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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Beatles Covers Article (12/01/2013)

Whether you love them or hate them, you can’t deny that The Beatles are one of the most influential & important band in history. Despite only having an eight year recording career, they rose from playing dingy clubs in Hamburg & Liverpool, to filling Shea Stadium and teaching the world that all you need is love. With their large catalogue and massive influence, there have been insane amounts of covers of their songs. Some are wonderful to the point of possibly being better than the original, some are so bad one wants to tear one’s ears out. And some are down-right crazy. Here are just some of them.

5 Great Covers:

 5) Across The Universe by David Bowie (from Young Americans)
 When one thinks of David Bowie, one immediately thinks of his crotch’s starring role in Labyrinth. But after that, the mind turns to space...which makes the choice of song rather interesting and hilarious to certain minds. I am personally not a massive fan of the Let It Be album, to which the original version of this song belongs (because it represents the painful split the band endured...but mainly because of Phil Spector’s ham-fisted “producing” method), but I always admired it as a semi-developed demo. But this cover just seems more polished, with Bowie’s powerful voice suiting the song more than Lennon’s. Although there are only a few small differences, the arrangement as a whole just seems much better. Oh, and John Lennon actually plays guitar on this. You can’t really get a better endorsement than that.

 4) In My Life by Johnny Cash (from American IV: The Man Comes Around)
At the end of Johnny Cash’s career (and sadly, his life) he recorded a few covers of songs, typically written by men in their youth, and made them his own. The song Hurt, originally recorded by Nine Inch Nails, is an iconic representation of an old man looking back at his life with regret, and it has almost certainly become Johnny’s song. Johnny Cash did the same with In My Life. Written by John Lennon when he was asked why he didn’t write songs about his life in 1965. This song was initially a 'What I Did On My Holidays Bus Trip’ song, John reworked the lyrics to be a song about remembering things & people lost. And although it wasn’t ludicrous coming from the mouth of a young man like Lennon (especially when you think of his rather tragic childhood), the age & wisdom expressed in Cash’s voice gives the song much more weight. Sadly this version does away with the baroque sound of the original, it’s entirely understandable.

 3) Lady Madonna by Fats Domino (from Fats Is Back)
It’s rather sad that Fats Domino is a name that’s likely new to a lot of you, yet his influence holds no bounds. Born in 1928, Fats would go on to be a key man in the early years of Rock and Roll, which such hits as Blueberry Hill which influence people as far flung as Liverpool, England. It’s even claimed that Domino’s rhythm was a massive influence on the birth of ska. One of McCartney’s greatest skills was his ability to mimic his heroes. This ability was particularly useful to him in the early days, as his Little Richard impression was spot on (and rather good in its own right). The original is an ode to the boogie-woogie style of Domino, and although it’s wonderful, the student does not better the master in this case. Domino’s piano is just, and one can’t doing an incredibly embarrassing dance to the wonderful rhythm of Fats’ playing and I am really glad this in text form and not video.

 2) With A Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker (from the album of the same name)
When one talks of Beatles covers, it’s impossible to ignore this. Some of you might recognise it from Cocker’s performance at Woodstock (make “COCKer at WOODstock” jokes at your own peril), others may recognise it as the theme from the Wonder Years. Cocker turned what was a rather fluffy Ringo song into a soulful, bluesy rock tune, thanks to the arrangement, and also partly to the excellent guitar playing of a relatively unknown studio musician who didn’t go on to much. Some of you may have heard of him, his name’s Jimmy, I’ve no idea either. This cover is so good that apparently quite a lot of people are unaware that it’s a cover. Well it is. And it’s really good.

 1) All Together Now by The Muppets (from the album Kermit Unpigged)
 It’s time to play the music; it’s time to light the lights; it’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight. Those words are the key to most of our childhoods. In 1994, The Muppets released an album where they get lost in a recording studio, culmination in this cover. One of McCartney’s children’s songs, it suits The Muppets perfectly. There’s not really much more to say about this, except maybe that it is the thing most likely to delight your inner child.

 Terrible Covers

 5) Let It Be by Justin Bieber (live version only)
 So right I assume the majority have become a boiling pot of anger and rage for two very different reasons: because you forgot this atrocity ever happened or because you didn’t actually know that it did. On what was sadly the last Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve show actually with Dick Clark, Justin Bieber shocked the world by showing them that he had a small modicum of talent...well, enough to learn to play the piano anyway (and the trumpet, which makes me laugh for no discernible reason). With Carlos Santana providing the guitar solo, this magical performance can be summed up in two words: incredible mediocrity. Bieber’s piano playing is sub-par, as is Santana’s guitar playing sadly. And the New York crowd didn’t hide it, as they reject Bieber’s hilarious attempt at audience participation. Marvelous.
 4) I Should’ve Known Better by She & Him (from Volume 1)
If you don’t know who She & Him are, then I don’t blame you. Basically, it’s actress Zooey Deschanel’s band. Zooey (and band-mate M., he doesn’t have a first name. It’s cool!) replaced the sadly seldom seen harmonica with slide guitar. Which is fine? But my god does it just sound...lazy. And by that, I don’t mean the lazy Hawaiian chilled-out feeling. It just seems like a massive lack of effort. This is typified by the vocals. M. Ward turns in an incredibly bad performance, and at times it seems like it couldn’t be more than the first take. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the ol’ mouth organ.
 3) Help! by Alvin & The Chipmunks (from Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked Soundtrack)
 Oh god...what fresh circle of hell have we entered? Now if you’ve never heard of Alvin & The Chipmunks, basically a novelty singer sped up records, liked the sound, created cute little characters and marketed it to children. Then there were some cartoons. Recently they had a trilogy of CGI films, which culminated in...Chipwrecked. It nearly killed me just to type that again. Thankfully their cover of Help! didn’t feature in the film, and only appeared on the special edition of the soundtrack. Sadly, there was already an entire album of Chipmunks Beatles covers released in 1964. Oh dear. The cover Help! is incredibly disturbing. And that’s really all I can say about it.
 2) Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds by Wing (from Beatles Classics by Wing)
All of you South Park fans are aware of Wing. Wing is a woman who became famous due to her rather...unique vocal style. While Alvin & his Chipmunk buddies are digitally altered, Wing’s voice is 100% natural. And it’s incredibly hard to believe. In what is rather a sometimes controversial opinion, I don’t particularly like Lucy In The Sky. I think it’s a bit overplayed. But please god, can we never play this cover again? I really do try to be positive about things... but it’s really hard to be positive when there’s a mouse being strangled in my headphones. Wing is really rather terrible, and is really an atrocity that we can never recover from. Let’s try to move on from this whole thing. It really couldn’t get worse than this...right?
 1) Happiness Is A Warm Gun by U2 (from Last Night on Earth)
 Oh dear god no. While I don’t subscribe to the belief that Bono’s seemingly incessant bleating about charity & Africa make him a right git, I have never really liked U2, even if they are the premier band of The Netherlands. Happiness is probably my favourite track on “The Beatles” (a.k.a. the White Album) because it was one of the only real team efforts on the entire double album, which was full of selfishness and self-imposed isolation. And U2 raped it. I do not use that word lightly, and I hate using it in such a frivolous context’s the only one I can think of to correctly express how much of a betrayal this song is. It is one of the great blight’s on society and the human race as a whole. The version I listed to was titled “The Gun Mix,” so maybe that’s something entirely different. But Bono’s unceasing wailing over an incredibly poor attempt to be avant garde makes for what could possibly be the worst thing ever. I’ll listen to Wing for all eternity, just please never make me listen to that again.

 Crazy Covers
After the soul destroying antics of U2 and Wing, I really do need a good laugh.
 5) A Hard Day’s Night by Peter Sellers (single)
Peter Sellers is one of the finest comic actors of all time, and he actually has a rather entertaining place in Beatles history, one which involves octopi. But that’s another story for another day. In 1965 Peter Sellers recorded a comedy version of this song on the Parlophone label, which most keen-eyed readers will remember as The Beatles’ own record label. So what was so funny about this version? Well, Sellers recorded the if he were acting it out in Shakespeare’s Richard III. For a while, one is really uncertain of what’s going on, or whether it’s funny or not. And for a while, it isn’t. It’s the next day when you act every song out like a Shakespearean actor that it hits you. And it’s mind-boggling, to say the least.
 4) Drive My Car by Elmo (from Best of Elmo)
 Disregarding and removing oneself from the recent scandal involving his puppeteer, it’s easy to say that Elmo was probably the most wonderful and incredibly crazy thing from our collective childhoods (yes, I did get a Tickle-me Elmo). And hearing Elmo, that loveable (if slightly “special”) muppet sing, not only about driving a car, but also the more risqué & suggestive lyrics of that song is just a crazy way. It’s so surreal and manic that one can’t help but smile. And it’s Elmo. Lovely Elmo...please stop asking me to tickle you.
 3) Nowhere Man by Tiny Tim (unreleased)
Some of you will, once again, remember him from your childhoods. Others will know him as that weirdo who shrieks & plays the ukulele. Whatever your opinion on the man, you can’t deny that Tiny Tim was a legend of the industry, and a pioneer of an oft rejected instrument. This cover is rather special, as it was actually released on a Beatles record. Each Christmas, The Beatles would send out a Christmas record to its fan-club’s members. As time went on, and The Beatles grew apart, they recorded their own messages separately. In 1968, Tiny Tim recorded this cover at George’s request. While most despise the ukulele, roping it in with the lazy Hawaiian sub-genre, I can’t hate it. I have played this for both Beatles and Tiny Tim fan friends of mine, and the confused look etched on their faces is always delightful.
 2) Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by Bill Cosby (from Bill Cosby Sings Hooray for the Salvation Army Band!)
Even though the Bill Cosby Show didn’t get much airplay over here, it was impossible to escape the wonder that was the jello pudding pop-shilling legend that was Bill Cosby. While Mr. Cosby was a decent comedian, he really had no career in the music business. Cosby is in full zip zop zoobidy bob mode here, and it’s a thing of beauty. While the original is the tattered remains of what was meant to be a concept album (which I still love, by the way), this is honestly one of the best things I’ve ever heard, mainly because one believes that Cosby could break into a tangent about the kids, who listen to the rap, which gives them the brain damage. With the bippin and the boppin and the hippin and the hoppin so they don’t know what the jazz is all about!...ahem...I regret nothing.
 1) Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds by William Shatner (from Transformed Man)
 Disregard all previous statements. This is the greatest thing ever (can you tell that I love hyperbole?). If you’re unaware of Captain Kirk’s music career, I’ll allow you a few minutes to acquaint yourself with it. Seriously. Go. I’ll be here. James T. adopts the rather...unique style of combining the two great arts of spoken word and overacting. And it is glorious. The experience is not something that only I, as a Beatles & Sci Fi nerd (although my favourite Shatner role was always Denny Crane from Boston Legal), can enjoy. It really is fun for the whole family. Recorded at around the same time as the original Star Trek series, the record company tried to market it as more a Captain Kirk album than a Bill Shatner one. And it just makes this song more delicious. I actually prefer this version to the original. It’s that good. And crazy. And I love it.

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