10 Best Beatles Covers by Alternative Rockers
Ask any alternative rock musician, “What band is your biggest influence?” and while some might say the Beach Boys, Kinks or Pixies, they almost certainly owe a debt to the Beatles, whether they know it or not. The Beatles are it — if you want to argue the Rolling Stones are superior or more influential, you’re dead wrong — and just about every artist on the planet has covered a Fab Four tune at some point. Few of these versions compare to the originals, but some do, and what follows are the 10 Best Beatles Covers by Alternative Rockers.
You may have caught Brooklyn-based Rubblebucket at festivals like Mountain Jam 2013, but if not, you need to check them out right now. Their creative rendering of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul French/English classic “Michelle” is a good place to start. Lead singer Kalmia Traver has her way with the time signature, filling the space of the main melody as she pleases — and to awesome effect. Better still: RB’s version is totally horny — i.e. full of the sax and trumpet that help make the band so fun to see live and listen to in the comforts of your own room.
“All You Need Is Love”
If you only know Nada Surf as that band behind the ’90s novelty hit “Popular,” consider yourself in time out. Go sit in the corner and think about your error. The Surf released some of the best power-pop albums of the ’00s (“Let Go,” “The Weight Is a Gift,” “Lucky”), and they recorded this fantastic cover of “All You Need Is Love,” No. 9 on our list of the Best Beatles Covers by Alternative Rockers, back in 2006. Lead singer Matthew Caws’ vocal range is the exact right fit — and he takes on the “She Loves You” line over the outro with perfect grace.
Ben Kweller seems like one of those dudes who geeks out on the Beatles all the time — whether listening through earbuds on his iPod or getting all audophile on his turntable. Here, he and Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. absolutely nail “Wait,” from the Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul, recreating everything from the multi-part harmonies to the way it slows down at the end. Wow.
Gomez’s version of the upbeat Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band classic (which actually has some really creepy lyrics about beating a woman and keeping her in isolation) is one of two perfect covers the band has done. This one appears on their 2000 odds-and-sods album Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline, and the other is their take on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones. The best part of their crack at “Better” is the introduction of slide guitar into the verse. So, so intelligent.
“She Said She Said”
What’s great about the Black Keys’ cover of the Beatles’ “She Said She Said” is they give it a more bluesy, soulful spin. It’s almost as if they stripped the drugs out of the original, got it sober and then filled it up to the brim with moonshine. As the story goes, the idea for the lyrics came from an acid-induced conversation between Easy Rider actor Peter Fonda and some of the equally zonked Beatles. Fonda apparently said he knew what it was like to be dead — hence the similar lyric in the song.
On this 1983 single, which reached No. 3 in the U.K., Siouxsie & the Banshees do a wicked — and by this, we mean totally witchy and awesome — cover of the Beatles’ White Album gem. The goth icons nail it with a chorus-drenched 12-string lead guitar lick that sounds frighteningly close to the Traveling Wilburys’ rhythm part in their classic “Handle With Care.”
“Across the Universe”
Thanks to the natural vibrato in his vocals, the perfect complement to John Lennon’s vocal performance on the original ‘Across the Universe,’ Rufus Wainwright outdoes Fiona Apple’s version of the same song. Whereas Apple’s is a pretty straight reading, Rufus lets the track build, introducing new layers of instrumentation as the song moves forward. It’s a huge moment for an underrated artist.
“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”
The Breeders are best known for their surprise hit “Cannonball,” which has that super-sick bass line, and for featuring Kim Deal of the Pixies. But they also did a great cover of the Beatles’ ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ — one of the band’s oddest songs, both in terms of time signature shifts and lyrics — on their super-underrated album Pod. Don’t you just love it when the sound gets all loud when mother superior jumps the gun?
“Two of Us”
The singers behind No. 2 on our list of the 10 Best Beatles Covers by Alternative Rockers are married, and in addition to having a Cute Index of 10, Michael Penn and Aimee Mann‘s “Two of Us” is nearly a perfect rendering of the original. The Let It Be version is a duet between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who at the time were not really getting along. So it’s a fun retake coming from two people so obviously in love. The only marked change is the key — as Mann and Penn alter it to fit their vocal range.
Here, Elliott Smith comes about as close to achieving a modern-day amalgam of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds/Smile-era harmonies and the Beatles universally lauded rock aesthetic as any indie rocker has come. The beginning is done a cappella, which is pretty much an impossible feat to accomplish. Just listen for a second to realize how in tune Smith is. It’s shockingly good, and it tops our list of the Best Beatles Covers by Alternative Rockers, no questions asked. Such a shame he’s not around anymore.