This is the third and final chapter in the “Without The Beatles” series – a chance to hear some of the best Beatles cover versions around while reading the “liner notes” below to give you a little more context around what you are listening to.
As before, you can hear all these tracks – which have in the majority of cases been ripped from the original vinyl and converted into a WAV file to ensure the best sound quality – either by clicking the Mixcloud Player button above, or by clicking this link which will take you to the Mixcloud app.
We start the final part of our Beatles cover versions mix with “Come Together” by Ike and Tina Turner. The song was released as a single in December 1969, fresh off the back of their touring with the Rolling Stones. The newer “rock” direction proved popular and the Turners also covered “Evil Woman” on the subsequent album of the same name – a song Black Sabbath also covered on their debut LP (now there’s a trivia question for you), although Tina gender-swapped it to “Evil Man”.
Our third cover in this series by Junior Parker is again with Jimmy McGriff. McGriff was a policeman before playing organ professionally after being inspired by Richard “Groove” Holmes (featured on an earlier mix) who played at his sister’s wedding – which must have been a funkier wedding than most of us have had. The album McGriff and Parker recorded together also featured Bernard Purdie on drums, the same man who played on the soundtrack of the 1978 Sgt Pepper film. “The Inner Light” is not a commonly covered song, so their version is all the better for that.
RB Greaves was Sam Cooke’s nephew and sold a million copies of his debut single “Take A Letter Maria” in 1969, followed by a top 40 hit in the US with “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me”. He recorded this great version of Paperback Writer in 1971. The song was not a hit, sadly, and Greaves slipped back into obscurity.
Not so much a Beatles cover as a deconstruction of both Jay Z’s a capella vocals on his Black Album and The White Album, 2004’s Gray Album, a mash up produced by unknown producer Danger Mouse received attention from EMI who attempted to ban it on copyright grounds. Sadly for EMI, back in 2004 illegal downloading was rife, and the publicity only contributed to 100,000 additional downloads. The song took elements of Glass Onion and Savoy Truffle behind Jay Z’s original Encore vocals. Danger Mouse went on to produce Gorillaz, Black Keys and Adele and co-founded Gnarls Barkley. He has since won six Grammys.
The Score’s 1966 version of “Please Please Me” appeared on Decca records and sank without trace and without charting until it appeared on a series of eighties compilation albums of late 1960s British psych “classics” called Chocolate Soup For Diabetics. It’s a belting version, and even includes a nod to The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” in there too.
Booker T and the MGs (or “Book a Table and the Maitre D’s, as Lennon referred to them in his song “Beef Jerky””) recorded their cover of the entire Abbey Road album in 1970, and called it McLemore Avenue after the road in which the Stax Studios were situated in Memphis. The racially integrated (when such a thing was rare) house band for Stax backed hundreds of records including those by Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and Otis Redding, and also scored their own hits with “Green Onions” and ultimate immortality with “Soul Limbo”, the theme music for Test Match Special. The cover of McLemore Avenue is an affectionate tribute to The Beatles’ original cover of Abbey Road. A cover of a cover, if you like.
The Beatles always said they liked Esther Phillips’ cover of “And I Love Her”, but someone else who covered the song, in 1981, was Rocksteady pioneer Alton Ellis. Ellis started his career in 1959 as part of the Jamaican duo Alton & Eddy with Eddy Parkins. However, his partner won a talent show and moved to America, so Ellis took work as a printer, and drifted away from music until he lost his job in the mid ‘60s. His subsequent hit as Alton Ellis and The Flames’ “Girl I’ve Got A Date” is one of the foundations of the Rocksteady genre.
In 1970 Lulu was a 21 year old veteran, married to a Bee Gee and fresh off a Eurovision Song Contest win with Boom Bang-a-Bang (which beat a song called “I Can’t Go On” written by fledgling songwriters Elton John and Bernie Taupin). She even had her own TV series on BBC1 with guests which included Jimi Hendrix. Five years had passed since her cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and three since “To Sir With Love” and it was time to expand her musical horizons at Muscle Shoals studio for Atlantic records. Her first Muscle Shoals album recorded the previous year at 3614 Jackson Highway was “New Routes”, featuring Duane Allman on guitar, from which Lulu scored a top 30 US hit with ”Oh Me Oh My”.
The follow up, Melody Fair, recorded with The Dixie Flyers and The Memphis Horns, contained “Good Day Sunshine”, and was perhaps the better album, but didn’t sell as well.
Otis Redding recorded his up-tempo version of “Day Tripper” the year after The Beatles’ own version had been recorded in a flurry of recording activity over a few days that also included the birth of “Drive My Car”. According to Ian McDonald’s “Revolution in the Head” “Drive My Car” had been influenced by Otis Redding’s arrangement of “Respect” in which a riff had been played on both bass and guitar, so Redding is paying a compliment back to the Fabs on this track.
The Ramsey Lewis Trio found success with their jazzy covers of pop songs, scoring three top twenty US hits by 1966, including “The In Crowd”. “A Hard Day’s Night” was released as a single on Chess Records that year and got close to the heady heights of previous singles, reaching number 29 on the Billboard charts.
Aretha Franklin’s “Long and Winding Road”is described by Rolling Stone journalist Rob Sheffield as “the greatest of all Beatle covers — the one that improves most on the original and defines everything the song is about”. It appeared on her 1972 album “Young, Gifted and Black”. Paul McCartney wrote the song about the B842 – a road that runs down the East Coast of Kintyre into Campbeltown. When Franklin sings “Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried” you know she’s not just bemoaning the lack of a Little Chef on a cold, Scottish coastal road.
When Paul McCartney turned seventy in 2012, Paul Weller said he wanted to do something to mark the occasion. “The man’s been, and still is, an immense and enduring inspiration for me. It was him and his three friends that made me want to pick up a guitar in the first place” said Weller. He recorded “Birthday” and made it available to download for just one day – with proceeds going to War Child.
The Millington sisters, June and Jean were spotted at an open mic slot in 1969 and their band, Wild Honey, was signed by a record company executive in search of an all-female rock group. Re-named Fanny, they produced five albums by 1975, with their third album, Fanny Hill (1972) featuring the Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick. It included this excellent cover – with new lyrics – of the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog“
While Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover of Dear Prudence is better known, Brad Mehldau’s version certainly catches the ear. Mehldau is an American jazz pianist who has also gained attention with his excellent covers of Radiohead songs.
Aerosmith recorded a few Beatles covers after appearing in the Sgt Pepper movie in 1978. “Come Together” and “Helter Skelter” were recorded in the seventies, but better still was their rip roaring cover of “I’m Down” from 1987’s Permanent Vacation album.
Vince Guaraldi is best known for his jazzy piano playing with his eponymous Trio on the soundtrack to those Peanuts cartoons in the sixties, which started with “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Guaraldi sadly died of a heart attack in 1976 aged just 47 during a halftime break to a concert he was playing. The last song he played before leaving the stage was one he originally recorded in 1967 with “Peppermint Patty” on the b-side. That song was “Eleanor Rigby”.
John Lennon may have written Help! but David Porter was no slouch in the songwriting department either, with credits and Grammy awards from songs including Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’” and Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”. His version of Help! appeared on his 1971 concept album, Victim of the Joke?…An Opera: his third solo LP.
The Paragons are best known for their hit “The Tide is High” later covered by Blondie and written by John Holt, who also happened to duet with Alton Ellis, mentioned earlier. Their cover of Blackbird (re-named “Blackbird Singing”) is one of the best out there. Just check out that bass.
Drawing to a close, we have one of the finest covers of any Beatles track: Wilson Pickett’s seminal version of Hey Jude, featuring an unknown session musician called Duane Allman on lead guitar, and recorded at Fame Studios.
Allman reportedly talked Pickett into recording the song – something of a departure given the dissimilar nature of Pickett’s and McCartney’s vocal styles, but the guitarist was right – it’s a tremendous vocal, and the guitar playing isn’t too shabby either, attracting the attention of Eric Clapton who was sufficiently moved to ask the head of Atlantic Records (Ahmet Ertugun) to find out who the unknown session musician playing on the record was – especially as he was credited under an assumed name. Without this record, we may never have had “Layla”.
Our final track is from the only man to be co-credited alongside The Beatles on a track – Billy Preston (begging the question is this really a cover version if it features the original artist?). Our journey through The Beatles’ cover versions began with Doris Troy’s version of “Get Back, and it will end with this version by Preston, from his 1973 “Live European Tour” album, featuring The Rolling Stones’ Mick Taylor soaring on lead guitar..