Monday, 7 February 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 90 (Top Twenty-Eight!): AAA bands covering each other's songs!

Forgive us if you’ve heard this one before, but the recent planned CSN cover versions CD is no more. Ummagumma! (OK, I will stop using that album title as a swear word now!) In honour of what we’ve missed (CSN getting their tonsils round the Beatles, Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones among others) here is our extended top five: every single instance we can think of featuring one AAA band covering a song written and made famous by another. Now we’ve had to miss certain instances off this list, such as various ex-Beatles covering songs by the band proper during their later solo tours and CSN covering various songs written by members in their ‘first’ bands (ie The Byrds’ ‘8 Miles High’, Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’ and The Hollies’ King Midas In Reverse’ as written by C,S and N respectively) and we’re also not counting here songs covered independently by two bands (eg Hollies/Otis Redding/Rolling Stones doing ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’, The Hollies/Rolling Stones/The Who doing ‘Fortune Teller’, The Beach Boys/The Who doing ‘Barbara Ann’ and Beatles/Kinks doing ‘Long Tall Sally’) But otherwise, we think this alphabetical Beatle-dominated list is complete – please email in if you can think of anything we’ve forgotten...

1)    Beach Boys/Beatles “I Should Have Known Better” (from ‘Beach Boys Party!’ 1966 and Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ 1964, respectively): A truly curious choice which is the first of three truly questionable choices from the Boys’ ‘Party’ record, ad libbed in the studio to buy Brian Wilson time to finish off ‘Pet Sounds’. Carl Wilson was the big fan of the band – much to dad Murray Wilson’s horror who saw the fab four as ‘the enemy’ – and he seems to be the only one talking this cover seriously, what with the band cracking jokes over the top and forgetting the words halfway through. Both bands have a similarly impressive youthful energy, however, on what was always one of the Beatles’ breeziest and most carefree of songs.

2)    Beach Boys/Beatles “Tell Me Why” (exactly the same as above): Ditto this cover version, which breaks down before it properly gets going. Again its a moody lennon lyrics masquerading as a couldn’t-care-less melody that suits both bands’ energetic readings, but it’s a shame the Beach Boys couldn’t take it more seriously!

3)    Beach Boys/Beatles “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” (from ‘Beach Boys Party!’ 1966 and The Beatles ‘Help!’ 1965 albums respectively): Not so this moody Beatles track, always one of Lennon’s most under-rated efforts, covered nicely here by Dennis Wilson, who clearly identifies with the ‘love lost’ scenario. Shame the rest of the band can’t keep quiet behind him, though, ruining their song with their manic ‘hey!’ s, but its a good try. Somewhere in the archives the backing tapes without the manic choruses exist and it’s a great shame that hasn’t come out yet (the recording of The Everly’s ‘Devoted To You’ without the jokes appeared on the outtakes CD ‘Hawthorne, CA’ and sounds so much better).

4)    Beach Boys/Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends” (from Beach Boys’ ‘Rarities’ recorded 1969 and released 1983 and Beatles ‘Sgt Peppers’ 1967 respectively): Next on our list is a recording that was never intended for release and seems to have been done merely to test the new Beach Boys studio, built in Brian Wilson’s kitchen, is working. It is – but the Beach Boys plainly aren’t and are just goofing around again, as shown by this curious, slowed-down reading on what was always one of the lesser Beatle songs, with Bruce Johnstone on unusually breathy lead vocals. It was revealed, long after the song came out on an itself-now-a-rarity rarities album,that the band wanted to hear how the song sounded sped-up. ‘Mad’ or ‘drunk’ seems to be the answer, if you’ve ever played the intended-speed version on YouTube... 

5)    Beach Boys/Beatles “Back In The USSR” (from Beach Boys’ ‘Rarities’ album, recorded 1969 and released 1983 and Beatles’ White Album, 1968): Our final fab four/fab five crossover makes much more sense. After all the song was started by Paul McCartney at the Maharishi’s retreat in Rishikesh when Beach Boy Mike Love was along for the ride and is based, with tongue firmly in cheek, on The Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls’. The song was written by Macca to give hope to Russian fans behind the Iron Curtain and has become even more loved since the fall of communism there in 1989 allowed it to be widely heard than it was at the time. You somehow get the sense that The Beach Boys didn’t quite get the depth of the song, as they treat it as just another surf singalong, quite unlike Macca’s deliciously ironic reading of his words on The Beatles’ original, but it’s good fun nevertheless and fascinating to hear a Beach Boys style Beatles song done by the group themselves. 

6)    Beatles/Belle and Sebastian “Here Comes The Sun” (from Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ 1969 and Belle and Sebastian’s 2CD version of ‘The BBC Sessions’ 2008 respectively): This cover version too is played utterly straight and does, in truth, sound just like another pop song rather than a gloriously uplifting hymn to nature and optimism as it does on the original (its one of the few Beatles tracks that sounds even better on the remix album ‘Love’). Belle and Sebastian’s Stevie Jackson has always cited The Beatles as his biggest influence – in fact, according to one interview I heard he, like me, was beaten up in school playgrounds for years for claiming no one in the then-top 40 could hold a candle to even the worst Beatles song and his friends were all mad to listen to anything made after 1970 – so its surprising there haven’t been more Beatles or AAA covers on B+S albums down the years. A shame the rest of the band either don’t know the song or can’t match Stevie’s enthusiasm in this live reading, though, which is a tad anonymous.

7)    Beatles/Crosby, Stills and Nash “Blackbird” (from the Beatles’ ‘White Album’ 1968 again, plus the self-titled CSN box-set from 1991): This song was an early live favourite and came in handy when the trio went into the Apple offices to try to get a deal with the Beatles’ label. It ever so nearly made the singers’ debut album, too, although fans had to wait until 1991 to hear the now 22-year-old studio version. This cover of ‘Blackbird’ has divided fans then and now, especially from fans who question why three such great writers needed cover songs at all, but I really like CSN’s reading, with some typically glorious harmonies and its uplifting social protest (Macca really did write it about a ‘black bird’ protesting against conditions for African-Americans in 1960s USA) is a perfect fit for the world’s most socially aware singers. 

8)    Beatles/Crosby, Stills and Nash “In My Life” (from The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’ 1965 and CSN’s ‘After The Storm’ 1994): This cover doesn’t work quite as well, being a bit too mawkish and slow compared to the Beatles’ spot-on pop-rock reading of one of Lennon’s better lyrics and one of McCartney’s better melody lines. It’s still a lovely version, though, well worth seeking out if just to hear what this song sounds like with pristine three-part harmonies, although it doesn’t add much you won’t have learnt from the pristine original.

9)    Beatles/Grateful Dead – Brief note: Even I can’t afford the 200-odd official concerts recorded by the band during their 30 years on the road but not released till Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. That’s a shame because, while there are several Beatles covers around on these CDs, I can’t tell you which albums they’re on, but do have a look out for covers of ‘Day Tripper’ ‘Dear Prudence’ and even, would you believe, ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’?

10) Beatles/Hollies “If I Needed Someone” (a track from The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’ album 1965 and a single by The Hollies 1965): This Hollies single is still a big bone of intention among fans. George Harrison, long a distant admirer of The Hollies, was fed up only getting two songs per Beatle record and promised this one to the Hollies – not that unusual in the 1960s as Lennon and McCartney gave their unused songs away all the time. The problem came when George went back on his promise and recorded it with the Beatles after all, with the two versions being released almost instantaneously. Just to rub salt in the wounds, Lennon murdered the Hollies’ version in print, dismissing them as ‘studio musician hacks’ or something like that. All these years later he’s wrong – I much prefer The Hollies version as the harmonies are tighter, the track is more urgent and the guitar-work is better (so are the drums, but that generally goes without saying comparing Beatles to Hollies tracks – sorry Ringo!) Only Allan Clarke’s vocals sounds like his heart isn’t in the song but then, having heard what the band have to say about this cover all these years on, that’s because his heart wasn’t in it at all. In contrast, like many an early Harrison Beatles track, the others don’t sound all that fussed on the Beatles original and George is left to carry the song more or less on his own – perhaps he should have fronted a Hollies cover instead?

11) Beatles/Nils Lofgren “Anytime At All” (from The Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ 1964 and Nils’ ‘Time Fades Away’ 1981): This cover was one of many Lennon tributes released the year after the great man died (a subject we’ve already covered on ‘news and views’ 77) and is the sound of the Beatles Nils remembers from his youth – snappy, energetic and full of hope and optimism. The 1980s production values rather ruins this new version, but Nils’ Lennon pastiche – complete with falsetto call-and-answers-like the record – is still a sweet cover with its heart in the right place, although it probably won’t win over too many admirers from the Beatles camp.

12) Beatles/Oasis “I Am The Walrus” (from The Beatles’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ 1967 and Oasis’ B-side compilation ‘The Masterplan’ 1998): Oasis made so many lyrical and musical references to the fab four that an actual cover on the back of one of their records seems somewhat inevitable. Liam Gallagher tries gamely with Lennon’s most off the wall lyric with a ferocity only bettered by the original, but this elongated attempt to recreate psychedelia, with guitars left humming next to their speakers, doesn’t have the conciseness or poetry of the original. It’s also deeply weird hearing this song in a bunch of Mancunian accents rather than scouse ones!

13) Beatles/Oasis “Helter Skelter” (from The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ 1968 yet again and Oasis’ live record ‘Familiar To Millions’ 2001): Not so the other Beatles cover, which is handled by Noel Gallagher and substitutes the original’s crazy carelessness with something much taughter and spooky, with an underlying threat the original only had on the outtakes. One of the highlights of the Oasis’ only official live record (to date anyway, though with their demise I bet there’s more in the works), it’s a shame the quintet didn’t tackle any other minor Beatles classics, although I still miss Ringo’s cries over blistered fingers!

14) Beatles/Otis Redding “Day Tripper” (The Beatles’ version was a 1965 single available on ‘Past Masters Volume Two’ and Otis’ version is from his 1966 ‘Dictionary Of Soul’ album): To follow up his trick of making ‘Satisfaction’ his own (see below), Otis injects some ‘soul’ into one of The Beatles’ poppier singles. The result isn’t quite as successful as before, but there’s a great driving beat underneath this cover and the tension going into the chorus still makes for a pretty memorable cover. A shame Otis didn’t choose one of the more soully Beatles songs though: I’d have loved to have heard him tackle ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ or ‘The Word’, for instance! (‘yes you gotta go gotta go get my my my the word is good y’all, my my my...’)

15) Beatles/Rolling Stones “I Wanna Be Your Man” (The Beatles’ version is from ‘With The Beatles’ 1963; The Stones’ version of this forgotten song was released as their second single barely weeks before The Beatles’ version): Back when Jagger and Richards were the singer and guitarist in the Stones rather than the creative driving force, the band were desperate for material. By chance they happened to bump into Lennon and McCartney, already superstars in the UK if not yet the world, in a club, asked them for a song or two and gaped in awe as the two Beatles came up with the song in the space of about 10 minutes. The song was a real R and B number, straight up their alley during the Stones’ early years, but I actually prefer the Beatles’ version of this which has less swing but more out and our rock and roll power. Ringo excels himself on the lead vocal, which is one of his loosest and best and much easier to love than Jagger’s affected American drawl on his version.  Oh and contrary to popular thought, the two bands were great friends for most of the 60s, Brian Jones especially.

16) Beatles/10cc “Paperback Writer” (The Beatles’ version is a 1966 single available on ‘Past Masters Volume 2’, while 10cc’s live reading appears on ‘In Concert’ 1993): The 10cc version of The Beatles’ midway-point single was part of a Lennon trilogy tribute the band were playing – and yes, before you point out, it is predominantly a McCartney song! This band never do the expected thing! 10cc slow the song down and add a reggae vibe onto the verses, which works well until we hit the chorus and the song goes back into rock and roll again, an awkward mix that doesn’t quite gel. Ultimately, not as good an idea as it looks on paper – although in retrospect McCartney’s lyrics are very 10cc-ish, tongue-in-cheek yet making a serious point about wannabe authors writing about situations they’re too young to have experienced, which might explain why Macca goes on to work with 10cc’s Eric Stewart in the 1980s.

17) Beatles/10cc “Across The Universe” (from The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ album 1970 and 10cc’s ‘In Concert’ 1993): 10cc’s other Lennon ‘tribute’ was a tad more obvious, alas, and despite its fondness among most Beatles fans I’ve always hated this Lennon composition (along with ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and their cover of ‘Mr Moonlight’, its the only truly pointless song in their whole back catalogue). This version fares little better, with this version amazingly even slower than the original – surprisingly it’s the third ‘tribute’song, a cover of Larry Williams’ ‘Slow Down’, also made famous by The Beatles despite only appearing on an EP, that works best.

18)  Hollies/Nils Lofgren “Shine Silently” (The Hollies’ version was a single-only track from 1988 that is available on some compilations, while Nils’ original is from his self-titled ‘Nils Lofgren’ album – but the 1979 one not his 1971 debut also titled ‘Nils Lofgren’, blimey being a collector is confusing sometimes!): This marvellous little song is still Lofgren’s best known track by far, despite him never actually having a hit with it. The Hollies’ version, released at the tail end of Allan Clarke’s recordings with the group, isn’t that well known either but it’s well regarded by both Lofgren and Hollies fans and perhaps the last great Hollies recording of all. While Lofgren’s original is a pleasing, sweet little uplifting song with a terrific vocal, The Hollies’ version is a tour de force with a re-arrangement that pads the song out by several minutes (especially on the 12” mix), an ear-catching a capella opening and among the best use of 1980s synthesisers by any band on this list. ‘Silently’ also sounds very Hollies, catchy but deep and with an eye on the charts and an eye on originality, adding a new weight to Nils’ already pretty special song of devotion to unsung heroes everywhere. Just to add to the AAA links, Nils performed this song live during two tours with Ringo Starr’s ‘All Starr’ bands in the early 1990s.

19) Hollies/Searchers “Have You Ever Loved Somebody?” (from The Hollies’ ‘Evolution’ LP of 1967 and a single-only from The Searchers 1967, available on all good Searchers compilations): The Hollies – or three of them anyway – were the writers this time around, with Searcher drummer Chris Curtis hearing this commercial album-only track and thinking it would be a big hit if done the right away. Alas, Curtis was ousted from the group not long after suggesting it, allegedly ‘going mad’ during a gruelling Searchers tour down under, and the other Searchers clearly don’t have the same love or respect for this song, with the drumming particularly bad. It’s a wonder they agreed to go through with recording it at all, in fact, given that their own writing skills were then at their peak. A Shame, because the Hollies’ version is a career highlight and I’ve always been surprised the band never released it as a single in its own right, as its one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard.

20) Hollies/Simon and Garfunkel “I Am A Rock” (from The Hollies’ album ‘The Hollies’ – the 1965 one not the 1974 one (help!) as well as Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds Of Silence’ album 1965): This song, though, is a Paul Simon original and in fact my very first introduction to the duo – now wonder I love both bands so. Each version of this song is excellent but very very different, with Paul and Arty going for a severe, sombre monochrome arrangement that places the emphasis on alienation. The Hollies are, by contrast, flowering in full colour, with a beaty optimistic vibe that should be at odds with the lyrics but somehow isn’t – the band sound strangely joyous and triumphant here, as if they’re ecstatic they’ve suddenly agreed to cut women out of their lives for good!

21) John Lennon/Moody Blues “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (a single only for Lennon, available on every Lennon comp, and on The Moody Blues’ festive ‘Winter’ album 2004): Lennon’s original will probably never be toppled, despite the many cover versions of it down the years, most of them hideous quite frankly (The Spice Girls surely have a version it the works, its exactly the kind of message they’d mangle). The Moodies’ version of this song is the best of a poor selection of covers from their worryingly meagre Christmas album that can’t live up to their own work, but it’s still not that impressive, with the band a bit too reverential for their own good, as if afraid of treading on Lennon’s toes.

22) Oasis/Rolling Stones “Street Fighting Man” (Oasis’ cover is a B-side to ‘All Around The World’ 1997 and the Stones’ appears on ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ 1968): This classic song of Stones protest is not what it seems as we’ve analysed elsewhere (see review no 26) – it seems to be inciting riots but actually claims that there’s no way a ‘sleepy London town’ is ever going to do anything. I wondered for years what a ‘straight’ version of this song would sound like without the irony in Mick Jagger’s voice – and now I know, thanks to Oasis’ ferocious version which has Liam Gallagher spitting out venom with every line. Unlike most Stones fans, though, who treated this version as sacrilege, I like this cover – the band mean every word they say and the arrangement does a good job of copying the original without sticking to it rigidly.

23) Oasis/The Who “My Generation” (I’m a bit lost which single Oasis’ version was from but its one of the ones from 2005’s ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’, whereas The Who’s comes from debut LP ‘My Generation’ 1965): This Oasis cover isn’t quite as good, mainly because The Who already gave such a definitive performance and there’s no other angle they can take from what remains one of Pete Townshend’s most straightforward lyrics. It also sounds odd to hear a band referencing ‘their’ generation by using a song that at the time was 40 years old! The song does fit Liam’s angry vocal style well, however, so it’s a shame they recorded this song in 2005, when the band were comparatively old and tired, rather than in their fiery youth.

24) Oasis/Neil Young “Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)” (from Oasis’ ‘Familiar To Millions’ live album 2001 and Neil’s ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ album 1979): Perhaps the best  Oasis cover of all is this Young song, however, which Noel Gallagher transforms into a hybrid of Neil’s fragile acoustic and barnstorming electrified versions. Noel announces this song to stunned silence from the audience and adds ‘yeah I don’t know, I wasn’t born then either’ – perhaps forgetting that he was nine years old when it came out and is Neil’s response to the punk and new wave movements. This cover might not touch the original – either version, as Neil did two on the same LP– but hearing the lines ‘rock and roll will never die’ from perhaps the world’s last definitive rock band still brings a tear to my eye.

25) Otis Redding/Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” (Otis’ version is from ‘Otis Blue’ 1966 – the Stones’ original was a single only in the UK and found on every good Stones comp since): So hot on the heels of the original was this cover and so much did Otis make ‘Satisfaction’ his own that a rumour went round that Otis had written it and sold it to Jagger/Richards for a pittance when he needed the money in a hurry. Complete rubbish of course, as Redding himself said at the time, but somehow the story stuck. Jagger/Richards hadn’t written many tracks before this and it’s clear that they too were thinking of soul when they wrote it (before developing the song into pure rock in the studio), which might be why it works so well. Otis is on top form here, with the song a close cousin of his own ‘Respect’, decrying the lack of opportunities in the world and all but turning ‘Satisfaction’ into an African-American protest song. Legend has it Otis only recorded this song when his planned choice – Buffalo Springfield’s ‘Mr Soul – fell through at the last minute.

26) Rolling Stones/Searchers “Take It Or Leave It” (from The Stones’ Aftermath’ album 1966 and a single-only for The Searchers in 1967, available on most good Searchers comps): Another early Stones song, so early casual fans would be hard pressed to guess who was writing and performing it even on The Stones’ version. The words do fit ‘Aftermath’s rather nasty anti-females vibe rather well, though, which makes it doubly odd why The Searchers should want to cover it (and if they wanted to shock then what about shocking us with a really good song, like ‘Under My Thumb’ ‘Stupid Girl’ or ‘Mother’s Little Helper’?) The Searchers certainly don’t sound all that enthusiastic on what is, to be frank, probably their worst A-side up to the end of their time with record label Pye – and the Stones’ original doesn’t sound all that hot either.

27) Rolling Stones/The Who “Under My Thumb” (from The Stones’ ‘Aftermath’ album 1966 and a single-only for The Who, later released on ‘Odds and Sods’ CD version 1996): A strange curio to end on – both sides of The Who’s 1967 tribute to The Stones, released when the band were facing drugs charges and it looked like the band would go to prison. The Who were furious on their behalf and pledged to release a ‘Who’ cover for every month they were inside, in order to keep their name alive. Alas, this hurried single sounds like it –John Entwistle, away on his honeymoon, isn’t available to play the bass part so Pete Townshend plays it, badly, while the rest of the band are still in their fixation-with-falsetto-harmonies phase which takes all the sneer and anger out of the song.

28) Rolling Stones/The Who “The Last Time” (a single only for The Stones in 1965 and The Who in 1966, again released on the CD version of ‘Odds and Sods’ 1996): The B-side fares slightly better, mainly because the song is a poppier, simpler one much easier to learn at speed. However, valiant as the idea is, you have to be grateful that Jagger and Richards were released after just one night inside and that the Who could go back to making ‘proper’ singles. 

And that’s that. Did we miss anything out? Drop us a link on our forum and let us know! In the meantime, till another issue in another time, goodbye!

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