When we say everybody wanted to be like The Beatles, it’s a statement that can create a lot of disdain and derision. But, no matter who you are, if you’re in music and the widespread cultural phenomenon of The Beatles doesn’t inspire you, then you’re either lying to yourself or you’ve not been paying attention. The Fab Four continue to be one of the most imposing musical artists of all time and their last album came out over five decades ago.
It’s a testament to their songwriting. Above all else, what The Beatles possessed more than any other band was a powerhouse duo like John Lennon and Paul McCartney who have crafted some of the finest songs to ever hit the airwaves. When you then back that up with the impressive George Harrison as a subsidiary songwriter, you have a potent force that would make Mozart green with envy. While they were fantastic songwriters, sometimes their songs weren’t delivered to the highest known calibre, or perhaps, they were limited by the standard practices of the day.
Given their huge impression on the music business, the band have garnered countless covers of their songs over the years. Given the idea that maybe some of their songs could have found favour with different artists and perhaps even shone brighter with them, we’re picking out ten Beatles covers that we think are better than the originals. Now, we hear your anger bubbling up but, just bear with us.
Of course, we’re not discrediting the original songs here. All of the tracks featured below are impeccable songs in their own right, without the need for a cover or any other modernising gimmicks. That was the beauty of The Beatles, after all. But, we will say that every cover noted below brings something that the original didn’t, offering a new, and perhaps definitive, take on a classic.
Listen below to ten Beatles covers that are better than the originals and we’ll wait for your hate mail to arrive over the next few weeks.
10 Beatles covers that are better than the originals:
‘Hey Jude’ – Wilson Pickett
“To this day, I’ve never heard better rock guitar playing on an R&B record. It’s the best,” said Eric Clapton of Duane Allman’s playing on this enigmatic cover. Certainly the best cover of this endlessly covered song’s life, if not better than the original itself, Pickett’s vision of ‘Hey Jude’ is sublime and serene. It was, however, a controversial one.
“Pickett came into the studio, and I said, ‘We don’t have anything to cut,’” recalled Rick Hall, the owner of famed Muscle Shoals studio, “We didn’t have a song. Duane was there, and he came up with an idea. By this time he’d kind of broken the ice and become my guy. So Duane said, ‘Why don’t we cut ‘Hey Jude’?’ I said, ‘That’s the most preposterous thing I ever heard. It’s insanity. We’re gonna cover the Beatles? That’s crazy!’ And Pickett said, ‘No, we’re not gonna do it.’ I said, ‘Their single’s gonna be Number 1. I mean, this is the biggest group in the world!’”
Adding: “And Duane said, ‘That’s exactly why we should do it — because [the Beatles single] will be Number 1 and they’re so big. The fact that we would cut the song with a black artist will get so much attention, it’ll be an automatic smash.’ That made all the sense in the world to me. So I said, ‘Well, okay. Let’s do it.’”
‘Yesterday’ – Marvin Gaye
One of the most covered songs of all time sure did have some competition as to who would take this spot. Thanks to the widespread playing of the song, it’s hard to hear the original in the same way it was intended. Now, covers feel fresher and there’s certainly room on another list for the covers of ‘Yesterday’ from Sinatra, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin to name a few. But for this list, there is only Marvin Gaye’s classic.
That’s the Way Love Is, the tenth studio album by iconic soul musician Gaye, it included his now famed cover of The Beatles when it was released in 1970. Cited as McCartney’s favourite rendition of the song among the 3000 other versions, Gaye’s cover remains the benchmark of ‘Yesterday’ fandom.
Gaye once said of his music-making: “I hope to refine music, study it, try to find some area that I can unlock. I don’t quite know how to explain it but it’s there. These can’t be the only notes in the world, there’s got to be other notes someplace, in some dimension, between the cracks on the piano keys.” It’s fair to say that he took The Beatles’ and McCartney’s song to a brand new space.
‘Dear Prudence’ – Siouxsie and The Banshees
Siouxsie and The Banshees featuring Robert Smith dared the British establishment and decided to record their very own rendition of The Beatles hit ‘Dear Prudence’. “It was a surprise, but it didn’t really sink in until we’d finished the touring and we were back home for the winter,” Siouxsie remembered. “Then we thought, ‘Blimey! We got to number three!’ ‘Dear Prudence’ got played a lot on the radio, and of course, we did the Christmas/New Year Top Of The Pops. I don’t remember much about doing it except for I was wearing a new leather dress that a friend had made for me, and stripy tights.”
Recalling how she and the band came to the final conclusion that the next step needed to be a Beatles cover, Siouxsie Sioux said: “When we did the 100 Club Punk Festival , we were wondering: ‘What shall we do?’ And we ended up doing the thing based around the Lord’s Prayer. And Sid and I were laughing, ‘Oh, we should really mess up a Beatles song!’ And that attitude was still there. I remember growing up with The White Album. I loved it for their experimenting. And then it gets fucked up? Much better!”
The original is certainly worth its weight in gold but there’s something so dynamic about the Banshees cover that it dwarfs the Fab Four’s version with its encompassing range of artistry.
‘We Can Work It Out’ – Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder shot to fame with Motown as he began to craft enigmatic ballads and foot-stomping dance songs all within his early teens. He was a mercurial artist that nobody could quite put their finger on, but Wonder was clear about where he was headed — to the top. Inspired by artists like The Beatles (who had themselves been inspired by Motown records), Wonder set about achieving his goal in devastating fashion.
He pays homage to his inspiration with this 1970 cover of ‘We Can Work It Out’ which featured on his album Signed, Sealed Delivered and marked the beginning of his chart dominance. Since then, Wonder has not only worked with Paul McCartney but also performed the song on notable occasions.
There’s something infectious about the groove on this track that means it just pips its original to the post.
‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ – Earth, Wind and Fire
The Beatles had been semi-openly experimenting with drugs as they approached their new album Revolver. Naturally, it popped up in their songs and ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ acts as an ode to marijuana, despite sounding like a love song. “I’d been a rather straight working-class lad,” reflected McCartney during an interview in 1994. “But when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting. It didn’t seem to have too many side effects like alcohol or some of the other stuff, like pills, which I pretty much kept off. I kind of liked marijuana, and to me, it seemed it was mind-expanding, literally mind-expanding.”
When the funktastic Earth, Wind and Fire jumped on the track they kicked it up a notch with some high-grade glitz. The blues and jazz that permeates the track give it some standing as one of the best but otherwise, it’s hard to ignore this cover’s ability to get you up on your feet.
A glittering tribute to The Beatles and their penchant for pot, it’s one of the few times the Fab Four could have the club dancing and while the original can feel a bit restrained on this cover, the bombastic cover outstrips the original.
‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ – Joe Cocker
The Fab Four’s song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ was begging for Joe Cocker to make it the anthem it is today. The Beatles may well have provided Joe Cocker with the ammunition, but that still left the incredible vocalist to provide the arsenal with which to deliver the earth-shattering and definitive performance of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’.
The song started life being composed by John Lennon as a song for Ringo Starr but would be a defining anthem of the counterculture movement as it looked to rid the world of aggressive capitalism and fascism. A movement The Beatles weren’t ever really a part of.
Instead, it would be the Sheffield born legend, Joe Cocker, that would take the stage at Woodstock and belt out the festival’s untold anthem. It’s simply magic and is easily the greatest version of the song you’ll ever come across.
‘Here Comes The Sun’ – Nina Simone
Now, this entry was a difficult decision. Not because Simone’s cover is poor, but because the original is so brilliant. The track was written by Harrison during a break from a tough session with The Beatles, as he once explained: “‘Here Comes the Sun’ was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: ‘Sign this’ and ‘sign that.’ Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it.”
Adding: “So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote ‘Here Comes the Sun.’”
It is this sentiment that has always confirmed the song as one of Harrison’s finest, as able to capture the golden-hued sounds of a perfect sunset as any song. Simone does her best to channel the moment into her performance. But, like with everything Nina Simone does, she can’t help but put her spin on it.
‘Let It Be’ – Bill Withers
Take a classic song like the imperious ‘Let It Be’ and give it to a vocalist like Bill Withers and you’re guaranteed something beautiful. The song, which Paul McCartney has often claimed came to him in a dream as a vision of his deceased mother, has become one of the most routinely covered songs of all time, but nobody does it justice like Withers’ smooth vocal.
One of the final tracks The Beatles ever recorded and taken from the titular record, Withers amps up the ethereal sounds and turned this ballad into a gospel hymn. With tambourines, handclaps, and a genuine church organ pep, the song feels authentic in Withers’ hands.
For our money, we would say that’s when a cover truly reaches its potential — when it can be seen as an original and Bill Withers’ ‘Let It Be’ is one song that pips The Beatles at the final hurdle.
‘Within You Without You’ – Sonic Youth
‘Within You Without You’, originally released by the Fab Four in 1967 as part of their now-iconic concept album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was famously written by guitarist Harrison as he began to flex his songwriting capabilities. The song marked a change in style for Harrison and The Beatles, even flipping up the way the group worked in the studio. “George has done a great Indian one,” his bandmate John Lennon once said. “We came along one night, and he had about 400 Indian fellas playing there… it was a great swinging evening, as they say.”
Given the legacy that the track has built in the years that followed, numerous artists have attempted to put their own spin on the material. While the likes of Oasis, Patti Smith, the Flaming Lips and more did the song justice, it is this Sonic Youth’s expansive rendition that remains its lasting tribute and, arguably, as impressive as the original, if not a little better.
Recorded as part of 1988 multi-artist compilation album Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, Sonic Youth joined the likes of The Wedding Present, Billy Bragg, The Fall and more by contributing to the record in a bid to raise money for the Childline charity, Thurston Moore and the rest of the band delivered what might be the greatest cover of all time as they flip the script and turn this spiritual song about enlightenment into a gnarly no-wave dirge fest.
‘I Am The Walrus’ – Frank Zappa
By 1988, with one of Frank Zappa’s final tours, the singer decided to pay homage to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr when he performed a medley of the band’s songs. One such track covered was the brilliant, beautiful, and a little bit strange song ‘I Am The Walrus’. It has been a song that Zappa has always loved and below performs with the skill and dexterity of the well-cultured fan he was.
Not only did the singer cover their songs but he also played ‘I Am The Walrus’ as one of his favourite tracks as part of a radio show, after playing the song he said: “Now wasn’t that wonderful? Just sitting here today, so sophisticated as we all are, in this modern age that we call The Eighties, and to be able to hear something like that with thousands of people in the background on that record saying ‘everybody smoke pot’.”
Forget the bastardised Oasis version of the song from the nineties, enjoy the real thing and take a trip back to the sixties with Zappa, below.