The Beatles Recovered
The Beatles started off as a covers band and half the first Beatles' album consists of versions of Motown, R&B and rock 'n' roll. Brian Epstein reportedly encouraged John and Paul to get writing if they wanted a future beyond the 18 months or so that was the projected lifespan of anything pop in the early 60s.
There's a touching moment in The Beatles On Record in which a serious Paul discusses their career prospects as jobbing songwriters when the band's moment in the spotlight might be over in a few months. For eight years in the 60s and for the decades since, The Beatles comprehensively proved their sneering elders wrong; from the first they were built to last.
Our ...Sings the Beatles compilation on BBC Four is an eclectic survey of Beatles' covers from the 60s and beyond. It's a tacit reminder of how Beatles' songs became ubiquitous almost overnight in the mid-60s and how quickly they were taken up by the mainstream and turned into easy listening. Much of ...Sings Beatles is TV gold because it's light entertainment colliding with pop music and producing... God knows what! That means Dudley Moore and Cilla Black making comic eyes at each other over If I Fell, Petula Clark in a field doing a vaudeville version of Sgt Pepper, Shirley Bassey turning Something into Wagner.
There's the occasional musical gem - I still like Richie Havens' take on Here Comes The Sun for example - and the odd reminder that although the flood of Beatles' covers slowed to a trickle in the 80s and 90s, each generation could still 'make' their own Beatles - take a bow Candy Flip's acid house version of Strawberry Fields Forever.
Of course we could only show you what's in the BBC's vaults and that doesn't include Ella Fitzgerald or many of the New York Times' fave covers from a recent Top 10 which includes The Breeders' Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Rufus Wainwright's Across The Universe and Stevie Wonder's We Can Work It Out.
There are those on the web that argue that The Beatles are much covered but that those covers are never a match for the perfection of the band's studio originals in contrast to Dylan who's a fertile source for interpreting precisely because his own versions of his songs are so idiosyncratic and sketchy.
There's some truth in that and while there's plenty of discussion out there online with lists of jazz , Moog and other genre Beatles' covers, the last 45 years or so of covers suggests it's hard to take on perfection. I'm going to plump for Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude with Duane Allman on slide guitar because, for once, here's a version that isn't awed by the original. We'd like to know what your favourite Beatles' cover is and why so - anyone for Marmalade?
Mark Cooper is the Executive Producer of ...Sings the Beatles which you can watch on BBC Four on Friday 11 September.
...Sings the Beatles