Monday, June 18th 2012
Lists: The Beatles
Leonard Bernstein has called John Lennon and Paul McCartney “the Schuberts of our time,” and as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the The Beatles‘ rise to stardom, it is hard to argue with that statement. With the immeasurable repertoire acquired during their Hamburg days as well as their self-honed musical styles, the Fab Four were ripe for stardom by 1962. Perfectionists with a knack for detecting trends in a timely manner, The Beatles capitalized on the popularity of run-of-the-mill hits such as Love Me Do and I Want To Hold Your Hand to amass enough stardom and credibility to craft masterpieces as timeless and as brilliant as Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “The White Album” and Abbey Road.
In the forty years since the Beatles’ break-up, the band’s impact and influence has intensified beyond imagination, effectively shaping the landscape of pop, rock and more in the world of popular music. McCartney, Lennon, George Harrison and, yes, even Ringo Starr have written songs that are as familiar to us as our most inherent tendencies. These songs have similarly inspired and incited our contemporary musical heroes. Below, we celebrate several of those artists as they have enduringly given new life and meaning to the classics we cherish so dearly.
30. St. Vincent – Dig A Pony
Annie Clark gives one of John Lennon’s many love letters to Yoko Ono a groove and electricity that was absent in the rooftop original. Clark’s distorted and fantastically chaotic solo at the track’s midpoint excellently complements Lennon’s deliberately nonsensical lyrics, and makes for a cover that is perhaps even better than the original.
29. Wilco – Yesterday
Whether it’s manifested through distorted angst or submissive charm, melancholy hangs over Wilco’s sweet and often saccharine music like a dark cloud. So it is no surprise that Jeff Tweedy is able to channel regret and disappointment so lucidly in what is arguably Paul McCartney’s most renowned masterpiece.
28. Bobby McFerrin – Blackbird
Bobby McFerrin’s vocal dexterity bears the weight of a ten-piece ensemble, and his cover of Paul McCartney’s simple and magnificent celebration of the Civil Rights Movement is a testament to his absolute brilliance. McFerrin transforms McCartney’s minimalistic song into a full-scale production, and it is just as beautiful and just as evocative.
27. Al Green – I Want To Hold Your Hand
Soul and yearning make for one hell of a combination, especially through the iconically passionate lens of Al Green. He takes ownership over this high-stepping rendition.
26. Emmylou Harris – For No One
Emmylou Harris’s cover of Paul McCartney’s heartrending depiction of a relationship gone awry offers a kind of motherly comfort and retrospection to the 1966 original. McCartney’s narrator in the original is confused and baffled by his partner’s sudden change of heart, but Harris’ narrator instead evokes understanding and acceptance. McCartney’s fictitious lover is gone, and now he must sing his song, and move forward.
25. Oasis – Within You Without You
When Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, George Harrison’s psychedelic ode to love and oneness was positioned as the first track of the record’s second side so that the listeners could skip it with ease. It’s unfortunate that this song initially received such harsh treatment; it is one of Sgt. Pepper’s most memorable songs. Oasis recorded their own version on the 40th anniversary of the record, and unsurprisingly, did it justice.
24. Tori Amos – Happiness is a Warm Gun
This Lennon-written track is said to have been Paul McCartney’s favorite song off “The White Album.” The track was the amalgamation of three unfinished fragments by Lennon, and the title was taken from the cover of a gun magazine. A warm gun, of course, is one that has been recently fired. Thematically, it has become quite difficult to dissociate this song from John Lennon’s senseless murder in 1980. It’s fragmented, it’s chaotic, and most haunting of all is the title that runs parallel with Lennon’s terrible fate.
Tori Amos’ brilliant and extended cover of Lennon’s masterpiece incites all of these emotions while also making an illicit but charged statement regarding the state of gun control in America. Lennon would have loved it.
23. Jim Carrey – I Am The Walrus
In 1997, George Martin invited a wide array of actors, artists, and musicians to collaborate on a Beatles tribute album entitled In My Life. Jim Carrey’s madcap cover of John Lennon’s nonsensical classic I Am the Walrus is among the highlights of George Martin’s album. Carrey and the song seem like a perfect fit: they are both mad, jovial, and wonderfully absurd.
22. Emmylou Harris – Here, There, and Everywhere
Possibly the finest of all his love songs, Paul McCartney wrote Here, There, and Everywhere with Marianne Faithfull in mind. He later called his almost falsetto singing on the beautiful track as “My Marianne Faithfull impression.” Emmylou Harris’ graceful cover of the song may perhaps be closest to what McCartney had in mind when he originally wrote the track.
21. Peter Sellers – She Loves You
One of the reasons the Beatles were so fond of George Martin was that he had previously collaborated with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan of the popular British comedy program The Goon Show. Martin’s involvement in the comedy world gave him an ideal grasp of timing, which greatly complemented his work as a music producer as well. But if there was ever a master in the art of comedic timing, it was the great Peter Sellers, whose hilarious Dr. Strangelove-esque cover of She Loves You must have surely been a highpoint in the Fab Four’s early careers.
20. Bobby McFerrin – From Me To You
Even more emotive than his cover of Blackbird is Bobby McFerrin’s vocal rendition of From Me To You, where the virtuoso strips the song of its poppy temperament, and rearranges it into an entirely new song while leaving the Lennon-McCartney trademarks intact.
19. Deep Purple – Help!
John Lennon often claimed 1965 to have been his “fat Elvis period”. The singer had been struck with depression and anxiety owing to the Beatles’ quick rise to fame. Help! was, quite fittingly, Lennon’s cry of desperation; and along with No Reply and I’m a Loser, the song proved to be a great milestone in Lennon’s coming-of-age as a lyricist. Help! was played and performed on numerous occasions, yet nobody paid heed to Lennon’s quite explicit cry for help.
The track is just an example of how the melancholy in Lennon and McCartney’s songs are often eclipsed by their upbeat exteriors. In 1968, Deep Purple stripped down the misleading joviality of the song, and fully entrenched themselves its underlying sorrow. The results were tremendous.
18. Prince, Tom Petty & more – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
There’s only one thing that needs to be said about this incredible tribute performance at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame: Prince’s solo.
17. The Black Keys – She Said She Said
The story behind She Said She Said is among the most amusing in the Beatles’ songwriting history. Tripping on acid at a Los Angeles party in 1965, John Lennon kept being badgered by actor Peter Fonda who incessantly pestered the Beatle with the phrase “I know what it’s like to be dead.” Lennon, so infuriated and frightened by Fonda’s untimely remarks (they were all tripping on acid after all), never let go of the memory and wrote She Said She Said as a dig at the actor.
The Black Keys’ cover of She Said She Said would have most likely terrified Lennon just as much. It is stripped of its psychedelia and instead infused with a toxic riff and unremitting distortion. It’s the Black Keys turning Lennon’s own song against him.
16. The Tubes – I Saw Her Standing There
Please Please Me’s electric opener, I Saw Her Standing There, was born to be a punk song – had the genre existed when Lennon and McCartney originally wrote the song. By 1978, however, the punk movement was alive and well, and the highly-underrated punk band the Tubes refurbished the track and made it their own. Their cover is perhaps even more exhilarating than the 1963 original.
Best Beatles Covers #15-#1 on Page 2…