Turntable Ted, ace record-collector and good friend, suggested this topic of my favorite Beatles cover versions. What with the silly new movie (Yesterday) in the theaters about a mediocre singer who supposedly becomes a star covering the Fab Four in a world that has forgotten them, the topic seems relevant. Looking at other online lists of favorite Beatle covers it became clear that very few of the versions your Dentist would chose have cropped up on other top lists. With a basement with over 5000 cover versions to choose from, the process of elimination seemed daunting but was helped along because frankly most of the covers are awful (which is a great topic for a later date). After whittling things down to 60 or so goodies, it becomes obvious that more than one post will be needed to do it properly so this is part one. To keep things fair, only one version of a particular song will be included this time out. Covering a Beatles song is generally an exercise in futility as you are trying to top the masters. I am always torn – is it best to do a faithful copy or try to rearrange what the Beatles did originally? Rocking it up (or slowing it down), adding some funk/soul or turning a Beatles pop song into a country hoedown are just a few ways acts tackle the tunes. Guess you can decide (feel free to send comments with your choices). These are not meant to be the best, most important, biggest hits, etc. – only your humble Rock N Roll Dentist’s fab 25.
1.Ringo Starr – I Call Your Name
A bit of a cheat perhaps as Ringo was one of them, but he didn’t sing the original version (John did) and it is hands down the best Beatles cover ever for me. The band is made up of heavy-weights in Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Joe Walsh and Jim Keltner (more cowbell!). This was only available as a video tribute to Mr. Lennon’s 50th birthday (and the 10th anniversary of his untimely passing). It is truly a pity that this was never released on a legit record or CD as it is one of the best things Ringo has ever done. Maybe a Ringo rarities set will rescue it from obscurity.
2.The Inmates – Little Child
The best album of Beatles cover versions is by far this rare 2001 UK import CD (The Inmates Meet The Beatles on Riverside/BMG) documenting a Paris concert from 1987. The production by the late Vic Maile makes the sound jump out of the speakers showcasing what a fantastic rock and roll combo Bill Hurley and company were (you remember “Dirty Water”?). While you could choose any song from this set, “Little Child” seems to surpass the original just in sheer energy.
3.Stevie Wonder – We Can Work It Out
Given production credit for the first time on this 1971 single (it hit #13 on the charts), Stevie changes things up from the 1965/66 #1 Beatles original hit by giving it some driving funk. He supplies the clavinet (electric keyboard) and harmonica solo with backing from the Funk Brothers.
4.Link Wray – Please Please Me
The man behind the hot guitar instros “Rumble” and “Rawhide” was scheduled to release this as a 45 in April of 1965 on Swan. The single was withdrawn and languished in the vaults until a series of Wray rarities albums on Norton Records resurrected it in 1990 (Some Kinda Nut – Missing Links Volume 3). While it likely wouldn’t have charted, this instrumental version still rocks pretty good.
5.George Martin – Yellow Submarine In Pepperland
Okay this could be seen as cheating again as it was the last track on the Beatles soundtrack album, but it was an orchestral version arranged by their genius producer as opposed to the Ringo-sung original so it stays. This arrangement was not from the film, but was specifically recorded for the Apple album. This jaunty version combines a march with a flute middle section that emphasizes the childlike nature of the song. Like it or hate it, the release on a Beatles album gave Martin a tidy royalty check.
6.Fairport Convention – Rain
For over four decades the British trad folk band Fairport Convention have hosted a highly successful festival in Cropredy (Oxfordshire, England). Several import albums have chronicled the excellent music that had been played there including a boxset for the 1997 lineup from which this comes. While he wasn’t in the band for long (six months in 1976), Breton musician Dan Ar Bras returns to take the lead on this searing workout. The power of the band and lead guitar work make you want to duck and cover to avoid the deluge.
7.Joe Cocker – I’ll Cry Instead
When you think of Joe Cocker covering the Beatles, the first song that comes to mind is “With A Little Help From My Friends” due to his hit U.K. single and powerful 1969 performance at Woodstock. Go back five years to his first record, however, and you get this excellent rockabilly cover. Cocker had been performing as Vance Arnold when he signed with Decca in England to release this non-charter (the 45 was on Philips in the U.S.). The production was by Mike Leander who arranged the strings on “She’s Leaving Home” for the Beatles (he also was behind Paul Raven/Gadd getting reborn as Gary Glitter – “Rock & Roll, Part 2”).
8.Elton John – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Elton once asked his friend John Lennon if there was a song of his that would have made a good single, but wasn’t released as such. Lennon replied “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” from the Sgt. Pepper album (which didn’t have any 45s taken from it at the time). In 1974 with help from Lennon as Dr. Winston O’Boogie (guitar and vocals), Elton recorded this cover at Caribou Ranch in Colorado. The single ended up being the first #1 of 1975. Lennon performed this song as part of a three song guest appearance with Elton John on Thanksgiving night 1974.
9.The Sweet – Paperback Writer
Had The Sweet not become glam rock stars in the ’70s this version would have never surfaced as it was only recorded for playback on a British BBC radio program. While it is too bad a cleaner studio recording wasn’t done, the digital era has allowed a remastered version to see the light of laser on a CD of their Beeb recordings. The Beatles’ original was a #1 hit in the summer of 1966 and heralded a bit of a heavier sound.
10.The Georgia Satellites – Don’t Pass Me By
Ringo’s “Don’t Pass Me By” was a bit of a country throwaway from The Beatles that didn’t even have George or John playing on it. For their 1988 LP Open All Night, the Atlanta band The Georgia Satellites really rocked the original up greatly improving on the song with classic Chuck Berry-like guitar riffage. The only song people remember by these guys is the rocker “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”, but they put out some other classic three chord rock and roll (leader Dan Baird continues to fire off excellent albums to this day).
11.The Dillards – I’ve Just Seen A Face
Doug and Rodney Dillard from Salem, Missouri formed a bluegrass band using their last name and are mostly remembered as the Darling family appearing from 1963-66 on The Andy Griffith Show. With electrified instrumentation and longer hair, they pioneered bluegrass for a younger audience. Like so many other pioneering bands, however, they were not able to have chart hits. Their fourth album Wheatstraw Suite was their first to go in that more electric style and contained a cover of Paul McCartney’s acoustic guitar workout from Rubber Soul (Help in the U.K.). The Charles River Valley Boys had originally recorded this in 1966 as part of their fine Beatle Country album. Rodney still leads a version of the Dillards to this day.
12.The Rolling Stones – I Wanna Be Your Man
The story goes that before Mick and Keith became songwriters, they (or their producer) asked John and Paul if they had any material the Stones could record. Lennon and McCartney went to their recording session and finished off this song which would become the Rolling Stones’ second 45 later in 1963 (peaking in the U.K. at #12). Bill Wyman’s driving bass really makes the song jump while Brian Jones plays slide and sings background vocals (a rarity for the band). Frankly the Stones rockin’ take is superior to the Ringo-sung Meet The Beatles album track (With The Beatles in the U.K.).
13.Byron Nemeth Group – I Am The Walrus
Equador born Nemeth fronts his own Cleveland based prog-rock inflected band whose music can be found on such albums as 100 Worlds and The Force Within (from which comes this loud guitar instrumental take on the psych classic). The original album was released in 2007, but you should look for the greatly expanded 2018 version.
14.Geoff Richardson & Jim Leverton – I’m Looking Through You
It would be nice to play this country-rock version of the old Rubber Soul Paul-sung song, but apparently it isn’t on youtube – sorry. These two have played together since 1995 in the Canterbury prog band Caravan (Richardson on violin/flute/etc. and Leverton on bass) plus they have released albums as a duo. This cover comes from their 2000 album Poor Man’s Rich Man. Leverton was also in the Noel Redding band after he was pushed out of the Jimi Hendrix Experience- Fat Mattress.
15.Mary McCaslin – Things We Said Today
This is a gently wistful acoustic take on the Something New album cut (in the U.K. – A Hard Day’s Night). Her country-tinged voice lends an Appalachian old-timey feel to the song which originally was the opening track from her 1977 album Old Friends. That this song lends it’s name to McCaslin’s ‘best-of’ album speaks to the regard folks have for her version.
16.Billy Preston – Eight Days A Week
As the only musician to share credit on a Beatles single (“Get Back”), Preston’s organ playing was a big part of the early Apple era (releasing records of his own including “That’s The Way God Planned It”). As a sideman with Little Richard, the Beatles knew the 16 year old Preston as early as 1962. In the vein of Booker T & The MG’s, Preston recorded some instrumental albums in the ’60s including Early Hits Of ’65 from which this comes. In the U.S. the Beatles’ version was a #1 hit while it was only an album track in the U.K. (Beatles For Sale).
17.The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band – Yer Blues
Ringo has said that one of funnest tracks to record from the White Album was John’s “Yer Blues” as they did it live in a cramped closet. Shepherd’s version amps up the growling guitars from the original on his How I Go album in 2011 (though the bass playing is way more pedestrian than Paul’s much nastier sound). Vocals are by Noah Hunt. Shepherd is a Shreveport native and along with Joe Bonamassa has been instrumental in keeping guitar based blues alive a la Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter.
18.Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – And Your Bird Can Sing
Between 2006 and 2013, power poppers Sweet and Hoffs (the Bangles) released three albums containing pretty faithful covers of various pop songs. Each album was from a different decade with “And Your Bird Can Sing” from Under The Covers Vol. 1 – the one devoted to the ’60s. The fact that the album even charted at all amazes me albeit the position was a lowly #192 (guitars and tuneful songs haven’t been the flavor of the charts in many years). John’s composition (mostly) was one of my faves from the 1966 Capitol release Yesterday & Today (Revolver in the U.K.) and featured a nice dual guitar riff played by Paul and George.
19.Johnny Rivers – I’ll Be Back
John Ramistella under the name Rivers had a nice run of fine rock and roll singles that were mostly covers. His last chart single was in 1978 and one could be excused for not following him since. For those not aware, he has from ’98 on put out a fine if sporadic series of albums including Last Train to Memphis that year and Reinvention Highway from 2004. Chris Hillman, Benmont Tench, Waddy Wachtel, etc. supplied the backing on such songs as “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” (the Byrds) and “I’ll Be Back” which was on my fave Beatles album – Beatles ’65 (in the U.K. – A Hard Day’s Night). While the Beatles did the song on acoustic guitars, Rivers’ take has ringing 12-string electric.
20.The Kentucky Headhunters – I’m Down
The Beatles replaced “Long Tall Sally” as their closing rocker with “I’m Down” in their final year of touring (1966) – a song only found as a single B-side in 1965 (“Help”). Paul wrote the song in the style of Little Richard. John moved from guitar to the Vox Continental organ on which he can be seen going ape during the Shea Stadium film of this song. Since their 1989 debut album, the Kentucky Headhunters have been carrying the torch for Southern country-rock (they placed 12 songs on the U.S. country charts). Their 2005 Big Boss Man was an album of covers including a nice version of Roger Miller’s “Chug-a-Lug” and a quartet of Hank Williams songs. The Headhunters closed the album with this rockin’ version.
21.The Grip Weeds – The Inner Light
With a band named after a John Lennon character in the movie How I Won The War (Musketeer Gripweed), you can tell where their music is generally headed. The fact that they named their 2015 album, from which this song comes, after that movie and that the cover image looks alot like Lennon in the movie is not a coincidence. This is one of their best albums yet only confirmed power pop fans have a clue who they are. The album closer is an excellent cover of the George Harrison single B-side (“Lady Madonna”) – his final of three Indian music themed songs. “The Inner Light” only had vocals by John, Paul and George with instrumentation recorded in Bombay by Indian session players on non-rock instruments. While the Grip Weeds version still retains that Eastern sound, it has a heavy guitar/bass/drum backbeat during the instrumental breaks that improves the song mightily.
22.Gerry Rafferty – Because
If you remember Rafferty it is because of his huge hit “Baker Street” or because he was a member of Stealers Wheel (“Stuck In The Middle With You”). As an alcoholic who suffered from chronic depression, his career suffered which is a pity as he obviously still had a musical gift right up to the end in Jan. 2011 as this 2009 album shows (Life Goes On). Rafferty’s version of John’s beautiful Abbey Road song is pretty faithful with gorgeous harmony vocals and gentle keyboard instrumentation.
23.World Party – Fixing A Hole
Ex-Waterboy Karl Wallenger formed World Party as essentially a solo project starting in 1986 and is best remember for “Ship Of Fools”. “Fixing A Hole” comes from the 2012 five disc Arkeology compilation and is pretty faithful to the Paul McCartney original found on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
24.Peter Sellers – A Hard Day’s Night
Sellers had been a part of the Goons, a comedy act produced by George Martin pre-Beatles. He and the Beatles became fast friends and as a tribute Sellers recorded several of their songs in spoken form. “She Loves You” and “Help” were both done comedically, but “A Hard Day’s Night” was in the style of a Shakespearean performance with recorders quietly backing the reading. George Martin was again behind the glass for this 1965 recording of the title track to the Beatles’ first movie.
25.Lana Lane – Across The Universe
For such a fine Lennon song, it never seemed like he came up with a great recorded version (Phil Spector came close on Let It Be). This version that starts mellow then adds driving drums is pretty darn good at capturing the tune better (though the Lennon voice can’t be beat to these ears). Lane has sung on two albums by one of my fave neo-prog bands Ayreon and is married to producer Erik Norlander who played keys for seven years with Asia. Lane’s first album Love Is An Illusion was released in 1995 while her most recent one is El Dorado Hotel – 2012. This cover version is found on her 1998 album Ballad Collection.