“Anyone who covers a song of mine, I love,” Paul McCartney once remarked. That’s generous. It’s daunting to imagine how many teenage garage bands have workshopped an unlistenable metal version of “Love Me Do,” how many sub-par Soundcloud rappers have freestyled over the “Come Together” riff. When you write songs for the greatest band in history, you inspire your fair share of bad with the good.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of Beatles covers spanning every genre imaginable: R&B, country, experimental rock, post-punk, funk — you name it. So it was both daunting and educational to take this deep-dive, assembling the 100 best.
100. Todd Rundgren, “Strawberry Fields Forever” (1976)
Todd Rundgren built a career out of defying pop conventions, but he doesn’t experiment much with the Beatles’ psych-pop masterpiece. The dream-sequence guitar slides, muted brass, fake fade-out and reversed percussion — it’s all here, along with some added fuzz and a heavier drum gallop.
99. Lowell Fulson, “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” (1969)
On this kooky White Album cut, Paul McCartney riffs on the preciousness humans have about sex — an idea sparked while watching two monkeys having sex in the streets during the Beatles’ retreat in Rishikesh, India. But bluesman Lowell Fulson took the concept to a more carnal, less philosophical place: “Why don’t we do it in the car?” he sings over a gritty lick. “Why don’t we do it in the house?”
98. Jack White, “Mother Nature’s Son” (2010)
You have to give Jack White credit for even attempting this one: The former White Stripe covered this folkie Beatles tune at the White House, several feet from the ruminating faces of both President Obama and the song’s author, Paul McCartney (on-hand to receive the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize). In the clip, White adapts McCartney’s fingerpicking into a ragged strum, adding some garage-rock angst to the singer’s “doo-doo-doo” melody.
97. St. Vincent, “Dig a Pony” (2009)
Annie Clark is the only artist on our list to dust off this Let It Be deep cut. The art-pop songwriter who goes by St. Vincent has played “Dig a Pony” during 21 shows, including this solo rendition from the 2009 All Points West festival. After a random tease of “The Star Spangled Banner,” she lurches into the bluesy riff with some pleasingly nasty distortion, playing with the vocal pauses and relishing each bent-note guitar flourish.
96. Tori Amos, “She’s Leaving Home” (2011)
It’s tough for one person to cover “She’s Leaving Home” — the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ballad’s signature moment is the overlapping, heart-tugging vocal pattern from McCartney and John Lennon on the chorus. But Tori Amos has figured out a way around that logistical challenge, stretching out the chord progression in her solo piano take.
95. Ella Fitzgerald, “Savoy Truffle” (1969)
Ella Fitzgerald was a noted Beatles fan: She covered “Hey Jude” on 1969’s Sunshine of Your Love and followed with a pair of tributes on Ella that same year. It’s all worth exploring, but the jazz singer deserves a specific shout-out for her funky twist on George Harrison‘s White Album groover “Savoy Truffle.”
94. Ambrosia, “Magical Mystery Tour” (1976)
Ambrosia were well-versed in both prog and pop, so they were a perfect match for Magical Mystery Tour‘s whimsical title-track. Their version — which offers a bit more grit in the guitars, funk in the bass and sizzle in the strings — appears in the critically panned music documentary All This and World War II, which pairs Beatles covers with war footage.
93. Chris Cornell, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (2006)
This Bob Dylan-esque folk strummer is a popular Beatles cover — probably because it’s built on a handful of easy guitar chords and a simple vocal melody. Soundgarden‘s golden-voiced frontman, Chris Cornell, didn’t need to keep things simple, given his four-octave vocal range, but he did just that with for his BBC live session. Still, who else could deliver that high “Hey!” with such gusto?
92. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967)
“Watch out for your ears,” Jimi Hendrix wisely instructs the audience at London’s Saville Theatre, seconds before launching the Experience’s guitar-wail take on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The timing and setting are crucial: The date was June 4, 1967, three days after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s, and both McCartney and Harrison were in the audience. “That was like the ultimate compliment,” McCartney gushed in the 1997 biography Many Years From Now. “It’s still obviously a shining memory for me because I admired him so much anyway.”
91. Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe” (1998)
Gary Ross’ 1998 dramedy Pleasantville follows a pair of modern-day siblings trapped in a ’50s sitcom. Fiona Apple‘s bittersweet take on “Across the Universe,” from the film’s soundtrack, is indebted to the following decade, draping the singer’s disaffected croon around a loping drum groove and Mellotron-styled keys.
90. The Pixies, “Wild Honey Pie” (1988)
Black Francis’ vicious screams dominate the Pixies‘ noisy rendition of this folky White Album interlude. The performance, recorded as part of a 1988 BBC session, emerged a decade later on the compilation Pixies at the BBC.
89. Elbow, “Golden Slumbers” (2017)
Guy Garvey’s booming vocal carries the alt-rock band through McCartney’s prettiest ballad. Elbow recorded the song in 2017 for Britain’s annual John Lewis advertisement, and Michel Gondry’s playful, partially animated story, “Moz the Monster,” only intensifies the tugging of heart-strings.
88. David Bowie, “Across the Universe” (1975)
David Bowie does everything he can to toughen up Lennon’s most ethereal ballad — and our ears pay the price. His “Across the Universe,” from 1975’s Young Americans, is a slow-burn of melodramatic yelps and overwrought melodic deconstruction. It’s like watching Monet scribble on a Manet. Despite his vocal sins, there’s a raw magnetism to Bowie’s desecration, and the rhythm section gives the song a funky twist.
87. Melvins, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (2018)
Melvins slap a healthy coat of sludge on a squeaky clean Beatles hit. But the effect isn’t gimmicky whatsoever — they sound completely at home in this peppy setting, stretching out Harrison’s post-“tell you somethin’” riff into a metallic, half-time lurch.
86. Ray Charles, “Yesterday” (1967)
Ray Charles covered “Yesterday” among a crop of American standards on 1967’s Invites You to Listen, highlighting just how deep McCartney’s ballad had been woven into the cultural fabric in the two years since its release. Charles’ voice runs wild over muted strings, veering from a gruff growl (which renders the title “Yesh-terday”) to a soft falsetto.
85. Richie Havens, “Here Comes the Sun” (1971)
Venerated folk songwriter Richie Havens scored his biggest career hit with “Here Comes the Sun,” an intensely strummed live rendition that may have broken a guitar string or two.
84. Four Tops, “The Fool on the Hill” (1969)
The vocal group’s golden harmonies bring a Motown pep to McCartney’s tale of a lonely soul. The lush, Pet Sounds-level arrangement — full of funk breaks and stacked brass — conjures a world of blinding colors lurking just outside the fool’s gaze.
83. Ike & Tina Turner, “Get Back” (1970)
Ike and Tina Turner sound more comfortable with the bluesy Let It Be workout than even the Beatles themselves. Tina’s rasp was was destined to fire up McCartney’s vocal melody, and the electric guitars find funky pockets within the locomotive groove.
82. Amy Winehouse, “All My Loving” (2004)
It’s risky to tamper with such a precise, ubiquitous melody, but Amy Winehouse was known for that kind of chutzpah. The soul-pop singer tackled “All My Loving” for the 2004 TV documentary Glastonbury Calling, stripping back the tune to a jazzy, fingerstyle acoustic guitar and a roaming, melismatic vocal.
81. Grandaddy, “Revolution” (2002)
Jason Lytle’s sonic approach is so distinctive, it rubs off on anything in its orbit. And his band’s version of “Revolution” — recorded for the 2001 film drama I Am Sam, highlighting a full soundtrack of A-list Beatles covers — sounds more like a leftover from Grandaddy‘s 2003 LP, Sumday, than it does the White Album, with Lytle untangling the melody over palm-muted guitars and wobbling synths.
80. Umphrey’s McGee, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (2015)
Jammy prog-rock sextet Umphrey’s McGee recorded their elastic version of “I Want You” — like the rest of their 2015 LP The London Session — in a sacred space: the Beatles’ home base recording studio, Abbey Road. “We initially bagged the idea,” singer-guitarist Brendan Bayliss told Rolling Stone. “We’re going to start a Beatles song and the engineers there will be like, ‘Really, you’re going to do this?’ [But] if we don’t play it wrong, it crushes. And we nailed it.”
79. Peter Gabriel, “Strawberry Fields Forever” (1976)
This is easily the most bizarre vocal in the Peter Gabriel catalog, alternating gloriously raspy notes with jarring lapses into a froggy croak. The voice-and-orchestra arrangement, featured in All This and World War II, feels like it was cobbled together from various takes, with Gabriel trying out new guises each time out. But it’s really just the sound of the art-rock innovator, who left Genesis the year before, figuring himself out.
78. Esther Phillips, “And I Love Him” (1965)
Genre-hopping vocalist Esther Phillips inverts the lyrical gender with her robust take on “And I Love Her,” quivering out a tender vocal over slick orchestrations.
77. Ambrose Slade, “Martha My Dear” (1969)
The British hard-rock act (later known simply as Slade) don’t mess around too much with McCartney’s bouncy ode to a beloved sheepdog. Working without the benefit of a full orchestra, they rely primarily on guitar, bass and a single, sweeping violin — more of a traditional rock band take on an ornate, rarely covered gem.
76. Oasis, “Within You Without You” (2007)
Waves of distortion and sitar flood through the Britpop band’s faithful take on “Within You Without You,” recorded to mark the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In a unique quirk, Oasis borrow the tumbling drum pattern from another drone-y Beatles classic, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” making this version a subtle mash-up.
75. The B-52’s, “Paperback Writer” (2004)
The jangly main riff from “Paperback Writer” was perfectly suited for the B-52’s surf-rock attack. The group sticks very close to the original, layering their voices into a beaming ray of harmony and even mimicking the original’s tambourine accents and vocal effects.
74. Buddy Rich Big Band, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” (1967)
Jazz drummer Buddy Rich leads his Big Band through a swinging instrumental version of Lennon’s psych-folk tune. The brass goes wild, but the group never loses grip of the main theme, and Rich keeps the engine moving with his always-on-the-money ride cymbal and snare rolls.
73. Sparks, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (1975)
A pair of art-pop oddballs add symphonic soul pizzazz to a straightforward early rocker, slowing down the tempo and lathering up the arrangement with bouquets of strings and brass. Corny, yet compelling.
72. PM Dawn, “Norwegian Wood” (1993)
PM Dawn re-imagined the Beatles’ sitar-laced folk ditty into a breezy R&B daydream, magnifying the song’s psychedelic vibe with airy vocal harmonies, screaming lead guitar and a muted, crackling hip-hop beat.
71. Boris, “Walrus” (2007)
The Japanese stoner/doom-metal teamed with noise artist Merzbow for this pulverizing wash of feedback and fuzz, which bears a stronger link to the Spooky Tooth’s version from 1970 (featured elsewhere on the list).
70. Sweet, “Paperback Writer” (1972)
Sweet punched up “Paperback Writer” during a 1972 BBC session (later included on their 2017 compilation LP, The Sweet at the Beeb). The harmonies add just a hint of their glam showmanship, and Mick Tucker’s hyperactive drum track anchors the performance.
69. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “I Need You” (2002)
To mark the one-year anniversary of Harrison’s death, the late Beatle’s widow and son, Olivia and Dhani, arranged an all-star benefit concert featuring the guitarist’s many collaborators and admirers. Tom Petty, Harrison’s former bandmate in the Traveling Wilburys, fronted a handful of songs during Concert for George, including a breezy version of Help!‘s “I Need You,” with lovesick lyrics rendered twice as heartbreaking in this context.
68. James Taylor, “In My Life” (2010)
The Oscars’ “In Memoriam” segment is almost always an awkward viewing experience: The faces of late film industry professionals flash across a massive screen, and the audience either fakes limp applause for the key grip they’ve never heard of or pours in disproportionately thunderous cheers for the most famous actors and directors. But James Taylor‘s benevolent fingerpicking and everyman voice leveled the playing field at the 2010 ceremony, as he tackled one of the Beatles’ most poignant songs.
67. Aretha Franklin, “Eleanor Rigby” (1969)
Aretha Franklin sounds like she’s belting “Eleanor Rigby” from memory, embellishing the words, which she changes to the first person, with powerhouse runs she could pull of her in sleep. It’s not one of her time-capsule moments, but, well, it’s still Aretha Franklin.
66. Deep Purple, “Help” (1968)
Deep Purple have Beatles credentials, having jammed with Harrison onstage in 1984. But their famous Fab Four moment, a spacey cover of “Help!,” happened 16 years earlier on their debut LP, Shades of Deep Purple.
65. Diana Ross, “Come Together” (1970)
Diana Ross’ immaculate, pretty voice isn’t a natural fit singing Lennon’s kooky nods to “spinal cracker” and “toe jam football.” But she commands every second of this ultra-funky cover, anchored by a smoking rhythm section.
64. Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Blackbird” (1969)
“A song by our favorite group,” Graham Nash said of Crosby, Stills & Nash‘s blissful cover, reflecting in the liner notes to their 1991 box set, CSN. “We were staying on Moscow Road in London in 1968, hoping to get onto the Apple record label. The Beatles were recording the White Album, and when we heard McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’ we flipped and learned it right away. It was perfect for our three-part harmony.”
63. Bryan Ferry, “It’s Only Love” (1976)
Bryan Ferry‘s glammy croon is a perfect fit for this Lennon-sung Help! strummer. The Roxy Music frontman digs into the arrangement, relishing each dramatic melodic flourish and adding a touch of funk in the form of clavinet and horns.
62. Motley Crue, “Helter Skelter” (1983)
Motley Crue put the Beatles’ most aggressive rocker through the ringer, updating McCartney’s mania for the glam-metal generation. It’s one of those perfect marriages of cover and interpreter: Mick Mars‘ squealing guitar solos and Tommy Lee‘s breakneck drum fills add some horns-up firepower to the White Album cut.
61. Jeff Beck, “She’s a Woman” (1975)
The guitar virtuoso’s reggae-fied instrumental version of “She’s a Woman” developed through a suggestion from keyboardist Max Middleton. “[He] was playing in a band for Linda Lewis,” Jeff Beck told Guitar World in 2009. “She was the wife of Jim Cregan, who is Rod Stewart’s guitar player. And she started making waves, playing Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. And Max said, ‘She does this song, ‘She’s a Woman’ and people go crazy.’ They loved her version. And I turned it into a reggae, and that really seemed to make it take off.”
60. 10cc, “Paperback Writer” (1993)
No one would expect art-rockers 10cc to play it completely straight with “Paperback Writer,” which they introduced onstage as “an old favorite.” The cascading vocal harmonies remain intact, but the band restructures the verses into a funk-rock groove, even weaving in a portion of the “Day Tripper” riff.
59. Black Oak Arkansas, “Taxman” (1975)
Black Oak Arkansas present their Southern rock version of financial angst, darkening and bluesing up the riff and throwing in a few new lyrics from the IRS perspective (“I’m sorry, honey / I need your money“).
58. Damon and Naomi, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2005)
Damon Krukowski and Noami Yang, veterans of slowcore act Galaxie 500, approach Harrison’s White Album anthem with a rare level of sensitivity, using barely-there feedback, muted trumpets and brushed drums instead of bluesy guitar solos.
57. Eurythmics, “Come Together” (1987)
56. Zoot, “Eleanor Rigby” (1970)
This obscure Australian group is best known as a historical footnote, helping launch the careers of Rick Springfield and Little River Band guitarist Beeb Birtles. But they landed a regional hit with their heavy take on Revolver‘s most famous ballad, even approaching a proto-metal intensity with their brooding riffs.
55. Helio Sequence, “Tomorrow Never Knows” (2000)
The Oregon indie-rock duo swung for the fences on their debut LP, Com Plex, tackling one of the Beatles’ most revered psychedelic tunes. In the below live version from 2008, Brandon Summers alternates between clean, arpeggiated riffs and buzzing drones while drummer Benjamin Weikel ferociously pummels his kit.
54. Jerry Garcia Band, “Dear Prudence” (1981)
Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia first dusted off this rarely touched Lennon gem in 1981, leading his solo band through a rambling jam with all the easygoing warmth of a summer stroll through the local park.
53. Sean Lennon, “Julia” (2001)
It’s hard not to be moved at the sight of Sean Lennon, son of John, paying tribute to his late father by performing “Julia,” a song written about his grandmother (and mother — the Japanese translation of “ocean child” is Yoko). The performance highlighted the 2001 concert special Come Together: A Night for John Lennon’s Words and Music.
52. Spooky Tooth, “I Am the Walrus” (1970)
Spooky Tooth’s slow, bruising “Walrus” established the template for virtually every other hard-rock version. Mike Harrison’s vocal brings the song into a bluesier space — check out the savory gruffness in his delivery of “drippin’ from a dead dog’s eye.”
51. Circus, “Norwegian Wood” (1969)
Future King Crimson woodwind player Mel Collins flaunts his sax prowess throughout this obscure cover from jazz-rock band Circus. It’s a dynamic piece, building from a peaceful atmosphere to a fiery rave-up.
50. Regina Spektor, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2016)
Regina Spektor recorded her version of “Gently Weeps” for Kubo and the Strings, the 2016 stop-motion adventure film about a young boy who harnesses the magical powers of the shamisen, a Japanese string string instrument. Dario Marianelli’s tasteful arrangement nods to story directly, even weaving in a shamisen solo.
49. The Flaming Lips (featuring Phantogram, Julianna Barwick and Spaceface), “She’s Leaving Home” (2014)
Oklahoma psych-rock oddballs the Flaming Lips recruited their famous friends for a track-by-track reinterpretation of Sgt. Pepper dubbed With a Little Help From My Fwends. Among the highlights is an electro-pop version of “She’s Leaving Home,” full of swimming vocal harmonies and crackling programmed drums.
48. The Beach Boys, “I Should Have Known Better” (1965)
The Beach Boys‘ 10th LP was constructed as a fake party, with friends overdubbing chit-chat and background noise over the group’s stripped-down acoustic tunes. It’s a dopey concept, but that doesn’t diminish the fun of their Beatles covers, including a low-key take on “I Should Have Known Better.”
47. Phil Collins, “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1981)
The Genesis singer’s debut solo LP is way weirder than casual fans might remember. Among Phil Collins‘ more experimental moments was his meticulously layered version of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” full of drum machine patter, droning synth and L. Shankar’s whirring violin.
46. Roger Hodgson, “Across the Universe” (2010)
It’s the definitive “Across the Universe” cover: a pair of acoustic guitars (one six-string, one jangling 12-string) and the Supertramp co-frontman Roger Hodgson‘s inimitable voice. The version included below, pulled from a 2010 radio spot, demonstrates his sensitivity to the material and his subtly personalized touches (check the melodic scoop up to “Om“).
45. Joan Baez, “Eleanor Rigby” (1967)
Folk legend Joan Baez‘s version of “Eleanor Rigby” is a sonic collage, moving from arpeggiated harp lines to symphonic brass to dramatic piano, with her grand vibrato resting comfortably at the center.
44. Sufjan Stevens, “What Goes On” (2005)
The Razor & Tie label marked the 40th anniversary of Rubber Soul with This Bird Has Flown, a tribute LP featuring a different indie artist on each track. Sufjan Stevens takes a radical baroque-pop stab at “What Goes On,” reinventing the melody within an arrangement of stacked vocals, banjo, woodwinds and clanking guitars.
43. Bobbie Gentry, “The Fool on the Hill” (1968)
Most “Fool on the Hill” covers play up the song’s core sentimentality with sappy orchestrations — and country-soul singer Bobbie Gentry followed the trend. But her version is the quirkiest on this list, adding a down-on-the-farm vibe with honking bass harmonica and twangy acoustic guitars.
42. Shirley Bassey, “The Fool on the Hill” (1970)
Shirley Bassey brings out the theatrical core of “The Fool on the Hill,” transforming the McCartney ballad into a densely orchestrated piece filled with strings, horns and a jazzy rhythm section. It still soothes, but now it also grooves.
41. Annie Lennox, “The Fool on the Hill” (2014)
Another highlight from the Grammys’ Night That Changed America special is a team-up between Eurythmics members Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. The whole performance is dialed to 11: the dramatic orchestrations, the build from solo piano to full band and especially the way Lennox enunciates “world spinning round.”
40. Eddie Hazel, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (1977)
The Funkadelic guitarist bathes his six-string in phaser and wah-wah-like effects on his reliably spaced-out version, which features a crew of regular collaborators, including vocalists the Brides of Brides of Funkenstein.
39. Adrian Belew, “Within You Without You” (2010)
The former King Crimson frontman is prolific with Beatles covers, having saluted the band numerous times onstage and in the studio. But the guitarist’s instrumental take on “Within You Without You” is the most haunting of the bunch, full of delayed melodic lines, finger-tapped showmanship and textural effects that sound like revved-up motorcycles.
38. Jaco Pastorius, “Blackbird” (1981)
The jazz-fusion bassist adapts the folk tune into a virtuoso instrumental piece full of liquid soloing and wispy harmonica. It could easily pass for an outtake from one of Weather Report’s prime LPs.
37. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Helter Skelter” (1978)
Dark bass drones and barbed-wire guitars ushers in gothic post-punk act Siouxie and the Banshees‘ tense “Helter Skelter,” which closes the first side of their debut LP, The Scream.
36. Sonic Youth, “Within You Without You” (1988)
Sonic Youth found the perfect vehicle for their noise-rock drones in “Without You Without You.” They smooth out the tricky time signature, replacing the sitars and tabla with snarling guitars and pounding drums.
35. Journey, “It’s All Too Much” (1976)
Journey was still in prog/fusion mode in 1976, and they added a virtuoso spin to Harrison’s gentle Yellow Submarine sing-along. But like most of the band’s early work, “It’s All Too Much” is fun, never indulgent — just check out Aynsley Dunbar’s grooving hi-hat work.
34. Rockwell, “Taxman” (1984)
Everybody knows Motown singer Rockwell — okay, maybe not by name — for his paranoid synth-pop hit “Somebody’s Watching Me.” But his funky rendition of “Taxman” is equally worthy of FM radio, wrapping ghostly keys and creepy backing vocals around the Harrison hook.
33. Electric Light Orchestra, “Day Tripper” (1974)
Electric Light Orchestra gave “Day Tripper” the full symphonic treatment for their first live LP, decorating the rocker with classical piano interludes, snare roll avalanches, starlit synths and their requisite strings.
32. Otis Redding, “Day Tripper” (1966)
“Tease me a little bit,” Otis Redding belts on this sweltering live take, which falls somewhere between a cover and an exorcism. The soul giant belts half-sentences and garbled phrases, seemingly unaware of the full lyrics. But who cares? That groove! That rasp!
31. Junior Parker, “Taxman” (1970)
Blues singer Junior Parker completely dismantles “Taxman,” salvaging some spare parts and rebuilding the song into a weird soul-funk workout. He alternates between spoken word and croon, anchored by a groove both laid-back and deceptively manic.
30. Harry Nilsson, “You Can’t Do That” (1967)
Harry Nilsson had credentials: Some of his biggest hits were covers (“Everybody’s Talkin'”), and he famously made massive fans out of both Lennon and McCartney. His version of “You Can’t Do That,” found on 1967’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, is actually a swinging mash-up of numerous Beatles tunes, weaving in nods to “Day Tripper,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and many more.
29. Rubblebucket, “Michelle” (2010)
Brooklyn art-pop act Rubblebucket bring McCartney’s French-filled love ballad to the dance floor, adding piles of percussion, echoing vocal effects and heaps of horns.
28. The Breeders, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” (1990)
The Breeders approached this demented White Album track with a masterful balance of light and dark, tension and release. Chromatic guitar licks, droning bass, bone-dry drums, frantic bursts of ride cymbal — all captured with the unfussy, live-in-the-room engineering of Steve Albini.
27. Gryphon, “Mother Nature’s Son” (1975)
This sadly obscure prog-folk act adds a medieval atmosphere to McCartney’s fingerpicked acoustic ballad, filling in the quieter spaces with colorful flourishes of crumhorn and recorder. On paper, it sounds like a radical reinvention, but Gryphon’s tasteful take never strays from the main theme.
26. 801, “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1976)
Brian Eno linked up with his former Roxy Music bandmate Phil Manzanera for 801, a shortly lived project featuring a crew of journeymen prog/fusion players. Their debut live LP includes, among their originals, an art-funk spin on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” highlighted by a bonkers bass performance from Bill MacCormick and the spiraling keys of Eno and Francis Monkman.
25. Joe Cocker, “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” (1969)
“With a Little Help From My Friends” has become Joe Cocker‘s signature Beatles cover (see below), thanks in part to its placement on The Wonder Years. But with its more controlled vocal and dark chorus chord changes, his version of “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” is in the same ballpark of quality.
24. Al Green, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (1969)
It’s a roller coaster ride that feels like it could go off the rails at any moment — but in the most thrilling way possible. Al Green seems to have only a faint impression of the lyrics, but his funky vocalizations make a stronger impression than a straight delivery would have anyway.
23. Marvin Gaye, “Yesterday” (1970)
Marvin Gaye offered a done-to-death ballad the full Motown treatment, and suddenly it felt new again. If the twangy guitars and cinematic vibraphone don’t get you, the falsetto is sure to seal the deal.
22. Lone Star, “She Said, She Said” (1976)
Lone Star — the Welsh hard-prog band, not the country group Lonestar — stretched out the psychedelic Revolver tune into a kaleidoscopic, eight-minute journey of wah-wah, blustery belting and cosmic synth.
21. Ghost, “Here Comes the Sun” (2010)
The sun’s return doesn’t feel so jovial in Ghost‘s deliciously ghoulish version, which appears as a bonus track on their debut LP, 2010’s Opus Eponymous. The Swedish hard rockers play up that minor-key shift, thematically and sonically, with singer Tobias Forge beckoning in a soothing yet gloomy tone.
20. Elton John, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” (1975)
Lennon himself added some reggae guitar to Elton John‘s glammed-up cover of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” appearing on the credits under the pseudonym “Dr. Winston O’Boogie.” But the chart-topping single is more than a Beatles footnote — John’s stadium-sized rendition has a vibe all its own.
19. Joe Cocker, “With a Little Help From My Friends” (1969)
As the second track on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, this Ringo Starr-sung ditty functioned as a jovial, low-stakes greeting into the Beatles’ psych-pop dreamworld. But soul-rock belter Joe Cocker transformed the quirkiness into something deeper and more poignant — he sings this request for friendship like his very life depends on the reciprocity.
18. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, “And I Love Her” (1970)
The melody feels destined for this kind of big-budget, cinematic soul singer treatment, and the Miracles deliver the goods. The group’s blooming harmonies are enough to earn their spot on the list, but Smokey Robinson’s caress of a vocal puts it on another plane of beauty.
17. The Feelies, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” (1980)
One of Lennon’s most gonzo rockers gets a post-punk face-lift. The Feelies speed up the tempo, straighten out the dual-guitar jerkiness and layer in some bonus clanking percussion amid the frantic riffs and barked vocals.
16. Bill Withers, “Let It Be” (1971)
Bill Withers brings out the pure gospel in McCartney’s dreamlike ballad, crooning a pitch-perfect, butter-smooth vocal while Booker T. Jones lays down some rippling Hammond organ.
15. Nina Simone, “Here Comes the Sun” (1971)
Nina Simone also sprinkled magic on “Revolution,” but her languid take on “Here Comes the Sun” is next-level. The vibe is jazzy, atmospheric and slightly melancholy, with her voice quivering atop a quilt of harpsichord, strings, harp and brushed drums. In Harrison’s original, the sun served as a symbol of cyclical optimism; in Simone’s version, those rays are beckoning a bit further away in the sky, peering through clouds.
14. Yellow Magic Orchestra, “Day Tripper” (1979)
Japanese electronic trio Yellow Magic Orchestra re-imagined “Day Tripper”‘s chiming riffs with analog synth squiggles and programmed drums. That robotic aesthetic breathed new life into a staple.
13. Dave Grohl/Jeff Lynne, “Hey Bulldog” (2014)
Two generations of rock star Beatles fans, Foo Fighters‘ Dave Grohl and ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne, teamed up to harmonize this underrated Yellow Submarine anthem during the band’s 2014 Night That Changed America Grammy salute on CBS. (Peter Frampton and Toto‘s Steve Lukather rounded out the wall-of-sound guitar army as part of the evening’s house band.)
12. Steve Hillage, “It’s All Too Much” (1976)
The former Gong guitarist may have recorded the definitive version of “It’s All Too Much,” beefing up the LSD-inspired Yellow Submarine ditty into the psychedelic journey it could have originally been.
11. Paul McCartney/Eric Clapton, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2002)
The closest possible thing to a Beatles reunion occurred toward the end of Concert for George, with Eric Clapton — who played the studio guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — recruiting McCartney and Starr (along with Beatles contributor Billy Preston, Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison and a stage full of other musicians) for the White Album track.
10. Yes, “Every Little Thing” (1969)
“We just went and put on a show, [doing] songs we really liked,” Yes singer Jon Anderson recalled to Maximum Ink in 2015, detailing the band’s early prog-rock energy that informed their self-titled 1968 debut. “We did Jimmy Webb songs from the Fifth Dimension album; we did a Beatles song, ‘Every Little Thing,’ but we jazzed it up and did it more like a driving force song.”
9. Esperanto, “Eleanor Rigby” (1975)
Belgo-English prog act Esperanto could have easily tossed out the lyrics and made this one an original — its surging violins, wailing guitars and shifting time signatures have little to do with the Revolver cut. But what imagination! If only the record-purchasing public had paid attention.
8. Booker T. & the M.G.’s, “Medley: ‘Sun King,’ ‘Mean Mr. Mustard,’ ‘Polythene Pam,’ ‘She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,’ ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)'” (1970)
Stax Records’ resident groove crew was so riveted by Abbey Road, they decided to cover almost the entire thing — only six months after the album’s initial release. The result was McLemore Avenue, which offered the LP a Southern soul face-lift through a series of revamped medleys and instrumental workouts. Booker T.’s organ brings some gospel flair to “Mean Mr. Mustard,” and Steve Cropper’s bent-note crunch on “I Want You” is downright nasty.
7. Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne/Steve Winwood/Prince, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2004)
Prince tended to take center stage for any collaborative performance, even if he wasn’t physically center stage. For the bulk of this all-star “Gently Weeps,” honoring Harrison at his 2004 Rock Hall induction, the Purple One spends the majority of the song off-camera, strumming alongside Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Dhani Harrison and Steve Winwood (on organ). Then comes the 3:28 mark: Prince annihilates a solo full of orgasmic squeals and furious noise, culminating with the most iconic guitar toss in rock history. (As seen in the clip, the instrument doesn’t appear to descend after he launches it into the heavens — spawning a legend of its own.)
6. The Brothers Johnson, “Come Together” (1976)
The song was just waiting to be funkified, and the Brothers Johnson took up the mantle on their debut LP, Look Out for #1. The duo’s “Come Together” replaces Ringo Starr‘s tumbling drum fill with a strutting backbeat, adding some extra fire to the swampy main riff.
5. Bobby McFerrin, “Blackbird” (1984)
On his streak of landmark LPs and concerts in the early ’80s, Bobby McFerrin redefined the boundaries of one human voice — and the meaning of “solo artist.” This version of “Blackbird” is a perfect introduction to his virtuosic technique: an unaccompanied a cappella performance blending low bass notes with high falsettos, augmented with finger snaps, whistles, scatting and bird sound effects — and achieved only through dizzying breath control.
4. Anoushka Shankar/Jeff Lynne, “The Inner Light” (2002)
A testament to Harrison’s profound love of Indian music, The Concert for George opens with a mini-set led by sitar player Anoushka Shankar, daughter of Ravi and half-sister of Norah Jones. Shankar teams with Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison for a spellbinding version of “The Inner Light,” originally issued in 1968 as the “Lady Madonna” B-side.
3. Earth, Wind & Fire, “Got to Get You Into My Life” (1978)
The 1978 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film was a colossal disaster, staining the resumés of its high-profile cast. The soundtrack was another story: Earth, Wind & Fire breathed new life into Revolver‘s grooviest track with complex horn flourishes and velvety vocals.
2. Wilson Pickett (with Duane Allman), “Hey Jude” (1969)
Wilson Pickett’s gravelly belting and full-on screaming brings tension and urgency to the relatively smooth “Hey Jude,” and his backing band – including the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman — elevate the performance to an all-time classic.
1. Stevie Wonder, “We Can Work It Out” (1970)
You can’t improve upon perfection, but who better than Stevie Wonder to attempt the impossible? He approaches “We Can Work It Out” with an equal ratio of reverence and rejuvenation — adding some new details (a harmonica solo), subtracting others (the original’s mid-chorus 3/4 shift) and belting an elastic R&B vocal that radiates pure joy.