November 20, 2008

The Bestest Beatles Covers

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Whether you know it as the theme song to The Wonder Years, or as an iconic performance at Woodstock, Joe Cocker’s rendition of “With A Little Help From Friends,” a song originally by the Beatles, gleams as one of the greatest covers of all time.
Footage of Cocker singing at Woodstock shows a man completely possessed — a man channeling a swarm of unknowable rock-and-roll deities through that magical scepter known as the electric guitar. Or, loads of LSD. Nonetheless, what makes Cocker’s rendition of this song superb is the artist’s ability to channel the excellence — and somehow transcend the status — of the original. In a weird way, Cocker understands that song better than any Beatle does. Or so it would seem by his inspired performance.
What makes Cocker’s cover-song so great is, perhaps, the fundamental quality that makes any cover-song great: It at once channels the brilliance of the original, and then moves beyond the original in a novel way.
When it comes to covering The Beatles, it is difficult to be great. It seems like every band tries it, and only few succeed. In the end, though, when a band does succeed, it can be incredible.
So, here’s a list of my favorite Beatles covers. Hopefully you find it to be incredible.

“Don’t Let Me Down” by Stereophonics
Singer Kelly Jones carries the weight of this cover with his honeyed vocals that at once crackle and slide. The pitch-perfect harmonies don’t hurt either, and they help thicken out a dragging tempo that reflects the deeply felt rejection laden in the song’s words. It’s hard to do without Billy Preston on the Fender Rhodes, as on the original, but Jones’s voice does well to replace that superb sound.

“Something” by James Brown
When James Brown adds the words, “I’ve got to believe in something,” to the George Harrison ballad, he shifts the focus of the song from the gawking admiration of girl to one of the most heartbreaking expressions of self-doubt caught on tape. It’s a brilliant song and an utterly moving performance and proves that James Brown really is the Godfather of Soul and that George Harrison is one of the most underrated songwriters of all time.

“I Am The Walrus” by Oasis
Often cited as the second coming of the Beatles, Oasis proves worthy of the accolades with this forceful and outrageous performance. Liam Gallagher gives one of his best vocal takes on this cover and the band rocks as hard as ever.

“I Am The Walrus” by Jim Carey
In a wildly different take on the kooky song from Magical Mystery Tour, Jim Carey explores the wide range of strange and exotic sounds a human can make. Carey decorates this song with extremely high-pitched notes and bizarre caricatured accents. The track was arranged and composed by George Martin, The Beatles’ legendary producer, and represents a new lens on a classic psychedelic tune from the band.

“A Day In The Life” by Wes Montgomery
The jazz guitar legend Wes Montgomery shows off his style and skill on this instrumental version of the epic song. It provides an entirely unique — and equally appealing — take on the classic song.

“If I Needed Someone” by Nellie McKay
Another jazz-style version of a good Beatles song, McKay’s “If I Needed Someone” proves the singer’s vocal strength and high level of taste. She’s best known as a PETA activist-cum-Broadway star-cum-wonky-lyricist, but here she simply proves that she can sing — and how.

“Come Together” by Smokin’ Mojo Filters
Does this count as a Beatles cover? It’s a super group with Paul Weller (The Jam), Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Steve Cradock, Steve White, Carleen Anderson and Paul McCartney as members. I think we may have a problem because McCartney is in the band. But John Lennon primarily wrote the song, and Weller’s singing on this track, so I’m totally going to throw it on the list. It’s just that good.

Some other great covers: “Yesterday” by Marvin Gaye, “Across the Universe” by Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe” by Rufus Wainwright, “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” by Jimi Hendrix, “For No One” by Emmylou Harris, “Get Back” by Ike and Tina Turner and “I Wanna Be Your Man” by the Rolling Stones.

Sammy Perlmutter is a Sun former Arts and Entertainment Editor. He can be contacted at [email protected]. … Into Television Shows appeared alternate Thursdays this semester.