5 Blackbird – Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe)
Controversial covers are sometimes great, and this is one of those cases. Evan Rachel Wood’s cover for Across the Universe is a masterpiece. The original has upbeat, nearly frantic, strumming. Wood’s soft and supple voice takes the song to a much more bittersweet melancholy place. When in the film she sits on a pier and watches her Vietnam-veteran-shell-shocked brother stare blankly out at the Hudson River, and begins singing “take these broken wings and learn to fly,” you can’t help but feel the tears springing to your eyes. All of a sudden, and with exceptional force, the deepest, most sobering moments of hopelessness and helplessness are conjured up by a few simply beautiful words, as sung by Wood and directed by Julie Taymour.
4 Here Comes the Sun – Peter Tosh
One of the most disparate genres to take over a Beatles song, Peter Tosh’s perfect reggae cover of Here Comes The Sun feels almost as if it were his song. The style of the lyrics fit perfectly with the general themes that reggae espouses — carefree, laidback, nature-loving happiness. Peter Tosh is one of the kingpins of the reggae world and it is only apt that his version of Here Comes The Sun is as heart-warming as the original. His silky smooth voice highlights the simple beauty of those first burst of sunrays after a long, frosty winter (of which there are so many in Jamaica) — both literally and metaphorically. It is on the complete other end of the musical spectrum from the original, but Peter Tosh’s cover is just as beautiful.
3 And Your Bird Can Sing – The Jam
One of England’s most notable new-wave acts, The Jam might have been thought to be a bit out of their realm in covering And Your Bird Can Sing. But, in reality, The Jam’s power-trio harmonies and ska sensibilities allow them to cover And Your Bird Can Sing with the same clarity, yet a slightly less produced and polished sound. The perfect harmonies that The Beatles are so famous for are slightly dissonant in The Jam’s cover, making the lyrics feel a bit more weighty and impromptu. The spontaneous outburst of “but you don’t get me” feels more poignant. In the end, The Jam’s cover is so tightly similar to the original that the injection of new wave ska-like energy into the classic Beatles hit makes it feel distinctly natural.
2 Help – Oasis
Not exactly the band you’d expect to be in the number two slot for covering The Beatles, but Oasis’ version of Help reframes the song in, perhaps, the way it was intended to be. Noel’s distinct deep whine adds a new layer to Help. It takes on a whole new level of melancholy that is lost in the original. Oasis’ desperate pleading for help sounds much more heartfelt than in the original, and is a brilliant take on a staple Beatles’ song. Lines like “my independence seems to vanish in the haze/every now and then I feel so insecure” evoke a much more innate sense of anxiety and helplessness. Paring down the sound from a foursome to a twosome also serves to strip the song of any sort of “produced” vibe, and instead there is a deep sense of longing, loneliness, and despondency in the simple acoustic and slower pace. Oasis, a band that didn’t quite live up to all they’d been hyped up to be certainly prove musical aptitude in their version of Help.
1 Let It Be – Ray Charles
Already noted as one of the most profound musicians of our age, Ray Charles’ talent is unparalleled. So, when Ray Charles goes about covering The Beatles you know you’re in for a treat. When Ray Charles covers a song as bittersweet in its hopefulness and melancholy as Let It Be, you can only expect to be reduced to tears. His incredible prowess on the piano is unmatched. His velvet voice encompasses every nuance implicit in the lyrics. While making the song his own, Ray Charles’ talent also highlights the brilliance of The Beatles’ lyrical depth. The near-growl Charles produces accompanied by all-female harmonies makes ones hair stand on end. Its quiet-loud-quiet structure reinforces the highs and lows within the lyrics. If anyone can master a Beatles song, it’s undoubtedly Ray Charles, and with his cover of Let It Be, the proof is in the music.
Covering the most prolific band of the 20th century is quite a treacherous task. These five artists, however, manage to do so with unmatched grace and prowess. They create a sound all their own, while still remaining true to the original intent of the songs. These covers have both reverence and ingenuity, making them the best covers of The Beatles songs to date.