Top 5 Covers By The Beatles

A black and white photo of the Beatles surrounding Little Richard in 1963.

It’s well known that the Beatles were influenced by — and some would say borrowed, some would say appropriated, some would say stole, depending on your perspective — a lot of early American rock and roll, which was predominantly written and performed by black musicians. From their earliest days in Hamburg, it was the songs of their idols that the Beatles performed — over and over again, night after night after night. From Chuck Berry to Little Richard to Smokey Robinson, the Beatles perfected their imitations of their heroes, and added their own flourishes. And when it came time to record — though they insisted on releasing only original songs as singles — it was these same songs they fell back on to fill out their albums and live shows.

They only used covers on four of their studio albums — Please Please Me, With the Beatles, Beatles For Sale, and Help! — with a few stray songs making it onto EPs. But in that short period, they managed to record quite a few gems. Those which I’ve deemed to be the best of the best are listed below.

But before we begin, I just want to state for the record that I’m not saying the Beatles songs on this list are better than the original or most famous recordings. In some cases, I think the Beatles versions are better; in others, I think they’re definitely not, in others still I think it’s a question of personal preference, and in any case it’s not an argument I particularly want to get into. The list is simply what it advertises itself as — a list of the best covers the Beatles did, out of their repertoire of covers.

1. Twist and Shout

I’ve written so much about this song that I hardly know what else to say. It’s one of the Beatles’ best early songs, period. It just so happens to be a cover, but they made it their own. Without a doubt, an absolute Beatles classic.

The Isley Brothers’ famous version of Twist and Shout

2. Long Tall Sally

This song marks one of Paul’s greatest rock vocals. There were few things Paul loved more than doing his Little Richard impression, and he pulled out all the stops here. It’s simply a great, great rock track.

I’m going to commit a sin now and actually use a live video here. It’s for a few reasons. First of all, because Paul always did an amazing job on these vocals live. I prefer John’s studio Twist and Shout to Paul’s studio Long Tall Sally, but Paul always killed his song live much better than John ever could do his. Secondly, because it’s not just Paul’s vocals that make this a great cover — it’s also Ringo’s drums. And Ringo always knocked it out of the park. Keep your eye on the man, and you’ll see him going wild, especially towards the end of the song (about 1:55 on). Check it out.


Little Richard’s original version of Long Tall Sally

3. Please Mister Postman

Infrequently acknowledged is that among the performers that inspired the Beatles were an awful lot of women. The Beatles listened to many girl groups, and yes, learned quite a bit from them. Namely, girl groups taught them a ridiculous amount about harmonies, and how to properly utilize them. And as someone who thinks that the Beatles’ harmonies were usually both inspired and flawless, that’s a hell of a lot.

This is just one of the catchiest, funnest song out there. John’s crooning is magnificent, and the harmonies are adorable. And the tune will get stuck in your head for ages. The hand-claps just turn this already infectious bit of pop music into brightly sugar-coated ear candy.

The Marvelettes’ original version of Please Mister Postman

4. Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey

This song from Beatles For Sale is mostly a cover, but not entirely. Firstly, these were originally two different songs. The Beatles combined Little Richard’s version of Kansas City with his song Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey to create a medley — a rather brilliant move, in my humble estimation. Secondly, they actually altered some of the lyrics in Kansas City for their own version, and added a band shout to Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey. It’s a great result, with Paul’s raspy rock vocals stealing the show early on, and John and George’s lively backing harmonies adding an even more raucous touch.

Little Richard’s version of Kansas City
Little Richard’s original version of Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.

5. Roll Over Beethoven

Roll Over Beethoven was, of course, George Harrison’s signature song in the early days. It’s a pretty straightforward and faithful cover, but also a good bit of fun at the same time. Sit back and enjoy.

Chuck Berry’s original version of Roll Over Beethoven

Bonus Track: You Really Got a Hold on Me

John Lennon was no Smokey Robinson, but damn if he didn’t try. It’s particularly interesting to me to hear the Beatles still working on perfecting their ability to harmonize and learning how their voices fit together. And I think that both of the two “I love you and all I want you to do is just hold me” sections are just to die for.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ original version of You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me

And now it’s your turn. So, let’s hear it: what are your favorite Beatles covers? Are you a fan of Paul’s crooning, and outraged that I didn’t include Til There Was You? Does anyone out there actually like A Taste of Honey or Mr. Moonlight? Now’s the time to let the world know.

Thanks to talix18 for the post idea.

0 thoughts on “Top 5 Covers By The Beatles

  1. kiwi_a

    One thing I love about the Twist & Shout is the story that when they were recording it, John had a sore throat, so they saved it for the last thing in the day & knew they only had one chance to get it. He let rip, and you can almost hear it tearing him to shreds, but it’s just perfect for it.

    My Dad’s favourite game when I was a kid was to put on a record & ask me who the band was. It was often groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, doing the strangest covers. I only ever guessed the Beatles ones right, because of John & Paul’s distinctive voices.

    Reply
  2. Cris

    As Chuck Berry covers go, “Rock and Roll Music” has more punch than “Roll Over Beethoven.” But I like seeing one of George’s numbers in the list.

    Reply
  3. frau sally benz

    YAAAAY BEATLES BLOGGING!

    I completely agree with your list (has that ever actually happened??). Personally, I kinda hate Please Mister Postman because I’ve just heard it so much and am sick of hearing it, but as far as covers go, it’s a winner!

    One day in the not-too-distant future, we must do some collaborative Beatles blogging =)

    Reply

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