For an artist who knows what they are doing, it is not terribly difficult to cover the Beatles…but that is not to say it is easy to do them justice. Many have tried and failed. However, there have been some outstanding Beatles’ covers over the years. Interestingly, some of the most exceptional interpretations from the band’s hallowed inventory have come from women and occurred during the two decades in which the band’s popularity had started to wane. Here are five essential Beatles covers by women artists from the 1980s and 1990s.
Tina Turner – Help! (1984)
John Lennon wrote this tune which became the title track for the Beatles fifth studio album and subsequent film. Released in 1965, John related that his lyrics reflected the sudden pressure that was thrust upon him due to Beatlemania: “I was fat and depressed…The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help”. The song and the album both peaked at number one on the US charts and is one of rock and roll’s most identifiable anthems.
In 1983, Tina Turner was struggling to establish her identity as a viable solo star. Her talent was well known but her lone bankability had yet to be proven. Then came the landmark album, “Private Dancer”. Tina Turner never had to prove anything in the marketplace again. The album was a worldwide phenomenon and put her atop of the diva recording perch for good. Although the song is included on the album, Turner’s studio rendition of “Help!” comes nowhere close to fully capturing her mastery of the song. Tina’s live version is nothing short of brilliant and one of the best Beatles covers of all-time. She conveys a tangible hurt that is missing with the original version. Her raw register and dramatic delivery exert all the worst emotions in all the best ways. It is an exquisite passionate plea.
Alison Krauss – I Will (1992)
Written on the band’s spiritual retreat to India in 1968, “I Will” features Paul McCartney at his sentimental best. The song was released on side two of the White Album. The lyrics are tender and succent while the tune matches the sweet nature of the message. According to Paul, “It’s still one of my favorite melodies that I’ve written”.
In 1992, Alison Krauss was featured on champion banjo player Tony Furtado’s album “Within Reach”. It is a dazzling collaboration of immense talent. The dynamic Krauss lends her silky vocals to the recording of “I Will”, set against a riveting bluegrass melody. Alison keeps the sentiment of the song, but her performance conveys both an innocence and a longing. It is a wonderfully moving take on Paul’s tender tune.
Tanya Tucker – Something (1995)
It is perhaps George Harrison’s best-known contribution to the Beatles catalog. Released in 1969, “Something” was Included on the “Abbey Road” album and peaked at #1 as a single. John called it the best song on the album. The popular myth surrounding the song is that George wrote it for his wife Pattie Boyd, the same woman who inspired the iconic “Layla” by Eric Clapton. In his later years however, Harrison would provide some contrary to this widespread belief. “Something” has been consistently covered since its release including by Frank Sinatra who referred to it as “the greatest love song of the past 50 years”.
Tanya Tucker has been a mainstay in Music City since her first hit in 1972 at the age of 13. In 1995, the country music community recorded a tribute album entirely to the Fab Four called “Come Together: America Salutes The Beatles”. Tucker sings Harrison’s monumental tune and turns in a marvelous rendition. Tanya’s version puts a country twang to the structure, but her voice is the most welcomed addition. Her textured vocals cut through the capricious lyrics in impressive fashion. Where Harrison’s original exudes a smooth troubadour style, Tucker’s version is rough in all the right places.
Fiona Apple – Across the Universe (1998)
“It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best.” Those remarks were made by John Lennon in 1971 regarding “Across the Universe”. The song was written by Lennon in early 1968 after a fight with his first wife Cynthia, however, he described it as a “sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song”. Originally released on a 1969 charity album for the World Wildlife Fund, the most familiar version was remixed by Phil Spector from the original masters and released on the 1970 “Let It Be” album. The whimsical song remains one of Lennon’s most revered compositions.
American singer/songwriter Fiona Apple recorded the song as part of the soundtrack for the 1998 motion picture “Pleasantville”. The subsequent music video, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, features Apple in the diner from the movie and is a classic in its own right. It is clear that Fiona feels a sense of responsibility to the song because she covers it with such feeling. The pace of the tune is decelerated slightly which seems to serve John’s original vision of the song. Fiona’s vocals also lend a layered element to the dreamy lyrics. They voice a soulful depth to John’s words which his voice could not convey.
Alanis Morissette – Norwegian Wood (1997)
Released in 1965 on the band’s iconic “Rubber Soul” album, the song was written by John as a thinly veiled homage to his sexual indiscretions. Ironically, he wrote the number while on vacation with his wife in the Swiss Alps. It shines as an early example of Lennon’s brilliant use of satire and his venomous wit. This song also marks the band’s first incorporation of the sitar. George remembered adding the sitar to be “quite spontaneous”, saying that “it just seemed to hit the spot”. “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” was overshadowed by such monster singles as “Michelle” and “Nowhere Man” but Lennon loyalists rank it among his finest work.
As one of the most popular musicians of the 1990s, Alanis Morissette has influenced an entire generation of artists, ranging from Avril Lavigne to Katy Perry. The Canadian singer/songwriter has sold over 70 million records worldwide, however, she has always been a revered live act. She started sneaking “Norwegian Wood” into her live sets in the late 90s and it always provides an unexpected highlight. Alanis’ interpretation sticks fairly true to the original, sans sitar, but her distinctive vocal makes for a more pleasing rendition. Her marvelous ability to sustain the notes, coupled with her richer, fuller voice, seems better suited than Johns for this song. Alanis also lets the song breath in places which wonderfully engages the listener. It is an excellent cover, one that has flown under the radar.
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