Sure – in the 1960s the Beatles were ice cold. But these days, kids sing their songs in school assemblies and the ones that are still alive are all knights – and not the awesome dragon-fighting kind.
Beatlemania may be little more than a distant memory these days, but that hasn't stopped a number of top bands and artists from sticking a lit firework into some of the Fab Four's classic tracks.
From hardcore renegades Bad Brains to anti-folk hero Fiona Apple, these adaptations have ensured that The Beatles are still cutting edge enough for your hip dinner party playlist.
Bad Brains – Day Tripper
A smooth, classy reggae cover of the Beatles’ 1965 hit from hardcore punk (opens in new tab) pioneers Bad Brains who used to pedal this one out live. You can find a version on The Youth Are Getting Restless (Live at the Paradiso, Amsterdam, 1987). Dials down the original’s mop-topped chirpiness to pure chill.
B-52s – Paperback Writer
The B-52s recorded this song in 2004 for a Buick advert, but honestly? It feels like the Beatles wrote it for them in 1966. Their new wave harmonies are a mirror image of John, Paul and George’s and the surf guitar is a perfect fit for the jangly beat group style.
Incidentally, John Lennon (opens in new tab) was a big fan of the B-52s. He is widely reported to have said that hearing Rock Lobster in 1978 broke his writer’s block, inspiring him to team up with Yoko Ono (opens in new tab) and record the last songs of his career.
Husker Du – Ticket To Ride
Generally speaking, punk (opens in new tab) bands tend to steer well clear of sugar-sweet 1960s pop. This was never going to be the case for boundary-pushers Husker Du (opens in new tab), who were unafraid to get their teeth into the Beatles’ seventh consecutive number one hit. They also had a crack at the Byrds’ Eight Miles High and Donovan’s Sunshine Superman. The old hippies.
Nick Cave - Let It Be
Nick Cave (opens in new tab)’s version of one of the Beatles’ most enduring hits was featured in 2001 movie I Am Sam alongside 19 other Beatles covers from artists including the Stereophonics (opens in new tab), Grandaddy and Sheryl Crowe. Cave’s is the standout track, taking the rather po-faced original and turning it into a soothing baritone balm for the soul.
The Chameleons – Tomorrow Never Knows
The woozy post-punk swirling of the Chameleons is a satisfying match for this classic track from Revolver (opens in new tab), which was famously inspired by Lennon’s experiences on LSD. The track was a bonus on the Chameleon’s dark and brilliant third album Strange Times, released by Geffen before the band’s original line-up disbanded in 1987. Satisfyingly moody.
Breeders – Happiness Is A Warm Gun
The Breeders took this whimsical song from the White Album (opens in new tab) and turned into an alt-rock behemoth. The verse’s gnarly groove twists into the mellow refrain 'I need a fix/cause I’m going down' before ending on a smashing punk rock freakout. A masterful jigsaw of quiet/loud dynamics.
Fiona Apple – Across The Universe
Singer-songwriter Fiona Apple gives the anti-folk treatment to this track from the Beatles’ 1970 album Let It Be. Apple’s version is understated, under-sugared and gently introspective. The story goes that John Lennon was inspired to write the lyrics 'words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup' by his wife going on and on endlessly about something when he wasn’t really listening. We hope she was reminding him to cancel his Amazon Prime before it renewed.
Alex Chilton – I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Weird to think that Alex Chilton (opens in new tab)’s first band, the Box Tops, were 1960s contemporaries of the Beatles. He’s undoubtedly more famous for playing in Big Star (opens in new tab), a power-pop powerhouse of a band with the Beatles sound running clean through its punk rock heart. We can only dream about what Sgt Pepper (opens in new tab) would have sounded like if Chilton had ended up as the fifth Beatle.
Elliott Smith – Because
Cheap Trick – Magical Mystery Tour
The radio friendly power-pop explosion of the late 70s and early 80s owes a huge debt to the Beatles. Cheap Trick (opens in new tab) somehow manage to take this mildly irritating circus-esque ditty and turn it into something that sounds like it should be on the Baywatch soundtrack. Sweet nostalgic summer vibes.
Melvins – I Want To Hold Your Hand
Packed with fuzzed-up guitar and growling grungy tunefulness, this is a pretty faithful cover of the Moving Sidewalks’ version of the original. So that’s a cover of a cover. Keeping up? The Moving Sidewalks were a US psychedelic blues rock band most notable for spawning ZZ Top (opens in new tab)’s Billy Gibbons (opens in new tab). Their version is filthily raw and absolutely worth a listen too.
St Vincent – Dig A Pony
Formerly a staple in St Vincent live set, you can tune in to pretty much any concert version of this and expect to have your socks well and truly blown off. Unaccompanied gritty, bluesy guitar, and a vocal that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Sublime.
Daniel Johnston – I Saw Her Standing There
We're not sure whether it’s just that Beatles songs sound better played by soulful, slightly tragic characters (see also: Elliot Smith, Nick Cave), or that their sweet songs appeal to those kind of folks in the first place. But there it is. Johnston takes this iconic but arguably throwaway pop song and gives it an almost bottomless depth.
Patti Smith – Within You Without You
George Harrison (opens in new tab)’s only songwriting contribution to Sgt Pepper, the original recording is woven with tabla, sitar and tambula among other traditional Indian instruments. In this version Patti Smith (opens in new tab) strips back Harrison’s arrangement without losing the hypnotic magic. Powerful stuff.
Sonic Youth – Within You Without You
Same song, different artist. This is a smart cover for Sonic Youth – their signature layering of droning guitars mirrors the traditional instruments used in the original recording. The drums pummel away and the guitars fizz and hum in the background without the band ever losing control. The effect is like riding a wave that never breaks.