Feb 232024
 

Get Back to the beginning.

10. Ella Fitzgerald — Savoy Truffle

A bluesy rocker written by George, admonishing his friend Eric Clapton for being addicted to sweets, most of the lyrics were nicked from a box of Mackintosh’s Good News Chocolates. The song is notable for Harrison’s return to guitar playing and a big horn section. Its inclusion on the White Album is variously considered to be either a silly trifle unworthy of the record, or as a demonstration of Harrison’s increasingly sophisticated songwriting. The song was still relatively fresh when Ella Fitzgerald recorded it on her 1969 album Ella, an ultimately commercially unsuccessful attempt to revive her career by having her perform mostly current rock and R&B songs. Not surprisingly, she leans into the jazzy rhythms and horns, and it sounds great. — Jordan Becker

9. Shawn Colvin — I’ll Be Back

Shawn Colvin’s subdued, unhurried way with “I’ll Be Back” is a statement in itself. She was about fifty years old when she recorded this (for Polaroids, her greatest hits collection), and she sings from bitter experience and hard-won maturity. She strips out false notes and filler–she omits the many “ohs” Lennon used in the original. She rarely alters the melody, but she makes each small variation matter. Her own guitar accompaniment is beautifully spacious; Colvin knows how to let extended chords convey nuances that words and rhythms fail to. — Tom McDonald

8. The James Hunter Six — It Won’t Be Long

British soul singer James Hunter recorded this cover for one of those Mojo-curated tribute albums that have sourced a few other covers on this list, this one attempting every track on the band’s second UK album With the Beatles. His tight band channels Sharon Jones’ Dap-Kings, with funky little guitar links and horn stabs underpinning Hunter’s gruff croon. — Ray Padgett

7. The Feelies — Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)

I’ve never been a Beatles obsessive, and I admit that when I first heard the Feelies cover of this song (which, BTW, has the longest title of any Beatles song), on their mind-blowing debut album Crazy Rhythms, I did not know it was a Beatles song. But it is, and it turns out that most of the lyrics are actually phrases that the Maharishi often repeated to the band during their 1968 stay in India. Except, it seems, for the monkey part, which Lennon said was “About me and Yoko. Everybody seemed to be paranoid except for us two, who were in the glow of love.” And, it seems, Lennon had recently seen a cartoon (racistly?) depicting Ono as a monkey clinging to his back. (There’s some question among actual Beatles obsessives if John remembered this correctly or came up with this explanation later). It is also probably about heroin, for which “monkey” was a common reference, and which both Lennon and Ono were using at the time. It is one of the harder rocking songs on the White Album, and there’s a bit of jangly guitar at the end that I have to believe influenced the Feelies version, which jangles all the way through, and has more propulsive percussion than the original. — Jordan Becker

6. Fanny — Hey Bulldog

As an all-female outfit led by Filipino sisters–Jean and June Millington–Fanny faced all kinds of prejudice in the late ’60s to early ’70s era. They blazed a trail for later acts (like Heart and Joan Jett), but missed out on wider recognition for themselves. They remain overlooked–kind of the way “Hey Bulldog” is an under-recognized gem in the Beatles catalog.

Fanny recorded “Hey Bulldog” at Apple Studios with former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. But they weren’t cowed by Emerick or anyone else: Fanny rewrote verses, tinkered with structure, and added a third (and fourth?) harmony part. But mostly they rock out, and in this live performance Fanny is fired up. The band locks onto the groove and gets more raucous as the song gathers force. With badass guitarist June Millington in the lead, they careen into a short, sharp, shock of an ending. — Tom McDonald

5. Melvins — I Want to Hold Your Hand

Melvin took “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” a song that made 1960s teenagers pass out from screaming, and allowed modern-day teenagers to also pass out from screaming – but for very different reasons. They brought in squealing guitars and heavy-metal drums, while still keeping the classic vocal harmonies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. That’s all you can ask for in a situation like this. It inspired me to listen to the original right afterward, and then go back to this one again. So uniquely different and yet friendly to one another. One of the top YouTube comments says it best: “This is how you do a cover.” — Elizabeth Erenberg

4. Stereo MCs — Tomorrow Never Knows

Stereo MCs are the last band you would ever believe might cover the Beatles, coming from an era and time where it is even hard to imagine them being aware of their forebears. Mind you, the song is peak Beatles weird, as Revolver saw the band transitioning from squeaky clean to something a bit more challenging. Sitar and backward guitar, aligned with a futuristic drum pattern mean it is a song often more admired than enjoyed. As you listen, it is, of course, the drums that are the giveaway, the defiantly upfront nature thereof, almost a template and precursor for the whole of the baggy/acid house/alternative dance/rave culture of the mid-1980s UK. So it isn’t actually that much of a leap from the psychedelic ‘60s to the ecstatic ‘80s in this cover, with burbling synths and bubbling bass replacing the lava lamp grooviness of the original, but Rob Birch intones the song much in the same lysergic torpor of Lennon, with the drums, real or otherwise, inhabiting an equivalent urgency to Starr. Coming fairly late in their history, the track features as a b-side, amongst a plethora of mixes of their own song “Sun” in 2006. — Seuras Og

3. Wilson Pickett — Hey Jude

Rick Hall, producer and owner of FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, told the incredible true story of how Duane Allman, all of 22 years old, got Wilson Pickett to sing “Hey Jude”:

Pickett came into the studio, and I said, “We don’t have anything to cut.” … So Duane said, “Why don’t we cut ‘Hey Jude’?” I said, “That’s the most preposterous thing I ever heard. It’s insanity. We’re gonna cover the Beatles? That’s crazy!” And Pickett said, “No, we’re not gonna do it.” I said, “Their single’s gonna be Number 1. I mean, this is the biggest group in the world!” And Duane said, “That’s exactly why we should do it — because [the Beatles single] will be Number 1 and they’re so big. The fact that we would cut the song with a black artist will get so much attention, it’ll be an automatic smash.” That made all the sense in the world to me.

It gets better – when Pickett continued to demur, saying it wasn’t his style, Allman said, “What’s wrong, you don’t got the balls to sing it?” That was just the red flag Pickett needed waved in front of his face. His “Hey Jude” sees the song turn from sweet pop to sexy soul. It features one of the greatest screams in radio history, and it served as Eric Clapton’s introduction to Allman (“I drove home and called Atlantic Records immediately,” Clapton said. “I had to know who that was playing guitar and I had to know now.”) To this day he calls Allman’s “Hey Jude” solo one of his all-time favorites. — Patrick Robbins

2. Camel — Mystery Tour

One of the great Beatles tribute albums is a 2020 three-disc compilation called Looking Through A Glass Onion (The Beatles’ Psychedelic Songbook 1966-72). It features no less than 68 different covers from the titular six years (1966-72) in the titular genre (psychedelic rock). Amazing that, given those narrow limitations, there could even be so many covers, but that’s the Beatles songbook for you. My favorite cover on here, and perhaps the compilers’ favorite as well since it opens the album, comes from the short-lived Italian band Camel. They released only one album, 1969’s Under Age. Its first side closes with “Mystery Tour”—nothing “Magical” about their version, apparently. It deconstructs the song entirely, pulling bits of lyrics from here and there and bringing in other Beatles songs along the way: a little “Got to Get You Into My Life” here, a little “Eight Days a Week” there. The “Mystery Tour” title becomes a trippy chant or mantra. There’s a lot of Deep Purple or Iron Butterfly in this, and not too much Beatles. The original “Magical Mystery Tour” was plenty psychedelic itself, but this wild version makes it seem as tame as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by comparison. — Ray Padgett

1. Donny Hathaway — Yesterday

Donny Hathaway’s Live, released in 1972, is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest live albums of all time. Split between covers and originals, it is one of the most virtuosic, transportive, and heartbreakingly beautiful recordings you are ever gonna hear. (Sidebar: his cover of “You’ve Got A Friend” is staggering, read more here).

Like most of the tracks on Live, Donny’s cover of “Yesterday” was recorded in August of 1971 at the Troubadour in Hollywood. For some reason, it wasn’t chosen for inclusion on the album. Nor did it appear on 1980’s In Performance, a collection of live recordings that was released the year after Donny’s death. This spectacular, passionate, freewheeling wonder of a cover didn’t see the official light of day until 2004, when it appeared on a Hathaway compilation album titled These Songs For You, Live!.

Nearly every song Donny performed at his series of Troubadour shows in ’71, regardless of their history or established structure, turned into a wild call-and-response affair, full of audience whoops and interjections. This version of “Yesterday” is no exception. It is the opposite of the short, sweet, and somber original. This “Yesterday” is low-key raucous, and full of fevered affirmations from what sounds like a bunch of women who were seated at the same table at the Troubadour. You’ll hear shouts of “Sing baby!” “Believe!” When Donny sings “I don’t know,” a bold gal follows with a big “I DON’T KNOW.” The Hathaway vocal is, of course, nothing less than astonishing. If ever you needed to submit proof as to why he was one of the greatest singers to ever walk the planet, this performance of “Yesterday” would more than suffice.

While Hathaway would generally honor a song’s original melody when he performed a cover, he often took liberties with the arrangements. His version of “Yesterday” is over two minutes longer than the original thanks to a trademark extended-invented keyboard bridge. He also sprinkles in some gorgeous and emotive vocal ad-libs, because he is Donny Hathaway and can do that kind of thing without sounding like he is showing off.

This cover is about Donny and the audience. Their communal energy turned a legendarily heartbreaking ballad into something incongruously joyful. On this night everything was beautiful. The crowd was. The vibe was. And Donny was. Knowing how his mental health deteriorated in the years following this performance makes this recording all the more poignant. Donny Hathaway’s “Yesterday” immaculately captures the heat of a special night, the power of the song, and the gift of it all. — Hope Silverman

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Dolly Parton, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and more.

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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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