With the release week heard ’round the world, we here at Soul-Sides are celebrating the Beatles by picking some of our favorite Beatles tunes as covered by soul artists. While I know not everyone likes covers (especially of The Beatles), I, as well as Oliver, am always interested in hearing the interpretations artists have within their musical fraternity. Writing songs that have universal appeal is part of the reason why they were so successful. Hear some of the heavy hitters of soul on their takes of some of the best music and lyrics ever written below.
Stevie Wonder: We Can Work It Out
From At The Close Of A Century, (Motown, 1999)
1970 saw Stevie still delivering the hits. Two years prior to his greatest string of work album-wise, he covered “We Can Work It Out,” a #1 hit for The Fab Four in 1965. Stevie adds a funky lilt to the song with an opening Fender Rhodes riff and a harmonica solo in the middle converting what had been a tune about saving a relationship with a lover into a social commentary for working it out with your fellow brothers and sisters. He does away with the 3 / 4 bars in the bridge to keep the pace going. This song is proof of the genius in his abilities showcasing how he could not only compose an original song but also add a fresh take on a group that weren’t too bad at songwriting and arrangements themselves.
Aretha Franklin: Eleanor Rigby (Live)
From Live At The Fillmore West, (Atlantic, 2006)
While Father McKenzie was writing the words to a sermon no one would hear, Aretha was prepping the church choir and band to unleash this rousing take on a previously mournful elegy. Check the piano intro that leads into the frenetic pace that is unleashed. Aretha meanwhile does what she does best – sing her ass off. She goes into ad libs that add depth to a churchy affair but keeps it just at arm’s length from overdoing it.
Smokey Robinson And The Miracles: And I Love Her
From What Love Has…Joined Together, (Motown, 1970)
I saved my favorite for last. The first time I heard this, I stopped what I was doing and just zoned out. I had to keep rewinding it to hear its sheer elegance. The earliest song of the bunch presented, “And I Love Her” – already a beautiful love song in its own right, finds Smokey and The Miracles upping the ante of the intimacy found in the original’s acoustic guitar and percussion with a small dose of brass and faint a crying violin. The clincher here is the background harmonizing, especially after that first “And I Love Her,” to Smokey’s delicate, but confident lead vocals. The backup singing remains steadfast throughout and is the glue that holds it all together. Wow.
Oliver’s picks: First of all, definite co-sign on the awesomeness that is Stevie’s cover of “We Can Work It Out.” It’s definitely up there as one of the greatest soul covers of a Beatles’ song I can think of. Another should be obvious to anyone who’s read this site for a while:
Al Green: I Want To Hold Your Hand
From 7″ (Hi, 1969)
This was one of the featured songs I put on Soul Sides Vol. 2 and is an easy “go to” song for any party. It’s also a fairly obscure song by any measure; it originally only came out on 7″ and that’s because, surprisingly (or perhaps not so), it was a total flop and Hi pretty much backpedaled off it (it did show up on the 1989 compilation Love Ritual, finally). I feel like I’ve spoken about this song a lot (it came up in interviews frequently) so I won’t reinvent the wheel except to say: this is what the old folks call “fly.” Believe that.
Lee Moses: Day Tripper
From Time and Place (Maple, 1970)
To this day, I’m surprised more soul artists haven’t covered “Day Tripper.” That intro guitar line is easily one of the most recognizable in Beatles’ history and it is so damn funky. Luckily, this same point must have occurred to Lee Moses, possibly having been influenced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience who do a pretty righteous version themselves. I find Moses, however, to really distill the song down to a rough but not cluttered version of the song that highlights how very raucous that riff really can be.
The Overton Berry Trio: Hey Jude
From At Seattle’s Doubletree Inn (Jaro, 1970). Also on Wheedle’s Groove
“Hey Jude” is one of those Beatles’ songs that are so iconic that you almost wish people would leave it well alone since even the original can grate on you once you’ve heard it for the umpteenth time. Yet I had the choice between two great versions of this song (the other being Clarence Wheeler and the Enforcers‘). My reasons for going with Seattle’s Overton Berry Trio and their live version, recorded at the Doubletree, mostly rest with how it opens with that massive bassline. Deep deep deep and once the drums click in, it becomes this monster groove that isn’t even obvious as “Hey Jude” until you hear the Ramsey Lewis-esque piano come in.
Bonus: Toi Et Moi: Across the Universe
From In USA (EMI Japan, 197?)
I couldn’t pass this up; probably not the best sung version of “Across the Universe” ever recorded (but hey, in all fairness, these two weren’t exactly from Liverpool) but I love how fun and lively this Japanese duo’s take on the song is. That plus, that funky backing track sounds positively British library album, no? It’s all quite fab in its own right.