It feels odd for someone as wholly unique as David Bowie to have major influences. After all, for a brief moment in one’s fandom for the singer, there’s a sincere belief that he may well be from outer space and, in fact, his alien rock star persona, Ziggy Stardust, may have actually been the real deal — such is the wildness of his thought and determination for artistic evolution. However, just like the rest of us mere mortals, the songwriter found huge inspiration in the swelling London scene during the 1960s.
One such band who ere ubiquitous with the rock and roll revolution in London was The Beatles. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr may not necessarily look like the natural forefathers to the chameleonic Bowie, but there can be no doubt that the ‘Changes’ singer was wholeheartedly inspired by the band. Hell, he even had his own favourite Beatle. So, much like the rest of the music world, Bowie has, on occasion, found himself singing a Fab Four classic. Below, we’ve got our five favourites.
For many aficionados of either Bowie or The Beatles, these covers will be scrutinised with a fine-tooth comb. That’s because countless copycat singers have put Bowie’s noted voice to different songs. For years a “lost” recording of Bowie singing ‘Penny Lane’ floated around YouTube without verification, only for keen ears to shoot it down as an impersonation.
As such, we’ve widened our search from strictly The Beatles original compositions to songs from the band members’ solo careers too. Naturally, these covers favour Bowie’s friend John Lennon, but there is a classic cover of a George Harrison number to balance things a little.
Of course, this isn’t all of the covers in which Bowie paid tribute to the Fab Four. Not only did he cover of standout single ‘Love Me Do’ as the intro to ‘Jean Genie’ in 1974, but he also joined Pete Townshend on the Live Aid stage in front of half the world’s population to sing ‘Let It Be’ alongside Paul McCartney. But, these five covers show that even someone as uniquely talented as Bowie can be influenced by The Beatles.
Below, check out our five favourite covers of The Beatles by David Bowie.
David Bowie’s best covers of The Beatles
‘Across The Universe’ – The Beatles
David Bowie and John Lennon shared a lot of love and laughter. The dynamic duo were two of Britain’s most cherished artists for a time, and it seems only fitting that they would collaborate. While many will point to their co-writing of Bowie’s hit ‘Fame’ as the pinnacle of that working relationship, nothing quite matches this cover of The Beatles track ‘Across the Universe.’
Not only did Bowie get permission to record the song for his Young Americans album, but he even enlisted Lennon to help on the backing vocals and guitar parts too. Having once described Lennon as his “favourite Beatle”, we’d imagine the chance to work alongside Lennon was too big an opportunity to turn down.
It marks this cover as one of the finest Beatles cover songs we’ve ever heard and with Bowie on vocal, you kow it will never be truly matched.
‘Imagine’ – John Lennon
The love David Bowie and John Lennon shared before Lennon’s untimely passing in 1980 was special. The two had written Bowie’s brilliant single ‘Fame’ together before he was tragically killed, but it seems clear that their friendship went beyond music. No, these two guys, aside from all the fame, the talent and the intrigue, were mates—pure and simple. Fitting then that on December 8th, 1983, while Bowie was on the road with his ‘Serious Moonlight Tour’, he paid tribute to his friend and Beatle legend Lennon with a cover of his most inspiring song, ‘Imagine’.
In the clip, before he begins his rendition of that enigmatic track, Bowie shares a few candid moments that he and John enjoyed throughout their friendship. Firstly, Bowie shares John’s response to Bowie’s music, recalling: “What do you think of my kind of rock and roll?” to which Lennon replied: “It’s great, but it’s just rock and roll with lipstick on,” with a perfect impression, might we add.
It’s one of Bowie’s best covers and it is enriched by the sincere connection the two otherworldly icons of music shared.
‘Try Some, Buy Some’ – George Harrison
George Harrison emerged from The Beatles as one of the most overlooked songwriters of all time. With a plethora of cracking tunes, the Quiet Beatle was suddenly the name on everybody’s lips. David Bowie described a song as being “totally neglected”, the brilliant ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ and he featured it on his 2003 covers album Reality.
The track was penned by Harrison but released by Ronnie Spector before Harrison shared his own version a few years later. The track was leftover from Harrison’s All Things Must Pass sessions and contains his unique vision of cyclical harmonies and returning lyrical themes.
For Harrison, it was a system that mirrored his own beliefs but for Bowie, it was something different: “Now my connection to the song is about leaving a way of life behind me and finding something new. It’s overstated about most rock artists leaving drugs … But when I first heard the song in ’74 I was yet to go through my heavy drug period. And now it’s about the consolation of having kicked all that and turning your life around.”
‘Mother’ – John Lennon
For years, the rumours of a cover of John Lennon’s song ‘Mother’ from David Bowie swam around the music industry like distressed guppies. But, it appears, they were all right on the money as, to celebrate Bowie’s birthday, his estate released a cleaned-up version of the song.
It’s one of Lennon’s most arresting compositions. Stark and unrelenting, the song deals with the loss of the Beatle’s mother and how it affected his life as he finally bids farewell. Released on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band in 1970, the single has been covered by countless artists, with Bowie collaborator Lou Reed also providing a fitting tribute to the Liverpudlian.
Bowie’s powerful vocal means his version remains the most memorable.
‘This Boy’ – The Beatles
Famously captured on the Pin Ups 5 bootleg album for diehard fans but recorded as part of Bowie’s 1972 tour, Bowie strips things back for a gentle cover of The Beatles as part of his Ziggy tour.
It’s a seminal moment in Bowie’s career, as he begins lifting off into a new plane of fame, which is why we can forgive the less than brilliant audio quality.
That’s probably generous. The audio is pretty horrendous, but if you can squint your ears a little, you’ll be able to pick out the sincere charm Bowie brings to the cover. It’s clear, even if the recording isn’t, that Bowie’s enamoured by the twinkling eye of the track. Its B-side position probably proving another lure, the singer delivers a wonderful rendition of the song.