The latest merry crew to get their grubby mitts on The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ consists of The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus, MGMT and Tame Impala. Wayne Coyne’s psychedelic line-up are already in the studio; Coyne posted this photo of Cyrus who’ll appear on the album alongside MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden with a remake of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’.
It sounds terrible. But they’re far from the first bunch of rock stars convinced they can do justice to The Beatles strange and charming concept album. In 1998 NME released a cover album for Childline called ‘Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father’ and Wet Wet Wet’s cover ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ reached number one. In 2007 Radio 2 gathered loads of bands – Oasis, Kaiser Chiefs, The Killers, Razorlight, James Morrison, Travis and The Fratellis – to pay tribute to the album on its 40th anniversary. A couple of years later the Easy Star All-Stars released ‘Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band.’ None of these versions have aged particularly well; no one needs a Fratelli’s version of ‘She’s Leaving Home’. But, if you had to, who would you choose for a DIY Sgt Pepper’s album? Here’s some suggestions.
1. ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’
This may already exist but few could trump Jimi Hendrix’s version of the opening track. He performed it the same week the album was released to an audience that included George Harrison and Paul McCartney, who was thrilled with the tribute. “The curtains flew back and he came walking forward playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career.”
2. ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’
Ringo Starr’s epic has been covered by everyone from Sesame Street to, most famously, Joe Cocker. Its ubiquity would need to be sonically smashed apart to give it power anew. I suggest Slipknot or Palma Violets.
3. ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’
We can all imagine what this’ll sound like with Wayne Coyne at the helm: a trippy, swooshy, psychedelic soup that’s faithful to the original. Young Thug would be way better. The Atlanta singer/rapper has got one of weirdest and most intriguing voices that’s come out in recent years. With soulful yelps, strange hawks, whining growls and insistent rhymes, he’d put an interesting spin on LSD.
4. ‘Getting Better’
The key to finding a good artist to cover is ‘Getting Better’ is an artist with a high register. And who’s got the greatest falsetto in popular music? Probably Matt Bellamy.
5. ‘Fixing a Hole’
A reformed Hole, obvs.
6. ‘She’s Leaving Home’
Poignant, gentle, disturbing and potent, ‘She’s Leaving Home’ is the keystone of Sgt. Pepper. You need an artist with a spine-tinglingly beautiful voice and since this is a hypothetical blog, I’d say the late Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake would be perfect
7. ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’
One the one hand, there’s a clownish goonery to ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ that’s somewhat charming, on the other it’s the only bum note on an otherwise perfect album. The Bee Gees made a solid attempt at a cover but it still comes off incredibly gauche. Who better, then, than Tim Hecker to work his drone magic on the track in some strange, experimental re-work?
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1. ‘Within You Without You’
Oasis’s whine-psych version is perhaps the most famous of all the covers so far. I’d go for Lorde, who’s got one of the most interesting voices in music at the moment. Fun fact: did you know Stephen Stills was so impressed with the lyrics that he had them carved on a stone monument in his yard?
2. ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’
Let’s take this opportunity to manifest a dream duet. I’d go for Skrillex and Prince. Funk, womp, jazz and Prince Rogers Nelson on vocals.
3. ‘Lovely Rita’
The Beatles paean to a female traffic warden was actually about a real person. A warden called Meta Davies gave Paul McCartney a ticket outside Abbey Road. The track directly inspired Pink Floyd’s ‘Pow R. Toc H.’ Working in Abbey Road at the same time, they overheard and later used the voice effects and noises such as the band playing comb and paper. One of the most interesting artists working with field recordings and samples today is Jon Hopkins so I’d put him in the driving seat.
4. ‘Good Morning Good Morning’
Blur. It’s got be Blur. Which other band has a member with a farm? The cockerel crow and then noises from birds, a cat, a dog, a cow, a horse, a sheep, a lion, an elephant, and a group of bloodhounds (!) would be provided by Alex James’s farm. Second, Coxon could scuzz it up with his frayed guitar and Damon would provide tongue-in-cheek, drawling vocals.
5. ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)’
6. ‘A Day in the Life’
I’m sure plenty of readers would say The Libertines did justice to one of the greatest album closers of all time for the 40th anniversary. And, yeah, it isn’t so bad. I’d like to see Courtney Barnett cover it though. She’s got a similarly surreal and twisted way of looking at the world as well as a stunning way of bringing life to a lyrical narrative. Just check out The Lemonheads cover she did for us a while back.
So who’d you pick for the ultimate 100% unofficial Sgt. Pepper covers album?