis in August 1975 the record company announced portentiously he was leaving to concentrate on “other literary and experimental interests outside of music.”

In the event Gabriel spent some time with his wife and child and then got in the studio to record “Strawberry Fields Forever” for the soundtrack to “All This And World War II” an ill-fated film directed by Tony Palmer which combined news footage with Beatles cover tunes (after the film-makers failed to get agreement to use the Beatles’ originals). The 1976 soundtrack suffered from being swamped by MOR acts and flowery arrangements, but sold modestly well and did better than the film.

The Pathfinders were from Glasgow, managed by former Cliff Richard and the Shadows drummer Tony Meehan, and signed a contract with Apple on the back of their cover of a Carole King song “Road To Nowhere”. The Apple House Hippy (yes, there was such a thing. Doesn’t your office have one?) Richard DiLello changed their name, and it seemed a good idea until the BBC told Tony Bramwell they wouldn’t play the new single for Apple’s newest act, White Trash, because their name was offensive. The new single was called “Golden Slumbers”, and was a cover version of a track due to be released the very same day on The Beatles’ Abbey Road LP.

The group and their manager only mildly objected, so Pathfinder/White Trash became known as “Trash”. The advertising slogan for the band was that they began where The Cream left off, which was snappy, but not very accurate. Sadly the debut of “Golden Slumbers” reached only the lower reaches of the U.K. top 40 before disappearing without trace, at least until Elbow and a John Lewis advert revived its chart action in 2017.

The Beatles idolised Fats Domino and met him in 1964 in New Orleans when support artist Clarence “Frogman” Henry said he could arrange it. “They found him getting groceries in a store or something” recalled McCartney. Domino covered three Beatles tunes: Lovely Rita, Lady Madonna, and this White Album track “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey” which he released as a single in 1969.

Ray Charles’ version of Eleanor Rigby was a top 40 hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1968. Charles’ version retains the strings, but uses a trademark call and response to put his personality and style on the song, in the same way Aretha Franklin did when she sang “I’m Eleanor Rigby”. Franklin also recorded “The Fool on The Hill” in January 1969 for her album “This Girl’s In Love With You” with the song making the track listing on early copies of the LP. However, perhaps three Beatles covers on one album was deemed too many and the song itself remained unreleased until 2007 when it appeared on the “Rare and Unreleased” collection.

Another song recorded for the “All This and World War II” soundtrack was Bryan Ferry’s cover of “She’s Leaving Home”. The original song was inspired by the story of 17 year old teenage runaway Melanie Coe published in the Daily Mail in February 1967. Paul McCartney saw a quote from her father “I cannot imagine why she should run away. She has everything here”, which is echoed in the Greek chorus of the song. Melanie Coe returned home shortly after the newspaper article was published (she ran off with a croupier rather than a man from the motor trade). Years later Coe ended up a dancer on TV show Ready Steady Go! where she won a mime competition the week The Beatles appeared on the show. She was presented with her prize… by Paul McCartney.

Bryan Ferry is better known for his cover, with Roxy Music, of Jealous Guy, so it is nice to hear another version, this time by Donny Hathaway. Hathaway gives a terrific performance and this take, recorded at The Bitter End venue in New York, was from his 1972 Live album.

James Brown’s 1973 cover of “Something” was left languishing on the b-side of his “Think” single. With its funky mid section it is certainly transformed from the genteel classic ballad about Patti Boyd the Beatles originally recorded. All the Beatles loved James Brown and Harrison famously loved Brown’s version, saying “It was one of his B sides. I have it on my jukebox at home. It’s absolutely brilliant.”

Peru’s We All Together were one of just a few Peruvian bands to be strongly influenced by British and American music which became more difficult to come by under the military dictatorship established by Juan Velasco Alvarado in 1968, which disapproved of rock and roll, and banned Carlos Santana from playing in the country. We All Together were big fans of Lennon and McCartney in particular. They recorded a single (and album) in 1972 which incorporated two songs from Wings’ debut album. The first we heard in the previous mix and the other side contained this terrific version of “Tomorrow”.

“Savoy Truffle”’s lyrics take the listener through the contents of Mackintosh’s chocolate selection box “Good News”, which those of us of a certain age may actually remember tucking into at Christmas. It is unlikely Ella Fitzgerald ever found herself scoffing a box down during the festive season, but you never know, and her version of George Harrison’s song is certainly moreish, appearing on her 1969 album “Ella”. At this stage of her career, Fitzgerald was being encouraged to record more popular songs for Capitol Records, and this album also featured a swinging version of “Got To Get You Into My Life”.

Joyce Bond was not the only artist to cover Oh Bla Di. Arthur Conley, Marmalade (who took the song to #1 in the UK), The Heptones, No Doubt and even Bing Crosby all have covered McCartney’s reggae song featuring a phrase he first heard at the Bag o’ Nails club in Kingley St uttered by Nigerian Congo player Jimmy Scott. The phrase means “Life Goes On”. Bond recorded her version for Decca records in 1968 – the same year The Beatles released it on The White Album – and the following year it appeared on the first of the successful series of reggae compilation LPs that went by the name of “Tighten Up”.

Rocky Racoon may not have been Paul McCartney’s finest hour, but in the same way Aretha Franklin added some catchy “sock it to me” vocal lines to her version of Otis Redding’s “Respect” so Lena Horne added a playful “Gettup, Gettup, Gettup” refrain to this which transforms the song. Horne‘s career began as a member of the chorus line of New York’s Cotton Club, where African American people were allowed to perform, but would not be served as customers. She signed with MGM to make movies but ran up against racial barriers: her films had to be re-edited for showing in cities where theatres would not show films with black performers. After leaving Hollywood Horne became, in 1958, the first African American woman to be nominated for a Tony award. Her 1970 album with Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo “Lena & Gabor” also covered “Something”, and her next album covered McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”, but this song is noteworthy as there aren’t many covers a) of Rocky Raccoon and b) that are better than a Beatles original.

801 was an experimental rock band formed by Roxy Music alumni Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno in 1976, while Roxy was on hiatus. Released during the height of Punk, the live album was not a huge seller, but the version of Tomorrow Never Knows, re-named TNK, was a real success.

The Deep Purple you hear on their 1968 debut LP “Shades Of Deep Purple” is a very different band to the one you hear on 1970’s “In Rock”, not just because singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper left the band in between. Deep Purple’s debut album shows a band exploring prog, acid rock and psychedelia. There’s a Cream cover, there’s Hey Joe, there’s the hit single – a cover of Joe South’s “Hush” – and there’s this twisting and turning cover of Help! which embraces several styles of rock all in one meandering song – and which gained McCartney’s admiration. The album reached #24 in the US charts, and the mark II line up would go on to be one of the three biggest heavy rock bands of the seventies, alongside Led Zep and Black Sabbath, neither of which covered a Beatles song.

Our final song comes from Herbie Mann, jazz flautist extraordinaire. His cover of “Come Together” appears on his 1970 LP Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty which brought together the worlds of jazz and soul, and featured Roy Ayers on “vibes” (vibraphone) and – as the title of the album suggests – the Muscle Shoals house rhythm section that had played on hits by Aretha Franklin and many others.

Thanks for tuning in – part 3 next time.



Categories: Music

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2 replies

  1. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Swiss tech-thrash band, Coroner, did an awesome cover of “I Want You (She’s SO Heavy”) on their 1991 album, Mental Vortex. They were ahead of their time in the mid-to-late 80s metal scene — folks just weren’t ready for them, I guess. But fabulous musicians. I love this cover. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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