Well, Beatles covers, anyway.

As if you haven’t noticed, it’s Beatles Week here on Popdose. Hell, it’s Beatles Week all over the world. Well, far be it from me to stay away from any bandwagon, but as you know, I gotta give things a little bit of a twist. See, I could talk for days about the Beatles’ appearances on the Billboard Top 10. They hold a million records, too — “Hey Jude,” for example, was the first single in the history of the Hot 100 to enter the charts at #10, and stayed at the top for nine weeks, longer than any other Beatles single. But what can I really say about these songs that hasn’t been said before? So instead, I thought I’d present you with ten Beatles covers that appeared in (or at least hovered around) the Top 10. Okay, I’ll be stretching it a little: two of these songs were never recorded by the Beatles but were written by Paul and/or John. Still, I think it provides for a fun week. And as a little treat — every single song is available for download! (You can thank/curse me later.) Off we go with CHART ATTACK!: Beatles Edition!

10. Here Comes the Sun — Richie Havens Amazon iTunes
9. Goodbye — Mary Hopkin Amazon iTunes
8. We Can Work It Out — Stevie Wonder Amazon iTunes
7. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away — The Silkie Amazon
6. Got to Get You into My Life — Earth, Wind & Fire Amazon iTunes
5. I Saw Him Standing There — Tiffany Amazon iTunes
4. The Fool On The Hill — Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66 Amazon iTunes
3. A World Without Love — Peter and Gordon Amazon iTunes
2. Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds — Elton John Amazon iTunes
1. Medley — Stars on 45 Amazon iTunes

10. Here Comes the Sun — Richie Havens (download)
Peaked at #16 on 5/22/71

Okay, I have to admit that I’m cheating a bit here: a spot in this Top 10 legitimately belongs to Anne Murray and her cover of “You Won’t See Me,” which peaked at #8 in July of 1974. But we covered that song back in July, and I honestly couldn’t bear to talk about it again. So instead, we’ll talk about Richie Havens’ song, which is a live version taken from his album Alarm Clock and remains his only single to reach the Top 40. Havens’ version features his trademark bordering-on-frenetic rhythmic guitar work, and definitely takes the song in a different direction; sadly, the lead guitar riff that is featured so prominently in the original (both in the introduction and the chorus) is gone, but Havens’ gentle, assured voice gives this version its own kind of peace.

9. Goodbye — Mary Hopkin (download)
Peaked at #13 on 5/31/69

In 1968, an 18-year-old Welsh singer named Mary Hopkin appeared on the British talent television show Opportunity Knocks. She sang “Turn, Turn, Turn” and won the competition. Twiggy happened to be watching the show that night, and called Paul McCartney to tell him about this fabulous new singer. The next Monday, Hopkin was in the studio with McCartney, recorded eight songs in a day and ended up with a contract offer at Apple Records. Her first single “Those Were the Days” (produced by Macca and recorded in English, French, German, and Italian) reached #1 in the UK and #2 in the US. Its catalog number was APPLE 2, behind APPLE 1, “Hey Jude.”

It was her follow-up single, “Goodbye,” that gives us a somewhat more direct Beatles connection — in addition to production, Paul also wrote the song (though, as with all songs at that point in time, it was credited to Lennon/McCartney). The 10th single released on Apple, it only reached #13 here but made it to #2 in the UK — held back from the #1 spot by “Get Back.”

I think “Goodbye” is a simple, sweet and charming little ditty. Hopkin’s vocal is pure and clean, and the percussion is quite charming. Paul’s demo, however, has a charm all its own, and in many ways, I prefer it to Hopkin’s version.

Paul McCartney — Goodbye (Demo) (download)

Here’s a promotional video for “Goodbye,” featuring Hopkin and McCartney in the studio. And if all that wasn’t enough, I found an absolutely stunning cover on YouTube. Check it out!

8. We Can Work It Out — Stevie Wonder (download)
Peaked at #13 on 5/1/71

There are essentially two ways to cover a song, right? You can either do a faithful cover, hoping that your own musical sensibilities will add something to it, or you can take it in your own direction, thus making it really “your song” than just a boring-ass cover. The problem with the former is that (in most cases) there’s no way to improve upon a Beatles original. So your best bet is to go in a different direction, and that’s what Stevie Wonder’s doing here. From that dirty keyboard opening to the octave-separated “hey!” backing vocals to the phrasing of the chorus to that fantastic harmonica solo, this song is wonderfully distinct from the original. Earning Stevie his second Grammy Award nomination in 1972, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, it’s exactly what a cover should be.

7. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away — The Silkie (download)
Peaked at #10 on 11/27/65

…and this is exactly what a cover should not be. I hear a song not that different from the Beatles’ original, sung by two people for whom English is not their native language. I hear a producer saying to the woman, “don’t worry about pronunciation. Or consonants. Just sing really high and make vague shapes with your mouth, and it’ll all be fine.” And I hear a few harmonies that the Beatles didn’t have. But mostly, what I hear is a lame cover that brings absolutely nothing to the table. Who authorized this cover? Hold tight, I’m going to look it up.

Holy shit, THE BEATLES authorized this cover??

It’s true. The Sikie was, at one point, supposedly Britain’s answer to Peter, Paul & Mary. They got their name, according to Wikipedia, from an Orcadian song entitled “The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry.” (Duh!) They were best known for their covers of Bob Dylan songs (their debut album contains eight — eight!! — covers of Dylan tunes), and would often play them at The Cavern Club in Liverpool. Beatles manager Brian Epstein saw them perform there, and appointed Alistair Taylor (Epstein’s personal assistant) as their manager. And this is where the Beatles come in. From Wikipedia:

The group received help from John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison to record their cover version of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” on 9 August 1965 at the IBC Studios at about the same time as The Beatles’ own version was being released on their album Help!…John Lennon produced while Paul McCartney played the guitar and George Harrison kept time by tapping his guitar and also playing the tambourine. When the recording was completed Lennon was so pleased with it that he rang Brian Epstein, played it over the phone to him, and told him that they had just recorded a Number 1 hit.

Well, not quite, John: the single reached #28 in the UK but actually fared better here, peaking at #10. And that was it for the Silkie. Though they were supposed to hit the US for a tour, as well as appearances on American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show, they couldn’t obtain the necessary paperwork, and all appearances were cancelled. They split up the next year.

So I guess I’m against the Beatles on this one. Apparently they thought it was brilliant. I’m thinking that John/Paul/George had a four-way with the girl. But that’s okay, I’m fine with disagreeing with the Beatles. Here’s Silkie performing their version of the song. Who taught these guys how to hold guitars?

6. Got to Get You into My Life — Earth, Wind & Fire (download)
Peaked at #9 on 9/16/78

Why is it that only the black guys are doing anything interesting with Beatles covers? Like Stevie, here’s another song that is completely different from the Beatles version; the melody may be the same, but everything else has been changed; the Beatles’ original horn motif is completely gone, replaced by EWF’s trademark funky sound. It’s phenomenal, and exactly what you want from a cover: who could possibly hear the opening horns to this track and guess what was coming next? Most of the credit goes to EWF member and producer Maurice White, who (with the group) won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s), and was nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. The single peaked here at #9, but reached #1 on what was then known as the Hot Soul Singles chart, and sold over a million copies.

This song was released on The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, as one of the two tracks previously unavailable on EWF albums. The other track was “September.” Has there ever been a more awesome greatest hits compilation? However, it was also part of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film (and soundtrack), where the band appeared as themselves. So that’s one count against them.

By the way, “Got to Get You into My Life” was the last Beatles song to make the Billboard Top 10 until 1995’s “Free as a Bird.” I didn’t believe it either until I found that the song wasn’t released as a single until 1976, taken from the controversial compilation album Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.

5. I Saw Him Standing There — Tiffany (download)
Peaked at #7 on 4/23/88

I’m sure it’ll be different when I actually have kids, but I imagine that I will be a fairly liberal parent, especially when it comes to what kind of music my kids listen to. My mom wouldn’t let me listen to Appetite For Destruction because of the “Parental Advisory” sticker; I wouldn’t stop by kids from listening to most music, unless it’s advocating violence, racism, or parentheticals in song titles.

However, if I had been a parent in 1988, I would have absolutely forbid my kids to listen to this song.

Granted, as a kid in 1988, I found nothing wrong with it. I actually knew the original, as opposed to when Tiffany released “I Think We’re Alone Now,” but it didn’t bother me at all. In 2009, I am mortally offended by this cover. I am appalled to think that there might have been kids who eventually heard the original and thought, “Oh, it’s that song by Tiffany — but they switched the words!”

And I’m not just offended from a pop culture or lyrical standpoint. I’m offended by its musical sensibilities (which I’m not even sure is the appropriate term here). What the hell is going on musically in this song? For starters, the entire thing is completely contrived and devoid of energy. Listen to the way Tiffany says “I saw him standing there” (and “I saw you standing there” at the end). Does it not sound like her manager absolutely forced this poor teenager to say these lines? Like, he withheld dinner until she did it? Every instrument is synthesized, except for maybe the guitar solo — which, of course, is horrible. God, wouldn’t it be great to meet the guy who has to tell people, “You know the guitar solo in Tiffany’s cover of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’? Yeah, that was me.” And what about those synths, huh? Why the hell didn’t Prince sue the pants off these people?

By the way, I just found a clip of Debbie Deborah Gibson and Tiffany performing — together! — in Quebec City back in April. Debbie Deborah plays piano for Tiffany on “Could’ve Been.” It’s the combination we were dying to see! (In 1989!) (And holy shit, Samantha Fox and Rick Astley were there too! Where the hell was I??)

4. The Fool On The Hill — Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66 (download)
Peaked at #6 on 9/28/68

What I would give to have seen the look on Paul McCartney’s face when he heard this and realized his earnestly-written song was now going to be used as the soundtrack for ’70s key parties. But, you know, this is the problem with releasing awesome music: once it’s out there, you have no control over what people do with it. (Trust me. I sing acoustic versions of ’80s songs.) So here’s Paul’s gentle ballad, re-imagined as a lounge song. I gotta give the guy credit: he does definitely take the song in his own direction, and the decision to change the tempo on the choruses is original. Still, I’m picturing dudes with lots of chest hair and turtlenecks and medallions all getting jiggy with a bunch of women to this song. Maybe with these ladies.

So unless I’m wrong (and if I am, that know-it-all Jon Cummings will jump in and correct me), there haven’t been any Beatles covers to reach the slots between #6 and #1. So now we come to the ones that reached the top of the charts — and there aren’t many.

3. A World Without Love — Peter and Gordon (download)
Peaked at #1 on 6/27/64

Like “Goodbye,” this one is a bit of a cheat, but I thought it deserved inclusion. Peter Asher and Gordon Waller were childhood friends in London who formed a musical duo together in the early ’60s, playing cover tunes in local bars. After one particular gig, a recording manager from EMI called them in to audition, and two weeks later, they were signed to the label. (This story is almost humorous now. Almost.) However, they didn’t have any original material, so Peter asked his sister Jane if her boyfriend had any material they could record. Jane’s boyfriend — Paul McCartney — gave him this song, which had been rejected by both the Beatles and Billy J. Kramer (who was also managed by Brian Epstein). The song didn’t have much of a bridge, but Paul wrote one the day the duo went into the studio to record. “A World Without Love” went to #1 both in the UK and the US, and was the first chart-topper written by Lennon and McCartney but not performed by the Beatles.

As for the song itself, it’s kind of square, but in my mind, fits in well with the kind of material found on Please Please Me and Meet the Beatles. It’d be interesting to hear a Beatles version, or even a McCartney version, but supposedly the only copy of the demo resides with Peter and he isn’t desperate enough to give it up. (The day will come.)

The group’s second single. “Nobody I Know” was also written by Lennon/McCartney, and reached #12.  Later in their career, the duo recorded another composition by the two, entitled “Woman” (no, not that one), but listed the writer as “Bernard Webb,” just to see if their success was coming from their Beatles connection. Turns out they were actually talented — the song reached #14 before the pseudonym was revealed. The group disbanded in 1967, and Peter eventually became head of A&R for Apple, signing some guy named James Taylor to the label.

2. Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds — Elton John (download)
Peaked at #1 on 1/4/75

…and here’s the second chart-topper not performed by the Beatles, right behind A World Without Love. I love Elton’s version of this song; he starts out slightly emulating the original’s trippy version, but soon enough, takes it in a rock direction, eventually changing the rhythm of the verses completely (after the guitar solo) and even going reggae for a spell. Elton and his band could do no wrong at this point in his career, and his #1 hit was deserved. Lennon appears on it as well; Elton had recently dropped by the studio during John’s sessions for Walls and Bridges, contributing keys and vocals to “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” and “Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox),” and Lennon returned the favor with “Lucy,” appearing under the name “Dr. Winston O’Boogie.”

If you don’t know the story behind the famous live version of this song (which is the version I’m offering for download), Elton made a bet with John that “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” would hit #1; if it did, John had to appear on stage at one of Elton’s concerts. The song did indeed go to #1, and he kept his promise by appearing at Elton’s Thanksgiving show at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974, singing his #1 hit, Elton’s #1 hit, and “I Saw Her Standing There.” Lennon was incredibly nervous, having been away from the stage since 1972. You can hear it in his voice during the few times he sings the chorus; it’s scratchy and tentative. Still, John, Elton and the band are in fine shape here. Be sure to listen all the way to the end, as John makes a few humorous and revealing comments.

This performance essentially marked the end of Lennon’s “lost weekend”; Yoko Ono was in the audience that night, and after the show, the two reconciled. It also marked Lennon’s last public appearance on stage.

1. Medley — Stars on 45 (download)
Peaked at #1 on 6/20/81

There are so many things about this song that just don’t make sense. I could easily write a whole post about it; in fact, our own John Hughes did a few years ago. But of all of them, here are the ones that truly confound me:

1) This song is the most successful Beatles cover on the Billboard charts. Ever. The only consolation I have here is that it beat Tiffany.

2) The song also holds the record for the longest song title. Ever. In Europe, the song was simply known as “Stars on 45,” but American publishers insisted that the names of the songs be included in the title. And that’s how this song got the official title of “Medley: “Intro” / “Venus” / “Sugar Sugar” / “No Reply” / “I’ll Be Back” / “Drive My Car” / “Do You Want to Know a Secret” / “We Can Work It Out” / “I Should Have Known Better” / “Nowhere Man” / “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” / “Stars on 45.” And that’s just the single: the unedited version contains something like 32 song titles. 32 song titles!!!

3) The song choices are confusing as hell. The unedited version features nothing but Beatles songs, with the exception of a short snippet of “My Sweet Lord.” (The one solo song that made the cut was George Harrison’s. Huh?) The edited version removes many of these songs, and throws in “Venus” (you’ll see why in a second) and “Sugar Sugar.” And I have no idea why they ignored some of the more popular Beatles songs in favor of “I Should Have Known Better” and “You Can’t Do That” (on the unedited version). What, nothing from Sgt Pepper?

4) Of all the songs on today’s chart, this is the one I hear in my head at 3 AM. If this happens to you too as a result of this post, I’m sorry. Kind of.

So what’s the story behind this song? Well, a guy named Willem van Kooten found a bootleg single being sold in record stores in Holland. This single was a medley of well-known tunes, set to a dance beat so it could be played in clubs. Kooten owned the rights to one of the song’s in the medley (“Venus”), and was angry that he wasn’t getting any money for it. Unable to find the creators of the bootleg, he enlisted a producer (Jaap Eggermont, former drummer for Golden Earring…random!) to create a new medley. And now you know why “Venus” was included on the single, even thought most of the other songs are by the Beatles. (No clue about “Sugar Sugar,” though.)

“Medley” went to #1 for one week, interrupting an impressive streak by Kim Carnes with (what else?) “Bette Davis Eyes.” And the producers went on to release something like a million other “Stars on 45” medleys, including tributes to ABBA, Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones. There’s one that features shit like the themes to Star Wars and M*A*S*H as well. I have all their albums (you’re not surprised, are you?) but I can’t bring myself to listen to them.

I’ll give them credit where credit is due, however: the songs all do seem to work well together. Putting together a mix like this without the aid of computers must have been exhausting. And the Beatle impersonators do a pretty good job, especially the guy who’s imitating John Lennon. I just feel bad for all the barely-talented tribute band singers who heard this and thought that they, too, could have a #1 single if they tried really hard.

John Hughes wanted me to share a specific video with you, but it’s been removed from YouTube. I think this one is just as fascinating, though. Out of curiosity…do you think I could cover this for Acoustic ’80s?

Man, what a crappy way to end our Beatles week, huh? Still, this was a lot of fun to put together. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to ditch all ten of these tracks and listen to my Beatles remasters. See you in a couple of weeks, and thanks for reading CHART ATTACK!