The Fab... um... Six
I felt like having a little fun tonight. Instead of focusing on an artist or an album, I'm just going to throw out a few funky Beatles covers from a few funky individuals.
What brought this all about was iTunes. My roommate and I have amassed a huge collection of music on his computer, and we usually just let it play randomly whenever we're sitting around the house hanging out. I'm sure for those of you who have been listening to music on Random for a few years know the joy of submitting yourself to the whimsey of your computer when it comes to picking out music.
So, today as I'm sitting at the computer trying to force myself to work on a freelance project due next week, Aretha Franklin's version of "Eleanor Rigby" came through the stereo. I was about 40 seconds from the end of the song before I realized what the hell I was hearing. I didn't recognize it at all, and that's a sign of a well executed cover song. Aretha doesn't just breathe new life into this song; she changes the entire meaning of the lyrics with her delivery. Here, she isn't just wallowing in the loneliness. She openly pities folks like Father Mackenzie and all the other lonely people.
Another soul singer who completely revamps a Beatles' hit for the better is Al Green. His version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is -- dare I say it -- better than the original. The recording is so loose and full of life that you can hear Al's band rib him at the beginning of the track (whoever says "Shut up, Al Green," is surely having a good time). That slinky guitar and bouncing bass line are funky as hell, and Al will blast your ass out of your seat with his delivery on "I get high, I get high, I get hiiiiiiiigh." This song is getting played at my wedding.
Jimi Hendrix's "Day Tripper" isn't just face meltingly good -- it's also a totally live recording from the BBC. Listen to his radical take on the song, and take special note of Noel Redding's backing vocal (it was rumored for years that John Lennon's was the second voice) and Hendrix's searing solo which begins at the 1:24 mark. It's hard to believe that this version came only a couple of years after the original came out.
I owned the CD that contained Wilson Pickett's "Hey Jude" for about seven years before a vinyl jukebox in one of my favorite bars showed me the power in his rendition of this kinda-worn-out-McCartney-classic. Great horns in the coda, and again the guitar work shines.
For me, a true Beatles thread -- even if it's about cover songs -- can't end without some mention of George Harrison:
Take Nina Simone's "Isn't it a Pity." I think George Harrison's ALL THINGS MUST PASS may be my favorite solo Beatle record. George always seemed to be my mom's favorite in the group, so I always remember being mesmerized by her vinyl copy of this 3LP album. Funny that it would take almost 25 years for me to hear "Isn't it a Pity" and really have it hit home. On the night of September 11, 2001, I was playing ALL THINGS while watching footage of the day's carnage on Mute on my television. Harrison's "Pity" came on my stereo and I wept like I'd been trying not to all day. A few days later, my friend Sid told me that the only version of the same song she'd ever heard was Nina Simone's. She played it for me from a cassette and I was floored.
I'm closing things out with what isn't so much a cover as it is a re-imagining of the aforementioned Harrison track. CCC's "I Want Pity" is a "mash-up," where someone combines the elements of two different songs to make a new song. This track combines "Isn't it a Pity" with the slowed-down vocals of the Jackson 5 from their hit "I Want You Back." The genius of this mix is the fact that CCC (whoever you are) combines vocals from both songs without making the song a confusing mess. A well made mash-up can make you convinced that the new version of the songs has just as much right to exist as the base material. This one definitely pulls off that notion.
FOR MORE ON THE BEATLES, ETC.:
Their awesome site for the "#1s" album from a few years back.
Official site for the Capitol box set of albums.
Wilson Pickett in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame
The extraordinary Nina Simone
Official Jimi Hendrix site
Al Green's official page
Buy Al Green CDs