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The Beatles Recovered

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Mark Cooper Mark Cooper | 16:20 UK time, Tuesday, 8 September 2009

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.

John and Paul kicked off as songwriters by handing out songs to the Stones and Liverpool mates like Billy J Kramer and Cilla Black but pretty soon they only had time for their own studio adventures.

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.


Cover Queens: Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey & Cilla Black

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.

Related Posts
How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin
Albert Maysles on Filming the Beatles

Related Links
...Sings the Beatles


  • Comment number 1.

    Among my favourite Beatles covers are some weird ones - Peter Sellers for instance, or an entire album of operatic Beatles covers by Madame Cathy Berberian. I am also rather fond of the Mae West versions of "Day Tripper" and "Twist and Shout", but not many other people agree with me...

  • Comment number 2.

    How about the "Let It Be" album by our jolly Slovenien friends Laibach? They covered the entirety of Let It Be, substituting Maggie Mae for the German volkslieder Auf Die Lueneburge Heide. The opener "Get Back" certainly turns the original version on its head. Musically brilliant, sometimes terrifying but great fun too (in my opinion!).

  • Comment number 3.

    There is one cover that stands out above all others, Joe Cockers 'A little help from my friends' as sung at woodstock, One of the few that are truly better than the original

  • Comment number 4.

    I've just watched this and loved the Richie Havens cover, but please can anyone tell me who the mad drummer and his amazing 70's? full band were, they were one just before Richie Havens?

  • Comment number 5.

    Really dissapointed that there was no mention of the sound track to the film 'All This and World War 2" There are some great cover versions from the likes of the Elton John, Bee Gees, Jeff Lynne, Tina Turner, Status Quo, Helen Reddy and many more....

  • Comment number 6.

    It's hard to thank of any acts that have followed the Beatles that haven't covered the Beatles in soem way from entire covers to picking up little riffs and melodies or even themes from Elton John to Oasis


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