When four lads from Liverpool got together in the early 1960s to make music, they never dreamed they would become the most influential band of all-time. 60 years later, the Beatles are undisputedly that. The Beatles are also one of, if not the most covered band in the history of popular music. The song “Yesterday” alone has been covered over 2,000 times. Scores of important artists have recorded versions of Beatles’ songs that span styles from Tony Bennett to Lil’ Wayne. However, some of the most vibrant and interesting interpretations of the band’s sanctified oeuvre have come from female singers. A great illustration of this occurred in 1969, the year the group broke up. Here are five essential Beatles covers by women artists from 1969.
Karen Carpenter – Ticket to Ride
“Ticket to Ride” was primarily a Lennon composition. It was released as a single in 1965 and reached #1 in both the UK and the United States. The song was also included on the band’s 1965 album “Help” and is featured prominently in the film of the same name. It possesses one of the most distinctive guitar riffs of any early Beatles song which was actually played by bass player Paul McCartney. “Ticket to Ride” was a bit harder a grittier than their previous work. John called the song “one of the earliest heavy-metal records made.”
The Carpenters covered “Ticket to Ride” in the summer of 1969, releasing it as a single in November of that year. According to Richard Carpenter, he “happened to hear [the song] being played as an oldie one day in early 1969, and upon hearing it this particular time, decided the tune would make a nice ballad.” Richard’s instincts were dead on, but it is his sister’s legendary vocals that make the track. With slowed tempo, Karen transforms the psychedelic precursor into a haunting hymn, and it never sounded better.
Ella Fitzgerald – Got to Get You into My Life
“It’s actually an ode to pot,” McCartney said of the song. The Beatles released “Got to Get You into My Life” in 1965 on their seminal album “Revolver”. It was certified gold and peaked at #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100. When asked about the song shortly before his assassination in 1980, Lennon answered, “Paul’s again. I think that was one of his best songs, too.”
Four years after the Beatles cut the song, the revered Fitzgerald included “Got to Get You into My Life” on her studio album “Ella”. The First Lady of Song uses her flawless tone and timing to add a pure jazz swing. In addition, her rich vocals gorgeously sustain the lyrics while refining the presentation. Lady Ella combines the Beatles with Swing, and it is beautiful thing.
Diana Ross – Hey Jude
From 1968, “Hey Jude” is one of the most iconic songs of the twentieth century. It was written by McCartney in an effort to comfort Lennon’s five-year-old son Julian in the wake of his parent’s divorce. John narcissistically thought Paul wrote the song about him. “Hey Jude” was the band’s most successful single, spending nine consecutive weeks at #1 and is their second most covered song.
The popularity of “Hey Jude” was inescapable and just about every record label took note, including Motown. In late 1969, Diana Ross and The Supremes released their “Cream of the Crop” album and once again succumbed to the allure of the Beatles’ track record. Diana’s version is more of the pop single mode and the repetitive choruses are left off, but it’s a great cover, nonetheless. The pace is picked up and there is less space between the lyrics which helps give the song a brighter flow. With Ross’s soothing and intense vocal, “Hey Jude” feels more like an encouraging message than a consoling note.
Sandie Shaw – Love Me Do
This song is of monumental importance in the Beatles’ catalog. Released in the UK in October of 1962, “Love Me Do” was the band’s first single. It peaked at #17. The idea for the song was formulated by McCartney in the late 1950s as a teenager and features Lennon’s distinctive harmonica work. When the song was released in America in 1964, it skyrocketed to #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. “Love Me Do” was the fourth of six Beatles songs to hit #1 in a one-year period. The rest is history.
British songstress Sandie Shaw was a mainstay on the UK charts during the mid-60s, having three #1 singles from 1964 to 1967. In 1969, Shaw recorded the album “Reviewing the Situation”. She also assumed producer responsibilities. Her vision was to cover some her favorite artist’s most impactful work. The track list includes covers from Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones. She also gives “Love Me Do” a glossy makeover. Sandie’s version strips the working class feel of the original while adding lively female perspective. She substitutes the harmonica for a bit of psychedelia and her graceful voice turns a rough pop single into a smooth contemporary cover.
Dionne Warwick – We Can Work It Out
The Beatles released the song as a single in December of 1965. It was inspired by Paul’s relationship with then girlfriend Jane Asher and was a smash hit. It topped the US Billboard Hot 100 and ranked as the seventh highest selling single of the 1960s in the UK. Years later, Paul related, “I took it to John to finish it off, and we wrote the middle together”. “We Can Work It Out” represents one of their last pure collaborations.
The 1969 album “Soulful” was diva extraordinaire Dionne Warwick’s first album that was not distinguished by her longtime celebrated collaborators. The album contained little of the typical Bacharach & David sounds that had defined her career and made her a star. Instead, Warwick decided to put her soulful spin on some of her favorite songs. Her take on “We Can Work It Out” infuses a level of funk and feeling that the original lacks. It conveys a deeper, more serious infatuation. And her changes work wonderfully. Dionne’s version is not only fresh and exciting, it is convincing. When Warwick sings that we can work it out, it is not a function of a pop ditty, she means it!