There’s probably no other band that has inspired as many cover versions of their songs as The Beatles. In fact, we made that point ourselves in a couple of recent playlists. But the Fab Four didn’t emerge fully formed from the void; there were plenty of artists who had a heavy-duty influence on their music, and in the band’s early years they paid frequent tribute to those inspirations by recording covers of their favorite tunes, usually by R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and country artists of the ’50s and early ’60s, but with the occasional detour as well. From Bakersfield to Broadway to Motown and beyond, here’s a chance to hone in on a couple of handfuls of the best Beatles cuts of songs by other artists.
1. “Act Naturally”
This is the song that puts an end to all those debates about whether it was The Byrds or The Flying Burrito Brothers who invented country rock. A bunch of Brits beat them all to the punch by putting Ringo up front for a twangy take on this Buck Owens tune.
2. “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”
This wasn’t the only song by 1950s New Orleans R&B star Larry Williams that The Beatles covered — they did a damn fine job on his “Slow Down” too — but Lennon’s feral howl gives this one the edge. And that serpentine guitar lick is tough to resist.
3. “Honey Don’t”
The Fab Four had a serious Carl Perkins fixation; they covered three songs by the rockabilly pioneer. This is arguably the best of the lot, and it offers up more fodder for Ringo lovers by placing him in the driver’s seat once more. All these decades later, it’s still tough to suppress a grin upon hearing him exhort, “Rock on George, one time for me.”
4. “Long Tall Sally”
Lennon wasn’t the only one with a lupine wail that could raise the hairs on the back of your neck. McCartney was always able to let out a raw-throated rock ‘n’ roll roar with the best of them. And when you’re tackling a Little Richard tune, that ability comes in handy.
5. “Money (That’s What I Want)”
Motown tunesmith Barrett Strong’s own version of his song was released in 1959 and became the label’s first hit. The Beatles’ cover wasn’t a single, but between Ringo’s martial beat and Lennon’s down-and-dirty delivery, their take on the tune probably lodged itself into even more people’s memories than the original.
6. “Please Mr. Postman”
When it came to covers, The Beatles never limited themselves to songs popularized by guys. The Marvelettes’ 1961 version of this tune was one of the definitive Motown girl group hits, but the Fabs found an entirely natural-sounding way to make it their own.
7. “Roll Over Beethoven”
Every band under the sun has covered Chuck Berry at some point, but the ones who made it count can be numbered on the fingers of a single hand. Unsurprisingly, The Beatles are on that short list; they probably wouldn’t have existed if not for Berry’s innovations and influence, and their passion for his music rings out loud and clear here.
8. “Some Other Guy”
Richie Barrett, who wrote this tune along with the legendary Leiber & Stoller, recorded the original version in 1961. Not long afterwards, everybody on the early Merseybeat scene was covering it, including our lads. They never made a studio recording of it, but you can catch them digging into it on the historic bit of video that marks both their only filmed Cavern Club appearance and their first footage with Ringo, who’d been in the band for all of a week at that time.
9. “Till There Was You”
Everybody knows there was more to The Beatles than their R&B and rock ‘n’ roll influences. Don’t forget, these guys were old enough to have pre-rock childhoods, and they soaked up plenty of other sounds. So McCartney’s attraction to a Broadway show tune from The Music Man wasn’t an anomaly at all.
10. “Twist and Shout”
Which was better — The Isley Brothers’ original take on this Bert Berns/Phil Medley composition or The Beatles’ recording? With a jaw-dropping band including King Curtis, Eric Gale, Cornell Dupree, and Chuck Rainey, The Isleys’ version is funkier, but Lennon sounds more likely to have his spleen come out of his throat while he’s singing, and if that’s not rock ‘n’ roll, what is?
Photo: The Beatles by Fox Photos / Stringer courtesy Getty Images