Feb 232024
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

beatles covers

Sixty years ago this month, The Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show. You don’t need us to tell you what a momentous occasion this was; entire books have been written on the subject. Suffice to say we’re using the anniversary as our excuse to finally devote a Best Covers Ever to perhaps the biggest band of them all. We’ve done Dylan. We’ve done the Stones. We’ve done Dolly and Springsteen and Prince. But there was one last giant remaining.

Though it’s difficult to measure this precisely, The Beatles are the most-covered artist of all time according to the two biggest covers databases on the internet (SecondHandSongs, WhoSampled). And that certainly feels right. “Yesterday” is often cited as the most-covered song of all time, though that needs qualifiers (a ton of Christmas standards would beat it). But, again, it feels right. The Beatles were ubiquitous in their day, and they’ve been ubiquitous ever since. They just had a chart-topping single last month, the A.I.-assisted “Now and Then,” which was duly covered widely. If “Carnival of Light” ever surfaces, no doubt a carnival of covers will soon follow.

This list could have easily been 1000 covers long — and whatever was at #1000 would still have been really good. But we don’t have the capacity to write a thousand blurbs, and that many YouTube embeds would probably crash the internet. So we narrowed it down to 75. Some of the iconic covers are here. Some aren’t. We didn’t just list the famous covers everyone already knows, but we also avoided being too-cool-for-school and picking only obscurities. Yeah, Stevie Wonder’s “We Can Work It Out” really is as good as everyone’s been saying since 1971. But a few of the covers above it we bet you’ve never heard. Famous or obscure, these are the Beatles done to a different beat.

75. The Squirrels — Let It Be

There’s a W.C. Fields quote: “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.” If you consider that to be good advice, you should set the Squirrels’ take on “Let It Be” as your alarm. The first five seconds share the staid, stately, sedate pace of the original, but once the pedal steel guitar kicks in, it’s off to the races. Only a Scrooge could be unamused at the cornpone vocals of Rob Morgan, as well as the song’s dips into “Act Naturally” and “Dixie,” a perfect illustration of one critic’s claim that Morgan “knows every rock-and-roll song ever recorded and can kill on at least five of them at the same time.” Don’t sleep on the top-notch musicianship here, either. This isn’t funny the way novelties like William Shatner’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” or Mrs. Miller’s “Yellow Submarine” are funny; the song is at the artist’s mercy here, not the other way around, and the Squirrels earned their spot on this list by doing what they do better and best. — Patrick Robbins

74. Marcia Griffiths — Don’t Let Me Down

One of Lennon’s best late-period Beatles songs never landed on a “proper” Beatles album. “Don’t Let Me Down” was excluded from Let It Be, and for a time could only be found on the B-side of the “Get Back” single released in April 1969. Jamaican music star Marcia Griffiths must have bought that single; her cover came out in London just months later.

Reggae itself was new in 1969. Griffiths was an early influencer of the genre, helping it evolve from rocksteady and ska. (She’d go on to form the I-Threes, famous for their work with Bob Marley and the Wailers.) Maybe the newness of reggae in 1969 accounts for the enduring freshness of Griffiths’ “Don’t Let Me Down” arrangement. In 1988, she recorded it again, but the highly-processed update compares poorly to her instinctual first cut. The raw and organic feel of her 1969 version has not been topped–not by Griffiths or anyone else. — Tom McDonald

73. Imaginary Future — Michelle

According to the Beatles Bible, “Michelle” was originally written by Paul McCartney with the help of an old schoolchum’s wife (with the middle being written by Lennon). The original version of the tune featured a sort of fake pseudo-French… and when it came time to record Rubber Soul, Paul had to learn a bit of the real thing. Thanks to Jan Vaughan, who taught French and was married to Ivan Vaughan, the man who’d introduced Paul to John; she’s where “Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble” comes from. The resulting song is a baroque pop tune tinged with a bit of Django Reinhardt-style guitar lines and a large dose of romantic longing. In Imaginary Future’s hands, the song is pared down to become a crystal-clear acoustic guitar and voice ballad. The bright timbre of the guitar is spot-on, whereas the vocal recording is more smooth than the original. The best way to describe the vocal delivery of this one: buttery. — Aleah Fitzwater

72. Django Bates — Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!

Decades as an avant-garde multi-instrumentalist make for artistic satisfaction, but that is unlikely be offset with riches and significant renown. Django Bates seems comfortable with that balance. His part in raucous big band Loose Tubes produced some great live work, a few LPs and a more manageable offshoot, Human Chain, but it could not be sustained. His recorded work, therefore, is at the nexus of what he would really like to do and what he can convince others to participate in and fund. This means that there is a large, completely eclectic, record of his work.

Radio big-bands are institutions in mainland Europe and the UK. Remarkable, flexible, musicians who can back visiting artists with limited rehearsal, or follow their own tunes. The Frankfurt Radio Big Band commissioned Bates to reimagine Sgt. Pepper on its 50th Anniversary. Bates went at the task with his usual diligence and enthusiasm, with reverence but also with complex charts and time signatures to challenge the artists.

This really comes together on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” John Lennon took inspiration from a circus poster from 1843, and the recording could incorporate the hustle and bustle of a live performance, and the surrounding milieu. By 1967 the circus coming to town was not as enthusiastically received as it might have been in the past, due to the availability of other entertainment. By 2017, the mood had changed further. Clowns are more likely to be seen as malevolent, and animals are now banned, so Henry the Horse will not be dancing a waltz. With musical texture, this version captures the historic enthusiasm and the modern skepticism in a healthy, vibrant mélange. — Mike Tobyn

71. Thea Gilmore — I Want to Tell You

Recorded for Mojo magazine’s Revolver Reloaded tribute CD in 2006, Thea Gilmore’s breathy, beauteous cover of “I Want to Tell You” de-emphasizes George Harrison’s LSD-induced thought pattern theme and leans hard into the romantic desire-confusion zone. It doesn’t rock. It is instrumentally spare. The song’s famous in-your-face descending guitar line is expressed/replaced with some shy acoustic picking. There’s none of that fabulously sneery Harrison-style vocalizing as heard in the original. No, Gilmore’s “I Want…” is a slow-burner that takes a minute more than the original did to get where it is going. Oh hell, there’s no point in being coy, might as well just say it; this cover is sexy. It is here solely to seduce you and it’s got time. — Hope Silverman

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  22 Responses to “The 75 Best Beatles Covers Ever”

Comments (22)
  1. oh HELL yes. Looking forward to digging into this.

  2. Esther Phillips… ‘And I Love Him’. just sublime….

  3. Steve Earle – “I’m Looking Through You”
    Richard Barone – “Cry Baby Cry”
    Elvis Costello – any of a number of Beatles covers
    Lou Ann Barton – “Every Little Thing”

    . . . just off the top of my head. Thousands more and these are 75 best EVER? Dial it back a bit. How about some beatles covers instead without the outrageous claim?

  4. Well, I don’t know. There was no way you were going to do this and not have folks take you to task. Reasonable people can disagree and all that, I suppose, but it seems you all went out of your way to be contrary. You certainly warned us where you were going with #75.

    I’ve been collecting covers of the lads’ tunes for some time now. and there’s precious little overlap between what you privilege and what I prefer. Admittedly, I have a (relative)recency bias that you all do not and you all were more eclectic than I am, both in the songs you selected and musical genre in which they were covered. I mean, “Honey Pie” is in the bottom 10 percent of all Beatles songs. Why would I want a cover of it, let alone rank it among the best ever?

    So, here are few I like that you didn’t include.

    I like both of these, one very different than the other, better than the version you selected:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq3tABhuXZo

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiBfeKqUOtc

    And this, a beautiful rendition:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3Y1Zm6vV2k

    George’s only song on SPLHCB:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKqzK-UcKA0

    Our Johnny climbs inside his head:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znb2gqQ7zq4

    Pretty Paul:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ox63lDwEbY

  5. A few more:

    Margo Timmins renders a lovely jazz lounge version of “Things We Said Today”:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOoOHHKjOAQ

    A nicely arranged version of “Fool on the Hill” by Bruce Cockburn:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=368y4XqJtKw

    JT and Yo-Yo do George’s “Here Comes the Sun”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgO7BqAeeYk

    I’m available for consultation should you choose to edit and resubmit your list!

  6. Sublime, Paul Brady covers “You Won’t See Me”:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3QfVSe6rDk

  7. Guitar, cello (or is it bowed upright bass?), voice and a terrific arrangement:

    Lisa Lauren covers “Look What You’re Doing”:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RyFHKI5KfA

  8. Paul Weller and friends rock “Come Together” (check out the keyboard player):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IK0sMC5ntpc

  9. And though I appreciate George’s songs getting some slots on your list, when it comes to Thea and Beatles covers, I very much prefer this one:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJb8Wieg2nI

  10. Respect your choices, love the reader comments, and have to say that any list titled Best Beatles Covers should most definitely include these 25 (in alphabetical order or She Loves You by Peter Sellers would be first, best Beatles cover ever).

    1. Come Together by Axl Rose and Bruce Springsteen
    2. Come Together by Roberta Flack
    3. Come Together by Sophie Urista
    4. Eleanor Rigby by Aretha Franklin
    5. Golden Slumbers By Gracie Abrams
    6. Got to Get You Into My Life by Earth, Wind, and Fire
    7. Help by Alejandro Escovedo
    8. Help by Little Wayne
    9. Helter Skelter by Aerosmith
    10. Her Majesty by Chumbawamba
    11. I am the Walrus by Oasis
    12. I am the Walrus by Spooky Tooth
    13. I Feel Fine by Leslie West
    14. I Need You (acoustic version) by Steve Perry
    15. I Want to Hold Your Hand by T.V. Carpio
    16. I’ve Got a Feeling by Pearl Jam
    17. I’ve Got a Feeling by Billy Preston
    18. Long, Long, Long by Tim Bernardes
    19. Long, Long, Long by Tanya Donelly
    20. Sexy Sadie by Rachel Unthank and dThe Winterset
    21. She Loves You by Peter Sellers
    22. Something by James Brown
    23. While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Girl in a Coma
    24. Yesterday by Marvin Gaye
    25. You Never Give Me Your Money by Tenacious D

  11. And… 26. She Said She Said by The Black Keys; 27. Tomorrow Never Knows by Junior Parker. Both essential Beatles covers.

    • Stan, that Junior Parker cover of Tomorrow Never Knows is one of my personal all-time faves! Perfectly eerie and gorgeous! We just didn’t have enough room this time :) And Rachel Unthank and the Winter Set’s epic Sexy Sadie is in there, at #30. Love your lists and gotta add that while I do adore Marvin’s Yesterday, Donny Hathaway’s is the one that steamrolls my heart :)

  12. Okay, okay — I’m not trying to suggest the Alternative 75 Best Beatles Covers Ever, but also: 28. Yes it Is by Don Henley; and All You Need is Love by Noel Gallagher, which even though it was done for the Teenage Cancer Trust belongs in the Irony Knows Know Bounds Hall of Fame given the loving, graceful, forgiving nature of the Gallagher Bros relationship.

  13. Yeah, more covers to sort through! Thanks, Stan.

    So, sometimes I like covers that translate well to other genres (and in this case languages):

    A French gypsy jazz offering of George’s “If I Needed Someone”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33tT8fNv1nw

    • Thanks for all the sharings, Kevin. Like you I’m a fan of that “John, Paul, George, & Django” gypsy jazz album. Not sure if you noticed, but we selected a different song from it (see #64).

  14. Aargh, Forget this one; it’s a masterpiece. Across the Universe by Laibach. The version by AURORA is excellent too, but the Laibach version…whew. (You’re welcome Kevin…in the hands of masters these interpretations from the shoulders of giants can be pretty fulfilling to listen to, hope it does that for you and others).

  15. Can I please, like, get banned from posting on this site? I run a company, have other stuff to do! And yet…Things We Said Today by Dwight Yoakam. Sigh. LAST ONE, I SWEAR.

  16. Yeah, I can’t stop just yet, either:

    John (effing) Entwistle rocks George’s “Here Comes the Sun”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTi0VYWZur0

    Whereas JT and Yo-Yo give it a distinctly different treatment:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgO7BqAeeYk

  17. As an Australian I’m pleased to see that Tommy Emmanuel made the list. Perhaps I’m biased (I don’t think so) but I would always include in a list of this size Zoot’s heavy cover of “Eleanor Rigby” and Doug Parkinson in Focus with “Dear Prudence”, a big hit in 1969. Oh, Lowell Fulson’s chugging “Why Don’t We It In the Road” is a personal fave.

  18. Now I’m just flat out using posting here to procastinate.

    Margo Timmins renders a sultry jazz “Things We Said Today”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOoOHHKjOAQ

  19. And allow me to use Ms. Timmins to pivot to covers of the boys’ offerings after they regrettably chose to go separate ways:

    George — “I’d Have You Anytime”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N_7TA5CZ8g

    Paul’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Brian Vander Ark:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtzVL2wwr7w

    John’s “Working Class Hero” by Hilton Valentine

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOjkKXoSk3o

    I say regrettably chose to separate only because they did so in such a definitive way that led to them never really working together again as a quartet. I understand and respect their need for individuation. But, with a little perspective, I think they might have instead announced an extended hiatus that would give them the space needed, but also more readily allowed for reuniting. Bands don’t need to formally “breakup”. Why not leave it more open ended?

    Of course, the effect was that we have four solo careers to enjoy. So, there’s that.

  20. So I just stumbled upon this. Had no idea about its origins and at first thought about whether I wanted to share a cover of this great song from an animated series about bugs. And the lead singers voice, well, I wasn’t sure about that either. But I gave it couple listens and have come to quite like it:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eOTXXJGWao

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