Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Saturday List #302 - ten cover versions that are better than the Beatles original

 I have a confession to make. I am not really a fan of the Beatles. When I was growing up it seemed I had their music inflicted on me all of the time. I would endlessly be informed of their genius and how special they were. I can remember being taken by my sister to her friend Linda Finlays flat to to hear the world premier of Penny Lane. I was distinctly underwhelmed. Adults assumed that I'd like Yellow Submarine and I am the Walrus because they were infantile rubbish, I almost felt quite insulted. I can remember getting shouted at by cousins for saying that I thought See Emily Play by Pink Floyd was a far better song than anything the Beatles had done. I do quite like a couple of Beatles numbers, namely Paperback writer and Let it Be, but that is about it. I didn't get all of that Sgt Peppers nonsense, I much preferred the Rolling Stones. Songs like "You can't always get what you want" and "Get off my cloud" seemed far more relatable. I sort of thought Get off My Cloud was a reference to Cloudbase in Captain Scarlett, which appealed to me. In truth though the songs were just a bit more joyous when they were joyous and a bit more melancholic when they were melancholic. 

Some time in the mid 1980's a challenge came down. An album was released which was a set of covers of tracks from Sgt Peppers by various artists and The Fall were on it. As I owned every piece of vinyl released by The Fall, I had to buy it. I am glad I did. It introduced me to a few artists I'd never really enjoyed. I rather liked Courtney Pine's take on When I'm sixty four as an example. I also rather liked Michelle Shocked's take on Lovely Rita. It made me realise that the Beatles were not bad songwriters.

In recent years, I've been inspired to listen to many new things by a slot on Robert Elms show on BBC radio London. It's called cover to cover. He plays two versions of a song, the original and a cover and listeners choose which one they think is best. I recently selected Helter Skelter by Siouxsie and The Banshees for my punk to 25 tracks. I did an impromptu Cover to Cover in studio reception, putting it up against the Beatles. Of course the Banshees one. It made me have a listen to a few other Beatles covers I've listened to over the years. I did the same and IMHO all of these are better. Here's why.

Siouxsie and The Banshees - Helter Skelter. An horrible song. The Beatles version is just a bit too nice. It's a great song and the Banshees make it sound as horrible as the song is. Inspired by Charles Manson's murder. I wonder what Paul McCartney heard when he heard this. I actually like Macca and I reckon he probably realised that it was something the Banshees did justice to.

Aretha Franklin - The long and winding road. This is one of the Beatles songs I like. When I heard this, I loved the gospel arrangement. I have had many an argument with Beatles fans about this version. I just think it gives the song and bit of spirituality and soul that elevates it. 

Otis Redding - Day Tripper. I love Otis. I love the Stax production on this. It says to me smoky bars in Harlem in '68, something sadly I never experienced. I always felt that the Beatles production made the songs sound very sterile. This is full of life. 

Crosby, Still & Nash - Blackbird. I love their harmonies and the simplicity of this live version. It's a beautiful song. Crosby, Stills and Nash are amazing musicians and any of their tracks are worth a listen. 

The Fall - A day in the life. A song that should be sung by dreary, miserable northerners. Something the Beatles had long since stopped being, but The Fall never escaped from. 

Richie Havens - Here comes the sun. Richie Havens is such a life affirming artist. When the Beatles sing this it's a nice enough song. When Richie Havens sings it, the Sun comes out and it is alright. I miss Richie.

Sonic Youth - Within you, without you. This is such a great version. I absolutely love Sonic Youth.  I generally don't like this sort of stuff, but I think they put an edge to the Hippy Dippy song. I think it improves it immeasurably.

Elvis Presley - Something. This was Frank Sinatra's favourite Beatles song, possibly the only one he liked. I suspect he'd have liked the way Elvis sang it even more. There are few songs Elvis covered that he didn't improve. He certainly took this up a notch. 

Jose Feliciano - And I love her. If you like a bit of guitar, then you will like this. I just wish I could play like this. 

Joe Cocker - With  a little help from my friends. The Beatles wrote a nice little pop song. Joe Cocker turned it into an epic, a work of genius. He added soul and feeling, something completely lacking from the original, which sounds to me almost like a comedy novelty record.


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