Posts Tagged ‘The Beatles’

A friend of mine wrote an article about Mumford & Sons cover of “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel. In the article, he states that he prefers the cover to the original, to which I cried, “Bullshit! No one can prefer this cover-songsbanjo-laden Brit-folk version over the quietly understated hippie folk original!” Actually, I didn’t say that, but it was implied. Another friend of ours chimed in, siding with me that the original was the better song, though not simply because it was the original. This then prompted the article’s author to pose a question on Facebook as to whether or not a cover song (studio produced covers, mind you) can be better or as good as the original.

My answer: Yes, but it’s very hard to accomplish. Cover songs, by definition, are created because the original was so good that the cover artist wanted to create their own version. Or some studio producer forced the cover upon them. I’d like to believe it’s the former, but we’ve definitely seen the latter displayed often enough.

For a cover song to do well it really depends on if the artist brings anything new to the song. Those familiar with the Supertramp song “Give a Little Bit” are probably aware that the Goo Goo Dolls did a cover version. And that’s about all you need to know. They didn’t do anything else to the song except make it sound like a Goo Goo Dolls song, which made it very boring. It was about as straight forward a cover as you could get and it made very little impact. You also have radical departures like Madonna’s cover of “American Pie” by Don McLean. The song was for her movie The Next Best Thing, but the butchering of verses – taking the song out of its original context of honoring the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valenz, and The Big Bopper – and dolling it up with autotune and electronica made the song a hot mess.

On the other hand, there are cover songs that do right by the original, but showcase an aspect of the song that might have gone unnoticed before. One of my favorites is Nirvana’s cover of “The Man Who Sold the World”. Originally a David Bowie song, Kurt Cobain’s raw vocal on the Unplugged album makes the song far better than Bowie’s snyth-style. Cobain makes the lyrics sound desperate and regretful, which feeds into the somber music led by a haunting guitar riff.

There’s also the Dixie Chicks cover of “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks that was a very popular cover song because they honored the original, but still brought their own style to the song that, to borrow the most over used phrase on American Idol other than “Yo Dawg!”, “made it their own.” Like the original, “Landslide” is kept very minimalist in the hands of the Dixie Chicks, but they still add their country twang without overproducing the song. Plus, the harmonizing of the three women make certain words and phrases pop, emphasizing the emotional resonance of a song Johnny-Cash-Hurtabout age, experience, and longing. And then there’s Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. Do I even have to justify how beautiful that song is sung by The Man in Black? Trent Reznor has gone on record saying that the song truly belongs to Cash and I completely agree with him.

Cover songs, however, can be tricky when one factors in time, popularity, and the artist. We all know “Respect” as an Aretha Franklin song, but it was originally sung by Otis Redding. The song just took on a different meaning when the words came from a woman instead of a man, which also made more of an impact during the 1960s with the Women’s Liberation Movement. The Animals had a big hit with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, but Nina Simone was the original recording artist even though the songs came out within a year of each other. Both are very good, by the way.

The songs of the fifties and sixties were especially nebulous in terms of who sang which song first and how a more well-known artist might make a particular song skyrocket into popular culture even as a cover. We have to remember that cover songs are not new things. Rock and roll was pretty much built on cover songs with white musicians covering black jazz and blues artists to make them more “palatable” for white audiences. Pat Boone made his career off of cover songs of black artists. There’s even a website ! Even Elvis Presley was a cover artist with “Hound Dog”, which was originally sung by Big Mama Thornton.

Hairspray has a great sequence in the middle of the film that shows how white covers of black music were utilized and retooled to present what producers thought was a more “wholesome” image. And, lest I forget, the Beatles did cover songs too. Their first few albums, while featuring plenty of songs written by Lennon and McCartney, had a lot of covers as well. However, once the Beatles moved into only writing their own songs, they, in turn, became a band that others tried to cover. Movies like the God-awful Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the much better Across the Universe created narratives around cover songs of the Beatles’ catalog.New girl in town

I guess what it really boils down to is preference and taste. I tend to go for originals over covers as the better version of a given song, but a lot of that is also based on which version I was introduced to and grew up with. It’s kind of like how some viewers, generally younger kids, think that the songs featured on Glee are original songs when they are, in fact, covers made specifically to sell iTunes. Hell, sometimes songs on Glee are covers of covers. Case in point, the version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles sung by Kurt in the episode “Grilled Cheesus” is actually a cover of the slowed down version made for Across the Universe. You can call it snobbery or being too much of a purist, but it’s my preference, which means I really can’t begrudge anyone else’s taste in music. I do like a lot of cover songs, I just don’t necessarily believe they’re better than the original. That doesn’t mean that I won’t debate the merits of one song over another. That’s part of the fun!

So tell me your favorite cover songs! Do you prefer covers to the originals? Start a dialogue, people! Share your music with us!

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I think this is an appropriate way to close out not only Beatles-Cember, but also the year itself. Hello 2014, Goodbye 2013.

“Hello, Goodbye” doesn’t really have much to do with anything except as an example of how Paul McCartney could compose a song. Coming off of a request from manager Brian Epstein about creating a song, McCartney had Epstein’s personal assistant, Alistair Taylor, say the opposite word of what Paul sang as he played his harmonium.

The song was featured on the Magical Mystery Tour album and was featured in the television film of the same name. Additionally, three promotional films were made for the song, all of them directed by Paul McCartney, which included the Beatles performing the song in their Sgt. Pepper uniforms as well as the last time the group wore the grey Mersey suits that had been associated with them since they’d become a household name.

A gospel-like song about loss and acceptance, “Let it Be” is considered to be one of the Beatles’ greatest songs. The song’s name is shared with the group’s 12th and final studio album as a group as well as the film that documented the creation of the album. During the tense session that witnessed the dissolution of the band, Paul McCartney was inspired to write the song after having a dream about his mother, Mary, who’d died of cancer when he was fourteen.

In many ways, the longevity of “Let it Be” can be attributed to its release prior to John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s announcement that the group was breaking up. The lyrics have often been interpreted as a message from the group to their fans, knowing they’re upset, but asking for acceptance.

Another two-fer so we can get all caught up!

“Yellow Submarine” was another song composed by McCartney for Ringo Starr, the inspiration of which came from McCartney just trying to think of a story to tell. Finding an angle with a sea captain weaving an ever more nonsensical and fantastical tale, coupled with lyrics contributed from both John Lennon and Donovan, and you have the delightful children’s tune we know and love. That doesn’t stop people from adding their own socio-political messages.

The song was so popular that, though it was recorded for the album Revolver, it was reused and made the title song of the move of the same name. It was also the Beatles’ third, and supposedly final, contracted film with United Artists. Yellow Submarine was an animated film set around the music of the Beatles that pulled from various albums and told the story of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s journey to stop the Blue Meanies from destroying Pepperland. The Beatles were originally slated to provide their voices for their animated counterparts, but it ultimately fell to other actors to do their best Liverpudlian accents. To fulfill their contract, the band appears, briefly, at the end in a live action sequence.

Contrary to popular belief, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” isn’t about LSD. The inspiration for the song came from a drawing Julian Lennon did of one of his classmates. When he showed it to his father, John, and stated that the title of the drawing was “Lucy – in the sky with diamonds” John just ran with the concept and created a song. The LSD rumors continued to be fueled, however, with the lyrics and the musical arrangement giving the song the feel of an acid trip, but there ya go.

The song itself has remained a popular piece of pop culture history. There have been multiple covers of the song and one parody song, “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)”, was actually a hit for John Fred and His Playboy Band in 1967. Lennon even references the song in “I Am the Walrus”.

Another two-fer as I’ve realized I’ve fallen short on the Beatles’ song count for the month.

“Something” was written by George Harrison and was the only song written by him to top the US charts while he was with the band. It was definitely one of the Beatles’ more popular hits amongst other musicians considering both John and Paul praised it as not only Harrison’s best writing, but one of the best Beatles songs, and its extensive list of artists who’ve covered it: Elvis Presley all the way to Phish. Harrison’s preferred cover was the one by James Brown.

When pressed for what or who inspired the song, Harrison has gone on record saying no one really inspired the song. It was just something he wrote during his down time. People just assumed it was about his then wife, Pattie Boyd (the inspiration for Eric Clapton’s “Layla”), because of the promotional video put together that played the song over footage of George and Pattie, John and Yoko, Paul and Linda, and Ringo and his then wife Maureen.

“Get Back” was written for the Let it Be album and “movie” but its inception essentially came from cannibalizing verses from other songs, specifically George Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea”, and on-and-off sessions of messing around with the lyrics and music while recording. It’s one of the rare Beatles songs that is essentially documented every step of the way since the cameras were rolling the whole time during the Let it Be sessions. The song itself has two verses, one about a man named JoJo headed from Arizona to California and the other about the sexually ambiguous Loretta Martin. Neither seem to be connected other than the fact that they’re in the same song and there may be an implication that they should, as the chorus says, “Get back” to where they once belonged.

Musically, “Get Back” is driven principally by the bass and drums, but it also includes a lively electric piano solo by the late Billy Preston, who was brought in by George Harrison to break up the tension in the studio since the group was bickering quite a bit.

Today is the day that marks the 50th anniversary of the US release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. It was the first number one hit The Beatles had in the United States and it unofficially marked the beginning of the “British Invasion” of rock and roll music in the US. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was written in the basement of McCartney’s then girlfriend, Jane Asher’s, parents’ house where he and Lennon were essentially sitting right across from each other, composing songs in a little room where Asher would teach oboe lessons.

It’s also one of two songs that The Beatles did in German as well. “Komm, gib mir deine Hand” was partnered with “Sie Liebt Dich” – “She Loves You” – for the German market that had basically spearheaded the group’s popularity in the early days, though the necessity of the recordings was probably unnecessary.

Written by Paul McCartney in 1968, “Lady Madonna” was McCartney’s attempt to write a bluesy, Fats Domino style song, which Fats Domino later covered in the same year. A raucous, piano-led tune, “Lady Madonna” originally started off, lyrically, about the Virgin Mary, mostly inspired by the Catholic population of Liverpool, but later evolved into one about a working class woman facing a problem every day of the week. Every day except for Sunday.

Seems like an appropriate song for the holiday season, I suppose. Actually, not really. “Come Together” was recorded for the Abbey Road album and released as a double A-side with “Something”. John Lennon was inspired by Timothy Leary’s campaign for governor of California against Ronald Reagan, which had the slogan, “Come together, join the party.” The song’s lyrics are supposedly cryptic references to the individual Beatles with one figure in particular referring to Lennon as he works out his personal demons in the song.

And because it is Christmas Eve, here’s one of John Lennon’s solo numbers, “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”, to really get you in the holiday spirit!

While obviously not an original Beatles song, this cover of the Top Notes song that was also a cover hit for The Isley Brothers might just be the song that started “Beatlemania” following the performance of the Beatles at The Royal Variety Show in 1963. It was the only cover song recorded by the Beatles to sell one million copies, peaking at #2 in the US in 1964. “Twist and Shout” was recorded for the Please Please Me session, the first album recording for the band that became infamous for the 11 songs recorded in 10 hours. “Twist and Shout” was the last song to be recorded during the session due to the toll it took on John Lennon’s voice. Lennon was also suffering from a cold during the session and George Martin only got one take of the song because Lennon’s voice was pretty much gone afterwards.

The song received another resurgence in 1986 when it was used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, lip-synched by Matthew Broderick, and Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School.

“Hey Jude” has become possibly the most iconic of The Beatles’ catalog of song for two reasons. One, it’s the longest song they ever recorded, clocking in at a little over seven minutes. Two, it reaches anthem-level status by the time it reaches the “na-na-na-na” portion. It isn’t hard to get a group of people singing the coda and crying out “Hey Jude!” no matter where you are.

The song is entangled in drama, but at the very core it’s a song from Paul McCartney to Julian Lennon, John’s son, to comfort him when Lennon and his wife Cynthia were divorcing over his affair with Yoko Ono. Originally titled, “Hey Jules,” McCartney changed the name to Jude because he thought it sounded better and was easier to sing. Though in changing the name, Lennon took the song to be a bit of encouragement on McCartney’s part for him to stay with Ono.

“Hey Jude” was recorded during the same sessions for The White Album, but was released as a single with “Revolution” as the B-side. It was also the first single distributed via The Beatles’ label Apple Records.