Among the many potent influences the Beatles had on pop music, their part in advancing the importance of albums was crucial. Before the Beatles, pop albums — be it rock & roll or easy listening — were promotional tools for hit singles, populated by fillers. Serious albums served jazz and musical soundtracks. Of course there were very good albums before the Beatles (Elvis had at least three before Uncle Sam grabbed him, and Sinatra introduced the concept album), but LPs such as Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s, or even A Hard Day’s Night before those, helped establish the album as the more serious form of artistic (and commercial) expression.
With that in mind, it is easy to forget that three of the Beatles’ first four albums were topped up with fillers, many of them cover versions (which is quite ironic since the Beatles went on to become the most covered band ever). Some of these are better known in their original versions; the Little Richard and Chuck Berry compositions and Motown classics, for example. Some are generic classics (A Taste Of Honey; Till There Was You), and some are fairly obscure, or would become so. In this sub-series of The Originals, we look at the latter two categories in the first of a three-part sub-series, which includes a few rarities. (EDIT: The Cookies’ link is now fixed, and thespian misidentification removed.)
* * *
The Top Notes – Twist And Shout.mp3
The Isley Brothers – Twist And Shout.mp3
The Beatles – Twist And Shout.mp3
Mae West – Twist And Shout.mp3
Twist And Shout is probably the most famous cover by the Beatles, and is most commonly associated with them. And rightly so: their take is rock & roll perfection. It was based on the 1962 cover by the Isley Brothers, who introduced the rythm guitar riff (which borrows heavily from Richie Valens’ La Bamba) and the “ah-ah-ah” harmonies, to which the Beatles added the Little Richardesque “woo”.
The song was written by the legendary Bert Berns (sometimes credited to his pseudonym Bert Russell) with Phil Medley. Berns has featured in this series before as the author of songs such as I Hang On Sloopy and Here Comes The Night, and he will feature again if I can find Garnet Mimms’s Piece Of My Heart.
Berns gave Twist And Shout to The Top Notes — a Philadelphia R&B group which might have been forgotten entirely otherwise — whose recording was produced by a very young Phil Spector. The result did not please Berns, who accused Spector of “fucking it up”. He was a bit harsh on young Phil; the Top Notes’ version is not bad, but Berns had hoped for something a more energetic. So he took the song to the reluctant Isley Brothers’, who had scored a hit two years earlier with the driving Shout, which had the kind of sound Berns imagined for his song. Their Twist And Shout, which Berns produced, became a US #17 hit, and so came to the attention of the Beatles, whose version upped the tempo to produce a joyously frenetic and, indeed, orgasmic version.
It was the last song to be recorded after a marathon 12-hour session which saw ten tracks put down for the Please Please Me album, on 11 February 1963. Lennon had been ill with a cold — towards the end of the song, if you listen closely, you can hear Lennon cough — and his voice was already hoarse, soothed by milk and throat lozenges. The first take demolished Lennon’s voice; a second take was recorded but, according to producer George Martin, Lennon’s voice was by then gone (and George Harrison’s hands bleeding). That first take captured one of the great vocal performances in rock & roll — by a singer who, according to Martin, did not like his own voice, begging the producer to modify it on the recordings. Martin would later recall Lennon asking him repeatedly: “Do something with my voice. Put something on it. Smother it with tomato ketchup. Make it different.” In time, Lennon became adept at using his voice in different ways.
At about the same time as the Beatles’ version of Twist And Shout came out, another one was released by Brian Poole & the Tremeloes — the band Decca signed instead of the Beatles. For pure novelty value, Mae West’s remake is…interesting. Imagine a masochist cat enjoying an orgasm while being tortured.
Also recorded by: Booker T. & The M.G.’s (1962), The Searchers (1963), Ricky Gianco (1963), Brian Poole And The Tremeloes (1963), The Miracles (1963), Buddy Morrow and his Orchestra (1964), The Shangri-Las (1964), The Iguanas (1964), The Chipmunks (1964), Jack Nitzsche and his Orchestra (1964), Bob Hammer Band (1964), Del Shannon (1964), The Kingsmen (1964), Ike and Tina Turner (1965), Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs (1965), The Mamas and the Papas (a slowed down version, 1967), Tom Jones (1969), Chuck Berry (1969), The Who (1982), Rodney Dangerfield (for Back To School, 1986), Salt ‘n’ Pepa (1988), Los fabulosos Cadillacs (as Twist y gritos, 1988), Alejandra Guzmán (as Twist y gritos, 1989), Chaka Demus & Pliers (1993), Samantha Miller (1994), Mr. Al (1997), The Punkles (1998), Matmatah (2000), The Orchestra (2001), Liquido (2002), Dee Dee Ramone ( 2004), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (bootleg, 2005), The Drawbacks (2009)
The Cookies – Chains.mp3
The Everly Brothers – Chains.mp3
The Beatles – Chains.mp3
Another US #17 hit found its way on the Please Please Me album, recorded during the same session that produced Twist And Shout and the next song. The Cookies at the time were Little Eva’s back-up singers (and, later, Ray Charles’) who occasionally released singles themselves. Apart from the Top 20 success of Chains, they had a top 10 hit with Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby). The Cookies recently featured on this blog (here) and one of the Cookies will reappear later in this series as the original singer of a Herman’s Hermits song.
Chains was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Soon after the Cookies had their hit, the Beatles (and other Merseyside bands) included it in their concert repertoire. On Please Please Me, it is one of two songs that feature George Harrison on vocals (the other is the Lennon-McCartney composition Do You Want To Know A Secret), with John taking over the lead guitar and Harrison on rhythm guitar.
The Everly Brothers’ version is possibly the best of the lot, but went unreleased until 1984.
Also recorded by: Sylvie Vartan (1963), Jack Nitzsche and his Orchestra (1964), Carole King (1980), Kaleo O Kalani (1995), Beatlejazz (2005)
Billy Dee Williams – A Taste Of Honey.mp3
The Beatles – A Taste Of Honey.mp3
A Taste Of Honey was the title of a 1958 British kitchen-sink play by Shelagh Delaney (whose picture appeared on the single sleeve of The Smith’s Girlfriend In A Coma). The play was adapted in 1960 for Broadway, with the addition of incidental music. The song that became known as A Taste Of Honey provided a recurring theme. Among the cast of the Broadway production was Billy Dee Williams . Williams recorded the tune set to lyrics in 1960, failing to generate pop music’s crowning moment. Two years later, crooner Lenny Welch recorded the song (some source mistakenly claim that this was the first vocal version). It was Welch’s version which Paul McCartney was familiar with when the Beatles included it in their live repertoire, and then on their debut album, on which McCartney duetted with himself.
The song really has two lives: the vocal version and the instrumental one most famous in its incarnation by Herb Alpert (recently posted here).
Also recorded by: Bobby Scott (1960), Martin Denny (1962), Victor Feldman Quartet (1962), Acker Bilk (1963), Quincy Jones (1963), Barbra Streisand (1963), Paul Desmind (1963), The Hollyridge Strings (1964), Tony Bennett (1964), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1965), Bobby Darin (1965), Trini Lopez (1965), John Davidson (1966), Johnny Mathis (1966), Johnny Rivers (1966), Esther Phillips (1966), Tom Jones (1966), Chet Atkins (1967), Chris Montez (1967), I Giganti (as In paese è festa, 1967), The Hassles (1967), Shango (1969), Robert William Scott (1970), The Supremes & the Four Tops (1970), Ray Conniff (1971), Joshua Breakstone Quartet (1991), Vincent Gallo (1998), Lizz Wright (2005)
Barbara Cook & Robert Preston – Till There Was You.mp3
The Beatles – Till There Was You (Decca audition).mp3
The Beatles – Till There Was You.mp3
Whether or not one would regard this as a lesser-known original depends on one’s interest in showtunes. The Broadway afficionado will know Till There Was You as the song that ends Act 2 in the 1957 musical The Music Man, as the librarian (Barbara Cook) addresses the professor (Robert Preston). The soundtrack of the stage musical — it was made into a movie in 1962 — was one of the biggest US sellers of the 1950s, as many musicals were in the days before pop LPs (which, as noted, the Beatles helped usher in).
Paul McCartney was not a big follower of Broadway as a young man; he was introduced to the song via Peggy Lee’s 1961 version, courtesy of a cousin. He later claimed to have been unaware until much later that the song originated from a musical. It was a firm fixture in the Beatles’ concert playlist, even during their second stint in Hamburg. They also played it at the unsuccessful Decca audition (the audition tapes, incidentally, show that poor Dick Rowe did not suffer a terrible lapse in judgment. The Beatles were pretty poor).
Having recorded it for their sophomore album, With The Beatles, the group played Till There Was You at the Royal Variety Performance, apparently giving the Queen Mother much pleasure. The old bat probably frowned soon after at Lennon’s exhortation for jewellery rattling (he had planned to say “rattle your fucking jewellery”, but wisely though disappointingly chickened out), and possibly did not dance on top of her seat to the next song, Twist And Shout.
Also recorded by: Anita Bryant (1959), Chet Atkins (1960), Joni James (1960), Peggy Lee (1961), Valjean (1962), Nana Mouskouri (1962), Thomas Allen & Valerie Masterson (1995), Innovations (1998), Patti Austin (1999), Maye Cavallaro & Mimi Fox (2003), Rod Stewart (2003), The Smithereens (2007), Cassandra Wilson (2008)
Buck Owens – Act Naturally.mp3
The Beatles – Act Naturally.mp3
Appearing on Help!, Act Naturally was the Beatles’ final cover version, if one ignores Let It Be’s Maggie May. The other remake on Help!, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, had been recorded a month earlier. So we mark 17 June 1965 as the day the Beatles became an exclusively original band.
Act Naturally was a nod to Ringo’s fine performance in A Hard Day’s Night (and, indeed, in Help!), though the lyrics have less to do with impending stardom than with the feeling of rejection. It probably also cemented the public notion of Ringo as the cute, guileless and slightly retarded Beatle. It’s an image that would contribute to an entirely unjust diminution of Ringo’s reputation as a drummer.
Act Naturally was first recorded in 1963 by country singer Buck Owens, an influential figure in popular music as a progenitor, alongside Merle Haggard, of Bakersfield country, the Southern California sub-genre that gave rise to Gram Parsons (and the influence he brought to the Byrds) and later the likes of Dwight Yoakam, who recorded with Owens, and Brad Paisley. In 1989, almost exactly 24 years after the Beatles version was put down, Ringo and Owens — who had quite similar voices — recorded Act Naturally together.
Also recorded by: Loretta Lynn (1963), Brian Hyland (1964), Kitty Wells (1964), Betty Willis (1965), Hank Locklin (1965), Jody Miller (1966), The Hollyridge Strings (1967), Charley Pride (1967), The Cowsills (1969), The Youngbloods (1971), George Jones (1987), Daniel O’Donnell (1988), Buck Owens & Ringo Starr (1989), Moe Bandy (1997), Phil and the Frantics (1999), Johnny Russell (who wrote the song, 2000), Bobby Osborne (2000), Tamra Rosanes (2002)