The Beatles are undoubtedly the most influential band of all time. Formed in Liverpool, England in 1960, the dawn of the Beatles on the British music scene can only really be likened to the “Big Bang” that started the universe. Integral to musical, cultural and societal development, without the Beatles, music as we know it would not exist. The existence of many of our musical heroes can be attributed to the pioneering work of the scouse quartet, a dizzying fact when we heed just how many people the Beatles inspired. It is a testament to the band that nearly every pioneering artist from the ’60s onwards has cited them as having had a significant impact on their sonic development.
The Beatles were initially inspired by the skiffle, beat and rock ‘n’ roll genres of the ’50s when they kicked off their career. However, in an audio-visual Odyssey over their ten-year career, the band would incorporate elements of psychedelia, world music, classical and hard rock into their fabled tapestry. As well as songwriting, they pioneered recording and artistic presentation, laying the blueprint for the key elements that underpin the music industry today.
Led by principal songwriting duo John Lennon and Paul McCartney, backed up by the ‘Quiet One’ guitarist George Harrison and drummer Ringo Starr, the Beatles led the cultural phenomenon dubbed the ‘British Invasion’ that permeated American culture in the mid-1960s – inspiring a British cultural resurgence along the way. The Beatles were very much the battering ram that swung open the gates to the hallowed land of hope and glory. Without them, other icons from that heady era, including the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks and Dusty Springfield, would not have been able to forge such iconic careers.
In many ways, each album in the Beatles‘ back catalogue, past 1965, represents a different chapter in their career. Rubber Soul is hailed as their definitive “pot” opus, Revolver as the start of their foray into psychedelia, and Let It Be represents the definitive final chapter in the band’s existence.
Another future cultural phenomenon that would shake up the way music is written and consumed was punk. At face value, the leather-clad, D.I.Y., wave of faux-nihilists may seem diametrically opposed to the Beatles and everything they embodied. However, punk and all its offshoots, including grunge and metal, are in a way direct descendants from the Beatles, whether they are aware of it or not. This is not to say the Beatles inspired punk, but they certainly had a huge impact in laying the carpet for it.
Coming back to the Beatles as the battering ram of possibility in America, the Beatles were the battering ram that knocked open the gates of possibility full stop. They became countercultural heroes, sticking two fingers up at the old, outdated ways of their parent’s generation. An ethos punk would grasp in the following decade. John Lennon even once preceded punk’s shock-value by claiming that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”
In addition to their ethos of rebellion against conservatism, the Beatles’ brilliant songwriting cannot be forgotten. In penning so many classics, they inspired so many who would later become disciples of the punk ethos. These include Kurt Cobain, Henry Rollins and the Sex Pistols, who all took some of their songwriting cues from Lennon and his mates. This got us thinking. What are the best coves of Beatles songs by punk bands? Join us as we list our top five.
The 5 best punk covers of Beatles songs:
Billy Idol – ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
Ironically hailed as the leader of the MTV inspired ‘Second British Invasion’ of the 1980s, Billy Idol is a bonafide punk icon. Whether it be his work as lead singer in the iconic Generation X of the original British punk wave, or as a solo artist, the blonde-spiky haired legend is the sonic and aesthetic embodiment of everything punk.
Taken from the terrible 2006 compilation Butchering the Beatles: A Headbashing Tribute, Idol’s cover is definitely the standout. Featuring heavy metal instrumentation such as dive bombs in the guitar solo, this cover shouldn’t work, but it does. Idol brilliantly showcases his powerful vocals, with the cover of the Beatles classic almost veering into the blues realm rather than the psychedelic. However, through the expert use of reverb on his vocals and drums, which give the track a spacey feel, this cover stands out as one of the more enjoyable punk takes on the Beatles.
Melvins – ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’
Taken from American trio, Melvins’s 23rd studio album Pinkus Abortion Technician released in 2018, this cover is as close to the original as is physically possible; within the realms of sludge. The trio brilliantly pull it off. The song features all the classic Melvins hallmarks. Including Buzz Osborne’s deep, compressed vocals, a heavy undercurrent and an unhinged jam at the end.
What is the most critical take from this catchy redux is that it is clear that Melvins’ production style takes a lot from The Beatles. Their studio style has always seemed like an analogue successor to the likes of the Beatles and the Stones, featuring simple recording tricks that perfectly convey the band’s visceral style – a no-frills statement. What’s more, Melvins add a wickedly psychedelic twist to the Beatles’ classic, making this a high point from their 2018 offering.
Hüsker Dü – ‘Ticket To Ride’
Possibly the most famous entry on the list, Minnesota trio Hüsker Dü really make the Beatles 1965 their own. It features the trio’s chorus drenched vocals, with their signature vocal interplays between frontman Bob Mould and drummer Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton’s swelling bassline.
Hüsker Dü were a band that influenced everyone from Nirvana to Metallica, and this cover is just one of many reasons why. It is significant as it displays that the punk/proto-grunge legends were massively influenced by the rock acts of the 1960s. Not only does the structure of ‘Ticket To Ride’ follow a similar pattern to Hüsker Dü’s sound, but the fact that they released a cover of the Byrds’ 1966 psychedelic classic ‘Eight Miles High’ in 1984 is a clear indicator of this.
Only existing as a live version, contributed to the NME’s 1986 EP, The Big Four, this sped-up take on the original is a real earworm.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – ‘Helter Skelter’
The fifth track on the iconic debut album, The Scream in 1978, by iconic British punk’s Siouxsie and the Banshees, this is a gothic, post-punk take on the Beatles hard-rocking 1968 original. Featuring all the elements of the early-era Banshees, this cover has the quality of a treble drenched live version.
Featuring Siouxsie’s battle-cry like vocals and John McKay’s signature spiky guitar tone, this offering is an unhinged version of an original that was already pretty mental. Note how Siouxsie and Co. take the blueprint of the original’s and catapult it into our ears via classic punk instrumentation. It was 1978 after all.
The key difference between the versions is Siouxsie’s addition of profanity towards the end of their take. Even this would have been too choice for Lennon and the boys. We never said the Beatles were actually punks.
Bad Brains – ‘Day Tripper’
Only performed live in Florida, 1987, Washington punk legends, Bad Brains‘ version of the 1966 classic does not stop at solely being a Beatles cover. This heady, strung-out cover, is a reggae-funk mash-up with the Rolling Stones’ 1967 track ‘She’s A Rainbow’. Frontman H.R.’s unmistakable vocals transport this track from the murk of industrial Liverpool to a sunny Florida beach, and the groove has your head bobbing and toes tapping incessantly.
This is one of the last performances that the ‘classic’ Bad Brains line up would give, as come the end of the tour H.R. and his brother, drummer Earl Hudson, would leave. Our favourite reggae punks even drop in the classic punk/Rastafarian theme of toppling the corrupt “Babylon”. Subsequently, this brilliant version makes you wanna light up and kick back, and dream of overthrowing our capitalist oppressors.