Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Editor’s Note: This is the four thousandth post in the long and storied history of Cover Me. To mark the occasion, we went looking for a musical reference to the number 4,000. Thanks the all those rather small holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, we found a beauty. Now that we know how many Cover Me posts it takes to fill the Albert Hall, we hope you’ll enjoy this one just as much as all the ones before and beyond (and consider supporting our new Patreon to ensure we get to 4,000 more).
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the album that sums up 1967 better than any other. It was experimental, confident, naive, challenging. It also had the greatest album closer of… the Beatles? the sixties? the 20th century? “A Day in the Life” has had all those applied to it, and is accepted as the pinnacle of the Beatles’ achievements.
A rare Lennon/McCartney song that John and Paul literally co-wrote, it consists of two fragments welded together, sending sparks flying in the process. Producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick were equally valuable in the sounds they captured, from Ringo’s tom-toms to the 40-piece orchestra to the three pianos that produce the eternal final chord that closes the song.
Covering “A Day in the Life” is quite the thankless task. Try covering what’s generally agreed to be the greatest song by what’s generally agreed to be the greatest band, and likely as not you’re going to be found wanting. But it can be done. My personal favorite is by Big Daddy, but I’ve written about that one before, so let’s look at five others that took the toughest path to the greatest heights.
The Cat’s Miaow – A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)
The Cat’s Miaow wore their Aussie indie-pop heart on their twee sleeve, as albums like A Kiss and a Cuddle tell you before you hear a note of them. In their hands, “A Day in the Life” is nothing remotely like an epic – instead, it’s two and three-quarters minutes of sweetly sung low-fi, with enough echo and bounce to turn the song into a radiation vibe of joy.
Tok Tok Tok – A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)
The late Tok Tok Tok, a German acoustic soul band, also removes “A Day in the Life”‘s chaos, replacing it with quiet contemplation. The notes feel very apart from one another, and Tokunbo Akinro’s vocals add to the remoteness already in the song’s lyrics. What lyrics there are, at least, as they replace Paul’s with (appropriately enough) a bass solo.
Wes Montgomery – A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)
Wes Montgomery’s album A Day in the Life is not a favorite of jazz purists, who bash it for everything from its jacket to the lounge-lizard sound and selection of songs to cover. But you don’t have to be a jazz novice to appreciate the now-title track. Here, the song moves from a smooth, smoky sound for John’s section to bouncing, sweeping strings for Paul’s. It emphasizes the break in the two authors, yet still makes it of one piece. The album went to #1 on the jazz charts and #2 on the R&B charts, and this cover is certainly one of the reasons why.
Eugene Chadbourne – A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)
Downtown Does The Beatles: Live at the Knitting Factory was a tribute album by New York City’s ’90s avant-garde scene, who came together to dissemble and reassemble the Beatles’ catalog. One of the better dissemblers was Eugene Chadbourne. Ignoring any advice to be careful with that ax, he skittered up and down his acoustic fretboard, making shards of “A Day in the Life” (not to mention “For No One,” “I’ll Follow the Sun,” and “On the Road Again”), then mashing them back together to make a remarkable near-shattered portrait.
Chris Cornell – A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)
It’s not just the late Chris Cornell’s vocal performance of “A Day in the Life” that impresses. It’s that he’s able to replicate the song with just one acoustic guitar. From the gentle opening chords to the near-violent cacophony of the climax, he gets it and he conveys it. This cover isn’t just for the fans – this is for the musicians.