John Lennon was a famously harsh critic and there’s a plethora of The Beatles catalogue that he was open about his disdain towards. If he wasn’t a fan of the original versions of the song, chances of him being positive towards one of the countless cover versions were pretty slim. That said, on a few occasions, Lennon did surprisingly give them his seal of approval.
It’s hard to find an artist that has been covered on more occasions than The Beatles who, in the years since their beautiful reign at the top of the music mountain, have seen their songs butchered on plenty more occasions than artists have done them justice. Even in the late 1960s, a time when The Fab Four were still churning out masterpiece after masterpiece, other artists couldn’t resist releasing their own rendition.
The Beatles, of course, made their name covering other artists in their early days and, without relying upon so heavily off artists like Little Richard or Chuck Berry, who knows whether they would have had the career they later enjoyed. Therefore, Lennon would be entering hypocritical territory if he had completely railed against the art of cover versions given that it helped him land his big break—but stranger things have certainly happened.
Speaking to Rolling Stone back in 1968 around the release of The White Album, Lennon spoke about his adoration for five versions of Beatles classics by other artists that he felt fondness towards as well as what of his own covers he’s most proud of. “I’d like to make a record like ‘Some Other Guy’,” Lennon said on The Beatles cover of Richie Barrett’s 1962 track. “I haven’t done one that satisfies me as much as that satisfied me. Or ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ or ‘Heartbreak Hotel or ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’ or ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’,” he added.
Conversation then shifted away from certain tracks that he has enjoyed covering himself personally and onto the covers that he has enjoyed by others attempting Beatles songs. “Well, Ray Charles’ version of ‘Yesterday’ – that’s beautiful,” he said, before adding: “And ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is a groove. I just dig the strings on that. Like ’30s strings. Jose Feliciano does great things to ‘Help’ and ‘Day Tripper’.”
Lennon then began discussing the power of being influenced by others in his creative process, “’Got to Get You Into My Life’ – sure, we were doing our Tamla Motown bit,” he said. “You see we’re influenced by whatever’s going. Even if we’re not influenced, we’re all going that way at a certain time.”
“If we played a Stones record now—and a Beatles record—and we’ve been way apart – you’d find a lot of similarities. We’re all heavy. Just heavy. How did we ever do anything light? We did country music early because that was Ringo’s bit,” Lennon added.
Paying homage to the artists you respect is part and parcel of the music industry, especially in the swinging sixties. Lennon was open about wearing his influences on the sleeve and, in doing so, he took it as a huge compliment that incredible artists like Fats Domino had handed The Beatles the biggest compliment possible by covering their music.
See the full list, below.
John Lennon’s five favourite The Beatles covers:
- Fats Domino – ‘Lady Madonna’
- Ray Charles – ‘Yesterday’
- Ray Charles – ‘Eleanor Rigby’
- Jose Feliciano – ‘Help’
- Jose Feliciano – ‘Day Tripper’