From The Cure to Jimi Hendrix: The 10 best covers of Paul McCartney
To try and quantify the huge impact Paul McCartney has had on music is an impossible task. As part of The Beatles and the enigmatic songwriting team of Lennon-McCartney, the bassist and multi-instrumentalist has contributed some of the world’s most beloved songs. Following The Beatles split, out on his own and with Wings too, he was equally prolific providing reams of pop songs that were destined to make record players everywhere spin with joy.
For such an impactful artist it is easy to see how so many of his songs have been covered. That, considering The Beatles and his own global reach, was to be expected. However, perhaps the most notable thing about this is the sheer size of the artists who were desperate to cover one of Macca’s tunes. It means everyone from Pink Floyd to Frank Sinatra and beyond has had a go at singing one of McCartney’s wonderful creations. Below, we’ve got 10 of our favourites.
There are a few rules to get out of the way first, however. We’ve only picked one cover per song, something which became a necessity when we realised we could fill the top 10 list with our ten favourite ‘Yesterday’ covers. We’ve also made sure to only include one cover per artist too.
We’re going to make a rather bold claim here but here goes. We’d say that any musician that witnessed the birth of The Beatles and any artist whose parents or family members did the same, is bound to have been influenced by Macca — just look at the mercurial chart dominator Billie Eilish. Even subconsciously, McCartney’s influence is so wide-reaching that avoiding his influence is rare than finding inspiration in the Beatle. As such, there’s a good chance we could do this list in another ten years and have a brand new set of songs to show you.
For now, let us look below and find the 10 best covers of Paul McCartney of all time.
10 best Paul McCartney covers:
10. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ – The Faces
A song written shortly after Macca left The Beatles and, in praise of his wife and confidant Linda, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ has rightly gone down as one of McCartney’s best-ever songs. Linda changed McCartney’s life in a positive way from the moment they first met and his tribute to her is not only the greatest track on his solo album McCartney, but one of the finest from his post-Beatles career.
“Written in London, at the piano,” McCartney said in 1970. “With the second verse added slightly later, as if you cared. A movie was made, using Linda’s slides and edited to this track.” It was always going to be given the rock ‘n’ roll treatment by The Faces when they took on the song.
As Ronnie Lane and Rod Stewart share vocals on the song, with some beautifully rendered gospel tones coming from the piano and organ via Mac McLagen, the effort is only accented by the furious guitar of Ronnie Wood. The Future Rolling Stone provides an impossibly brilliant set of riffs over the otherwise mellow song and make it sound brand new.
9. ‘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 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.
One of the final songs The Beatles recorded and taken from the titular record, Withers amps up the ethereal sounds and turns this ballad into a gospel hymn. With tambourines, handclaps and the pep of a genuine church organ, 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.
8. ‘Hello, Goodbye’ – The Cure
Robert Smith and the band joined a project entitled The Art of McCartney, a full record of tribute covers in appreciation of the work Paul McCartney’s solo, Beatles and Wings material.
The record, released back in November of 2014, was an idea dreamt up by producer Ralph Sall who had been working on the project for 11 long years. Not only did Sall manage to recruit The Cure for the tribute album of all tribute albums, but the producer also managed to convince the likes of Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Brian Wilson, Alice Cooper, Kiss and plenty more.
About 15 years ago Cure frontman Robert Smith was asked by Rolling Stone what type of music influenced him as a child and, perhaps unsurprisingly, he references Macca and his band from Liverpool: “When punk came along, I found my generation’s music,” he began. “I grew up listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, ’cause that was what got played in the house. But when I first saw the Stranglers, I thought, ‘This is it.’ And I saw the Buzzcocks the following week, and I thought, ‘This is definitely it’.”
7. ‘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.”
“That is actually the best way,” Macca continued. Though he did concede one thing: “But in a stressful world, I still would say that pot was one of the best of the tranquillizing drugs. I have drunk and smoked pot and of the two I think pot is less harmful. People tend to fall asleep on it rather than go out and commit murder, so it’s always seemed to me to be a rather benign one.”
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.
6. ‘Blackbird’ – Elliott Smith
One of The Beatles most politically advantageous songs, ‘Blackbird’, has become a bonafide classic over the years. The song was inspired by the ongoing civil rights movement in America at the time with the term ‘blackbird’ said to have referenced Black women who were facing oppression.
“I had in mind a black woman, rather than a bird,” recalled McCartney. “Those were the days of the civil rights movement, which all of us cared passionately about, so this was really a song from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.’”
For the late, great Elliot Smith, any song from the Fab Four was worthy of his time and effort. He’s covered them on various occasions and always delivers a poignant piece of music. On ‘Blackbird’ he is more vulnerable and voracious than is to be expected and leaves his cover in contention with the original for the title of ‘definitive version’, a la Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’. You can tell that this isn’t only a cover of an artist’s song by another artist, this was a fan paying tribute to a hero.
5. ‘And I Love Him’ – Esther Phillips
One thing that is always guaranteed to impress Paul McCartney is when you take a Beatles song and make it your own. That was certainly the case for Esther Phillips when she performed her version of The Beatles song ‘And I Love Her’ from A Hard Day’s Night. One of John Lennon’s favourites, “I considered it his first ‘Yesterday’,” the singer once said of Macca’s track, the song was given a different spin by Phillips.
“It’s just a love song. It wasn’t for anyone,” McCartney confirmed in 1984 of the track. “Having the title start in midsentence, I thought that was clever. Well, Perry Como did ‘And I Love You So’ many years later. Tried to nick the idea. I like that… it was a nice tune, that one. I still like it.” We can imagine he enjoyed Phillips’ spin too.
Changing the title of the track to reverse the gender of the song, Phillips’ rendition, ‘And I Love Him’, was a smash for the singer. It also saw Phillips perform the song on The Music of Lennon & McCartney, a 1965 TV programme, which Macca was said to have loved and has since consistently praised her version of the song.
4. ‘Yesterday’ – Marvin Gaye
One of the most covered songs of all time sure did have some competition as to who would take this spot. There’s certainly room on another list for the covers of ‘Yesterday’ from Sinatra, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin 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 Marvin Gaye, 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 some place, 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.
3. ‘Helter Skelter’ – Siouxsie & The Banshees
Naturally, if you’re looking for the best Beatles cover from post-punk legends Siouxsie and The Banshees then we’d have to direct you to their cover of ‘Dear Prudence’. However, as that was written for Mia Farrow’s sister by John Lennon and George Harrison, we’ve got the next best thing — their searing cover of ‘Helter Skelter’.
One of the band’s most infamous songs thanks in no small part to the deranged mind of Charles Manson, the song was also notable for being regarded as the first ‘heavy metal’ song. The track was born from jealousy, “The Who had made some track that was the loudest, the most raucous rock ‘n roll, the dirtiest thing they’d ever done,” remembered McCartney. “It made me think, ‘Right. Got to do it.’ I like that kind of geeking up. And we decided to do the loudest, nastiest, sweatiest rock number we could.”
The track is kicked up to eleven by Siouxsie Sioux and her band of Banshees as they turn the number into a proto-punk dream. Taken from 1978’s The Scream, the band turn this already heavy song into something as weighty as an industrial hammer. And we think that’s probably what they were aiming for.
2. ‘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, Pickett’s vision of ‘Hey Jude’ is sublime and serene. It was, however, a controversial one — to try and cover such a well-loved song so early after it was released, seemed like a death sentence.
“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.’”
What transpired was one of the finest covers of any Beatles or Paul McCartney song you’ll ever hear.
1. ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ – Jimi Hendrix
When Hendrix covered ‘Sgt. Pepper’ the guitarist had spent the better part of a week working on his opening number for a special show in London and his extra special audience members. With both Paul McCartney and George Harrison in the audience, Hendrix decided to open the show with his rendition of Sgt. Pepper‘s title song.
Opening your own show with a cover of someone else’s song is a really ballsy move. But it was the sheer fact that The Beatles had only released the song three days (or over a week, depending on your source for records) prior to that moment, which caused the greatest shock and put the biggest smile on Macca’s face. Hendrix had seemingly learned the song, perfected it and performed it live at his headline show by the close of the weekend. “Jimi was a sweetie, a very nice guy. I remember him opening at the Saville on a Sunday night, 4th June 1967,” McCartney once recalled in compelling detail. “Brian Epstein used to rent it when it was usually dark on the Sunday. Jimi opened, the curtains flew back and he came walking forward, playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’, and it had only been released on the Thursday so that was like the ultimate compliment.”
Macca added: “It’s still obviously a shining memory for me, because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished. To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it.” It was a sing of the artist Hendrix was; completely obsessed with his craft and his instrument.
“It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career. I mean, I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought of it as an honour, I’m sure he thought it was the other way round, but to me, that was like a great boost.” It must’ve acted as the confirmation that McCartney needed that his original conceptual album had met its audience appropriately and it’s certainly the finest cover of the song we’ve ever heard.