From lounge singers to garage bands to rock superstars, cover songs are a staple.
One of their favourite targets, or rather four, are the Beatles. The Four Lads from Liverpool just might be one of the most imitated bands of all time. They’ve been covered by the likes of Aerosmith, The Beach Boys, Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews Band, Jonas Brothers, and on and on. Some covers are actually really good and some would argue better than the original.
One of the best is a live version of “We Can Work It Out” that Motown legend Stevie Wonder performed for President Obama and friends at the White House in 2010. Stevie and band mates souped it up with some soul and the President could be seen bopping along to it, with none other than Sir Paul McCartney sitting alongside in thrall too.
But, the Stevie Wonders of the world are all too often overshadowed by celebrities and singers who have absolutely butchered the source material. Here are 10 who made a mockery of the Fab Four song list.
10. Steve Martin – Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Funny man Martin is a renowned banjo player and has won Grammys for comedy, bluegrass and roots albums and songs. The surviving Beatles might want to beat him to death with “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” though for his oddball performance. Put it this way, Steve channels Bobby Pickett of “Monster Mash” fame, in order to tarnish the silver hammer. Worse even, he added his garish version to the 1978 movie, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This craptacular film starring the Bee Gees was actually perfect for Martin’s version.
9. Milton Berle – Yellow Submarine
The Beatles were probably starting to experiment with mind altering substances when they released “Yellow Submarine” on the iconic 1966 album, Revolver. We think Uncle Miltie was smoking some of the wacky tabacky when he tackled the song written by McCartney and sung by Ringo Starr. The Jewish TV icon tackled the song with all the schmaltz of a meshugener minstrel in a Catskills Kosher hotel. Oy Vey.
8. Kylie Minogue – Help!
If anyone needed aid to sing one of the Beatles most recognizable songs, it was Minogue. The Australian princess of sugary pop put in some unnecessary dance moves and some breathless vocals into her cover, which really did need “Help!” She may be a beautiful woman, with gazillions of record sales and an adoring fan base, but even the most naive among rock journalists would have labelled her live cover as nothing but pop drivel. John Lennon never envisioned his song, written about the evils of fame, being sung by a pampered pop diva famous for “The Loco-motion.”
7. Bing Crosby – Hey Jude
The quintessential American entertainer, Crosby crossed many genres and had success as a singer and actor, as well as a beloved radio and television personality. His “White Christmas” is perhaps the most beloved holiday song ever written. So why did he feel the need to lend his considerable baritone to “Hey Jude”? Because he could and everyone’s memory of Lennon’s ode to his son Julian will forever be fuzzy for it. Crosby, with the aid of backup singers and horns, punishes the complex song with Ed Sullivan style sanitation.
6. Alvin & The Chipmunks – Hard Day’s Night
A chipmunk is cute, furry little rodents native to North America. Alvin, Simon and Theodore are anthropomorphic chipmunks responsible for singing kid-friendly, squeaky versions of just about every song imaginable. However, ‘Dave’ (aka creator Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.) should have strangled Alvin when he insisted on the Chipmunks warbling “Hard Day’s Night”. While we don’t want a million little gaffers writing insensitive things about us on Facebook, we do want to say the Chipmunks version is excruciating. And we mean that in the nicest way possible. Alvin!
5. Xaviera Hollander – Michelle
For those not in the know, Ms. Hollander made a name for herself as — ahem — a ‘Lady of the Evening.’ The one-time prostitute and madame and author of the wildly bestselling novel The Happy Hooker, which advanced the early 70’s sexual revolution greatly. As a singer, though, Hollander just couldn’t cut it and she picked the Beatles tribute to beret-wearing hipsters of the French Left Bank era. Hollander’s interpretation takes most of the whimsical nature out of the song and adds, fittingly, a moaning, breathless tone to it. We won’t take this lying down!
4. Keith Moon – When I’m 64
Not coincidentally, the late Moon’s former band mates in The Who have all surpassed the age featured in the Beatles hit. The man voted the second best rock drummer of all-time in a Rolling Stone readers poll could certainly bang the buckets. The Who, along with the Beatles and Rolling Stones, were the lead elements responsible for the British Invasion. Moon, while an uber-talented percussionist, was not a great singer. Even worse than Ringo and that’s saying something. His rendition of “When I’m 64” can only be described as dreck.
3. Sean Connery – In My Life
Sean Connery has always been known as the smooth, suave, and sexy James Bond. The man with the soothing Scottish brogue was at the height of his powers as Bond about the same time the Beatles were making girls across the globe scream until they passed out. As an actor, he tackled many roles, almost always well, but the role he didn’t nail was as spoken word singer. His halting cover of “In My Life” comes off as a bit creepy, in that it was originally penned by Lennon to reflect his childhood memories.
2. Bill Cosby – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
There was a time when Bill Cosby was subversively, insanely funny. Like Connery, he was also at the height of his youthful powers in the 60’s, doing stand-up that would later inspire the likes of Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. Now he’s been branded an alleged sex offender with all the appeal of Hannibal Lecter. So, like Murphy did later, Cosby in his heyday decided he’d like to sing, figuring it would give him cachet. Thus, he funked up “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” with disastrous results. His croaking Motown sound-alike vocals sound like fingernails on the chalkboard. Ouch!
1. William Shatner – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
As a pudgy, aging version of his former self, some of Shatner’s spoken-word performances and albums have actually endeared himself to millions in North America. He put the camp into a Ben Folds produced set called ‘Has Been’ in the most self-effacing manner imaginable. But that 1968 album Transformed Man, when he was the dashing, skinny Capt. Kirk, should have had more forethought. Like any Hollywood mega-star he indulged himself on a cover of the Beatles trippy hit. We think he may have been indulging in the hallucinogen hidden in the song title when he did this.