The last album recorded by The Beatles featured several of their most loved – and most covered – songs. ‘Something’, ‘Come Together’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’, for example, have been recorded by hundreds of artists, while fresh takes on songs from Abbey Road continue to emerge some 50 years on. Our our favourite Abbey Road cover versions take in recordings by soul, jazz and classical music icons.
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Abbey Road Cover Versions: The Beatles’ Classic Album Reimagined
Ike And Tina Turner: ‘Come Together’
The swamp funk that The Beatles had been looking for on their own version of ‘Come Together’ came naturally to Ike And Tina Turner. Indeed, the rock’n’roll music that had first made the fledgling Beatles want to be stars owes a great debt to Ike Turner, whose 1951 recording ‘Rocket 88’ (credited to Jackie Brenston And The Delta Cats) is often cited as an candidate for being the first rock’n’roll recording. After touring in support of The Rolling Stones in late 1969, the husband-and-wife duo covered ‘Come Together’ as the title track of their first album of the 70s, released in May that year.
Frank Sinatra: ‘Something’
Frank Sinatra famously introduced ‘Something’ as his favourite Lennon/McCartney song, but it was actually written by George Harrison. After ‘Yesterday’, ‘Something’ would become The Beatles’ most-covered song – a sign of just how far Harrison had come as a songwriter. The list of artists who have tackled it reads as a Who’s Who of popular music – Elvis Presley, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Isaac Hayes… Harrison explained that he had actually written it with Ray Charles in mind, and, sure enough, in 1971, the R&B legend recorded his own version.
Steve Martin: ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’
The 1978 movie Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band featured a stellar cast, headed up by Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, with George Martin as musical director and appearances from a broad spectrum of performers that included Frankie Howerd, Alice Cooper and Donald Pleasence. Taking the part of Maxwell Edison was comedian Steve Martin, whose mad-doctor character gave McCartney’s song a screwball reinvention.
Bee Gees: ‘Oh! Darling’
Another number taken from the soundtrack to the 1978 movie Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Robin Gibb’s reading of ‘Oh! Darling’ gives McCartney’s Abbey Road screamer a more sultry and sophisticated twist. Ahead of the movie’s release, Gibb commented – with some aplomb – “There is no such thing as The Beatles now. They don’t exist as a band and never performed Sgt Pepper live in any case. When ours comes out, it will be, in effect, as if theirs never existed.”
Jeffrey Lewis: ‘Octopus’s Garden’
A New York singer-songwriter and comic-book author, Jeffrey Lewis is considered by many to be a leading light of the so-called “antifolk” movement. “The fact that no one knows what [antifolk] means, including me, makes it kind of mysterious and more interesting than saying that you’re a singer-songwriter or that you play indie rock,” Lewis has reflected. His charming version of Ringo Starr’s ‘Octopus’s Garden’ is one of the more intimate and affectionate Abbey Road cover versions.
George Benson: ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’
Recorded a matter of weeks after the release of Abbey Road, George Benson’s The Other Side Of Abbey Road saw the acclaimed jazz guitarist and singer tackle a number of songs from the album, including John Lennon’s intensely passionate plea to Yoko Ono, ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’. In Benson’s hands, the song takes an influence from the burgeoning psychedelic soul scene, giving Lennon’s rocker a deliciously funky groove, replete with sassy brass and hypnotic percussion.
Joe Brown: ‘Here Comes The Sun’
Having met in 1962, when both musicians were near the beginning of their careers, Joe Brown and George Harrison became firm friends over the years – so much so that Harrison was best man at Brown’s wedding, in 2000. A year after Harrison’s death, Brown was invited to close Concert For George, an all-star tribute to the former Beatle, which he did by playing the old standard ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ on the ukulele, an instrument about which Harrison had become almost evangelical (“Everybody should have and play a ‘uke’,” he wrote). But for his version of ‘Here Comes The Sun’, Brown turned to his full band, delivering a wonderfully affectionate version of his old friend’s song.
It seems fitting to include a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Because’ as played by a maestro from the world of classical music. After all, the song owes its origins to the classical world. As Lennon explained in 1980: “I was lying on the sofa in our house, listening to Yoko play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ on the piano. Suddenly I said, ‘Can you play those chords backward?’ She did, and I wrote ‘Because’ around them. The song sounds like ‘Moonlight Sonata’, too.”
Herbie Mann: ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’
For his 1974 album London Underground, the celebrated American jazz flautist recorded a selection of rock numbers, including Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’, ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ by Procol Harum and, as the album’s closer, ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’. Mann’s version emphasises the original’s underlying wistfulness, and features guitar flourishes from Albert Lee.
Gomez: ‘Sun King’
‘Sun King’ wasn’t the first time the Southport indie-rockers covered a Beatles song. Their 1998 version of ‘Getting Better’ was used on an ad for Philips Electronics, while they performed ‘Hey Bulldog’ on a BBC Radio 2 tribute to John Lennon. Their version of ‘Sun King’ was included on an album of Abbey Road covers called Abbey Road Now!, which was issued with Mojo magazine to mark the 40th anniversary of the original album.
Cornershop: ‘Mean Mr Mustard’/‘Polythene Pam’
Another song taken from Mojo’s 2009 tribute album features the British hitmakers best-known for their No.1 single ‘Brimful Of Asha’. With The Beatles having gone some way to popularising Indian music in Britain, it is somehow appropriate that their songs should be covered by such a successful British-Asian group. Indeed, Cornershop included a Punjabi-language version of ‘Norwegian Wood’ (the first Beatles recording to use a sitar) on their acclaimed 1997 album, When I Was Born For The 7th Time.
Joe Cocker: ‘She Came In Through The Bathroom Window’
The Sheffield soul singer’s incendiary version of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ impressed The Beatles when it became a No.1 hit in late 1968. “I remember him and [producer] Denny Cordell coming round to the studio in Savile Row and playing me what they recorded,” Paul McCartney recalled. “It was just mind-blowing. He totally turned the song into a soul anthem, and I was forever grateful to him for doing that.” For his eponymous second album, Cocker returned to the same source, this time covering both ‘Something’ and ‘She Came In Through The Bathroom Window’, the latter being released as a single in late 1969.
Booker T And The MGs: ‘Golden Slumbers’/‘Carry That Weight’/‘The End’
The Stax house band were so enamoured with Abbey Road that they decided to cover pretty much the whole thing. Naming their tribute album McLemore Avenue (after the street on which their own legendary studio was set), the soul quartet even mimicked The Beatles’ Abbey Road artwork when they had themselves photographed while crossing the road outside their Memphis studio. Incidentally, The Beatles themselves were such fans of the Stax sound (home to Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Isaac Hayes, among others) that they seriously considered recording the follow-up to Rubber Soul at the label’s Memphis home.
Art Brut: ‘Her Majesty’
Given that it was only a 23-second song tagged onto the end of Abbey Road (and not even credited on the original record sleeve), it’s perhaps unsurprising that ‘Her Majesty’ is one of The Beatles’ least-covered songs. However, something in the tongue-in-cheek ode to the Queen seems to have appealed to bands from the punkier end of the spectrum, with both Art Brut and Chumbawamba having recorded versions of it.
The 50th-anniversary editions of Abbey Road are out now and can be bought here.
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