This year marks 50 since the Beatles officially broke up. In that time, something strange and wonderful has happened to their music — it found new young fans, lost much of its baggage and has become almost a collective property. A sort of creative pool from which to drink from and play in, a bit like (dare I say it?) Shakespeare’s plays. Listen to these retellings, which look back on yesterday as much as they fly beyond the sun.
Florence and the Machine’s Oh! Darling: Paul McCartney famously screamed on this one. So what did Florence Welch do in 2009? Forty years after the original, she adds a drawling, almost-country-music tone, hitting notes McCartney couldn’t have. The song and artist make a great match — Welch sounds romantic enough that when she sings “believe me when I tell you” you do believe her.
Regina Spektor’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps: George Harrison wrote the lyrics in 1968, as an exercise in randomness after reading the I Ching. Think of it as a song inspired by Chinese thought, recorded by a British band, given a restrained Japanese-style makeover by a Russian-born American musician. Spektor’s version plays in the animated 2016 film Kubo and the Two Strings.
Cornershop’s Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown): Yes, the band that did Brimful of Asha. It’s a straight-up Punjabi-language version, recorded for fun in 1997. The East-West vibes come full circle when you start wondering if Cornershop really needed to retain the sitar.
Fiona Apple’s Across the Universe: Widely counted among the best Beatles covers, Fiona Apple sands down an already smooth song in this 1998 version, at a time when yoga was getting popular yet again, in the West. That was a good period for the Fab Four’s music in Hollywood — this cover was on the soundtrack of Pleasantville and Elliot Smith’s version of Because played as the plastic bag floated around in American Beauty.
William Shatner’s Lucy in the Sky: Haters will say this version should not exist. And yet here we are, with back-up vocals, instrumental support and Shatner staying on-key as he takes this song only as seriously as the Beatles did. It’s perfectly silly, just “climb in the back with your head in the clouds”.
Billie Eilish’s Yesterday: For many, it was the best part of the 2020 Oscars. Eilish’s soft sighs break on the Lennon-McCartney lyrics. She’s almost weeping by the end, and you probably are too.
Alice Cooper and Steve Vai’s Hey, Bulldog: To be fair, the 1966 original was already almost metal — the guitar is jangly, the mood noisy. But Cooper and Vai go next-level with vocals and arrangement. The song appears on Butchering the Beatles: A Headbashing Tribute, a 2006 compilation of covers. Other rockin’ versions: Realm’s Eleanor Rigby, and Motley Crue’s Helter Skelter.
Bad Brains’ Day Tripper: Where the Fab Four are chirpy, the reggae band is chill. The sound is hardcore punk, taking its time with the beat, throwing in the screams as a surprise. It’s an altogether different song, and quite trippy.
Amy Winehouse’s All My Loving: Winehouse turns the gosh-darn wholesomeness of the boy band into something risky, almost a negotiation with a reluctant lover, in this 2008 version. As one YouTube commenter puts it: “Only Amy can make a Beatles song sound as if it’s her song.”
Blues Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night: None of that self-indulgent diversion on this 2017 track. The Brazilian band keeps the beat but adds a subtle jazz-nightclub vibe with the music, with vocals that sound just as heartfelt as the Beatles’ did. Hey, it’s always a hard day in music!