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Great covers – Beatles

September 29th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

As a Beatles fan, I would be quite happy to display all their album covers on my wall, if decorating my humble abode with LP sleeves was my thing (the putative notion of such interior design innovation, of course, being the premise for this series). I imagine the Beatles would appreciate the pun in my song selection: Beatles songs sung by others…

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beatles for sale

The cover photo of Beatles For Sale is probably my favourite of all Fab Four pics. The lads look as tired (because they were exhausted) as half of the hurriedly compiled album sounds. The photo evokes late autumn, mainly because it was taken at that time of the year during a session in London’s Hyde Park (the LP was released on 4 December 1964). The photographer was Robert Freeman, who shot the photos for four other Beatles album covers: Please, Please Me, With The Beatles, Help! and Rubber Soul

The cover versions: Both covers come from radio sessions at KCRW, recorded in 2003. The Eels version was released on CD on Sixteen Tons (Ten Songs); I don’t think the Dandy Warhols slowed down and quite lovely take has ever been issued on CD.
Eels – I’m A Loser.mp3
Dandy Warhols – Eight Days A Week.mp3

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Almost exactly a year later, on 3 December1965, the Beatles released another LP, Rubber Soul, with cover art that evoked autumn. I’ve always imagined that on the photo the four were looking down into a well. What actually happened was that photographer Freeman was projecting a series of photos he had taken at Lennon’s place on an LP sleeve-sized cardboard, to give an idea as to how each option would look as a cover. At one point, the cardboard had slipped, and the image was projected at an angle. According to Paul, the Beatles really liked the effect, and asked Freeman whether he could recreate it. As we know, he could. The title Rubber Soul was a pun of a criticism McCartney had heard from an American musician of Mick Jagger, whose singing was described as “plastic soul”. The Rolling Stones almost inspired a much worse pun when the Beatles considered naming their next album, which we know as Revolver, “After Geography”, as pun on the Stones’ LP Aftermath. Happily, sanity prevailed.

The cover versions: There are at least two wonderful remakes of In My Life: that by Johnny Cash on his American IV album (which every human being should own) and José Feliciano’s 1968 cover on the excellent Feliciano! album, a fiesta of outstanding covers (check out his version of Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying). I’m posting the José version. Buddy Rich’s 1967 jazz version of Norwegian Wood is just brilliant, preferable even to the original.
José Feliciano – In My Life.mp3
Buddy Rich – Norwegian Wood.mp3

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Much as we may take it for granted on account of its ubiquity, I like the Abbey Road cover a lot for its simplicity. It is a great snapshot in time: the particular movement, the way the cars are parked (especially the VW Beetle with its supposedly cryptic license plate), the transience of Paul’s cigarette. I enjoy looking at the photo, imagining the scene at that precise moment. Seconds previously, a car had gone over the zebra crossing — we see the back of it as our four friends parade in single file. The distance of the car to the zebra crossing would suggest that John began leading the guys across the road the moment the car had passed, doing so fairly briskly (George clearly is striding hard to keep up). And in the background, there is a group of people and a single individual (one Paul Cole, a tourist speaking to a policeman in a black van) witnessing the scene with some interest. They surely had no idea that they would feature on the cover of what may be the greatest album of the 1960s, nor probably did the owner of the legs and blue dress we see flying by on the back cover.

The photo was taken on 8 August 1969 at 11:35 by Iain MacMillan, a friend of John and Yoko’s, who stood on a step ladder as he shot the Beatles walking over the zebra crossing twice in both directions. Reportedly a police man stopped the traffic for a short while to let the shoot, all of six photos, go ahead (clearly he stopped the traffic only in the left lane; the sequence shows that as the four cross the road again, they have let a black cab pass as a doubledecker bus approaches). One of the photos, taken before the Fab Four cross the road, shows an old lady approaching the Beatles as Paul fixes Ringo’s collar.

The cover versions: Isaac Hayes did with Something what he did with so many other tracks he covered: taking the song on a musical detour of kinds that the composer never dreamt of before arriving back at the source material. This is no longer George Harrison’s song; it is very much Ike’s. Fans of German curiosities may enjoy Teddy Lee’s Maxwells Silberhammer, in which the singer (who apparently enjoyed a fleeting but not very successful career in around 1970) turns Maxwell into a teenage druggie who robs banks with the aid of the titular tool to support his habit. But not to worry, it eventually turns into the murder song we know and underestimate on Abbey Road.
Isaac Hayes – Something.mp3
Teddy Lee – Maxwells Silberhammer.mp3

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With The Beatles

If I had to pick just one Beatles cover to decorate my wall, it would be that of With The Beatles, the group’s second LP. The photo was taken on 22 August 1963 in a corridor in the Bournemouth Palace Court Hotel, not an establishment generally associated with great moments in rock ’n’ roll. Photographer Freeman was given instruction to recreate the shadow-and-light effect often employed by their Hamburg-days friend Astrid Kirchherr, the girl in whose arms original Beatle Stu Sutcliffe died (see here for Kirchherr’s pictures). Freeman achieved the effect by using natural light coming through a window at the end of the corridor.

Kirchherr never shot a Beatles cover, but her sidekicks Klaus Voormann and Jürgen Vollmer were involved in cover art. Voormann designed the Revolver cover; Vollmer’s photo of Hamburg-days Lennon appeared on the cover of John’s 1975 Rock ’n’ Roll album.

Now seems also a good time to dismiss the story that Astrid Kirchherr “invented” the Beatles mop top style (known in German as Pilzkopf, or “mushroom head”). It was already a hairstyle popular among the art student set (the “Exis”, or existentialists) and sported by Vollmer, whose example the Beatles would follow.

Musically, With The Beatles shows only hints of the impact the group would have on music. Almost half of it comprised cover versions. It was a remarkable album for what it did not include: a single. At a time when releasing LPs as a clutch of singles plus loads of fillers was the norm, the Beatles took a conscious decision not to include their most recent hits, such as She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand, on the album. The gamble plaid off: the album was a massive hit in an age when pop LPs didn’t sell well. So it can be said that the success of With The Beatles helped raise the status of the humble LP. Within four years, the Beatles would release the benchmark LP of the 1960s, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The cover versions: The Rolling Stones were struggling for a first hit when John Lennon and Paul McCartney shared a cab with Stones manager Andrew Oldham and let his group have their song, I Wanna Be Your Man. The Stones recorded it first, so the Beatles technically covered their own composition. The Stones had their first UK Top 20 hit with it, reaching #12. During the Stones’ version’s 12-week run in the charts, the Beatles spent seven at #1, with She Loves You and its successor at the top spot, I Want To Hold Your Hand. The present version of All My Loving comes from that opinion-splitting film Across The Universe, of which I am not a fan. Sturgess version starts off quite nicely in a capella, then turns into a bass-driven exercise with a decent instrumental interlude. One of the better moments from a soundtrack that includes my friend Bono singing — oh, but of course! — I Am The Fucking Walrus. The tosser.
The Rolling Stones – I Wanna Be Your Man.mp3
Jim Sturgess – All My Loving.mp3

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  1. September 29th, 2009 at 08:18 | #1

    A nice selecton of covers (and covers, too!). Among the album covers, I’d put “Abbey Road” at the top, probably for its casual and unplanned feel. If I recall rightly, I read in Geoff Emerick’s book about the boys that it was in fact a spontaneous, let’s-get-the-cover-shoot-out-of-the-way, event. Probably my favorite Beatles song cover is Sean Connery’s recitation of “In My Life” over an arrangement by George Martin; the performance closes Martin’s final album before retirement, also called “In My Life.”

  2. September 30th, 2009 at 11:51 | #2

    Terrific work Major; I didn’t know some of that stuff about the ‘Abbey Road’ cover, and that’s quite something to say given the overkill of Beatles info out there. Tip-top posting mon brave.

  3. October 1st, 2009 at 01:19 | #3

    Yer post prompted me to revisit a bunch of my Beatles covers and it struck me that seldom does a cover version exceed the original.

    The only one, in my opinion, “better” is Chocolate Genus’ Julia, one of my favorite covers of all time.

    Julia

    Hoping the linkage syntax works out.

    If not, here it is unadorned.

    http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?nglw3yjdfnd

    BTW, howdy, Whiteray!!!!

  4. October 1st, 2009 at 01:24 | #4

    While here and thinking of Beatles stuff, would love to see the additional photos of them walking across the street, or whatever from that session.

    Also, usually the first or second album by any artist is, again in my opinion, the best representation of their abilities. This isn’t the case with the Beatles. Which album is “best”, imagine would depend upon individual taste.

    Me? It’s a toss up between Rubber Soul & Revolver where the transition is evident, prior to their later style.

    Can’t say there’s a Bealtes album I dislike, even though Revolution No. 9 is simply TOO MUCH!

  5. walter
    October 2nd, 2009 at 12:39 | #5

    Many Beatles songs got to me via covers, I’m afraid.
    My dad’s record collection messed up my mind for years,
    I thought ‘Something’ and ‘Fool on he Hill’ were Shirley Bassey songs !!

    Arguably the best Beatles cover ever is Joe Cocker’s ‘With a little help from my friends’. Thanks.

  6. kool kid?
    December 10th, 2009 at 20:28 | #6

    my favorite personally is a hard days night. it shows the cover showed the happier days of the beatles.

  7. kool kid?
    December 10th, 2009 at 20:29 | #7

    i relize now that the last sentence is messed up.

  8. Any Minor World that Breaks Apart
    December 29th, 2009 at 09:04 | #8

    Thanks for the info and links, will be keeping an eye on your blog in the future!

  9. Chas
    October 25th, 2012 at 00:54 | #9

    Beatles for Sale is my favourite album and cover too.
    But hey all the rest are in truly marvellous category too!

  10. MArc-it
    June 12th, 2014 at 19:06 | #10

    agree with You on your choice of Jose Feliciano Beatles covers, I think he’s the best and creative cover man of Beatles. His album 1968 Feliciano! but also his nexts 1969 10-to23 and Alive Alive-o and sure 1970 Fireworks albums cointains a great number of their songs in a new dimensions

  11. JohnnyDiego
    June 16th, 2016 at 11:36 | #11

    During the 1994 season of “Seinfeld” Jerry has a magnet on his refrigerator that depicts the cover of “With The Beatles.” I flipped out when I saw it and had to have one. Now it adorns my refrigerator as well.
    As an aside, any chance of a reup for this one?

  12. halfhearteddude
  1. September 29th, 2009 at 01:30 | #1