Are you a day tripper or a wild honey pie? A fan of ‘Hey Bulldog’ or ‘Hey Jude’? Everyone has their favourite track by The Beatles so we rounded up the usual rock suspects’ choice of Beatles songs they envy, cover or adore into a frankly fab Top 100.
Credit to the Pixies for taking something that barely qualifies as a song and turning it into something ferocious. A staple of the band’s early live sets and later released on 1998’s ‘Pixies at the BBC’, theirs is a caustic, snarling reinterpretation of a track that, on the face of it, doesn’t appear to contain all that much to interpret.
Liam: “Lennon’s voice when he sings it is the one for me. It was one of those demos he did in India or somewhere with George Harrison [nb. Liam’s wrong here, it’s a solo Lennon demo from his Dakota days – Beatles Ed]. But the rest of them all mixed it again around the time of ‘Free As A Bird’. I love it.”
Saul: “I love ‘Anna’, it’s a beautiful song. It’s got a real rousing chorus. Me and Nathan lived in Barcelona in the summer and we were busking, we used to busk that song and play it ten times a day every day, that and ‘Crying’ by Roy Orbison. It’s a simple song, it’s just a great song, it’s good to sing.”
“The Beatles need to be rescued from the clammy clutches of the heritage industry. They were properly serious about their art and truly innovated. Take ‘Blue Jay Way’. That song is just weird, it seems to grow, dream-like out of the fog it references never finding a true shape but somehow living just at the edge of consciousness.”
The Killers’ shortened version of the song was played live at the Isle of Wight in 2013, where frontman Brandon Flowers changed the lyrics (“In the summer we can see The Killers at the Isle of Wight”) to fit the occasion.
'You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)' represents The Beatles at their most pure. It sounds weightless, a bit like the band themselves at that point - unable to come down from the Everest-like highs they'd scaled since 1962. It was 'only' a b-side, yet it’s delivered with 100% conviction.
Genghar: “When exploring music at a young age I remember this song's weird change of time signatures and rhythm between sections confusing me as to how it was able to exist as one song, but it just does. The sound of the drums and the rhythm reminds me of an early hip hop sound, I’m surprised I haven't heard it sampled yet.”
‘Dig a Pony’ has made appearances in Annie Clark’s live sets since 2007, and her bluesy, almost skeletal-sounding, take on the song - which strips away everything except the electric guitar - is one of those rare Beatles covers that may actually improve on the original.
Jake Bugg’s rendition is sparser than both that version and the Decca original, which featured Pete Best on drums and was eventually released on ‘Anthology I’. Just with acoustic guitar, he gives this rough diamond of a song a polish. Jake: “It’s actually a Silver Beatles song from before they were The Beatles, and it’s a great track.”
Written by Paul as a fun look at the duality of human nature, John didn’t half get in a grump about ‘Hello, Goodbye’, due to the fact it was released as a single over ‘I Am The Walrus’. It was an unusual selection for The Cure to cover for ‘The Art Of McCartney’ 2008 tribute album but they put their sunniest face on for it.
Van: "I'm a sucker for songs which are just about wanting a woman, like when they sing ‘Please believe me’, McCartney sounds like he's on his knees begging. The amount of times I've watched my Mum fuming at my Dad, they've had a drink, and he's going: 'I love you, Mary. Come and have a dance with me.'"
Gary: “Here’s testament to how powerful that song is – I was on a plane watching an Adam Sandler movie. Sandler was covering ‘Real Love’ for whatever reason and I was in tears! And the fact that it’s taken from a rough demo, there’s something so perfect about that.”
"I'm quite pleased to be doing that because it's not one that people immediately think about a Beatles song,” Coxon said when covering it, “so it's a sort of a soul song, which has its own challenges. Although I'm not a soul singer, maybe I should have gargled some rice crispies to get a rough voice going, cause I'm not very gravelly."
“I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace,” Lennon revealed about this strange song that manages to marry a brilliant pop tune with a personal story of pain and transformation, fitting a range of emotions into less than three minutes.
Sam: “That was one of the first songs I ever learnt on guitar, my old guitar teacher taught me it when I was very young in primary school and it was one of the best melodies I’d ever heard in my life at that point. It really struck me at the time.”
Kristian: “My favourite part of The Beatles is Paul McCartney’s silliness. His sense of humour, his really vague storytelling and how whimsical it all is. That song sounds like Tiny Tim to me and I really like Tiny Tim. I like how he goes high-pitched at the end. The guitar part was easy as well.”
Cobain’s version, premiering in Nirvana documentary Montage Of Heck, promises to be a highlight. “That was a true find,” director Brett Morgan told Paste, “it’s significant for two things. One, it had never been heard. And two, you have to kind of smile when you realise he’s doing a Paul McCartney song instead of a Lennon song.”
Its lush, dreamy approach is in part down to the song it’s based on, ‘I’m Wishing’ from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which John’s mum Julia regularly sang to him when he was little. Ryan: “It’s just too sweet, it’s beautiful. You can serenade anyone with that tune.”
David: ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ is a Smokey Robinson cover on the second Beatles album and it’s brilliant. I’m not a huge Motown fan but they play it fantastically. They're having so much fun and that’s a lot more appealing to me than when they get druggy and studio-y and clever.”
Only Real: “This is such a sweet song, its so simple and intimate, just George speaking his mind on his lady telling him that she doesn’t want his lovin anymore. Like a lot of songs by The Beatles its pretty short but in its two and a half minutes you can really sense his loneliness.”
Father John Misty: “Lyrically what is really great about John Lennon is this sort of dialogue between the absurd and the absurdly plain spoken. He has this economy of language where he just knows how to say exactly what he means in a way that isn’t banal.”
Britt: "My favorite song on The White Album and, for my money, one of the most effective uses of strings on any Beatles recording. The crescendo on ‘’A Day In the Life’ is a great achievement, but the mood set here by this string section has always hit me harder. That's some drama.”
Ineffably jaunty, ‘The Word’ saw The Beatles diving heart-first into the mood of the decade, with the word in question being ‘love’. “The Word was written together, but it’s mainly mine,” commented John years later. “You read the words, it’s all about getting smart. It’s the marijuana period. It’s the love-and-peace thing.”
A bluesy two-and-a-half minute return to the Beatles’ 50s-inspired rock ‘n’ roll roots that found its way onto ‘The White Album’, on an album threaded with experimentation and amid rumours of in-fighting, ‘Birthday’ was loose, spontaneous and feel-good. The traditional ‘Happy Birthday’ seems funereal by comparison.
Will Butler: “For world-weariness I really have to go to the Beatles. There have been whole weeks where I've woken up and gone to sleep singing ‘I'm So Tired’. Weariness is almost a more important emotion than love some weeks.”
Albert Hammond, Jr and Ben Kweller’s version hews pretty close to the spirit of the original. Not that such obeisance should come as much of a surprise, considering that Kweller’s father started indoctrinating his son with Beatles records when he was still only a baby.
Much of 1964’s ‘Beatles For Sale’ took subtle cues from country music, but ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ held its influence stronger than anything the group had done before. McCartney sweetly spins a tale of serendipity, recounting an encounter that’s left him lovesick.
Dominic: “I think it might be the first non-single of theirs I fell in love with. I think this song was written at a time when their Indian influence was in its infancy. Although the sitars and tablas haven't turned up, you can hear McCartney drifting into New Dehli with his vocal at the end.”
The version played live by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Jeremy Gara and Tim Kingsbury in 2014 (under the name Phi Slamma Jamma) is delivered with a garage-rock coarseness, a context in which the questionable lyrical sentiment (kind of) makes sense.
Jacco: “I love the vocal melody with those chords that take you into that amazing dark, mysterious chorus which then ends on a more light and hopeful chord. All the instrumental parts are great too, especially using more unusual instruments like the recorder or bass harmonica in a pop song like this is a great choice.”
'The White Album' features two tracks firmly rooted in the uniquely British tradition: the Transatlantic fairy tale 'Honey Pie' and 'Martha My Dear'. If the mood was vitriolic, the music didn't reflect it: wan in the verses, urgent in the choruses and lushly orchestrated throughout – the seeds for Wings were sewn here.
Andre 3000 recreated the Hendrix performance of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s…’ from 1967 while playing Jimi in All Is By My Side. The director Danny Bramson pushed Andre hard to relive the performance. “My code word throughout the film was we weren’t going to be a replication but an interpretation of what Jimi would’ve played.”
Thom: “I’ve always loved this song as it’s a point where we hear three sounds coming together, the end of the rock’n’roll, the beginning of the rock and the eternal pop. I’ve always wondered which came first, did they say: ‘We need a hook to go with this car song,’ or ‘We need a car song to go with that beep beep hook?’”
Chris: “We played it at Rou’s cousin's wedding once, completely oblivious to the sentiment behind it! We were only about 11 years old and we'd just started learning how to play our instruments, so we did this, a few other Beatles numbers, some Oasis and some Lightning Seeds.”
‘Savoy Truffle’ is a typically off-kilter track from the pen of George Harrison. Brilliantly, it’s about his close personal showbiz chum Eric Clapton’s addiction to sweets. “He was over at my house and I had a box of Good News chocolates on the table and wrote the song from the names inside the lid,” George later explained.
“We were trying to write a children’s song,” said Paul McCartney in 1969 of ‘Yellow Submarine'. “There's nothing more to be read into it than there is in the lyrics of any children's song." Nonetheless, over time, the song has been subject to many interpretations, including by Donovan of ‘Mellow Yellow’ fame.”
Julie: “I used to listen to this on repeat during my teenage years. The way Paul's voice blends with the strings and heavenly backup vocals gives me goosebumps. It's just like room temperature vanilla pudding (the US goopy kind) - so utterly bland and yet so comforting and necessary in its squishiness.”
Jack White’s cover, which segues into McCartney’s 1970 track ‘That Would Be Something’, is minimalist, and was played live at the White House as part of an event for McCartney. Barack Obama was in the audience, of course, but so was McCartney, which might explain why White spends the performance looking anywhere but the front row.
Bez: “I was doing the bed-in and so I ended up listening to the Beatles music and George’s Indian songs like ‘Love You To’, it was a little reminiscence of childhood youth.”
Gus: "It's so pop-y and fun and has this really wicked guitar riff, it's so catchy. It's a classic 'I love this girl' song and there's an innocence to it that is quintessentially early Beatles."
Rou: “When you listen to this song, it sounds so simple, but it’s such a brilliant melody – so beautiful and so clever. And it’s got that great backwards guitar effect on there, too.”
Ross: “A lot of people think it’s cool to like The Beatles in the later era but I really liked them as a boyband, when they were the equivalent of a boyband today. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is my favourite album as well.”
‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ was banned by the BBC for perceived references to heroin in the line “I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down”, which perhaps piqued the interest of The Breeders, who made their version of the song a centrepiece of their 1990 debut album ‘Pod’.
The attention-grabbing first song on ‘The White Album’, this McCartney song cribbed its title from Chuck Berry’s ‘Back In The USA’, but added a particularly controversial twist, especially considering the fact that it was written in the midst of the Cold War. Kieran: “It’s rocking. It’s fucking rock’n’roll.”
Beth: “A song of frustration and continuing down a bad path because the taste of fruit that hangs is enough to make us forget the affects of its poison. It is the struggle for instant gratification as apposed to long-term peace of mind. It's one more cigarette before we quit.”
Harry: “That’s my favourite Beatles song definitely, hands down, 100 times over. It’s just the perfect song – digestible, it’s only a couple of minutes long. It’s just so perfect every lyric, every line in it, every word is so simple and well placed.”
Its unrelenting heaviness offset by John and George’s uplifting backing “aaaah”s, ‘Helter Skelter’ is credited with launching the zeppelin of solid led and kicking off a decade of horny hard rock. Kyle: “It invented heavy metal.”
Mat: “I really love ‘Because’. That’s just one of those pieces of music you hear and you think they almost created a whole genre and did it once and didn’t bother again.”
While the subject matter of ‘Eight Days A Week’ may have been traditional, the methods were certainly not, and the result was another made-for-radio classic, its razor-sharp chorus featuring a call-and-response segment made even more irresistible by the genius inclusion of overdubbed handclaps.
Here was one of Lennon’s first subversive and mischievous attempts to get the radio to broadcast blatant drug propaganda and turn the UK into a nation of third-eye rubbers taking the psychotropic express elevator to higher understanding. Shaun: “Brilliant bassline.”