Tiggerlion on the official studio recordings The Beatles made of other writers’ songs.
Apart from a forty second blast of Maggie Mae released in 1970, The Beatles recorded twenty-four covers of other people’s songs during their official studio career, mostly during the first couple of years when they made their first four albums. They were all derived from their live act, some dating back to their earliest gigs, and they give an insight to where The Beatles came from and why they became such a success. Ten were late fifties Rock and Roll classics written by Carl Perkins, Larry Williams, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, appealing to the leather clad rockers within. Ten were originally sung by girl groups or were ballads from musical theatre or by Soul artists, appealing to the teenage girls who were the hotbed of their early audience. Seven were captured in the first take.
Prior to winning a recording contract with EMI, The Beatles had some experience working in a studio. In Hamburg, they befriended Tony Sheridan and acted as his backing band both live and, on 22-24th June 1961, for studio recordings. On the final day they were given the opportunity to record two tracks themselves and chose Ain’t She Sweet, an Ager-Yellen Tin Pan Alley song and their own Cry Me A Shadow. Their famous ‘commercial test’ with Decca on 1st January 1962, produced by a hungover Mike Smith, yielded fifteen tracks of which twelve were covers. Back in Hamburg, May 24th, they recorded another two songs for Sheridan. Surviving tapes of some of these sessions were polished up and issued on Anthology 1.
The Beatles needed ten additional tracks to the four already released as A and B sides of their first two singles to create a debut LP. George Martin wanted to capture their live sound playing their usual repertoire. He even visited The Cavern in Liverpool but quickly decided that the venue was unsuitable for recording an album. On 11th February 1963, the The Beatles convened in EMI Recording Studio Two in London to complete their album. One problem was that the usual lead singer, John Lennon, was suffering from a heavy cold. The priority was their original songs. The first two sessions of the day, all six and a half hours, yielded four originals, none of which featured Lennon in a prominent lead vocal and just one cover, A Taste Of Honey. At the start of the third session they spent considerable time getting Hold Me Tight right and failing. The remaining five performances, all covers, took a grand total of thirteen takes to complete, five of which were false starts lasting no more than a few seconds. These were songs The Beatles loved and played so much, they knew them inside out. Once Hold Me Tight failed they hadn’t even planned for a replacement, only deciding on Twist & Shout during a coffee break, a song they nailed on the first take.
A Taste Of Honey is a show tune, written by Bobby Sott and Ric Marlow, that featured in a 1961 film starring Liverpudlian Rita Tushingham. Originally an instrumental, Lenny Welch enjoyed success in the Autumn of 1962 with a vocal version, lyrics possibly provided by Lee Morris. Paul McCartney’s aunt was a fan and he was drawn to its sweet sentimentality, as was The Beatles audience, who enjoyed the contrast in pace and mood it provided in the live show. Although it was one of the most recent songs The Beatles covered, it was the most warmly nostalgic in tone. Ringo even got out his brushes. The other Beatles, never averse to a touch of sentimentality themselves, were attracted to the harmonies in the backing vocals. George Martin went to the trouble of double-tracking Paul’s lead vocal, possibly to avoid strain on John’s voice but more probably to press home that this song belonged to Paul. A Taste Of Honey had more attention lavished on it than any other cover that day. Its sisters-in-spirit are on every album The Beatles put out, through And I Love Her, I’ll Follow The Sun, Yesterday, Michelle, Here, There And Everywhere, When I’m 65, Your Mother Should Know, Honey Pie, Her Majesty and Let It Be, all romantic ballads, sung and written by Paul, that hark back to an older, golden age. These songs are equally as capable of enchanting or repulsing the listeners but they are an essential part of The Beatles experience as much as a Ringo turn at the mic. It’s a pity their version of A Taste Of Honey turns out to be somewhat sluggish.
Anna (Go To Him) is a gentle, early Soul ballad as sung by Arthur Alexander. It describes a situation John clearly related to as he revisited it many times in his own songs, at least until he took LSD and met Yoko. The girl has found someone else. Think of Misery, Not A Second Time, This Boy, I’ll Cry Instead, I’m A Loser, Ticket To Ride, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). Despite, or because of his cold, John adds a mournful anguish to the bridge which captured in a few lines the story of his life: “All of my life, I’ve been searchin’, for someone to love me…” His wailing “oh, oh, oh”s must have melt every teenage girl’s heart when she heard them. At his most vulnerable, John finds exemplary support from the boys in their exquisite backing vocals. It’s a beautifully judged performance. With these first two cover choices, The Beatles demonstrated that they were unafraid to expose their soft underbelly, setting themselves apart from most of the other Beat groups of the time.
The next three songs recorded were originally by girl groups, The Cookies and The Shirelles, and each featured a different lead vocalist. They introduce the third and fourth characters in this original ‘boy band’, giving the audience of largely teenage girls a choice of boy to devote to, a crucial factor in the speed of their subsequent success. Ringo grasped his opportunity in the spotlight in a single take, singing and clattering his drums as if his career depended on it. The hiring of Alan White, a session drummer, to record Love Me Do was still raw in his mind. Boys, a Shirelles B side closely represents The Beatles live show and was the drummer’s staged moment even before Ringo joined them. Any lack in vocal technique was more than made up with gusto, oblivious to the connotations of a male singer “talking ’bout boys”. Goffin and King’s Chains bounces along cheerily with Harrison singing lead. After all, those chains are chains of love, the gender of the recipient of his affection suitably adjusted compared to the original. The ‘quiet one’ seems too shy, though, to reveal any hidden depths. He may have been keeping his cards close to his chest but in reality he was still a teenager and lacked belief in his singing ability. He had another couple of goes to inject a bit more energy but take one remained the keeper. John returns to the mic for Baby, It’s You, another Shirelles song, this time written by Bacharach, David and Barney Williams, a pseudonym for Luther Dixon, their producer. It’s a delicate melody, delivered with poise by The Beatles, their affection for the tune shining through. After a couple of complete takes, John’s voice needed a break. George Martin added a piano and celeste overdub nine days later. The Beatles bettered this version during an appearance on Pop Goes The Beatles on June 11th, a performance available on Live At The BBC. These girl group songs taught the four young men The Beatles to directly address the listener, unashamed to express naked emotion, with love, from me to you.
Time had run out still one song short. During refreshment in the canteen, warm milk and cough drops for John, they made the bold decision to go for their wildest number, the big finish to their live act, Twist & Shout, based on The Isley Brothers R&B take of the Medley Russell song. Rightly lauded for the intense lead vocal, Twist & Shout is also a superb group performance, the product of four young men who spent almost every waking hour in each other’s company playing music. They attack the song with such verve and in such complete empathy, they make The Isley Brothers seem tame. It isn’t just sweaty power, either. It gives the impression of frenzied abandonment but there is a tenderness in the harmonies and a lightness of touch in the guitars that add a controlled, cleverly thought out impetus to the best party record The Beatles ever made.
The six covers on Please Please Me showcase The Beatles more so than their nascent songwriting skills. They present The Beatles as a gang, a band of four brothers, each with their own character and each with equally important roles to play, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Here is a group of sensitive young men who knew how to party hard. The combination was irresistible and the album, released on 22rd March 1963, shot to number one staying there for thirty weeks. Their next single, From Me To You, was number one in all the UK charts. They continued to gig almost every night and they appeared on radio, TV, magazines and newspapers regularly. Beatlemania was taking off and their lives changed completely.
They returned to the studio to record their second album, With The Beatles, on the evening of the 18th July 1963 as Please Please Me was still at number one. In between albums, they’d used up most of their best songs on singles, She Loves You and its B side having been taped just over two weeks earlier. This time, they started with the covers. They recorded three and made progress on a fourth in the three and half hours with George Martin supplementing the band on piano for the first couple, both contrasting Tamla Motown classics.
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles had a top ten hit in the US in 1962 with You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me, a song inspired by Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me. It was originally a B side for Happy Landing before radio DJs ‘flipped’ it and The Beatles obtained it by import later that year. There is so much to love and so much to emulate in the record, notably Marv Tarplin’s descending guitar lines, the gentle stop-start roll of Benny Benjamin’s drums, the harmonised backing vocals and, most of all, Smokey’s beautifully expressive lead. John most likely enjoyed the bitter sweet sentiment in the lyric. It is easily the most musically complex song The Beatles had attempted up to that point and they managed it in just seven takes. There is a confidence in the tightness of the backing vocals and in Ringo’s drum fills. John attacks the lead vocal, riding roughshod over any subtlety, but the arrangement of the electric guitars cleverly replaces the sax on the original and the instrumental break out-Motown’s Motown. With some adjustments, You Really Got A Hold Of Me was completed after eleven takes. It is a great version of a great, great record.
If You Really Got A Hold Of Me is a measure of The Beatles’ rising ambition, Money (That’s What I Want) must have seemed ripe for a takeover. Written by Berry Gordy with Janie Bradford, it was the first hit on his own label as performed by Barrett Strong. The Blues is at the heart of the melody, an idiom The Beatles normally approached with care, plus, its lust for something other than a teenage girl defied their strategy of speaking directly to their audience. Nevertheless, it had been in their act since 1960 and featured in their Decca audition. It is a tremendous performance that trounces the original and is arguably the best on the album. The key is that the two best voices in the band and, therefore, in Rock/Pop ever, were at their very best. This isn’t simply a showcase for a John gutsy lead. Paul is raving in a higher octave. Closing With The Beatles by rocking up an R&B track, and concluded after seven takes rather than just one, condemned Money to perpetual comparison with Twist & Shout. However, for a song whose style was outside of The Beatles comfort zone, Money is triumphant. The Rolling Stones were listening.
Devil In Her Heart is another girl-group song, written by Richard Drapkin and originally recorded by The Donays. It was an obscurity and used as a George showcase. His lead vocal is much, much better than Do Want To Know A Secret. However, it’s a track that illustrates what a complete band The Beatles were because it’s John’s insistent, nagging backing vocal that makes the track, a trick they repeated with Taxman for Revolver. The band interplay is of its now usual high standard and it lays the platform for the expression in the vocal. John pushes George to his best vocal yet. A performance that would be a highlight by any other band is now routine for The Beatles, all done in three takes.
Although Paul would often perform show-type tunes throughout his career, the only song The Beatles covered that actually came from Broadway was ‘Til There Was You. Paul was introduced to Peggy Lee’s version by his cousin Bett. It quickly became part of their repertoire and was showcased in the Decca audition. Paul’s vocal is nicely poised and John and George’s twin acoustic guitars are delicate and subtle. In fact, the intertacting guitars are responsible for the relatively high total number of takes, eight, to get a cover right. Ringo provides tasteful bossa nova bongos. There isn’t a single moment of it that jars. It’s the very antithesis of Rock & Roll, bringing a moment of serene calm after the first five self-composed songs on side one. Meredith Wilson, the writer, received more royalties for this one song, because of The Beatles cover, than for the entire Music Man show from which it came. ‘Til There Was You was an important song for The Beatles. They performed it at key moments when reaching out to a wider audience such as at The Royal Variety Performance and the Ed Sullivan show in America.
On the 30th July, they completed ‘Til There Was You and moved on to two more covers before starting on the original songs. Please Mr Postman is another girl-group song and a third Motown record for the same album, a 1961 number one for The Marvelettes. It is perfect for John, a song longing for a love that isn’t quite there. It had dropped out of their live setlist, so they had to refamiliarise themselves with its charms over nine takes. Whereas Gladys Horton was playful, almost teasing, a double-tracked John is assertive, bordering on annoyed. The beat is applied solidly. Only the backing voices show any kind of tenderness. In the hands of The Beatles, the song is more danceable if somewhat darker in mood.
Roll Over Beethoven was their first attempt at a genuine Rock & Roll song. Chuck Berry’s arrogance and quicksilver guitar playing didn’t naturally suit the quiet Beatle, but it’s George given the task of delivering both. At this point in their career, The Beatles were enjoying huge success in the UK but were still introducing themselves to the world. Roll Over Beethoven is a calling card, an announcement that The Beatles are the new thing. Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven was originally released in 1956, ironically the oldest song The Beatles had covered so far. However, they play it in later, 1960s style Chuck Berry, slowed down with the spritely rhythm converted to boogie-woogie. It worked. Those energetic handclaps are right to be excited. George’s confidence must have been sky-high, boosted by the inclusion of his first composition on an official Beatles release.
With The Beatles is more of an album than Please Please Me. It contains no singles and no B sides. Despite the cream of the self-composed songs being skimmed off for 45s, the quality of the writing remains high. However, it’s the six covers that document The Beatles development much more accurately. Though they are all derived from their live act, they are recorded with more care than those on Please Please Me. They are the product of an increasingly professional studio band. They also represent a raising of the bar. These songs are, overall, more complex emotionally and musically. They may not reach the level of raw excitement of Twist & Shout, though Money comes very close, but the performances display a richness and depth few of The Beatles contemporaries could hope to achieve. With The Beatles was released on the 22nd November 1963, immediately replacing Please Please Me at number one. A week later, I Want To Hold Your Hand caught the ears of teenage America and a domestic UK phenomenum became global.
The third album, A Hard Day’s Night, famously consists of only Lennon-McCartney compositions, thirteen of them, one short of the usual fourteen for an LP. There were cover songs recorded during the sessions, including one for Ringo who doesn’t enjoy a lead vocal on A Hard Day’s Night. These songs ended up on an EP of exclusive tracks, ones never previously issued as a single or an album track, headed by Long Tall Sally.
Long Tall Sally is a Little Richard record, co-written with Enotris Johnson and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, a big hit in 1956. It featured in The Beatles act as early as 1957 when they were called The Quarrymen. The Beatles were so familiar with it, it took just one take on the 1st March 1964 with George Martin on piano. On the same two and a half hour session, they did four takes of I’m Happy Just To Dance With You and seven of I Call Your Name. Paul delivered a blistering lead vocal, one to compare with John’s on Twist & Shout. He was miffed by the film Backbeat, about The Beatles’ early career, because it features the John character singing the song in Glasgow when John never actually sang its lead. He was pidgeon-holed as the romantic but he proved time and time again he was as much a Rock & Roller as John, starting with the opening song on Please Please Me. Long Tall Sally is simply affirmation of a little recognised truth. It’s a pity it was issued almost as an after-thought on an EP.
Exactly three months later, they recorded two more covers, Carl Perkins’ Matchbox and Larry Williams’ Slow Down, along with I’ll Cry Instead. Perkins was present in the studio. Matchbox was traditionally a drummer’s song for The Beatles, though John had taken over at one point. Ringo was understandably nervous, but so were the rest of the band, judging by the quality of the performance. Only George sounds confident. Somehow, Ringo got through it, only to be hospitalised two days later with tonsillitis. Matchbox clocked in at less than two minutes. No-one knows what Perkins thought but he, no doubt, enjoyed the royalties.
By contrast, Slow Down, originally the B side of Dizzy Miss Lizzy, sounds like a band having fun. Unusually for Ringo, the beat is wobbly. John’s lead is double-tracked giving him the opportunity to ad-lib vocal inflections in Larry Williams’s style, increasing in ridiculous lasciviousness as the track goes on. No-one bothers to correct the fluffed lyrics, correctly thinking that they add to the spontaneity. George Martin overdubbed some pounding piano chords a few days later to add some oomph, giving it enough vigour to be released as a single in America. It was out-charted by its flip, Matchbox.
The Long Tall Sally EP was released on 19th June 1964, a few weeks before the A Hard Days Night film, album and single. Its success was eclipsed somewhat by the excitement over A Hard Days Night, so it can easily be overlooked, but it is nowadays often regarded as a Beatles gem, especially the raucous title track with Paul’s inhibited vocal. The Lennon-McCartney original, I Call Your Name, was unlucky to miss out on the A Hard Days Night album. Juxtaposing Larry Williams and Little Richard made perfect sense at the time as Williams, rehabilitating from his prison sentence for a narcotics offence, was acting as Richards musical director.
A Hard Days Night was unprecedented in the world of Pop music in many respects but it didn’t immediately break the mould for The Beatles. They continued to approach the next album, Beatles For Sale, in their usual manner. In only their second session, on the 14th August, they were recording more cover songs, Leave My Kitten Alone and Mr. Moonlight. The Beatles performance of Mr. Moonlight, a Roy Lee Johnson song, is the subject of some debate. To some ears, it is amongst the worst tracks they recorded but others hear it as a joyful, tongue-in-cheek experiment. The song was an obscure B side when The Beatles first included it in their live show. John loved its quirkiness. Soon, The Merseybeats and The Hollies picked up on it and made studio recordings of their own prior to The Beatles. Listening to the Anthology version, a composite of the four takes on 14th August, there is no doubt The Beatles are enjoying themselves but there is the impression their judgement might be clouded, from the strange guitar solo to the hysterical vocals. It needed a refashioning on 18th October, adding African bongos in a bosa nova rhythm, played by George, and replacing the guitar with a cheesy Paul organ solo. Ringo’s percussion instrument remains a mystery but is most likely an empty guitar case. Mr. Moonlight appealed to The Beatles sense of humour, all four contributing off kilter elements, quite deliberately. The outcome obviously pleased them as they included it on Beatles For Sale at the expense of a rip-snorting Leave My Kitten Alone. Once again, The Beatles were keen to display their diversity and flexibility, but, then, a touch of levity is sorely needed on an album whose mood tends to be low.
They then concentrated on self composed songs until 18th October 1964 when, in very quick time, just nine hours, they recorded four more covers, remade Mr. Moonlight and completed Eight Days A Week, I Feel Fine and I’ll Follow The Sun. In a rush to finish Beatles For Sale, it’s their second most productive day after 11th February 1963. Those five covers, all extremely familiar to The Beatles, having been part of their live show for years, were captured in a total of just eleven takes.
Kansas City was written by Lieber and Stoller, neither of whom had been to the City. Little Richard added a refrain which he developed into another song, Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! and combined the two as a medley. The Beatles played the medley in Hamburg, Paul, again, in the Little Richard role. George Martin plays piano. The group attack the song with gusto, especially Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! where the backing vocals play a leading role, accompanied by some expressive handclaps. It’s the nearest The Beatles came to playing a genuine 12-bar Blues. Certainly, Paul’s walking bass is the bluesiest he ever got. They had visited Kansas in their most recent tour the previous month and dusted it down especially. Their familiarity with the medley meant they nailed it on take one and a second was done just for safe keeping.
Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby is another Carl Perkins song, recorded in just one take. It’s a vehicle for George, effectively a follow up to his own Don’t Bother Me on With The Beatles, its lyrics seemingly a wry look at life as a reluctantly famous Beatle. Fittingly, George’s effective Perkins guitar impersonation and heavily echoed vocals dominate. The Beatles arrangement mimics Blue Suede Shoes, Perkins biggest hit, in that they pause between vocal lines. The net result slows momentum in a performance already lacking in energy. Nevertheless, it’s the best of three Carl Perkins covers The Beatles made.
Chuck Berry’s Rock And Roll Music had long been part of The Beatles act. The vibrancy and dynamism of John’s vocal far surpasses any other version of an often covered song. The Beatles, as a group, with George Martin on piano, sparkle on a first take special. Their approach is sharp, focussed and devastatingly effective. The guitars sound as immense as John’s singing. The Beatles may never have established themselves as a Rock Band but they excelled at Rock & Roll. Twist & Shout, Long Tall Sally, Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! and Rock And Roll Music testify to a group able to deliver exhilarating Rock & Roll on the spot.
In the whole of 1964, The Beatles did not cover a girl-group record, even though their own writing often continued to carry the girl-group spirit. Buddy Holly’s Words Of Love is the closest. It certainly has a clear ‘I love you’ sentiment. It took an extra take and an overdub to get the three part harmony vocals right, John, Paul and George gathered round a single mic. George’s guitar also benefited from an overdub, giving more resonance to the chimes of his strings. Ringo played a packing case as a nod to Holly’s drummer, Jerry Allison, who played a similar box for Everyday. Words Of Love is a respectful, fitting tribute to Buddy Holly, the man who inspired them to write songs and form a group in the first place.
The following morning, the 19th October, The Beatles set off early for a three night tour of Scotland, still a Ringo song short of a full album. His growing number of fans were impatient for him to be in the spotlight, having missed out entirely on A Hard Days Night. Taking advantage of Carl Perkins generous permission for The Beatles to record any of his songs, Honey Don’t was the last minute, additional track made for Beatles For Sale, recorded on 26th October. Ringo musters as much enthusiasm as he can while keeping in key but the group, as a unit, are obviously weary. There is a Country tinge to this rockabilly song that suits Ringo’s homespun character. George, as usual on a Carl Perkins, plays guitar accurately in the Perkins style. Nevertheless, at nearly three minutes long, it overstays its welcome by at least thirty seconds.
Beatles For Sale, released in December 1964, is often described as The Beatles ‘tired’ album, put together after a hectic couple of years. Show tunes and girl group type songs had become part of their own songwriting, which continued to develop, expressing more complex emotional themes than simply from me to you. Most of the covers were made in a rush as ideas ran out and deadlines approached. They resorted, on the whole, to late fifties Rock & Roll numbers they’d churned out many times before in The Cavern and in Hamburg but we’re now being pushed out of their set list by their own hits. Three were take one, two of which are as viscerally exciting as Rock & Roll gets. However, on Beatles For Sale, there is the inescapable impression that neither John nor Paul invested much time or effort in the Ringo and George songs.
1965 was no less frantic for The Beatles. They made two more albums, another film, sundry singles and B sides, numerous TV appearances and continued to travel the world. However, their composition skills had developed to the point they barely needed to resort to other people’s songs and when they did, they did so for the America.
The Beatles first hit big in America in January 1964 after they had already recorded two albums. Their American label, Capitol, had the luxury of a backlog to feed into their voracious marketplace. Add to that their principle of just eleven tracks per LP, rather than the standard of fourteen in the UK, and they were able to eke out five albums by mid 1965 and were looking for a sixth. They had some tracks left over from Beatles For Sale but were five short. United Artists owned the songs for the films, including Help!, so Capitol had access to Tell Me What You See, and You Like Me Too Much, having been rejected by the director, Richard Lester, plus Yes It Is. George Martin helpfully sent If You’ve Got Trouble and That Means A Lot but Capitol considered them unusable. Imagine those excited record company executive listening to new Beatle product for the first time and finding it inadequate. As a result, The Beatles took a break from filming to record two Larry Williams songs for three hours on the 10th May, in order to complete the album The Beatles VI for release in the US.
They started with a couple of takes of Dizzy Miss Lizzy, then completed Bad Boy in four. George Martin noticed a difference. Larry Williams sang Dizzy Miss Lizzy fairly straight but added numerous vocal ejaculations to Bad Boy. John, singing lead on both, faithfully followed Williams’ example. Martin was probably unfamiliar with either original and admonished John for a lack of enthusiasm on Dizzy. There was disquiet and discontent. They had to take a tea break. Lennon, then, was full of fire, replete with yelps, howls, moans and screams, assisted by a touch of echo applied by the producer. A few overdubs later, they had two powerful Rock & Roll numbers that delighted their Capitol label and were a highlight of Beatles VI. The Beatles, themselves, we’re so pleased with Dizzy they placed it at the end of Help! In the UK to contrast with Yesterday. Bad Boy, an equally strong, shoulders back, full-throated performance, had to wait until 1966 for a UK release, on the first Beatles compilation, A Collection Of Beatles Oldies. Paul plays electric piano on this day. A few weeks later, he exploited its sound to extremes for his own Little Richard style screamer, I’m Down, the B side of the single of Help!
The planned song for Ringo on Help! was If You’ve Got Trouble. Once again, the album’s deadline loomed and they still hadn’t given any thought to the matter, except for Ringo himself. He’d enjoyed Country music as a child and knew the Buck Owens and The Buckaroos 1963 single, Act Naturally, written by Johnny Russell but with a writing credit given to Voni Morrison. It struck him as a song that would suit the Ringo character in the Help! movie. Nevertheless, he left until the 17th June 1965, the last day they taped anything for the album. John was absent, so there were thirteen takes including overdubs. George plays the acoustic rhythm guitar as well as electric lead. Paul harmonises on vocal and keeps the track lively with his bouncy bass. It’s jaunty, matching its cheerfully self-deprecating vocal. It is a definitive Ringo song, his best performance since Boys and one that suits his character much more. He’d found something that fit and it featured Country braids. Act Naturally ended the era of The Beatles recording covers, an era that ran between 11th February 1963 and 17th June 1965.
There is a marked difference between the covers pre and post A Hard Days Night. In 1963, the style of song was more diverse and more often highlighted their sensitive side. By 1964, they’d won over a very broad audience and toughened up their selections, perhaps to avoid being compared unfavourably to upcoming acts like The Rolling Stones, The Animals or The Kinks or maybe because they were more than capable of writing their own sensitive songs. In 1965, the need for a George spot receded as his songwriting improved and the Ringo slot became something of a badge of honour for a group whose appeal depended on them being a gang of four different characters. In 1966 they stopped touring altogether, partly through exhaustion and partly because the increasing complexity of the songs became impossible to present to an audience screaming its collective head off, an audience completely different to the ones they played to in The Cavern and Hamburg, just a few years earlier. They then spent longer hours in the studio, rarely needing to polish off a handful of tracks in one day as the release date approached, though they continued to leave things to almost the last minute.
Three and a half years after they recorded their last cover, The Beatles tried to recapture that excitement, the old feeling of being a band of brothers, perspiring under bright lights, one flubbed note away from jeopardy, by playing songs from their early days, copied from 45s, obtained as imports from America. Sadly, they were too ring-rusty to rekindle their relationship for long but it did result in them stopping traffic for one final time with the rooftop concert. A fragment, like a distant memory, of a bawdy song about a prostitute appeared on their final album.
In their solo careers, each of the four revisited the Rock & Roll era. Indeed, John’s album of covers, Rock ‘N’ Roll, and Paul’s, Run Devil Run, rank among their very best as solo artists. The Beatles also issued a compilation called Rock And Roll Music in 1976 but it was a mixture of originals and covers and is most memorable for its appalling sleeve art.
Many of their cover performances are among their most thrilling and are more well known than the originals. They are the product of The Beatles before they were famous when they survived on their wits and a real love for making music. They set the tone for their whole career, establishing each individual’s and the group’s personalities and introducing styles and lyrical themes that became essential to their success. These twenty-four tracks effectively represent The Beatles DNA. They are the songs that inspired them to become The Beatles. The early Beatles albums and their oeuvre generally would probably not exist without them.
Many other groups tried to capture the magic of their live act in the studio but only The Beatles and The Stones succeeded. Imagine a proper Beatles covers album to compare and contrast with the first two Stones albums, issued April 1964 and January 1965 respectively, and similarly derived from their live set.
1. Rock And Roll Music
2. Long Tall Sally
3. You Really Got A Hold Of Me
4. Til There Was You
5. Bad Boy
6. Devil In Her Heart
7. Twist & Shout
8. Act Naturally
9. Money (That’s What I Want)
10. Words Of Love
11. Roll Over Beethoven
12. Dizzy Miss Lizzy
13. Anna (Go To Him)
14. Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey
Full list of the twenty-four covers in the sequence of their UK release:
Anna (Go To Him) – Arthur Alexander
Boys – Luther Dixon/Wes Farrell Take 1
Chains – Gerry Goffin/Carole King Take 1
Baby, It’s You – Burt Bacharach/Barney Williams/Mack David
A Taste Of Honey – Bobby Scott/Ric Marlow
Twist & Shout – Phil Medley/Bert Russell Take 1
Til There Was You – Meredith Wilson
Please, Mr Postman – Georgia Dobbins/William Garrett/Freddie Gorman/Brian Holland/Robert Bateman
Roll Over Beethoven – Chuck Berry
You Really Got A Hold Of Me – Smokey Robinson
Devil In Her Heart – Richard Drapkin
Money (That’s What I Want) – Janie Bradford/Berry Gordy
Long Tall Sally – Enotris Johnson/Richard Penniman/Robert Blackwell Take 1
Slow Down – Larry Williams
Matchbox – Carl Perkins
Rock And Roll Music – Chuck Berry Take 1
Mr. Moonlight – Roy Lee Johnson
Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey – Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller/Richard Penniman Take 1
Words Of Love – Buddy Holly
Honey Don’t – Carl Perkins
Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby – Carl Perkins Take 1
Act Naturally – Johnny Russell/Voni Morrison
Dizzy Miss Lizzy – Larry Williams
Bad Boy – Larry Williams