Top ten Beatles cover versions
The Beatles learnt their trade playing covers and many of their early albums are littered with them. For a band stuffed full of great songwriters they were perfectly happy to play other people’s songs, taking a mixture of well known tunes and obscurities they would do that rarest of things and enhance the original.
At the same time the band cottoned on quick that writing their own songs would be a better payer than doing covers and they already had a stockpile of 150 songs ready before they even signed a deal, despite this they were still the kings of the cover version.
The Beatles did great covers learning their chops from Motown, early rock n roll and rockabilly. They were one of the rawest rock n roll band’s to ever come out of the UK and they really understood the guts of great rock n roll like the following example.
The band were expert mimics and could cover anything at the drop of a hat. In their own compositions you can hear snippets of so many types of music that they learned from those long nights in Hamburg covering everything from pure Rock n roll to old show tunes.
Twist and Shout
The last track recorded in that legendary 12 hour set for the debut 1963 ‘Please Please Me’ album was an incendiary version of the Isley Bothers classic. The song would never sound this ripped, this visceral, this exciting again . It features of the greatest vocals of all time as the Beatles proved that they were arguably the best ever British rock n roll bands. When you slip behind Brian Epstein’s carefully coiffured loveable moptop image you still have the leathered up, Hamburg playing, youth gang investing these songs with a carnal lust and rock n roll fire. Recorded at the end of the album session for added extra rasp, this is one of the great all time rock n roll vocals, few singers have sounded this unbridled and this powerful and few have ever managed to define the exhilaration of rock n roll so perfectly as John Lennon here.
The Beatles never sounded darker or meaner than on this 1965 cover of the Larry Williams song. Featuring that hooky guitar line and Lennon’s seething, downright dark and nasty vocal, it was like punk rock arriving too early and another great notch in the Beatles rock n roll credentials.
MoneyAlmost like Twist and Shout part 2, this was another example of John Lennon’s pure rock n roll vocal. ‘Money’ was released on 1963’s ‘With The Beatles’ and was certainly another larynx buster. The Barrett Strong song, the first hit for Motown and the first song to be covered by both the Beatles and the Stones, had never sounded better and the pure lust for money and all the possibilities presented by life would be a harbinger for the sixties- a decade when people believed that everything was possible and everything was, ironically free.
Long Tall SallyLittle Richard was a big influence on the Beatles and had taught Paul McCartney his high pitched scream at a 1962 Liverpool gig where the Beatles supported the Macon Peach. Paul proved his rock n roll credentials with this scream littered, on the verge of breakdown, 1964 recording of the song for the Long Tall Sally EP. It was so successfully executed that they returned to Little Richard a year later for another exhilarating run through, this time for an exhilarating take on Dizzy Miss Lizzie for the 1965 Help album- the last proper cover they recorded and released, unless you count the Maggie May cover on the Let It Be album.
Rock n Roll MusicThe Rolling Stones are more famous for their love of Chuck Berry but the Beatles were no slouches when it came to covering one of the great American song writers. Released on the 1964 Beatles For Sale album this was another great Lennon vocal. The Beatles had already covered Chuck Berry’ ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ but rock n roll music shades it with it sense of urgency and celebration of rock n roll. This really bounces along.
Everyone’s Trying to Be My BabyGeorge was always a big Carl Perkins fan and this choice of Perkins song perfectly gives the young, pre mysticism George, a chance to work its deadpan humour in this romp released on 1964’s Beatles For Sale. George’s youthful naivety really adds to the song that gives it twist that the original quite possibly didn’t intend.
Act NaturallyRingo is often sniffed at for his drumming, we already have a blog on the site about this stating the case for him being one of the key drummers from the decade. It made perfect sense for him to sing in the Beatles. He also had a fine crooning voice and was already known as a singer when he played in band’s before Beatles when he would get his own spot or Starr time as it was called. Act Naturally was a perfect showcase for his droll voice and was released on 1965’s ‘Help’.
Kansas CityAnother exuberant and ebullient workout for Paul McCartney from 1964’s Beatles For Sale album, this rips along on the surf of sixties optimism and it’s coda of hey hey’s is as about as exiting as guitar rock n roll can get. It’s on the same album as their cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Words Of Love’ which is worth a mention for it’s referencing of Buddy Holly who was a key influence on the band from his vocals to his jangling, yet razor sharp guitar workout and his marrying of rock n roll to pop music.
Three Cool CatsThe Beatles were always happy to play all styles of music and their offbeat sense of humour and sense of the absurd is perfectly showcased here on the cover of this standard. The song is faintly ridiculous but it shows a side of the band the was important, in that they were not just pure rock n roll thrashers and their love of the novelty song would eventually feed into their psychedelic phase.
The Beatles may have stopped releasing covers in 1965 but they would still play them when they were together…
Let It Be SessionsThere were lots of unreleased covers on the Let It Be seasons- those endless tapes of the band goofing, joking and jamming around in the studio. There are plenty of snatches of songs, some chatting and Lennon making sarcastic remarks aimed at the ever enthusiastic Paul. There is a weird dynamic in the band. Paul might have been perceived to have been bossy but when you listen to those tapes his affable optimism comes through. It is often said that he was the world’s biggest Beatles fan and you can hear this in his cheery optimism.
The outtakes, themselves, are littered with endless covers and scraps of covers as the band rattle out their encyclopaedia of songs.