The greatest testament to the greatness of a song, or the songwriter(s), is how many artists have remade them. In the case of The Beatles, there is no surprise that their songs have been covered time and time again. The Beatles – as a collective (Lennon/McCartney) – are the most successful songwriters of the twentieth century, even before you throw in the equally brilliant contributions of George Harrison to The Beatles song catalog.
The list of performers that have covered tunes from The Beatles library consists some of the greatest artists in popular music, spanning almost half a century. Elvis Presley, Aerosmith, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson and even William Shatner are just a few names on an ever-growing list. In May of 2010, at the concert held for flood relief in Nashville, country singer Keith Urban delivered a moving performance of John Lennon’s Help,which was one of the best renditions of the classic Beatles tune I’ve yet heard (Click here).
I’ve chosen eight Beatles covers (nine if you include the Keith Urban cover) that I have come to love, in some cases as much as the original. By no means do I mean this as a definitive list, or make claim that these are the best out of all The Beatles songs that have ever been covered, and there is no telling if there may be more lists in the future. Before you read further, click play and listen along. Whether you are a Beatles fan or not, I think there is no denying the timelessness of the songs, or the talent of the artists who covered them.
“We Can Work It Out” by Stevie Wonder
Okay, so I promised no favorites, but this one is just the bees knees. It’s a funk fest of a Beatles tune, with strong Beatles elements of tambourine and harmonica, an instrument that Stevie and John Lennon shared in common (although John didn’t play it on the original track). Combined with a funked up guitar, keyboard, bass and drum track, this track gives fresh spin to a song that had already proved itself by reaching number one on the Billboard charts.
“I Want To Hold Your Hand” by Al Green
The Reverend puts his heart and “soul” into this Beatles number. I was introduced to this number by another DJ, and was wholly impressed with Al Green’s rendition. It almost takes a moment or two to actually register that it’s a Beatles tune as Green certainly makes it his own. In his own words, “We got the feeling now”. Yeah Al, we got it alright.
“Magical Mystery Tour” by Cheap Trick
I can’t think of Cheap Trick without remembering Mike Damone in Fast Times at Ridgemont High trying to hawk off some of their tickets,“Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?” Well, I remember, and Rick and Robin and the rest of the band deliver a fitting tribute with this Beatles classic. Listen to the backup singing, which sounds hauntingly… Beatles.
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by Elton John
Elton is the quintessential “rock star” of the 1970’s, and like The Beatles, a giant in songwriting and recording with the help of his collaborator, Bernie Taupin. Elton is admittedly also a very big Beatles fan, having recorded the number one duet Whatever Gets You Through The Night with John Lennon, coercing his return to the stage alongside Elton to perform it live. Elton’s cover of Lucy is brilliant, with a fresh and unique arrangement while at the same time keeping true to its original flavor. At about halfway into the song Elton breaks into a pseudo-reggae groove, which, although short, is one of the shining highlights of this remake.
“With A Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker
Ringo Starr sang the original, in his unique and whimsical Ringo style. Cocker gives a heavier, and perhaps more heartfelt performance in his recording of Billy Shears song. Less bouncy and certainly more gritty (in the typical Joe Cocker fashion), this version is a complete alternative to The Beatles version, and although it is a cover, it almost leaves one feeling it’s a different song altogether. It’s also one of the many Beatles tunes that was performed live at Woodstock , at which The Beatles themselves were absent.
“Here Comes The Sun” by Richie Havens
At the 1969 Woodstock festival, Richie Havens performed three Beatles tunes, but Here Comes The Sun was not included in that lineup. This is the first George Harrison song on the list, and has become a signature song of Richie Havens. Several versions exist, some much longer than others with a long guitar jam before he goes into the lyrics. Although I will always love the original, I have an equal love for Havens cover, which charted at number sixteen on the U.S. Billboard charts in 1971.
“Got To Get You Into My Life” by Earth, Wind and Fire
It is with this song that I shall break the holy tenants of Beatledom by saying that, in my humble opinion, this is a better version than the original (ducking for cover). That said, I am perhaps ruining any possibility of a sit down to tea and a chat with Sir Paul, but be that as it may I have to give credit where credit is due. The Beatles version is good, but it’s almost as if it were written for E,W&F’s powerful horn and rhythm sections, and vocally they nail it. Many of you who know the tune may not have even known it’s a Lennon/McCartney track, but, it most certainly is.
“In My Life” by Johnny Cash
As somber as any Johnny Cash performance, Cash takes this Beatles tune and with virtually no re-arrangement, makes it his own with his distinctly Johnny Cash style. If you’re a Beatles fan, or a Johnny Cash fan, or both, there is no denying that Johnny does this song the kind of justice that it deserves, keeping with the spirit and then some, as perhaps only Johnny Cash could have done.