A Comprehensive Guide to the Most Mind-Bending Beatle Song Covers – Part 3
Artists of all levels cover the Beatles’ music in nearly every genre, but my favorites are the ones that truly bring something of value to the song. As a lifelong fan, I’ve heard thousands upon thousands of good, mediocre, and terrible versions of the Fab Four’s output. The following is part three of my list of the ones that really stand out as being well-done, unique, or in some way interesting and worth hearing.
Note: This is a 12-part series, broken out roughly by studio album (UK release) with songs released only as singles included in the general timeframe of a close album release. (Don’t get excited, purists, about which singles should belong where; this is just a convenience.)
My Rules: Songs must have been written and recorded by the Beatles and released as singles or on an album during their career. No covers of other artists or solo Beatles material are included. No members of the Beatles can be in the performance. No Tribute bands.
Songs from A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
This is the third article of the series. The series starts here: Part 1: Songs from Please Please Me (1963).
A Hard Day’s Night
The title song for the film and album was based on something Ringo said as The Beatles were coming off stage: “I’m bloody knackered, man, it’s been a hard day’s night.” Paul and John were so enamored with Ringo’s charming spoonerisms that they became a frequent source of lyrical inspiration.
Before her first appearance on Eurovision, three-time contestant Katja Ebstein sang a sultry psychedelic version of the song complete with groovy sitar on her 1969 album Katja.
I Should Have Known Better
In the movie A Hard Day’s Night, this song is supposedly performed in a train compartment. It was actually filmed in the back of a van which the crew rocked to make it look like the motion of the train car.
“I Should Have Known Better” was not released as a single in 1964 in the UK and was only released as a B side in the US. However, it was released as a single in several other counties and had the most success in Sweden where it charted at number one for four weeks. In 1968, the band Slam Creepers, a sort of Swedish Vanilla Fudge fronted by Björn Skifs (who went on to found Blue Swede), recorded this slow and heavy version for the album Sweet Ruth.
If I Fell
As a melodic ballad, Paul McCartney cites this as an example of the tender side of John coming out in this collaboration between the two of them. When Henry Mancini chose it to play on piano for television, Paul introduced the performance in the following clip.
And I Love Her
Paul wrote this love song for Jane Asher shortly after moving into her parents’ home in 1964. John said in his 1980 interview for Playboy, “That was his first ‘Yesterday.’ You know, the big ballad.”
While we’ve all been blown away by the Peter Jackson documentary Get Back, another important music documentary came out earlier in 2021, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) .about the legendary 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival which celebrated African American music and culture, and promoted Black pride and unity.” The most surprising act at the festival was The 5th Dimension and I think anyone who watched that documentary came away with a new appreciation for them as artists.
As recent as 2021, Marylin McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. (married couple and founding members of The 5th Dimension) released Blackbird – Lennon-McCartney Icons by Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. I chose their rendition of “And I Love Her” as my newly discovered favorite cover of this song. It’s a simple, beautiful arrangement that showcases McCoo’s haunting vocals. They must have agreed on the exceptional quality as they chose it as the leading track to the album.
Tell Me Why
When asked about “Tell Me Why”, John Lennon told interviewer David Sheff for Playboy: “They needed another song [for A Hard Day’s Night]—an upbeat song—so I just knocked it off.” John considered it a filler song, but April Wine slows it down and creates a very pleasant country rock ballad almost worthy of the Eagles. I can’t tell you why the video is about a woman in a white jumpsuit changing a flat tire.
Can’t Buy Me Love
“‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ is my attempt to write a bluesy mode,” Paul said. “The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well but they won’t buy me what I really want. It was a very hooky song. Ella Fitzgerald later did a version of it which I was very honoured by.”
We could also assume that Paul was honored by this 1978 version from Dutch supergroup Sweet D’Buster. Bertus Borgers, who played saxophone for Golden Earring, sings and shreds sax on this proto-post-punk-prog arrangement. Bertus invites us to follow him on Spotify: “I subject my carefully curated repertoire to the randomness of the latest algorithms. Feel free to follow me, we will not perish!”
Any Time at All
Another track that John Lennon “knocked out” for the soundtrack album, employing “the old C to A minor.”
Melanie, AKA Melanie Safka, the daughter of jazz singer Polly Altomare and Ukranian Frederick Safka, wrote the song “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” based on her experience performing at Woodstock instead of The Incredible String Band who refused to take the stage in the rain. The audience lit up candles during the performance appreciating her willingness to be there, any time at all. She became the first woman to have four singles in the Billboard Top 40 at one time.
I’ll Cry Instead
“I’ll Cry Instead” was a bit of a lonely teardrop rockabilly-styled single that John Lennon wrote amidst his frustration with the trappings fame and married life beginning his period of self-examination that lasted through the rest of the Beatles and his solo efforts.
While Muscle Shoals had The Swampers, it also had The Shooters, a five-piece country band headed by Walt Aldridge, “Music Achiever” of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame for his 17 years at Fame Recording Studio and his notoriety as a hit song writer [“(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” by Ronnie Milsap (1981) and so on]. In 1987, The Shooters released their first self-titled album which produced a few charting country singles, and this upbeat countrified cover of “I’ll Cry Instead” as the last track.
Things We Said Today
One of Paul McCartney’s “future reminiscing” songs, Paul recalled writing it on an acoustic guitar in below deck in a cabin on a yacht in the Bahamas. The boy in the song is reaffirming his love to his girl who is far away.
This bluegrass version by Salamander Crossing is an interesting rendition and shows how McCartney’s innate harmonies translate so beautifully into Celtic folk music. It has a bit of a “Mull of Kintyre” feel to it.
When I Get Home
From Dave Rybaczewski’s Beatles eBooks: “‘That’s me again,’ [John] Lennon remembered, ‘another Wilson Pickett, Motown sound…a four-in-the-bar cowbell song.’ While it’s true that Wilson Pickett didn’t formulate his trademark R&B sound until the latter half of 1965, the Motown/Stax rhythms of the early 60’s were what fueled John’s inspiration for this track.
Fittingly then, Rustix, the first all white band to sign with Motown Records on their subsidiary Rare Earth Records, recorded their blue-eyed soul version in 1968 released on Cadet Records before their signing with Rare Earth.
You Can’t Do That
This is one of Lennon’s “jealous guy” songs and has been the subject of controversy due to it’s threatening lyrics toward the girl in the song. Lennon, later, during his “Lost ‘Weekend” period while separated from Yoko Ono, regularly hung out with Harry Nilsson, both of them wasted and up to antics such as getting kicked out of The Troubadour for heckling The Smothers Brothers and recording with Phil Spector who pulled out a gun and fired it in the studio.
There’s not much you can write to describe Nilsson’s half-cover-half-Beatles-medley version except that you have to hear it to believe it. You can’t do that, but somehow, he gets away with it.
I’ll Be Back
John says that this was his version of a song created based on chords from a Del Shannon song. Musicologist Ian McDonald names it: “Runaway”, which had been popular in England in 1961. George Martin chose this number to close the album, but it also signaled to fans that there would be more Beatles to come.
Rocksteady was a Jamaican music style that bridged ska and reggae in the mid-1960s. Although it was only popular for a couple of years, it helped give rise to reggae when lyrical content shifted away from romantic soul songs to more socially conscious and protest focused songs. The Paragons, one of the key bands of the movement, were themselves covered later by bands such as Massive Attack, UB40, and most famously, Blondie with “The Tide is High.”