Paul McCartney has written an obscene amount of songs over his decades-long career, and even though some of those songs are massive classics that will live forever, even Macca needs a refresher course during rehearsal time.
Sir Paul told U.K.’s Mirror that when it’s time to rehearse songs for a show, “I have to re-learn everything. I’ve written an awful lot, you can’t retain them all.” He continued, “We go in rehearsal and I’m, ‘Oh yeah, that’s how it goes’. Some of the old songs you say, ‘Oh, that’s clever, I wouldn’t have done that.'”
McCartney recently wrapped up his latest batch of North American dates on his “Freshen Up” tour, but he won’t have very much downtime off the road since he was recently announced as providing the music and lyrics for the new musical stage adaption of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Beatles Cover Songs: Top 20 Ranked
How do you take a stripped song and strip it down even more? St. Vincent -- aka guitar hero and singer/songwriter Annie Clark -- showed just how to do that with “Dig A Pony,” which she covered live a number of times from 2007-2010. Armed with just her guitar and soulful voice, Clark was able to take a song John Lennon once called “another piece of garbage” and give it some edge.
The Beatles had recorded their version of “I Wanna Be Your Man” first, but Lennon and McCartney still offered up the tune to the Stones, who then recorded their version and released it as a single before their Liverpool peers. Comparing both versions, it was yet another example of the Stones being the “bad boy” counterparts to the Fab Four.
While not released as a single in the U.S., Siouxie & The Banshees’ delightfully moody cover of “Dear Prudence” would end up being the band’s most successful single in the U.K. topping out at number three. The track also features the Cure’s Robert Smith on guitar and marked his second tenure with the Banshees.
Sir Elton’s cover of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” did one thing the Beatles’ original didn’t do: Top the Billboard 100 chart. Sure, The Beatles never released the track as a proper single, but still, what a feat!
“This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles; we’re stealing it back.” From that moment on, there was no looking back for U2. That opening line sets the tone for the band’s boisterous live cover of “Helter Skelter” that kicks off the film and soundtrack for 1988’s ‘Rattle & Hum,’ which chronicled their tour in support of ‘The Joshua Tree.’
Sure, the 1978 film ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ famously bombed, but at least its soundtrack was significantly better. Easily among the high-points of the soundtrack was Aerosmith’s cover of “Come Together,” which would peak on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 23.
If you needed a reminder that Amy Winehouse was a voice silenced all too soon, take a listen to her live cover of “All My Loving” on BBC Three in 2004. Winehouse transformed a pop tune into a ballad dripping with soul.
Otis Redding’s cover of “A Hard Day’s Night” was released in 1993 as part of ‘Good to Me: Live at the Whisky a Go Go, Vol. 2.’ Redding performs the song loose and his backing band transforms the pop hit a raucous soul jam.
Vedder recorded his cover of “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” as part of the soundtrack for the 2001 film ‘I Am Sam.’ Does it deviate far from the original? No. Is it still magical and make you realize how much you needed Vedder to cover this song? Absolutely!
Fiona Apple’s raspy voice is an utter dream on this cover recorded for the soundtrack for the 1998 film 'Pleasantville,' a criminally underrated movie, and the same could be said of the cover at the time of its release. Apple’s cover didn’t chart, but her rendition of “Across the Universe” has become more and more beloved in the passing years making various “Best Beatles Covers” lists.
In a 1971 Rolling Stone interview, John Lennon said he “never went much for the covers,” but of Nina Simon’s rendition of “Revolution,” he said, “I thought it was interesting that Nina Simone did a sort of answer to ‘Revolution.’ That was very good – it was sort of like ‘Revolution,’ but not quite. That I sort of enjoyed, somebody who reacted immediately to what I had said.” Simon released “Revolution” as a single in the U.K. shortly after the Beatles released their single, and if any artist in history would have the guts to do such a thing, it was Miss Simone.
A big reason why the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ soundtrack saved the whole film from being a complete disaster? This cover from Earth, Wind & Fire. It added more horns, a massive dose of R&B and gave EW&F their third top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
Stevie Wonder’s cover of “We Can Work It Out” appears on his 1970 album ‘Signed, Sealed & Delivered’ and was a great success for Wonder. It reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and netted Wonder a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Needless to say, his R&B-infused rendition worked out pretty well for him.
Johnny Cash’s cover of “In My Life” was featured on 2002’s ‘American IV: The Man Comes Around,’ the last album Cash released before he died the following year. He stuck very close to the original arrangement-wise, but his vocal performance is so haunting and painfully beautiful that it’s hard not to be moved to tears with every listen.
A non-album single released between his 1967 debut 'Back Up Train' and the 1969 follow-up 'Green is Blues,' Al Green’s cover of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” offered the world at another peek at what was to come from the R&B/Soul icon just a few short years before he broke out with 1972’s 'Let’s Stay Together.' And man...the cover just swings!
This live cover at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in honor of the solo induction of George Harrison was great...and then Prince entered from stage right and laid down THAT solo. In the years since the untimely deaths of both Prince and Tom Petty, this performance has taken on a sort of legend. On the Rock Hall’s YouTube channel, it’s the most-watched video with nearly 72 million views. The next most watched video has 15 million views.
Wilson Pickett recorded his cover at the suggestion of Duane Allman, who at the time was still only a session musician hired to play with Pickett. Pickett was apprehensive about covering the Beatles’ hit because of just how commercially successful it was, but fortunately he took Allman’s recommendation and proceeded to absolutely sing the hell out of the track. Allman’s solo toward the end of the song also foreshadowed what was to come with the Allman Brothers Band.
Jennifer Hudson has proven throughout her career that she can basically sing anything, but what she does with “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” is something incredibly special. The cover was part of the soundtrack for the 2016 animated film ‘Sing,’ and it only makes you wonder what else she could do with the Beatles catalog.
Franklin has covered a handful of Beatles songs in her career, but her cover of “The Long And Winding Road,” like most songs from The Queen of Soul, is chill-inducing. Featured on her 1972 album ‘Young, Gifted and Black,’ Franklin turned the hit ballad into a soulful powerhouse that will take you to church.
Considering the aforementioned ranking criteria, it should come as no surprise that Joe Cocker’s iconic cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends” tops our list. Whether it's the studio recording or his classic performance at Woodstock, Cocker’s cover enters that magical area of overshadowing the original, and when you do that with a Beatles song, you’ve done something extremely special. When Cocker passed away in 2014, Paul McCartney paid tribute and said, “He was a lovely northern lad who I loved a lot and like many people I loved his singing. I was especially pleased when he decided to cover ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ and I remember him and Denny Cordell coming round to the studio in Saville Row and playing me what they’d recorded and it was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem and I was forever grateful for him for doing that." Us too, Sir Paul. Us too.