Today we start a new feature at A Sound Day, which we hope to run from time to time throughout the year – Turntable Talk. In it, we’ve invited several other ardent music fans and bloggers to discuss one topic. To start off, a timely one : “The Beatles : why are we still talking about them 50(+) years on?”
It seems that The Beatles are more in the news and public’s eye now than they have been in decades, with the release of the Get Back documentary last year. But, then again, they never really went away. So we’ve got a group of fellow fans to discuss what it is about the Beatles that makes them stay relevant, decade after decade. Today, we start with Paul over at Once Upon A Time in The 70s. Paul’s one of two people that put that one together, a fun site that looks back at the sights and sounds of the 1970s from a British perspective. We recommend you checking it out!
I’ve no idea how many Beatle’s covers exist, but when you consider there are over 1,600 versions of the song ‘Yesterday’ then you’ve got to imagine there’s a fair few kicking around.
Everyone from Alvin & the Chipmunks to Frank Zappa have had a go at covering a Beatles song, which is hardly surprising given how many standards they’ve written. I grew up in the 60s and started getting into music at the turn of the decade just as the Beatles were heading towards their long and winding road. Truth be told I didn’t really appreciate the genius of the Beatles until I’d gone through my Glam Rock, Funk, and Yacht Rock phases, but I got there eventually and learned to appreciate how talented and ground-breaking they truly were.
The fact then that there are so few Fab Four covers in my music library is an anomaly to me.
For that reason, I decided to take a deep dive into the world of Beatles covers in the expectation that there would be plenty of overlooked gems that I’d missed over the years.
And that’s how I came to spend an afternoon recently crunching through Apple Music & Spotify looking for treasures, and I’ve got to tell you it was a long afternoon.
As an example, I love Aretha Franklin and I love ‘The Fool on The Hill’ so I had high expectations when I came across Aretha’s version, but it left me underwhelmed as did a lot of the Beatles covers I listened to.
One ‘new find’ I’m excited to share was a version of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ by Todd Rundgren, which went straight into my list of Top 10 Beatles covers, shared below in no particular order.
As mentioned previously, there are so many Beatles covers so I’m sure there will be a few notable omissions in people’s eyes, for which I apologise in advance…. but like they say ‘beauty is in the ear of the beholder’
1) Hey Jude by Wilson Pickett – Pickett makes the song his own with his rasping vocals, a great Muscle Shoals arrangement and the introduction of a young Duane Allman who marks his recording debut with a blistering guitar solo.
2) We Can Work It Out by Stevie Wonder – An upbeat version featuring a fuzzy clavinet intro and a trademark Stevie harmonica solo. Recorded in 1970 when Stevie was on the cusp of greatness and ably backed by the ubiquitous Funk Brothers.
3) With a Little Help from My Friends by Joe Cocker – A rare case of a Beatles cover being better than the original, a fact endorsed by McCartney himself. Cocker took this breezy Ringo Starr version from Sgt Pepper and turned it into a soul anthem featuring another cameo from a guitar great, the legendary Jimmy Page.
And of course, this song reminds us all of the fabulous ‘The Wonder Years’
4) Got to Get You into My Life by Earth Wind & Fire – Recorded for the Robert Stigwood backed Sgt Pepper project in 1978. The movie bombed and the soundtrack was a flop, but this cover, given the full EW&F treatment with their potent horn section front and centre, was head and shoulders above the rest of the Beatle covers.
5) Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da by The Marmalade – I was 10 when this was released and didn’t realize it was a Beatles cover till several years later. The Marmalade were a local band, so we were all proud to see them reach number one in the UK. It won’t make many Beatles top 10 lists but it’s a great little pop song.
6) Dear Prudence by Siouxsie & The Banshees – At the time, it was a shock that these post punk darlings would go anywhere near a Beatles song but with Robert Smith from the Cure on board they took this White Album track and made it their own.
7) Strawberry Fields Forever by Todd Rundgren – No stranger to a recording studio you get the impression that producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist Rundgren had a lot of fun capturing the 60’s psychedelic vibe on this recording.
8) In My Life by Johnny Cash – The subject matter and the fact that this was one of Cash’s last recordings makes this Rick Rubin stripped-down version even more poignant.
9) Eleanor Rigby by Aretha Franklin – I knew the Queen of Soul would come good. A Beatles classic given the full Aretha treatment. She certainly takes this version to church.
10) Come and Get It by Badfinger – A bit of a cheat, as technically Badfinger released this McCartney penned song first, but I agree with those who say that it was probably ‘the best unreleased Beatles recording’