August 5 will see the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ seminal Revolver album. If Rubber Soul was the moment when the besuited moptops handed over the Beatle baton to the more experimental stoners, Revolver was the moment the stoners became adults, doing things on their own terms.
George Harrison’s I Want To Tell you is perhaps most emblematic of that progression. The melody could have been on Rubber Soul, or even Help!, but the arrangement and especially the lyrics absolutely couldn’t.
The first song which the Beatles recorded for the album was one that set the scene for what innovation was to come. Tomorrow Never Knows, which was born almost exactly four months before Revolver’s release (on April 6), was a radical departure from the pure, relatively uncomplicated pop and rock & roll which the band had produced just a year earlier on Help (which was released on August 6, 1965, almost exactly one year before Revolver. Let that timeline sink in!). The song was subject to such experimentations as tape loops and running the vocals through a speaker normally used for the Hammond organ, plus Ringo using a novel drum-pattern.
The cover of that song here is a sparse affair from 1970 by the blues/R&B singer Junior Parker, recorded a year before his death at the age of 39 during surgery for a brain tumor.
Harrison had already experimented gingerly with Indian music on Rubber Soul. Here, on Love You To, he went full Indian — I guess it must have been even more startling to Revolver’s first listeners than Tomorrow Never Knows. It is covered here by the Don Randi Trio, who recorded the whole of Revolver in their jazz interpretation, within weeks of the album’s release. Their version respects the original’s Indian core.
Revolver had several moments of genius. Eleanor Rigby in particular is a masterpiece, lyrically and musically (I’ll leave it to you whether Ray Charles’ interpretation trumps the original). McCartney’s other two ballads on the album — For No One and Here, There And Everywhere — are remarkable as well. Emmylou Harris features here with her gorgeous take on the often neglected For No One, from 1975’s Pieces Of The Sky LP. She might also have been included for her version of Here, There And Everywhere, recorded the same year for the Elite Hotel album. That song is covered to equally lovely effect by that other country woman of crossover appeal, Bobbie Gentry.
Lennon was more hit-and-miss on Revolver than Paul. Tomorrow Never Knows and I’m Only Sleeping tower above the serviceable but usually not unduly overlooked Dr Robert, And Your Bird Can Sing and She Said She Said, decent tracks though they are. Dr Robert was the most difficult song to find a cover for. Here it is done by an Italian band called Slow Feet (an allusion to Eric Clapton’s nickname Slow Hand), which specialises in covering classic rock songs.
In don’t know why Paul’s excellent Good Day Sunshine doesn’t receive more love. Roy Redmond’s southern soul cover reveals a depth to a song which in The Beatles’ version is “just another” Beatles pop song.
Critics don’t love Yellow Submarine, written by Paul specifically for Ringo and deliberately as a children’s song. It ought to have been only a b-side (as it also was, to Eleanor Rigby), not an album track. But while the purists hate it, the public loved it, as would be the case two long, long years later with the much maligned yet ferociously popular Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.
The Pickin’ On Picks recording was the only feasible version of Yellow Submarine that I could include here (though I include the 1976 Sesame Street version — three monsters harmonising in monstrous ways — as a bonus). The Pickin’ On Picks was a 1990s project whereby session musicians would render the catalogue of a particular artist in the bluegrass genre. Cross-genre appropriation sometimes works well, and sometimes does so only in small doses. This is such a case: one or two songs at a time are great; more than that is quite enough.
The obvious choice for a cover of Got To Get You Into My Life might have been that of Earth, Wind & Fire, or perhaps that by Thelma Houston, which surely inspired the EWF arrangement. That itself might have borrowed from the one used here, by Blood, Sweat & Tears. The EWF version previously featured on Any Major Beatles Covers: 1962-66; the Thelma Houston version you can get on the Jim Gordon Collection Vol. 2.
Naturally the mix fits on a CD-R, and includes home-renovated covers. PW in comments.
1. The Loose Ends – Tax Man (1966)
2. Ray Charles – Eleanor Rigby (1968)
3. Lobo – I’m Only Sleeping (1974)
4. Don Randi Trio – Love You To (1966)
5. Bobbie Gentry – Here, There And Everywhere (1968)
6. The Pickin’ On Picks – Yellow Submarine (1995)
7. Hedge & Donna – She Said She Said (1971)
8. Roy Redmond – Good Day Sunshine (1967)
9. Spanky & Our Gang – And Your Bird Can Sing (1967)
10. Emmylou Harris – For No One (1975)
11. Slowfeet – Doctor Robert (2006)
12. Chris Stainton & Glen Turner – I Want To Tell You (1976)
13. Blood, Sweat & Tears – Got To Get You Into My Life (1975)
14. Junior Parker – Tomorrow Never Knows (1970)
More great Beatles stuff:
Beatles Recovered: A Hard Day’s Night
Beatles Recovered: Beatles For Sale
Beatles Recovered: Help!
Beatles Recovered: Rubber Soul
Wordless: Any Major Beatles Instrumentals
Covered With Soul Vol. 14 – Beatles Edition 1
Covered With Soul Vol. 15 – Beatles Edition 2
Any Major Beatles Covers: 1962-66
Any Major Beatles Covers: 1967-68
Any Major Beatles Covers: 1968-70
Any Bizarre Beatles
Beatles – Album tracks and B-Sides Vol. 1
Beatles – Album tracks and B-Sides Vol. 2
Beatles Reunited: Everest (1971)
Beatles Reunited: Live ’72 (1972)