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The Originals: Beatles

 

With the Beatles’ incredible achievements in mind, it is easy to forget that three of the Beatles’ first four albums were topped up with fillers, many of them cover versions — which is quite ironic since the Beatles went on to become the most covered band ever. Some of these covers are better known in their original versions; the Little Richard and Chuck Berry compositions and Motown classics, for example. Some are generic classics (A Taste Of Honey; Till There Was You), and some are fairly obscure, or would become so.

In this instalment of The Originals, we look at the lesser-known first recordings of songs covered by The Beatles on their albums or singles.

 

Twist And Shout
Twist And Shout is probably the most famous cover by The Beatles, and is most commonly associated with them. And rightly so: their take is rock & roll perfection. It was based on the 1962 cover by the Isley Brothers, who introduced the rhythm guitar riff (which borrows heavily from Richie Valens’ La Bamba) and the “ah-ah-ah” harmonies, to which the Beatles added the Little Richardesque “wooo”.

The song was written by the legendary Bert Berns (sometimes credited to his pseudonym Bert Russell) with Phil Medley. Berns gave Twist And Shout to The Top Notes  —  a Philadelphia R&B group which might have been forgotten entirely otherwise  —  whose recording was produced by a very young Phil Spector.

The result did not please Berns, who accused Spector of “fucking it up”. He was a bit harsh on young Phil; the Top Notes’ version is not bad, but Berns had hoped for something a more energetic. So he took the song to the reluctant Isley Brothers, who had scored a hit two years earlier with the driving Shout, which had the kind of sound Berns imagined for his song.  Their Twist And Shout, which Berns produced, became a US #17 hit and is included here as a bonus track.

At about the same time as the Beatles’ version of Twist And Shout came out, another one was released by Brian Poole & the Tremeloes  —  the band Decca signed instead of the Beatles.

 

Chains
Another US #17 hit found its way on the Please Please Me album, recorded during the same session that produced Twist And Shout. The Cookies at the time were Little Eva’s back-up singers (and, later, Ray Charles’) who occasionally released singles themselves.

Apart from the Top 20 success of Chains, they had a top 10 hit with Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby). The Cookies were the first band to record the later Drifters hit On Broadway (their unreleased version featured as a bonus on The Originals: Soul, and lead singer Earl-Jean appeared in The Originals: 1960s as the original singer of Herman’s Hermits I’m Into Something Good.

Chains was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and was first recorded by the Everly Brothers in July 1962, three months before The Cookies did their version. But the Everly Brothers’ recording went unreleased until 1984. It is included here as a bonus track.

Soon after The Cookies had their hit, The Beatles (and other Merseyside bands) included it in their concerts. On Please Please Me, it is one of two songs that feature George Harrison on vocals, with John taking over the lead guitar and Harrison on rhythm guitar.

 

Anna
Few artists will have had their original songs covered by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. Arthur Alexander did. We have already observed that Elvis covered Burning Love (though Alexander didn’t write that one), Dylan covered Sally Sue Brown (in 1988), the Stones covered his You Better Move On (in 1964), and the Beatles his song Anna on their debut album. The Fabs also used to perform three other Alexander songs in concert.

Not bad for a soul singer who died in relative obscurity in 1993, aged only 53. Some people even suggest that Alexander influenced John Lennon’s vocal style. McCartney in a 1987 interview said that in those early days, the group wanted to be like Arthur Alexander.

Alexander’s far superior version of Anna was not a big hit, even as it featured the great country pianist Floyd Cramer, whose keyboard riffs Harrison replicates on guitar. It did make the R&B Top 10, but stalled at #68 in the Billboard charts. Released in September 1962, the Beatles  —  clearly already fans  —  soon included it in their concert repertoire, and eventually recorded it in three takes on February 11, 1963, just over five weeks before their debut album was released.

Strangely, once it had been committed to record, Anna was dropped from the concert setlists. Note by the way that neither Alexander nor the Beatles actually urge Anna to go to him.

A promo single of the Beatles’ version of Anna (backed with Ask Me Why) issued by the US label Vee Jay is said to be the rarest Beatles record, with only four copies known to exist. Vee Jay changed their mind about releasing Anna, going instead for Twist And Shout, since that was going to be performed on the Ed Sullivan Show.

 

I Call Your Name
It isn’t widely known that Lennon and McCartney wrote a bunch of songs for other artists. Best known of these are Cilla Black’s Step Inside Love (UK #8 in 1968), Peter & Gordon’s World Without Love (#1 in 1964) and Billy J. Kramer’s Bad To Me (#1 in 1963). The Beatles didn’t release any of these on their own records, but they did so with I Call Your Name, the b-side of Kramer’s Bad To Me.

John Lennon, who had written the song even before The Beatles were a thing, was unimpressed by the arrangement of Kramer’s version, and thought it was better than a b-side, and so had it recorded by The Beatles themselves, with Harrison’s lovely opening guitar riff and the cowbells. But it never improved on b-side status. It was rejected for A Hard Day’s Night, and appeared on the Long Tall Sally EP, as well as the US LP release Second Album.

Talking of #1 hits: Bad To Me’s three-week run at the top of the UK charts was toppled by The Beatles themselves, with She Loves Me (their second chart-topper). While the following year, Peter & Gordon’s World Without Love knocked The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love off #1.

 

I Wanna Be Your Man
Another song which Lennon/McCartney wrote for another band was I Wanna Be Your Man, apparently while the grateful recipients, The Rolling Stones, were sitting in a corner, observing the geniuses at work.

The story goes that the luckless Stones needed a catchy song when they bumped into McCartney in the street and told him of their woes. Paul then offered to finish a tune he had been working on, which the Stones could then record — and did so while Jagger & co were waiting.

I Wanna Be Your Man became the Stones’ second chart entry in November 1963. Its #12 peak beat that of their first hit, Come On, by nine places. After that, 14 consecutive Top 10 hits followed.

The Beatles recorded their version, with Ringo on vocals, in February 1964, after the Rolling Stones had enjoyed their run with it.

 

Words Of Love
The influence of Buddy Holly on The Beatles (and virtually every act of the British Invasion) is evident. It was a Holly song, That’ll Be The Day, which The Quarrymen performed on that famous acetate, and the name “Beatles” was a riff on the insect name of Buddy’s band, The Crickets. Yet, the Beatles recorded only one Holly song, the rather minor Words Of Love, which in Holly’s version was released as a single in Britain, but failed to dent the charts there.

Holly recorded Words Of Love on his own, putting each individual part (including his harmonies) to tape and then overdubbing them, apparently the first time that production method was used by a major artist.

It was not a hit for Holly in the US either. Instead it was recorded by The Diamonds, also in 1957, who enjoyed a #13 hit with it. The Diamonds, a Canadian group, were mostly used to score hits from cover versions of songs originally performed by black acts. Their version of Words Of Love was, well, different.

The Beatles’ lovely version, far superior to Buddy’s (never mind The Diamonds’) appeared on Beatles For Sale, having been recorded on October 18, 1964, with John and George harmonising on the vocals (sources differ on that; others say it’s Paul, not George), sounding not unlike the Everly Brothers. Paul, the big Holly fan, later recorded his own cover version of the song.

 

A Taste Of Honey
A Taste Of Honey was the title of a 1958 British kitchen-sink play by Shelagh Delaney (whose picture appeared on the single sleeve of The Smith’s Girlfriend In A Coma single). The play was adapted in 1960 for Broadway, with the addition of incidental music. The song that became known as A Taste Of Honey provided a recurring theme.

Among the cast of the Broadway production was Billy Dee Williams. Williams recorded the tune (already recorded an instrumental by Bobby Scott, which is included as a bonus track) set to lyrics in 1960, failing to generate pop music’s crowning moment.

Two years later, crooner Lenny Welch recorded the song. It was that version which Paul McCartney was familiar with when the Beatles included it in their live repertoire, and then on their debut album, on which McCartney duetted with himself.

 

Till There Was You
Whether or not one would regard this as a lesser-known original depends on one’s interest in showtunes. The Broadway aficionado will know Till There Was You as the song that ends Act 2 in the 1957 musical The Music Man, as the librarian (Barbara Cook) addresses the professor (Robert Preston). The soundtrack of the stage musical  —  it was made into a movie in 1962  —  was one of the biggest US sellers of the 1950s, as many musicals were in the days before pop LPs (which, as noted, the Beatles helped usher in).

Seven years before The Music Man hit Broadway, the Meredith Wilson composition was recorded as Til I Met You by Eileen Wilson, a star on the US television show Hit Parade TV.

Paul McCartney was not a big follower of Broadway as a young man; he was introduced to the song via Peggy Lee’s 1961 version (included as a bonus track), courtesy of a cousin. He later claimed to have been unaware until much later that the song originated from a musical. It was a firm fixture in the Beatles’ concert playlist, even during their second stint in Hamburg. They also played it at the unsuccessful Decca audition (the audition tapes, incidentally, show that poor Dick Rowe did not suffer a terrible lapse in judgment. The Beatles were not very good).

Having recorded it for their sophomore album, With The Beatles, the group played Till There Was You at the Royal Variety Performance, apparently giving the Queen Mother much pleasure. The old bat probably frowned soon after at Lennon’s exhortation for jewellery rattling (he had planned to say “rattle your fucking jewellery”, but wisely though disappointingly chickened out), and possibly did not dance on top of her seat to the next song, Twist And Shout.

 

Act Naturally
Appearing on Help!, Act Naturally was the Beatles’ final cover version, if one ignores Let It Be’s Maggie May. The other remake on Help!, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, had been recorded a month earlier. So we mark June 17, 1965 as the day the Beatles became an exclusively original band.

Act Naturally was a nod to Ringo’s fine performance in A Hard Day’s Night (and, indeed, in Help!), though the lyrics have less to do with impending stardom than with the feeling of rejection. Originally recorded by Buck Owens in 1963, it topped the country charts. In 1989, Ringo Starr and Buck Owens recorded a duet of the song.

 

Boys & Baby It’s You
Boys was one of two Shirelles songs on Please, Please Me. Co-written by Luther Dixon, who produced The Shirelles on the Specter label, Boys was released in 1960 as the b-side of the group’s big hit Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Dixon had enjoyed some success as a songwriter, notably The Crests’ 1958 hit Sixteen Candles.

The other co-writer, a white boy named Wes Farrell, would go on to greater things yet. He co-wrote Hang On Sloopy with Bert Berns, was the force behind Tony Orlando’s Dawn (named after Farrell’s daughter) and the Partridge Family, and founded Bell Records.

The Beatles recorded Boys in one take during the mammoth February 11, 1963 session, just after Anna and before Chains.

The other Shirelles song on the album was the better known Burt Bacharach composition Baby It’s You. While Lennon sang the latter, Boys introduced Ringo’s vocal stylings to the public.

 

Devil In His Heart
Devil In His Heart appeared on the With The Beatles album, but had been part of the group’s concert repertoire in 1962/63. The Beatles recorded it on July 18, 1963, two days after recording a different version for the BBC show Pop Go The Beatles.

The group came upon the song by The Donays when they had heard it in Brian Epstein’s NEMS record store in Liverpool. George Harrison, who sings lead vocals on the cover, later recalled: “Brian [Epstein] had had a policy at NEMS of buying at least one copy of every record that was released. Consequently he had records that weren’t hits in Britain, weren’t even hits in America. Before we were going to a gig, we’d meet in the record store, after it had shut, and we’d search the racks like ferrets to see what new ones were there. Devil In Her Heart and Barrett Strong’s Money were records that we’d picked up and played in the shop and thought were interesting.”

Unlike other the other R&B acts covered on that album, the Donays  —  Yvonne, Janice, Michelle, Gwen  —  were not and never would be well known. Devil In His Heart was the Detroit girl-group’s only single, and it made no notable impact at all, though the flip-side, Bad Boy, received some local airplay.

Devil In His Heart was first released by Detroit’s Correc-tone Records, which also had an unknown Wilson Picket on its books. The New York label Brent picked up the national license for the single, and through Brent’s arrangement with the British Oriole label the record ended up in Epstein’s Liverpool store.

But it was not the lack of commercial success that forced the group’s demise, but their mothers. “The mothers wanted the girls to go to college,” Yvonne would recall. “Michelle’s mother was leery about the music world, so they dropped out.”

 

Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey
An early composition by the legendary songwriting team Leiber & Stoller, Kansas City was first recorded in 1952 as K.C. Loving by R&B singer-pianist Little Willie Littlefield, and became a widely-recorded rock & roll staple.

Among those who covered it was Little Richard, who in 1956 also reworked the song as Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey (which references the Alabama city of Birmingham). In 1959, Little Richard released the two songs mashed into one. It’s that version which The Beatles used in their setlist during their club days and which made its way onto their Beatles For Sale album.

 

Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby & Honey Don’t & Matchbox
The Beatles were big fans of Carl Perkins, especially George Harrison whose alter ego in the Silver Beatles was named Carl. Harrison also did vocal, duties on The Beatles’ cover of Perkins’ Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.

It’s not really accurate to describe Perkins’ song as an original since it rather shamelessly appropriated a 1936 song by country singer Rex Griffin, titled… Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby (included as a bonus track). Griffin didn’t live to see the world’s greatest band covering the quasi-cover of his song; he died in 1959 at 47.

Matchbox was recorded on December 4, 1956, at Sun Studios in Memphis with young Jerry Lee Lewis on piano. During the session, Elvis Presley popped in while doing his Christmas shopping and joined Perkins and Lewis in a jam session. Later Johnny Cash stuck his head in. The result of the jam session would be released in 1981 as the Million Dollar Quartet (though Cash posed only for the famous photo).

Matchbox was part of The Beatles’ club repertoire, with Pete Best doing the vocals. On the (uninspired) recorded version, an ill Ringo took over the vocals, with George Martin on piano. Oddly, it was released in the US and Canada as a single, backed with another cover, Slow Down. It reached #17 in the Billboard charts.

Honey Don’t was the b-side of Perkins’ original of Blues Suede Shoes. On stage, Lennon used to sing the lead, but on record it was Ringo’s gig.

 

Dizzy Miss Lizzy & Bad Boy & Slow Down
While Harrison was the big Perkins fan, Lennon and McCartney were both great admirers of R&B singer-pianist Larry Williams. As with Perkins, The Beatles recorded three tracks by Williams — another of their heroes who died young, in January 1980 at the age of 44.

Perhaps the most famous of these covers is that of Dizzy Miss Lizzy, a song on which Lennon could unleash his inner rick & roller to full effect. In Williams’ original, the song had little success, stalling at #69 in the US charts in April 1958.

Its b-side was also covered by The Beatles. In Williams’ hands, Slow Down — which featured future Wrecking Crew legend Earl Palmer on drums and Pink Panther Theme saxophonist Plas Johnson — is an incendiary slice of rock & roll. In The Beatles’ version, it is another uninspired cover.

The third Larry Williams track The Beatles recorded was Bad Boy, which in Williams’ version also features Palmer and Johnson. Instead of that track, or maybe alongside it, The Beatles wanted to record the b-side, She Said Yeah, which was part of the club-days setlist. The Animals scooped the Fabs by a year; the Rolling Stones recorded She Saud Yeah a month after The Beatles put Bad Boy down in May 1965. McCartney finally recorded it in 1999.

 

Mr Moonlight
Many Beatles fans point to Mr Moonlight as the group’s worst recording (presumably ignoring the arcane stuff like Revolution #9 or Within You, Without You). It is indeed doubtful that Mr Moonlight has ever featured on a great number Top 10 lists of Beatles songs. But it isn’t really that bad (this guy makes his case persuasively).

Mr Moonlight appeared on Beatles For Sale, the hotchpotch album released in late 1964 that among some strong original material featured a number of random covers. It may seem that Mr Moonlight was one of those peculiar obscurities the Fabs often dug out  —  note how many b-sides and non-hits they covered  —  but the song was in fact quite popular at the time. Other bands obviously did the same as the Beatles did. It had been covered by The Hollies in January 1964, and in 1963 by the Merseybeats.

Mr Moonlight had also been a Beatles concert staple for a while (going as far back as 1962; it appears on the Live At The Star Club, Hamburg album), so there are some who suggest that the Hollies and Merseybeats “borrowed” the song from the Beatles.

The song was written by one Roy Lee Johnson, and first recorded in 1962 by the blues pianist Piano Red (Willie Perryman) as a b-side to his single Dr Feelgood, the title of which had become his stage name, and would later be adopted by the British rock band of that name (though they probably picked up the moniker from a cover version by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates). Piano Red, an albino performer who had made his first recording in 1936, was the first blues musician to break into the Billboard pop charts, and as a radio DJ in Atlanta in the 1950s featured a young James Brown on his show.

Piano Red’s excursion as Dr Feelgood, a moniker he employed as a DJ, was brief and did little to benefit his career. His career later recovered, with Piano Red appearing on the jazz circuit. He even performed at the inauguration of the German chancellor Helmut Schmidt before dying of cancer in 1985 at the age of 73.

 

Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight
A week before The Beatles released their Abbey Road album, a band called Trash released Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight as a single, on Apple Records — and Paul McCartney was livid.

McCartney had already decided that the band was living up to its name and had indicated that no more studio time be allocated to them. But Apple employee Richard Dilello, the “house hippie”, sneaked Trash into a studio anyway and with producer Tony Meehan (the man who oversaw the recording of the Beatles’ ill-fated Decca session) at the helm, they recorded their version of the yet-to-be-released Abbey Road medley tracks.

McCartney was angry, but John Lennon thought the band had done a fairly good job of it and gave the go-ahead for its release. By late October, when Abbey Road had been out for a few weeks already, the Trash single eventually reached #36 on the UK charts. It was the first and only time Trash troubled the charts, and soon after they split up, again scooping The Beatles by a few weeks.

As ever, CD-R length, home-twisted-and-shouted covers, PW in comments.

1. The Top Notes – Twist And Shout (1961)
2. The Cookies – Chains (1962)
3. The Shirelles – Boys (1960)
4. Larry Williams – Dizzy Miss Lizzy (1958)
5. Dr Feelgood & The Interns – Mr Moonlight (1962)
6. Carl Perkins – Honey Don’t (1956)
7. Buddy Holly – Words Of Love (1957)
8. Larry Williams – Bad Boy (1958)
9. Arthur Alexander – Anna (Go To Him) (1962)
10. Buck Owens – Act Naturally (1963)
11. Carl Perkins – Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby (1957)
12. The Donays – Devil In His Heart (1962)
13. Billy Dee Williams – A Taste Of Honey (1961)
14. Eileen Wilson – Til I Met You (1950)
15. Trash – Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight (1968)
16. Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas – I Call Your Name (1963)
17. The Rolling Stones – I Wanna Be Your Man (1963)
18. The Shirelles – Baby It’s You (1962)
19. Little Willie Littlefield – K.C. Loving (Kansas City) (1952)
20. Little Richard – Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey (1958)
21. Carl Perkins – Matchbox (1957)
22. Larry Williams – Slow Down (1958)
Bonus Tracks:
The Isley Brothers – Twist And Shout (1962)
Everly Brothers – Chains (1962)
Rex Griffin – Everybody’s Tryin’ To Be My Baby (1936)
Bobby Scott – A Taste Of Honey (1960)
Peggy Lee – Till There Was You (1961)

GET IT! or HERE!

More Originals:
The Originals: The Classics
The Originals: Soul
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1980s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1990s & 2000s
The Originals: : Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 1
The Originals:  Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 2
The Originals: : Carpenters Edition
The Originals: Burt Bacharach Edition
The Originals: Schlager Edition
The Originals: : Christmas Edition

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  1. halfhearteddude
    July 25th, 2019 at 07:18 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Rhodb
    July 26th, 2019 at 22:43 | #2

    Thanks for the originals

    Love this series

    Regards

    Rhod

  3. Brad
    July 28th, 2019 at 13:20 | #3

    I echo the sentiments of Rhod. I also love this series and appreciate the research and effort involved in assembling these volumes. The information you provide about the origins of the songs is as entertaining as the music.
    Thanks,
    Brad

  4. halfhearteddude
    July 28th, 2019 at 19:25 | #4

    Thanks for the kind words, Rhod and Brad.

  5. Dave Heasman
    August 1st, 2019 at 14:24 | #5

    Hi

    The Cookies – endlessly confusing because there were two groups with the same name with an overlapping timeline. I have a CD with photo of one Cookies on the front and the other Cookies on the back.
    In short – the Blossoms, featuring Gloria Jones (not the “Heartbeat”/Marc Bolan Gloria Jones) became the Cookies became the RaeLettes. The Blossoms started about 1957.
    The other Cookies were a Nevins Kirshner short-lived creation from 1962.

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