Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Revolver, Redux

A couple of years ago, obsessed by Beatles covers, I put together two playlists: One was the tracklist for the Beatles' album Rubber Soul, except it consists of cover versions of each song; the second was an all-covers version of the Beatles' iconic album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

Now I've done another one, this time for the Beatles' stunning 1966 album Revolver. As much of a Beatlemaniac as I was in 1966, I was a little young to figure out what was going on here, although the boys (well, really, Paul) obligingly offered up a few can't-miss hits like "Eleanor Rigby" and "Got to Get You Into My Life" to keep us baby boppers in the fold. But it was all a matter of time before this became one of my favorite LPs of all time. 

As Blogger has recently changed its interface, I'm trying something new: instead of inserting separate videos for each cover song, I've collected them all in a Spotify playlist. (Apologies to those of you who may not use Spotify, but when I look back at those earlier cover track lists, I see that many of the links are now expired or invalid -- we can only deliver the technology we can deliver.) Here's the Spotify link: Please do let me know in the comments section if this works for you.

My criteria for including a certain cover is that it has to offer something different from the original without completely losing what made it a great song in the first place. Let's see how these covers deliver.

1. Taxman -- Junior Parker: "Taxman" is about sleaze, and Memphis bluesman Junior Parker accepts the inevitability of sleaze with a laidback funky groove, which strikes me as way more cynical than the insistent pulse of the Beatles' original. Parker died, sadly, of a brain tumor in 1971; this was on one of his last albums, The Outside Man (1970). It's a gem.

2. Eleanor Rigby -- Aretha Franklin: On her 1970 album This Girl's in Love With You, the Queen of Soul took this classic and made it real. As she sings it, Eleanor and Father MacKenzie are just trying to get by -- no string quartets, just funky keyboards and a horn section. Ditch Dickens and bring in James Baldwin. Amen, sister.

3. I'm Only Sleeping -- Roseanne Cash: I love Roseanne Cash; I think her musical taste is extraordinary. From her 1995 Retrospective album, this track adds a plangent note of despair to the original track's druggy checkout. 

4. Love You To -- Jim James: There are very few covers of this track out there, maybe because its hazy psychedelia is too iconic to cover. Nevertheless my dear boy Yim of My Morning Jacket tackles it, and by adding an echo-chambered banjo makes it his own yearning cry for connection.

5. Here, There, and Everywhere -- John Denver: No one did sweet and earnest like the young Paul McCartney, unless maybe it was John Denver, Mr. Rocky Mountain High. On his 1966 debut John Denver Sings, this simple acoustic track never tries to be an anthem, and that's its strength -- it proves that this is just a great song, whomever's singing it. 

6. Yellow Submarine -- Willy Chirino: The Beatles' original based its goofy appeal on British music hall sounds; Cuban-born Willy Chirino takes it full-on rumba and it's even more intoxicating.

7. She Said She Said -- The Black Keys: On their 2002 debut album The Big Come Up, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney layered a dirty blues buzz over Lennon's LSD reverie. It's a little less trippy, a lot less paranoid, and a good deal more determined to take down that artsy girl and her faux insights. Which, on some days, is exactly what you want.

8. Good Day Sunshine -- Roy Redmond: I know just about nothing about Roy Redmond, beyond that his style was Northern Soul, and he released this track in 1967 as a single on Loma Records. But man, listen to this beauty. He takes McCartney's bouncy horn-inflected pop song, slows it waaaaaay down, throws in girl-group backing singers, and adds all sorts of testifying. ("What you say?" "Oh, can't you feel it?"). McCartney's sun shines on village fetes and garden parties; Redmond's invites you to open the fire hydrant and boogie on the fire escapes. 

9. And Your Bird Can Sing -- The Jam: Paul Weller claims Revolver was the primary influence on their 1980 LP Sound Affects, and while this Beatles cover didn't make it onto the final tracklist, it was definitely part of the creative process. They punched up the tempo and added a little more aggro, as befit the punk era. Lennon's original sly ribbing of Mick Jagger becomes more of an FU -- and who's to say that John wouldn't have wanted it that way?

10. For No One -- Emmylou Harris: One of my all-time favorite Beatles tracks. Emmylou's version (from her 1974 album Pieces of the Sky) wins because it effectively flips the script: Suddenly I'm thinking only about how the girl feels. And amazingly, it works just as well this way -- that's the mark of a great song.  

11. Doctor Robert -- Dr. Sin:  A 2005 recording from a Brazilian hard rock band -- and man, this one sizzles. Lots of insistent drums, doubled vocals, and background grunge, cutting away to an almost baroque refrain. If the original was all about satirizing one pill-peddling MD, this track slings a lot more mud.

12. I Want to Tell You -- Ted Nugent: I disagree with just about everything Ted Nugent says, thinks, believes, and stands for. I looked so hard to find another cover of this song that was anywhere as good as this. But what the hell -- let me be the open-minded, tolerant person I wish we all could be. This track from Nugent's 1978 album State of Shock pumps some very vital oxygen into this track, and let us give props where props are due. 

13. Got to Get You Into My Life -- Earth Wind and Fire: Released in 1978, this horn-inflected funk version takes the Beatles track out of British music hall and into a greater reality. Which only proves what a durable standard Macca's track could be.

14. Tomorrow Never Knows: Nação Zumbi: Another dynamite Brazilian band laid down this track in 2017, adding many layers of aural fuzz to the trippy original. Can you dig it? 

Please let me know if the Spotify model works for you -- and if these covers ring your chimes. The Beatles were not only great performers, they were extraordinary songwriters, and IMO their legacy is only enhanced when other artists turn out dynamite versions of their best tracks. Let's discuss...  


JulieBrannan said...

The Spotify link works! Very interesting idea. Revolver is probably my fav Beatles album.

MrL said...

Thanks Holly! Looking forward to listen. The only one I’ve heard is ”And your bird can sing” with The Jam. Didn’t know Ted Nugent did a Beatles cover.
Are the other lists also om Spotify?
Take care my dear😘

Holly A Hughes said...

Spotify should have it all -- let me know if it doesn't work for you. Love to all...

Steve Hurrell said...

The Shadow Revolver on Spotify works well. It's introduced me to a lot of new versions. Excellent. By the way have you heard the podcast called 'Nothing is real – a Beatles podcast' by Jason Carty and Steven Cockcroft? This edition will interest as they interview Robyn Hitchcock –

Steve Hurrell said...

ps Sorry, the details of the podcast was missing. It s called 'Nothing Is Real - Season 2 Episode 4 - The Robyn Hitchcock Interview' released on 30th June 2020

Luis said...

Fabulous playlist HH, many Thanks.
Love Roseanne Cash. What a delighful version of one of those "best possible songs". Jam's versión I hadn't heard and has brought me goose pumps.

Luis said...

Junior Parkers and Aretha's, exceptional, but thats no news. Black Keys always do a great job on the songs if their idols. Surprised finding myself enjoying Ted Nugent.Everything else is fine & interesting, with the exception of John Denver who consistently makes me want to throw up, and this one is no exception (actually I don't even like the Beatle's original.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks for the link, Steve. And yes, Luis, John Denver is not to everyone's taste. I too found the Nugent cover surprising. I'll put the other two lists up on Spotify this weekend!

Unknown said...

Hi Holly, Spotify is ok! But I must say, you didn't warn us Americans that you were following the British release! My memories of Revolver are all from the American version. My copy of Yesterday & Today (the two album out of one that Capitol engineered) DOES have a pasted on cover...but I've always been too chicken to try to find out if the Butcher Babies photo is underneath. BUT THANK YOU! LOVE IT! Ted Nugent is a disaster but there is a reason why he was/is successful. I only object to the Jam over Guadalcanal Diary And Your Bird Can Sing...

Robin said...

Unknown is Robin