Under the “Covers”…with The Beatles

01 Jul

It never ceases to amaze me how the Libra Dragon air waves work. Most of the time, when something is “on my mind”, it doesn’t take long for me to read about it or hear about from like-minded folks. I had been thinking about cover songs and was actually doing a little research on the most covered songs. I found that, to my surprise, the song most covered by other artists is The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, according to Second Hand Songs. I wasn’t surprised that it was a Beatles’ song, just surprised that it was THAT Beatles’ song.

I mean, I’ve seen this:

Ray Charles

and this

Stanley Jordan

but I had no idea, that Eleanor Rigby has been covered 123 times — and, by groups like The Fray and Panic at the Disco. Overall, The Beatles have had 181 songs covered 2,620 times by 1,095 different artists. (Bob Dylan is a distant second with 923 covers.) While in the midst of this fascinating information gathering, I received an email from my favorite contributor, Colette regarding some research of her own. You guessed it — Beatles’ covers.

So, here is another entertaining “cover” installment by Colette:

Your great Abbey Road round-up got me back to a topic that has long interested me: covers of Beatles tunes, and available video versions of the original songs. Does any band get those endorphins dancing better than los Beatles?

A little historical context: when the Beatles exploded on the scene in the early 1960s, they were first branded “kid stuff” in the U.S. But very soon, older recording artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, among many others, were taking note of some of their most melodic songs and covering them.

Those “cross-overs” now can seem rather laughable. But there is no denying the continuing potency of the Beatles songbook. Or that many of the greatest Beatle songs are very sophisticated and complex, harmonically and melodically. (Just listen to their genius producer George Martin on the subject!) And it can be difficult to do justice to them.

I have been searching for months now for the most inspired covers available on the Internet — but also for the best live versions of Beatles doing them on video. Remember that when the Beatles were in their prime as a touring, performing band, live recording techniques were still quite crude. They revolutionized studio recording with their imaginative multi-track arrangements. But they were not able to impact the somewhat rustic nature of concert recording in the 1960s and early ’70s.

And yet, as recent CD’s like “Beatles Live at the BBC” attest, the Fab Four were consummate live musicians. Witnessing their crystalline arrangements, beautiful voices and tasty instrumental work, as they performed before an audience, is an exquisite pleasure.

After much research, I have coupled here the best live videos I could find of the Beatles (and some that aren’t entirely live!), with the most compelling covers I could find of the same tune. (Not easy, in part because of all the screaming — which eventually contributed to the Beatles‘ decision to stop performing live.)

“This Boy”

Perhaps my favorite Beatles cover, of a haunting tune from their first US album. This live performance by Sean Lennon, Rufus Wainwright and Robert Schwartzman, echoes the harmonies nicely. But it is Sean’s ability to pour heart & soul into a great vocal riff coined by his dad, that takes my breath away:

The Beatles version, on a British TV show (disregard the crude comment by a youtube listener — I love John’s voice, even when it crackles!):

“Come Together”

This amazing Lennon tune from “Abbey Road” has a surreal yet powerful lyric, a thumping pulse and that wonderful “shooooop……” mojo. What a great gift that Tina Turner, in her Ike & Tina glory, gave it such a thrilling cover (with a little help from her Ikettes):

Very rare footage of the same song in a really different, very spooky/sinister vein, sung by the Guns’ Roses metallist Axl Rose and strange bedfellow Bruce Springsteen at the Rock Hall of Fame. Somehow, I just think John Lennon would dig the heck out of it, because of the freaky intensity….

No good Beatles version on vid, but here is John Lennon doing it live (with Yoko on piano) in the 1970s:

“I Saw Her Standing There”

This is the Rock Hall of Fame mob version of one of the Beatles‘ first U.S. hits. It’s a mess in some ways, with music director Paul Schaeffer trying to get a stage full of icons including Billy Joel, George Harrison and Mick Jagger on the same page, but what fun! Joel kicks it off, after about a 30-second rehearsal……

The Beatles bring it, on the “Ed Sullivan Show” (little Colette was jumping on her bed at the time, in a fit of Beatle madness):

“Hide Your Love Away”

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam first recorded it for the “I Am Sam” film soundtrack of Beatle covers, and since then he does it often acoustically in concert. The broodingly candid lyric, with that wonderful “hey!” chorus, suits Mr. Ed so well. No wonder his fans always sing along:

From the film “Help!.” I’d love to see/hear a live version, if anyone has found one:


“Day Tripper”

In “Anthology,” Paul McCartney links this to the Beatles‘ experiences with LSD. It also is a deliciously catchy ode to any kind of “big tease,” and is performed here with gusto by a band I know little about, the Ango-American glam-rock 1970s band, Whitesnake.


I also get a kick out of this cool, jazzy version of ” Daytripper” by Sergio Mendes and his Brazil ’66 group during the bossa nova craze. Hell, I still love bossa nova:

And an interesting outtake (with added visuals ) of the Beatles recording it live in the studio — a glimpse of their professionalism/perfectionism:

“Twist and Shout”

It was an Isley Brothers hit first, but the Beatles loved performing it — John especially! Here they are, doing it up live in Paris — and it’s such fun watching the French kids go bananas during this terrific performance. bonus number: “She’s a Woman”:

Can’t help it, I just love Salt ‘n Pepa’s feisty, rap-and-sing cover of “Twist and Shout”……they really “work it on out”:

Finally, for this set:

“Things We Said Today” and “You Can’t Do That”

a couple of my most beloved early Beatles tunes, beautifully performed by the guys. Haven’t found any decent covers, so I’ll just have to cherish the originals…..

— “Things We Said Today” at the Indiana State Fair, followed by a rollicking cover of Chuck Berry‘s “Roll Over Beethoven”

— “You Can’t Do That” (go John! always my favorite Beatle) performed live in the film “Hard Day’s Night”


Posted by on July 1, 2007 in Artists, Influences


5 responses to “Under the “Covers”…with The Beatles

  1. Little Deb

    July 2, 2007 at 7:04 am

    O.K. So where is everybody? MM and Colette, I want to thank you (not really) because between your music expertise and the person at CTW putting up that Ray Charles/Willie Nelson/Leon Russell video, it’s only like 7 frikkin 30 in the morning and I’m cryin’ like a baby. It’s all good though. Some times we need to “purge”. Then yesterday watching the Diana concert thing. Not so much who was on that show, but remembering staying up all night 10 years ago and doing some great “purging” also. I wasn’t even a Diana follower, just remember being really moved by the whole thing. I read in my paper this morning that Elton did the “Diana version” of Candle in the Wind. Did I miss this somehow? Did anyone else see it?

    Anyway, MM thanks for all you do here and hope the screws and plates are mending well.

  2. AH

    July 2, 2007 at 7:48 am

    Hey Maven
    really hope everything is going well with the healing process but must say your forced “vacation” is offering up some wonderful treats – – I think I’ll just not bother building a set list today and sample from here while I’m working

    as you may remember from GC, I have very eclectic tastes and that includes a litle Whitesnake – – or it could just be that my son played it a lot when he wass still at home that I got used to it – LOL

    you can sample here

    don’t know if you do but I couldn’t survive without it – you can have 25 complete song listens every 30 days or there is a reasonable suscription for unlimited usage

    take care

  3. jenfera

    July 2, 2007 at 8:45 am

    Anyone else like the Aerosmith cover of Come Together?

    Little Deb, I think that concert was heavily edited. We only got 1-hour of it with commercials on American television. It had to have been much, much longer than that. I am sure that each artist must have done more than one song. I was surprised at how good Duran Duran still sounded! Diddy was kind of cracking me up with call outs to Diana.

  4. Uwe

    May 28, 2008 at 4:47 am


    thanks for your research work on Beatles covers and your link to second hand songs which I hadn’t known. I’d like to add, the most covered Beatles song is “Yesterday” with over 3000 recorded versions. I didn’t find a comprehensive list, but on my own website I listet 150 version. I’ll let you know should I ever manage to list the 2850 other versions 😉

    Btw, Eleonor Rigby is listet with 85 versions on my site.


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