7 Essential Beatles Covers

Some standout selections from the most covered band of all time.

The iconic Beatles lineup of George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr released 13 studio albums from 1963 to 1970 - starting with Please Please Me and ending with Let It Be.

Their critical and commercial success was and still is remarkable. Many of their albums are considered classics, a 2014 CBS News report stated that the group had sold 600 million albums worldwide, and a significant number of Beatles songs remain in frequent radio rotation 51 years after they disbanded.

Like all bands with a vast reach and significant cultural capital, there is some division in how critics and listeners perceive their legacy today. Is the group underappreciated by modern audiences or are they overrated? Do they deserve all the accolades they received over the years or did they overshadow some of their equally/more deserving peers?

Opinions vary and multiple truths to these questions can exist at once. But whatever your thoughts are on the collective and individual talent of George, John, Paul, and Ringo, The Beatles were a force to be reckoned with who greatly influenced artists across many genres and generations. The website WhoSampled currently has 10,188 covers of their songs archived - making them the most covered artist or group of all time.

Here are seven fresh, essential reworks of their music ranging from well-known recordings to the more obscure numbers. Feel free to drop your own favorite Beatles covers in the comments.

1) “Lady Madonna” by Lenny White featuring Chaka Khan (1978)

Known for his work on Miles Davis’ legendary Bitches Brew and Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, as well as his membership in Chick Corea’s group Return to Forever, Lenny White’s incredible list of collaborative recordings goes well beyond the scope of this article. His solo discography - which includes 1978’s Streamline - is also impressive. Though not a classic record, the LP contains some real gems like this take on “Lady Madonna” from The White Album. Chaka Khan’s vocals help bring the track to another level.

2) “Don’t Let Me Down” by Marcia Griffiths (1974)

In 2014 the Jamaican government awarded Marcia Griffiths with the prestigious Order of Distinction. No wonder - her career spans nearly six decades. It also includes early duets with Bob Marley (“Oh My Darling”), an extended stint with the I Threes vocal trio that supported Bob Marley & The Wailers, a hit cover of Bunny Wailer’s “Electric Boogie,” and an impressive backlist of solo albums. Her ‘74 debut Play Me Sweet and Nice is a great record in its own right, but the 2006 reissue features a beautiful cover of “Don’t Let Me Down” from Hey Jude that listeners won’t want to miss.

3) “A Day In The Life” by Wes Montgomery (1967)

Wes Montgomery was 36 when he put out A Dynamic New Sound: Guitar/Organ/Drums with the Wes Montgomery Trio and created a new sonic space for jazz guitarists. A Day in the Life came out eight years later - about one year before Montgomery died of a heart attack in 1968. Though some critics dismissed the record as a lesser work of his, it’s an engrossing listen with some remarkable numbers. His take on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band classic “A Day In The Life” is absolutely gorgeous.

4) “All My Loving” by Amy Winehouse (2004)

Amy Winehouse performed this incredible Beatles cover two years before the release of her critically acclaimed album Back to Black for the TV documentary Glastonbury Calling. Though she hadn’t yet achieved international superstardom yet, her beautifully stripped down rendition of this With the Beatles favorite was certainly an indicator of things to come. The raw power of her voice shines brightly thanks to the minimalist backing track. As one YouTuber noted in the comments, “A guitar and her voice... All that was needed.”

5) “Come Together” by Richard "Groove" Holmes and Ernie Watts (1970)

The late Jazz organist Richard “Groove” Holmes is perhaps best known for his popular rendition of the jazz standard “Misty.” Two-time Grammy Award winning saxophonist Ernie Watts has cut records with everyone from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa, earning himself a jaw-dropping 1,000-plus recording credits on discogs. In 1970 the two men joined forces to release Come Together on World Pacific Jazz Records. Holmes and Watts do proper justice to the title track/Abbey Road favorite as a killer bassline blends beautifully with both of them absolutely shredding on organ and sax. This entire record holds up quite well and is just waiting to be discovered by a modern audience.

6) “Yesterday” by En Vogue (1992)

En Vogue’s Funky Divas was a massive record when it dropped nearly three decades ago. Singles like "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)," the Aretha Franklin cover "Giving Him Something He Can Feel," and "Free Your Mind" were such big hits that they may have overshadowed an excellent cover of “Yesterday.” That’s a shame, because group’s reimagining of a standout from Help! serves as the ultimate showcase for their incredible harmonies and remarkable vocal range. Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy produced this one just right - letting vocals ride acapella for 30 seconds before bringing in sparse drums, live keys, and what sounds like a tiny snippet of “Paul Revere.” They also drop the beat out again at the 1:22 mark for a perfect bit of added punch.

7) “And I Love Her” by the Techniques Band (?)

Today’s final cover is a mysterious and beautiful remake of “And I Love Her” from China that I discovered in a six-year-old Reddit thread. Credited to Techniques Band, the song benefits from an interesting bit of twang, some impressive guitar, and captivating vocals. The instrumentation here is really interesting and the song’s opening almost sounds like a slowed down version of the beginning of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” Sadly, I haven’t been able to track down anything about the recording or the band despite my best efforts. If you have any info about either please reach out so I can add it to the article.

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Shock G on the Track

A look at the late artist's formidable musicianship and production skills.

MC, musician, and producer Shock G passed away on April 22nd at age 57. Born Gregory Edward Jacobs, he was known by many for his role as the frontman of pioneering rap group Digital Underground, his close friendship and frequent collaboration with 2Pac, and his larger than life alter ego Humpty Hump.

His relationship with the Humpty Hump alias was complicated - the goofy persona sometimes overshadowed his formidable resume and his encyclopedic knowledge of funk and other genres.

Shock G’s multi-decade music career defies easy classification - perhaps that’s why his accomplishments were sometimes overlooked. Though his distinctive voice and impressive delivery make it easy to focus on his microphone dexterity, he was also a remarkable producer who conveyed a wide range of sound and style over the years.

He earned his first production credit on Digital Underground’s funky debut single “Underwater Rimes.” The song was a preview of a burgeoning production style that rapidly evolved on more sophisticated future compositions.

While “Underwater Rimes” helped Digital Underground gain recognition, it was Shock G’s production and performance on the group’s 1989 smash single “The Humpty Dance” that truly elevated them to a new plateau. The song was also an early showcase of his multifaceted production approach, as he deftly played a killer synth bassline while arranging several different samples for a neck-snapping final product.

From weaving together multiple sample sources to expertly flipping one sample, Shock could do it all. His reimagining of Herbie Hancock on 2Pac’s “Words of Wisdom” was the perfect backbone for one the most powerful songs from the legendary MC’s early years.

As he produced Digital Underground party anthems and impassioned, revolutionary 2Pac album cuts, Shock G also demonstrated a gift for remixing superstar artists. Though not necessarily a radical departure from the Teddy Riley original, his 1993 remix of Bobby Brown’s “Get Away” offered a different energy that worked well with the singer’s voice.

Shock also developed a unique production technique where he would take an extended, tweaked vocal sample and layer it into the beat so it sort of sat underneath the main track. Listen to 2Pac’s “I Get Around” - which he co-produced as part of D-Flow Production Squad - and take note of the clever incorporation of Zapp’s “Computer Love” as an example. You can hear it right at the opening, the six-second mark, and at various other parts of the song.

He took this technique to another level on Pac’s D-Flow Production Squad-produced “So Many Tears” - one of the most powerful records from the late MC’s entire catalog. His use of Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl” is so clever it almost obscures the well-known original, while the extended vocal accent put the beat in a league of its own. (Go to the 0:08 mark for an example.)

“So Many Tears” turned “That Girl” into something deep and mournful by decreasing the tempo by about 14 beats per minute. The slowed down harmonica on the hook is the ultimate emotional gut punch while the effortless incorporation of Quincy Jones’ “The Dude” into the track can’t be overlooked.

Though Shock G had an extensive career with Digital Underground, produced for a variety of artists, remixed songs for Bobby Brown and Prince, toured and performed with P-Funk, and drew a cartoon for Rakim in the late 1980s that remains on his studio wall today, it seems his life as a recording artist took a serious toll on him.

When Digital Underground co-founder Chopmaster J broke the news of his passing on Instagram he wrote the following:

“34 years ago almost to the day we had a wild idea: We can be a hip hop band and take on the world through it all the dream became a reality and the reality became a nightmare for some.”

It’s heartbreaking to think that Shock’s career was such a burden to carry, especially when he inspired and influenced so many.

May we continue to share and celebrate his work for many years to come.

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Revisiting Illa J's 'Yancey Boys'

A look back at how early, unused Dilla production turned into his younger brother's debut record.

In late 1995 The Pharcyde released their sophomore album Labcabincalifornia on Delicious Vinyl. Late super-producer J Dilla crafted the lead singles “Drop” and “Runnin’” as well as several impressive album cuts like “Bullshit.” Delicious Vinyl founder and owner Michael Ross subsequently reached out to Dilla whenever he needed production as a result of his stellar work on Labcab. “From ‘95 through ‘98 Jay Dee was my go-to guy for hot beats and remixes,” he said on the Delicious Vinyl website.

Dilla was known for cranking out quality instrumentals at a remarkable clip from the very beginning of his career. This meant that Ross and the folks at Delicious Vinyl soon amassed an impressive cache of his work - some of which never saw the light of day. “He was always making beats, always,” Ross said. “So there was a select amount of tracks that he composed for me during that time, tracks as good as anything he’d done, only they never got used.”

In 2007 Ross met Dilla’s younger brother Illa J and decided to give him the unreleased treasure trove of Dilla beats. Those instrumentals eventually turned into Illa J’s 2008 debut album Yancey Boys.

I remember being aware of Yancey Boys at the time of its release, but if I’m being honest I slept on it when the record first dropped and didn’t give it that close a listen at first. For some reason I’ve come back to it recently. It is by no means a classic record, but it definitely deserves some serious time and attention. It also features some of my all-time favorite Dilla tracks.

“Sounds Like Love” is one of those Dilla emotional gut punches that he created so effortlessly during his lifetime. It’s understated in a way but very captivating and beautiful at the same time. The song samples late Filipino composer, jazz pianist, and vocalist Joseph "Flip" Nuñez, who passed away in November of 1995. Given the fact that this beat dates back to that time, one has to wonder if Dilla was inspired to sample the late artist after his passing or if the matching timeline is mere coincidence.

The Guilty Simpson-assisted “R U Listening?” is another standout moment which sounds like a sonic sister to Dilla’s 1997 remix of Crustation’s “Purple.” In fact, both songs utilize the same sample source at different tempos. Accentuated by a perfectly paired bassline and drums, the track features some expert scratches from J. Rocc of The Beat Junkies that cut up “Much More” - a Dilla-produced De La Soul cut from The Grind Date.

Yancey Boys features a somewhat less-polished iteration of Illa J on the mic than we hear on some of his later work, but his style and flow feels like the right fit for the selected songs given his brotherly bond with Dilla and the unique genesis of the project. And he’s absolutely perfect on songs like the easygoing, abstract “All Good.” The beat sound custom made for Illa J and he brings just the right approach with his delivery, flow, and lyrics.

With a discography as vast and diverse as Dilla’s, it’s easy to forget about his projects that range to good from very good and don’t quite hit the level of great or classic. Perhaps Yancey Boys is one such record, but it’s still prime for revisiting. With the album and the instrumental version easily accessible, I recommend giving both a full listen for the optimal experience.

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The BOSS DR-55 Dr. Rhythm Drum Machine

A quick look back at the tiny drum box's influence on Juan Atkins, Thomas Dolby, Depeche Mode, and New Order.

I recently did some article-related research about Roland amps, drum machines, bass synthesizers, and other equipment from the company’s vast product line. Roland’s history is fascinating because people often think of their most iconic gear like the TR-808, but even their less discussed products have compelling backstories.

Take the BOSS (a division of Roland) DR-55 Dr. Rhythm for example. I had no idea how prevalent this modest little drum box was in electronic, synth pop, techno, new wave, and other genres of music music during the early-‘80s.

Detroit techno pioneer Juan Atkins captured the influence and importance of the drum machine beautifully in a 2012 MusicRadar interview with Chris Barker. To him, it seemed to symbolize a dramatic shift in creative possibility.

“It was the most quantum innovation that ever happened. If I had to pick one machine, that would be it. Being able to program a drum machine was a huge thing."

The Dr. Rhythm was also part of his production arsenal when he co-produced the Cybotron’s 1983 classic “Clear,” which was famously sampled 22 years later on Missy Elliott’s Ciara and Fatman Scoop-assisted hit “Lose Control.”

Like many BOSS and Roland instruments, artists in a wide range of genres found use for the DR-55. It was the first drum machine Depeche Mode used in their live shows. New Order also featured the percussion sounds prominently on “Truth” from 1981 debut LP Movement.

Of all the DR-55 drum discoveries I’ve made in recent weeks, I think Thomas Dolby’s “Therapy/Growth” might be my favorite. Originally a b-side to the second single from his 1982 debut The Golden Age of Wireless, the demo version was included in later reissues of the record. I personally think the remastered demo of “Therapy/Growth” kind of steals the show.

Something about the minimalism of the song struck me when I first heard it and the DR-55 is a critical piece of the beautifully sparse instrumentation. I definitely had a lump in my throat when I first listened to this and I may have shed a tear.

Much as I love the Dr. Rhythm sections, I especially like the breakdown around the 2:45 mark when the drums drop out and finger snaps pair beautifully with the lyrics below. I’ve probably listened to this song 100 times over the past month and I’m really curious who Dolby had in mind when he penned these words.

And I ain't gonna spend my time with you
If time is so important
And I ain't gonna worry over you
Lend any resistance
To the game you play
You won't find me bending over
To justify existence
By working on a weakness
And I don't want to know the secrets of the universe

Though the DR-55 was quickly eclipsed by superior drum machine technology, there’s something about the sounds from the Dr. Rhythm that still sound excellent today. It may not be as widely documented and discussed as other BOSS/Roland gear, but a deeper exploration of the machine’s place in music history is necessary if Juan Atkins once called it “the most quantum innovation that ever happened.”

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Ohbliv x Just Plain Ant - 'Black Soap'

A brief look at how I discovered an under the radar Ohbliv project from 2009.

On Sunday, April 4th, I shared and retweeted various things in celebration of Roland’s 404 Day. 404 Day gives Roland SP-404 users from around the world a chance to share their music and participate in the different Roland-sponsored, 404-centric events like this years SP Takeover on Facebook.

One of the items I shared was a screenshot of a 2010 Tumblr post from Ohbliv. When a fan asked him what he used to create beats, this was his response.

“My Brain, the 404 and vinyl. I only use a comp to import. But get busy with whatever u can get your hands on and Just do you. Salute!”

I always loved the quote so I figured I’d share it. Plus Ohbliv’s Tumblr is badass.

After my tweet got a nice response I searched for a second Ohbliv/404-related thing to share and stumbled upon this 2009 tweet. I was immediately intrigued. Usually links from this long ago are broken and lead to nothing. This one, however, still works. And it brought me to a really cool instrumental project I’d never heard before—Ohbliv x Just Plain Ant’s Black Soap.

My background for this project is very limited. According to this YouTube upload, Ohbliv produced the first six tracks and Just Plain Ant producer the other six. There isn’t much info besides that available online or on Twitter.

In a way, I kind of like that. I found a project that doesn’t exist on Bandcamp or streaming from the early days of a great producer’s career. I don’t have a lot of context for how it came to be, so I get to take the music for what it is without overthinking it.

I also don’t have a ton of information on Just Plan Ant, who was pretty prolific from 2009 to 2013—though he hasn’t released anything new in quite some time. He’s another talented producer from Richmond, Virginia and it looks like he and Ohbliv collaborated several times around the release of Black Soap.

In the end, finding this tweet and this collaborative album was a helpful reminder. No matter how well you think you know a musician’s body of work, there’s usually more waiting to be discovered and experienced.

I’m really happy I stumbled upon this underground release from many years ago. I hope your enjoy it as much as I have.

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