Sunday, July 1, 2012

Covering the Beatles

The Beatles had an almost effortless ability to cover the songs of others while it seemed their songs were a bit harder for others to cover.
Of course this is all my opinion. I’m sure there are those out there perfectly happy with Sinatra’s staticy version of “Something” or (heaven forbid) the syrupy mess the Carpenters made of “Ticket to Ride.”

For my own tastes, however, I’ve not come across many Beatle covers that have been very satisfying. The musical chemistry of these four guys was so strong that the magic it produced was hard to match.

When I do come across a one of their songs covered by others that satisfies me, it’s quite a treat.

So let me introduce you (or reintroduce you) to five Beatle covers that I think are exceptional.

The song “Yesterday” is one of the most covered songs in history with more than 2,000 versions. Marvin Gaye’s version is actually one I wasn’t sure I liked when I first heard it. At work I get the chance to listen to Beatles radio and they played the song regularly. The more I listened to it, the more it grew on me to where I think it’s my favorite version of a Beatle song. I think the reason for my initial reaction is probably also the reason I like it now. It’s so different in terms of instruments and the rhythm. While the original has a feeling of confusion over the loss, Gaye’s version has a note of shock and anger, though whether it’s anger at the situation or at himself for allowing the situation, is hard to say.

Al Green’s version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is another example of a cover that comes out of nowhere and knocks you right over. The tune is there but what he does with it is absolutely amazing, turning it from fun pop tune to exciting Motown groove.

I will confess, I have very little love for countrified music. That’s just me. But this Alison Krauss rendition of “I Will” works amazingly well. I think one of the selling points was the banjo. The original version itself is a simple song and both the banjo and Krauss’ voice deliver without overpowering the melody.

Madness, best known in America for the song “Our House,” produced some of the most inticing music of the 80s with its big band meets ska sound and cheeky London lyrics. As lead singer, Suggs was a key ingredient to the sound with a sort of carnival barker twist to his voice that fit the groove just right. Here he takes the slow and slightly ethereal “I’m Only Sleeping” and skas it up to great affect retaining its desperate quality with just the slightest of winks.

The Beatles version of “Here Comes the Sun” has a delicate…well I have to say it, sunny feeling to it. You can practically feel the ice melting. And even as the music seems to blossom as the song goes along, it retains that delicate feeling. This version by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, while not quite as delicate, led not by an acoustic guitar but by an electronic keyboard, has that same blossoming feel to it. You can truly see the sun rising.

These are just a few of covers of Beatle songs that I've heard that have impressed me. I may add more later.