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“Little darling, it’s been a long lonely winter”

May 28, 2016

With the fifty year anniversary of the Beatles (circa 1966) and the Memorial Day weekend upon us, I thought it would be appropriate to create a list of my favorite Beatles songs but with a twist. In the 1970s and 1980s, Memorial day weekend was often a weekend of special countdowns by radio stations in the US usually the top 100, 300 or even 500 songs of “all time”. Given my near obsession with creating all types of numbered lists/countdowns (am I ill?) , I have decided create a list of my favorite songs WRITTEN by the Beatles BUT performed by OTHER artists (either in their original hit versions or as ‘covers’ of Beatle songs). My favorites are obviously subjective but one criteria that was important to me is “originality” of the rendition relative to the Beatles version. So herewith is my top 20 list of my favorite songs written by Lennon, McCartney or Harrison, but performed by others (* indicates an original recording not a cover):

  1. “We Can Work it Out” – Stevie Wonder (#13 Apr. 71) As noted in my last blog post, this song is the BEST cover of a Beatles song bar none. Stevie took a softer folk rock song by McCartney and turned it into a up-tempo R&B rocker. What is unusual as well is that Wonder succeeded in creating a very successful single from an original Beatles #1 hit. Great keyboards and vocals and Stevie’s signature harmonica solo drive this song.  All I can say is listen to this song, you won’t be disappointed!
  2. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” – Elton John (#1 Jan. 75) This is one of the most popular songs by Elton John and the most successful cover of a Beatles song. Elton took this John Lennon song and recorded it in his own style with a different tempo, different rhythms, interesting keyboards and synthesizer, excellent musical accompaniment and overall production. The song also has an ever-changing chorus including a reggae chorus near the end. But it is Elton’s vocals that make this an outstanding cover. It is one of those of songs that you don’t want to end even though it is almost 6 and 1/2 minutes long.   
  3. “With A Little Help from My Friends” – Joe Cocker (#68 Dec. 68) – Englishman Joe Cocker has a great rock voice, gravelly but soulful, and it comes out on this outstanding Beatles cover. But it is the arrangement, the musical production, the different tempo and rhythms and some great guitar work from Jimmy Page that make this song very special. And the next summer, this was a featured song at an outstanding Woodstock concert in 1969.
  4. “Here Comes the Sun” – Richie Havens (#16 Apr. 71) – Richie Havens’ unique rhythmic folk guitar sound drives this version of George Harrison’s best song as a Beatle. Once again, an example of a completely different style than the original song, making it one of my favorites.
  5. “A World Without Love”- Peter and Gordon* (#1 Jun. 64)Peter Asher and Gordon Waller had been performing together since their days at Westminster school in London and recently had been signed by EMI records. Peter Asher’s sister Jane was dating Paul McCartney at the time so Peter turned to his friend Paul for their first single. Paul had written it originally for the Beatles, but it’s soft folk sound didn’t fit for the group. But it was perfect for the folk duo, Peter and Gordon, and it quickly rose to #1. This is purely and simply a beautiful love song.
  6. “Fame” – David Bowie*-(#1 Sep. 75) – Co-written by John Lennon, “Fame” was a decidedly different Bowie song, with unique rhythms and a new (for Bowie) rock and soul sound. It is one of my favorites by Bowie and features Lennon’s backing vocals at the end of the song. “what’s your name, what’s your name…”
  7. “Come and Get It” – Badfinger* (#7 Apr. 70) – This Welsh rock group had their first hit written and produced by Paul McCartney. It has a great melody and excellent vocal harmonies which is why it is in my top 10. “if you want it here it is ….” 
  8. “Bad to Me” – Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (#9 Jun. 64) – Another excellent McCartney tune that didn’t fit the Beatles stylistically, so English pop singer Billy J.Kramer was more than happy to oblige. “The birds in the sky would be sad and lonely if they knew that I lost my one and only…”
  9. “Got to Get You Into My Life”- Earth, Wind and Fire (#9 Sep. 78) – This is a great jazzy-soul version of a Beatles classic which was featured in the musical movie “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”. “Got to Get You Into My Life” has the distinction of being originally recorded by the Beatles on the Revolver album in 1966, then actually rereleased as a single a decade later in 1976 (reaching #7 in July) , six years AFTER the Beatles had broken up. Imagine how well it would have done as a single in 1966!
  10. “Goodbye” – Mary Hopkin* (#13 May 69) – Born in Wales, Mary Hopkin has the distinction of having one of the first singles released by the Beatles new Apple Records on August 11, 1968 (along with “Hey Jude” and two others) with her beautiful lively folk classic “Those Were the Days”. I love her voice so also enjoyed her second hit written by Lennon-McCartney… “Goodbye, my love, goodbye….”
  11. “She Came in Thru the Bathroom Window”– Joe Cocker (#30 Jan. 70) – Cocker’s first top forty hit took a short McCartney song from the album Abbey Road and expanded it into an interesting hard rock and soul song.
  12. “The Fool on the Hill” – Sergio Mendes and the Brazil 66 (#6 Sep. 68) This Brazilian group was perhaps best known on the “easy listening” radio stations (or on elevators) music I generally detested. Even so, this song was an exception, and it was hard to ignore the beautiful vocals and the unique pacing in this rendition.
  13. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”- The Silkie (#10 Nov. 65) – This was the sole charting single for this English folk group. It is a nice folk rendition of a Lennon slow rocker from the movie Help!. The Beatles also helped with musical accompaniment and production assistance which of course never hurts.
  14. “Ringo’s Theme (This Boy)”- George Martin and His Orchestra (#53 Aug. 64)- Who better to take an early Beatles song and turn it into an instrumental for use in the first Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night than Beatles producer extraordinaire George Martin. Call me sentimental, but this is one of the first instrumental songs I remember really liking.
  15.  “Norwegian Wood” – P.M. Dawn (1993 did not chart) – This 90s dance-rap duo from Jersey City had an extremely interesting version of a John Lennon classic. Not really a rap song but more of a dance song, but very likable nonetheless.
  16. “In My Life” – Bette Midler (1992 did not chart) – A wonderful rendition of another Lennon classic. It’s Bette Midler, need I say more!
  17. “It Won’t Be Long” – Redd Kross (1993 did not chart)- This California 90s rock band turned this early Beatles song into an alternative rocker a la 1990’s style.
  18. “Eleanor Rigby” – Aretha Franklin (#17 Dec. 69) – The Queen of Soul has a very soulful and interesting remake of the McCartney soft rock ballet.
  19. “Yesterday” – Ray Charles (#25 Dec. 69)– Probably the most difficult task in covering a Beatles song is to take one of McCartney slow ballad classics (e.g. Yesterday, Michelle, Let it Be etc.) and make you forget the original. Ray Charles comes the closest in succeeding with this heartfelt rendition of “Yesterday”.
  20. “Come Together”- Aerosmith (#23 Sep. 78)This is another Beatles remake that appears in the movie Sgt.Peppers. Aerosmith does a nice rock cover but this is not unique enough to make you forget at least temporarily the original Lennon masterpiece.

Honorable Mention: “You Won’t See Me” Anne Murray; “Not a Second Time” Robert Palmer; “Woman” Peter and Gordon; “A Hard Day’s Night” Ramsey Lewis Trio.


Have a great Memorial day weekend and enjoy the music!


From → Music 60s70s

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