Never Cover the Beatles

If you play in a Beatles covers band, best look away now. There’s no way to say this other than straight out: no-one should ever cover a Beatles song.

I recognise that in this, as in so many walks of life, I am in a minority possibly as small as one. But, thanks to the freedom afforded by the Interweb, I am able to get a disproportionate amount of exposure for my views.

I am not saying the Beatles were unique among the giants of pop and rock in producing the definitive versions of their songs: Pink Floyd, U2, Radiohead and Blur are among many senior rocksters whose oeuvre is best left alone. (Readers who are young enough that they are still capable of standing for two hours at a gig should add their nomination here: _____.)

Nor would I claim the Beatles are innocent of such crimes themselves. Their early version of “Twist and Shout” was a pale shadow of the Isley Brothers 1962 hit (itself a remake) and they neutered rock ‘n roll hits from Little Richard and Chuck Berry.

Evidence! I hear you cry. Just listen:

Shirley Bassey (“Something”)? It’s just La Diva being herself. It would sound the same if it was “Puff the Magic Dragon”.

Frank Sinatra (“Yesterday”)? Really?

Oasis (“I Am the Walrus”)? Monotonous, a dirge.

Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers (“Got to Get You Into My Life”)? Actually not bad – until you hear the version on Revolver.

Arctic Monkeys (“Come Together”)? Pretty good in the context of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Now, there’s another thing. Nothing against doing a Beatles song live. It’s recording one and putting it out with a view to profit – in effect, saying this is a version worth paying for.

The thing about the Beatles is that every song from A Hard Day’s Night onwards was innovative and distinctive. That was the first album on which all the tracks were written by the band (they recorded only two more covers, both on Help) and it blazed a trail out of pop superficiality into artistic creativity. In short, Beatles music means something, with its baggage of 1960s culture, drugs, production technology and musical ambition.* Theirs is the definitive interpretation. So when a famously proficient singer brings their expertise to bear on a Lennon-McCartney song, it’s bland. When a global rock band brashly reinterprets an innovative classic, it’s like stomping on a flower bed.

Let it be, ladies and gents, please.

* This does not include any of Ringo’s songs. They just prove the other three moptops were too nice to tell the drummer to stick to drumming.

– Steve C

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