10 Great Songs Covered by The Beatles

When The Beatles played homage to songs they loved

'Dance Album of.....Carl Perkins
Album cover for 'Dance Album Of...Carl Perkins' released on Sun Records in1958. Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives

Not counting songs on Live at the BBC, On Air - Live at the BBC and the Anthology series, The Beatles officially released twenty-five cover versions of songs they didn't write themselves.

Yes, The Beatles were pioneers of the singer/songwriter era (helping to make it legit for artists to write and perform their own material) but in their early days especially - like everyone else at the time - they frequently sang and recorded songs written by other people.

This was in part a public acknowledgement, paying tribute to the performers and writers who'd been a big influence on them (see Some Early Musical Influences on Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr).

It was also a necessity to make up the large numbers of songs required to get product out there for their fans to consume. Such were the demands put upon the band they literally didn't have the time to compose the amount of high-quality original material they needed.  

Here then is a list of 10 of the best songs The Beatles covered.

1.  "Honey Don't" The Beatles and American singer/songwriter Carl Perkins go back a long way. His 1958 record Dance Album of...Carl Perkins would have been well-known to them as they recorded no less than three songs from it to be released on their early LPs: "Matchbox", "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby", and this one with Ringo on vocals, "Honey Don't".

While Perkins was touring the UK in 1964 The Beatles finally got to meet their idol at a party. They asked him then if they could cover a couple of his numbers - especially "Honey Don't" - and he agreed. It appeared on Beatles For Sale in the UK and on Beatles '65 in the US.

2. "Rock and Roll Music" Chuck Berry songs appear almost at the same frequency as Carl Perkins tunes in Beatle song lists.

The Beatles were definitely paying tribute to another idol and recorded two of his songs, this one and "Roll Over Beethoven". John Lennon, who'd been performing the song at least from the early Hamburg days, gives it everything he's got, creating a stand-out cover version in anyones books. "Rock and Roll Music" appeared on Beatles For Sale in the UK and on Beatles '65 in the US.  

3. "Slow Down" The Beatles recorded no less than three Larry Williams numbers. They were "Bad Boy", "Dizzy Miss Lizzy", and this one, "Slow Down". Originally recorded and released by Williams as a single in 1958, the Beatle version appeared on their 1964 US album Something New. It was also the flip side to the US single "Matchbox", and was included on the UK Long Tall Sally E.P.    

4. "Long Tall Sally" Paul McCartney channeling the great and influential Little Richard (who was a long-time friend of Larry Williams). The song was released in Britain on the Long Tall Sally E.P. in June 1964, and two months earlier on The Beatles' Second Album in the US. McCartney recorded the song in a single take. They'd played it live for so long that's all that was needed! Paul McCartney included it in his set list to say farewell to the famous Candlestick Park venue in San Francisco in 2014.

 

5. "Roll Over Beethoven" This time it is George Harrison's turn at a Chuck Berry number. Berry was such a big influence on the band. They'd been playing numerous songs of his live for many years before they made it big, and so it was natural for a few to turn up on early Beatle albums and singles. This song appeared in 1963 on the UK LP With The Beatles, and would be well-known to US fans as the opening track on The Beatles' Second Album from 1964. 

6. "Money (That's What I Want)" The Beatles version, with its raucous, pleading vocal by John Lennon, is regarded by many as the best cover of this number - originally made famous by Motown recording artist, Barrett Strong in 1959. Long a live set favourite of the band, they committed it to vinyl in 1963 and it was released in the UK on their With The Beatles LP, and in 1964 on the US on The Beatles' Second Album.

 

7. "Please Mr Postman" Another Motown track, this was originally made famous by The Marvelletes. The Beatles were fond of taking songs by girl groups and giving them their own treatment. Again, this was released in the UK on With The Beatles, and the US on The Beatles' Second Album.  

8. "Twist and Shout" This throat-shredding closer to The Beatles' first UK LP, Please Please Me (and released as a single on the Tollie label in the US), is a ripper. Based on the Isley Brothers hit version, John Lennon's vocal was recorded at the very end of a long day of recording - their first at the EMI studios - and so his voice was already raw. No matter, they ploughed on and captured a fantastic take of the song. It is tough to sing anyway but Lennon even manages to blast it out live at the Royal Variety Performance in London in 1963, and on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.   

9. "Words of Love" The Beatles were always big fans of Buddy Holly, especially John and Paul. They stuck very close to his original, with beautiful harmonies. "Hold me close and tell me how you feel. Tell me love is real...". The lovely song was covered by The Beatles on Beatles for Sale, while in the US it was on The Beatles VI.

10. "Act Naturally" Another Ringo vocal, this one really resonated with fans. A song performed originally by US performer Buck Owens in 1963, The Beatles saw it as a natural fit for Ringo and included their cover of the song on the UK version of the LP Help! in 1965. Capitol Records used it in 1966 on Yesterday and Today in the US. Ringo later re-recorded the song - with none other than Buck Owens himself, and they had some real fun with it.

See also our list of the Top 15 covers of Beatle songs by other artists.