Greatest Beatles Covers

Left o’ the Dialian DT axed (in part):

have their been any truly GREAT Beatles covers?

Great question and, wow, there really are a dearth of great—or even good—Beatles covers, aren’t there? I wonder if that’s less because the material is difficult than because most artists shy away from it, either out of reverence or fear. I mean, it is a little bit like trying to recreate the Sistine Chapel: maybe you could do a credible job, but it’s unlikely (to put it mildly) that you’ll actually improve upon it.

So I like Paul Westerberg’s “Nowhere Man” a lot, but it’s not like it’s going to come close to replacing the original in my heart—and I say that as a stone Replacements fanatic.

I was serious when I said that U2’s “Helter Skelter” is nearly great, but the way Bono butchers the lyric is either inexcusable if accidental or positively hideous in its narcissism if intentional. Which is a shame.

If Sonic Youth had ever followed through on their threat to record all of The White Album, THAT would have been a thing of at least sporadic majesty, I’m quite sure. Alas, they didn’t. They did cover “Within You Without You,” which is nice…but…I mean…you know. Don’t make me say it.

And speaking of, George Harrison toured Japan in the early 90s with Eric Clapton and his band: does their version of “If I Needed Someone” count? ‘cuz it was pretty great, especially Clapton’s guitar work.

Oh, and of course, Prince and Sir Paul and Tom Petty and the rest covering “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was genius entirely on the basis of The Purple One’s inhumanly incendiary guitar work.

I do think Aerosmith’s “Come Together” is great, if not quite Great. But Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Got to Get You Into My Life” IS Great, with that thar capital G. Certainly in the Top Ten and maybe the Top Five, no matter how horrific the film for which it was recorded. Wish the song started earlier here, rather than almost a minute into the clip. Life’s too damn short.

David Bowie’s “Across the Universe,” on the other hand? Dreck.

And great as he clearly was, and cool as it was to cover it when it was about two days old, I don’t think Jimi’s “Sgt Pepper’s/With a Little Help from My Friends” is up to his standards, although that may be because the rest of the Experience was, well, the rest of the Experience, and not really up to his standards, much less that of the Beatles.

And don’t even talk to me about “Revolution” by the Thompson Twins…although Tiffany’s “I Saw Her Standing There” was delectable. And you know what? Yeah, The Carpenters’ version of “Ticket to Ride” was all lounge lizard oozing nastiness…but even so, Karen’s voice was nothing but pure goodness. What an amazing instrument. So rich and gorgeous with that ever-present heartbreaking melancholy shot right through.

World Party did a nice but pointlessly note-perfect cover of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” Similarly, Elliott Smith covered quite a bit of Beatles material, such as “Because,” and did so beautifully.

But beyond it being his voice rather than John’s, Paul’s and/or George’s, what’s the point? Okay, it’s lovely—and it is…but so what? What did it illuminate that the earlier version hadn’t already? What did it bring to the table? Again, it’s wonderful, but not really necessary. A pleasant b-side tribute.

Although the same can’t necessarily be said for his live covers, where he did bring something new: his unique vulnerability, which adds a new layer to the song.

I don’t actually like Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends,” but it’s hard to argue that it’s not pretty great.

Obviously, leaving a whole bunch out, but at the end of the day, I think there are only really a few Beatles covers that are Truly Great, or at least close enough for jazz and no surprise, they’re by masters.

If Elvis had gotten the words right (what’s so damn hard about that?!) to “Hey Jude,” that’d prolly be the all-time champ. Alas, he did not. His “Yesterday” is pretty damn great, though—not surprisingly—but I think the background vocals detracts from the ultimate effect: a song about loss where you’ve got a bunch of soulful ladies backing you up kinda sends mixed messages to the song’s detriment.

Stevie Wonder’s “We Can Work It Out” is vintage Stevie, which is to say, it’s one of the greatest American musicians ever doing what he does, which is simply better than all but a handful of the greatest ever:

But there’s one who is, I think even better, someone who’s a master but certainly not in Stevie’s league because, honestly, who is? Who else can trump both Paul McCartney and Prince in terms of sheer talent? Not this guy. But the gravitas he brings to his cover lays waste to even Stevie’s infectious exuberance.

Which leaves…Johnny Cash doing “In My Life.”

Little if any of the beauty of the original but with a craggy grandeur as magnificent as Dakota’s badlands. I suspect John Lennon himself would have been awed.


About the other scott peterson

Writer of comics and books and stuff.
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4 Responses to Greatest Beatles Covers

  1. KathyR says:

    Some good stuff you got there.
    What about: “Eleanor Rigby.” Ray Charles. And/or Aretha.
    Ray covered “Yesterday” and “Let It Be,” too.
    Always liked the EW&F thing.

  2. DT says:

    Johnny Cash was a tape-measure shot. And you stood there proudly and defiantly and watched it sail into the night. Well done. Showoff.
    I am beginning to think that the breadth of Cash’s magnificent covers – this one, “Hurt,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down” to name just a few -he might be the finest songwriter/cover artist who ever lived.

  3. Steve E says:

    Not really a Beatles cover but Jem’s version of Maybe I’m Amazed is lovely. I would like to have heard the Beatles cover of Paul’s classic.

  4. shannon says:

    “Taxman” by Stevie Ray Vaughn rocks.
    “In My Life” by Dave Matthews is another favorite of mine.

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