Last April — ten editions of The Originals ago — we looked at the first of three batches of originals covered by the Beatles. Here we revisit two tracks each from the debut Please Please Me (Anna, Boys) and 1964’s Beatles For Sale (Words Of Love, Mr Moonlight), as well as With The Beatles‘ Devil In His Heart.
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Arthur Alexander – Anna (Go To Him) (1962).mp3
The Beatles – Anna (Go To Him) (1963).mp3
Few artists will have had their original songs covered by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. Arthur Alexander did. We already observed that Elvis covered Burning Love (though Alexander didn’t write that one), Dylan covered Sally Sue Brown (in 1988), the Stones covered his You Better Move On (in 1964), and the Beatles his song Anna on their debut album. The Fabs also used to perform three other Alexander songs in concert. Not bad for a soul singer who died in relative obscurity in 1993, aged only 53. Some people even suggest that Alexander influenced John Lennon’s vocal style. McCartney in a 1987 interview said that in those early days, the group wanted to be like Arthur Alexander.
Alexander’s far superior version of Anna was not a big hit, even as it featured the great country pianist Floyd Cramer, whose keyboard riffs Harrison replicates on guitar. It did make the R&B Top 10, but stalled at #68 in the Billboard charts. Released in September 1962, the Beatles — clearly already fans — soon included it in their concert repertoire, and eventually recorded it in three takes on February 11, 1963, just over five weeks before their debut album was released. That day, the band recorded 10 of the album’s 14 songs, culminating with Twist And Shout (featured in the first Beatles edition of The Originals), on which Lennon’s vocals are famously shot from a long day’s session and a cold. On Anna, Lennon’s voice is noticeably enduring the effects of his malaise. Strangely, once it had been committed to record, Anna was dropped from the concert setlists. Note by the way that neither Alexander nor the Beatles actually urge Anna to go to him.
A promo single of the Beatles’ version of Anna (backed with Ask Me Why) issued by the US label Vee Jay is said to be the rarest Beatles record, with only four copies known to exist. Vee Jay changed their mind about releasing Anna, going instead for Twist And Shout, since that was going to be performed on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Also recorded by: Vern Rogers (1964), The Tams (1964), George Martin (1966), Humble Pie (1974), Kursaal Flyers (1977), Jack Denton (1989), Roger McGuinn (1994), L.A. Workshop with New Yorker (1995), Alan Merrill (2003)
The Donays – Devil In His Heart (1962).mp3
The Beatles – Devil In Her Heart (1963).mp3
Devil In His Heart appeared on the With The Beatles album, but had been part of the group’s concert repertoire in 1962/63. The Beatles recorded it on July 18, 1963, two days after recording it for the BBC show Pop Go The Beatles. The group came upon the song when they had heard it in Brian Epstein’s NEMS record store in Liverpool. George Harrison, who sings lead vocals on the cover, later recalled: “Brian [Epstein] had had a policy at NEMS [record store] of buying at least one copy of every record that was released. Consequently he had records that weren’t hits in Britain, weren’t even hits in America. Before we were going to a gig, we’d meet in the record store, after it had shut, and we’d search the racks like ferrets to see what new ones were there…Devil In Her Heart and Barrett Strong’s Money were records that we’d picked up and played in the shop and thought were interesting.”
Unlike other the other R&B acts covered on that album, the Donays — Yvonne, Janice, Michelle, Gwen — were not and never would be well known. Devil In His Heart was the Detroit girl-group’s only single, and it made no notable impact at all, though the flip-side, Bad Boy, received some local airplay. Devil In His Heart was first released by Detroit’s Correc-tone Records, which also had an unknown Wilson Picket on its books. The New York label Brent picked up the national license for the single, and through Brent’s arrangement with the British Oriole label the record ended up in Epstein’s Liverpool store.
But it was not the lack of commercial success that forced the group’s demise, but their mothers. “The mothers wanted the girls to go to college,” Yvonne would recall. “Michelle’s mother was leery about the music world, so they dropped out.” Yvonne carried on recording for Correc-tone for three more singles, as Yvonne Vernee, but without great commercial success. She later became a member of the Motown group The Elgins to tour Britain in 1971 after the band had a belated hit there with their 1967 sing Heaven Must Have Sent You.
Also recorded by: nobody else, it seems.
Buddy Holly – Words Of Love (1957).mp3
The Diamonds – Words Of Love (1957).mp3
The Beatles – Words Of Love (1964).mp3
The influence of Buddy Holly on The Beatles (and virtually every act of the British Invasion) is evident. It was a Holly song, That’ll Be The Day, which The Quarrymen performed on that famous acetate, and the name “Beatles” was inspired as a riff on the insect name of Buddy’s band, the Crickets. Yet, the Beatles recorded only one Holly song, the rather minor Words Of Love, which in Holly’s version was released as a single in Britain, but failed to dent the charts there.
Holly recorded Words Of Love on his own, putting each individual part (including his harmonies) to tape and then overdubbing them, apparently the first time that production method was used by a major artist. It was not a hit for Holly in the US either. Instead it was recorded by The Diamonds, also in 1957, who enjoyed a #13 hit with it. The Diamonds, a Canadian group, were mostly used to score hits from cover versions of songs originally performed by black acts. Their version of Words Of Love was, well, different.
The Beatles’ lovely version, far superior to Buddy’s (never mind The Diamonds’) appeared on Beatles For Sale, having been recorded on October 18, with John and George harmonising on the vocals (sources differ on that; others say it’s Paul, not George), sounding not unlike the Everly Brothers. Paul, the big Holly fan, later recorded his own cover version of the song.
Also recorded by: Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs (1964), Mike Berry (1999), Jeremy Jay (2009), Jessica Lea Mayfield (2009)
The Shirelles – Boys (1960).mp3
The Beatles – Boys (1963).mp3
Boys was one of two Shirelles songs on Please, Please Me. Co-written by Luther Dixon, who produced the Shirelles on the Specter label, Boys was released in 1960 as the b-side of the group’s big hit Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Dixon had enjoyed some success as a songwriter, notably The Crests’ 1958 hit Sixteen Candles. The other co-writer, a white boy named Wes Farrell, would go on to greater things yet. He co-wrote Hang On Sloopy with the legendary Bert Berns, was the force behind Tony Orlando’s Dawn (named after Farrell’s daughter) and the Partridge Family, and founded Bell Records, which would later, after he sold it, become Arista.
It was recorded in one take during the mammoth February 11, 1963 session, just after Anna and before Chains (which featured in the first part of originals of Beatles covers). The other Shirelles song on the album was the better known Burt Bacharach composition Baby It’s You. While Lennon sang the latter, Boys introduced Ringo’s vocal stylings to the public. In the Beatles’ hands, the R&B number becomes a rocking scorcher in which the backing vocals eclipse Ringo’s voice, which delivered suitably tweaked lyrics.
Boys had been popular on Liverpool’s live circuit. The Beatles performed it in the Cavern Club, where it was the token number to be sung by drummer Pete Best. After Best was sacked, it became Ringo’s song. But it already was before then: as the drummer with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes he would often sing it in concerts, sometimes even duetting the song with the young Cilla Black, who would later become a star herself.
Also recorded by: The Flamin’ Groovies (1979), Mata Hari (1988), Jools Holland & Ringo Starr (2003)
Dr Feelgood and the Interns – Mr Moonlight (1962).mp3
The Beatles – Mr Moonlight (1964).mp3
Many Beatles fans point to Mr Moonlight as the group’s worst recording (presumably ignoring the arcane stuff like Revolution #9 or Within You, Without You). It is indeed doubtful that Mr Moonlight has ever featured on a great number Top 10 lists of Beatles songs. But it isn’t really that bad (this guy makes his case persuasively).
Mr Moonlight appeared on Beatles For Sale, the hotchpotch album released in late 1964 that among some strong original material featured a number of random covers. It may seem that Mr Moonlight was one of those peculiar obscurities the Fabs often dug out — note how many b-sides and non-hits they covered — but the song was in fact quite popular at the time. Other bands obviously did the same as the Beatles did. It had been covered by The Hollies in January 1964, and in 1963 by the Merseybeats. Mr Moonlight had also been a Beatles concert staple for a while (going as far back as 1962; it appears on the Live At The Star Club, Hamburg album) , so there are some who suggest that the Hollies and Merseybeats “borrowed” the song from the Beatles.
The song was written by one Roy Lee Johnson, and first recorded in 1962 by the blues pianist Piano Red (Willie Perryman) as a b-side to his single Dr Feelgood, the title of which had become his stage name, and would later be adopted by the British rock band of that name (though they probably picked up the moniker from a cover version by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates). Piano Red, an albino performer who had made his first recording in 1936, was the first blues musician to break into the Billboard pop charts, and as a radio DJ in Atlanta in the 1950s featured a young James Brown on his show. Piano Red’s excursion as Dr Feelgood, a moniker he employed as a DJ, was brief and did little to benefit his career. His career later recovered, with Piano Red appearing on the jazz circuit. He even performed at the inauguration of the German chancellor Helmut Schmidt before dying if cancer in 1985 at the age of 73.
Also recorded by: The Merseybeats (1963), The Hollies (1964)