In popular music, a cover version, often referred to as simply a cover is a new presentation of a song that had been previously recorded. Sometimes the term is used in a derogatory way, implying that the original version is the preferred rendition. This weekend cover music takes center stage in Jeffersonville.
Abbey Road on the River (AROTR) is the world’s largest Beatles’ inspired music festival. The celebration, now in its 18th year, will be held over Memorial Day weekend with tributes to the legendary music of the Beatles. Joining over 50 bands from around the world are headlining groups The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, The Cowsills and Peter Asher and Jeremy Clyde. Over 20,000 music fans have been attending the concerts since 2002.
Rachel May is no stranger to cover music. Rachel is a singer-songwriter who has sung covers her entire adult life. She began her music career singing here in Clark and Floyd counties at restaurants and other local venues. She worked at Louisville’s Howl at the Moon on Fourth Street Live! for almost two years before transferring to its Cincinnati location.
Rachel now sings for Billboard Hot 100 Music Charts, providing entertainment on the Holland-America cruise line. When asked why people are drawn to cover music, Rachel smiled as she reflected. “I think that there is something about hearing a song that you love or that is special to you performed in a live setting that is different than just hearing it on the radio or having a DJ play it. Especially if it's an artist or band that you can't hear live anymore, a good cover can be the next best thing. I've had people ask me to play the song they danced to at their wedding or their favorite song from their senior year of high school and then tell me afterwards that it took them right back to that moment. There is something personal about hearing a song that is special to you played live.”
Rachel continued, “People in the audience want to hear the song the way that they know and love it. A good cover pays respect to the original artist, and pulls the audience in and invites them to sing along and participate. As a performer, there's nothing more satisfying than having people sing along and join in the experience with you.”
With the days of Abbey on the River upon us, let’s talk about a couple of Beatles’ songs where the concept of covering makes its impression on the music.
"Twist and Shout." The Beatles covered this song of the Isley Brothers with an intriguing story line. The Beatles recorded the eleven songs on the Please Please Me disk in ten hours, with “Twist and Shout” taking only one take in the session’s last fifteen minutes. John Lennon’s lead vocal was raspy and biting, the result of a bad cold and ten hours of use. The combination was magic. “Twist and Shout” topped the charts in the number two position, bettered only by the Beatles’ own “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
"With a Little Help from My Friends." English singer Joe Cocker released a studio version of the Beatles’ hit, but it was his fire-impassioned performance of the song at Woodstock that made his version so famous. Cocker brought the crowd breathless with his air-guitar antics and his meandering bluesy voice and guitar solos. He brought Ringo’s song to new depths.
"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Elton John released the Beatles’ classic as a single in 1974. The disc went straight to the top of the charts, far surpassing the popularity of the version included on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The song was always surrounded with controversy by supposed drug references, though John Lennon always claimed that the song was inspired by a drawing from his son and the stories of Lewis Carroll. In an out of this world piece of trivia, the song was included on an album of covers by William Shatner.
"Got to Get You into My Life." The song first appeared on the Beatles’ Revolver album and was released as a single in the USA in 1976, six years after the Beatles disbanded. It reached number seven on Billboard’s Top 100, their last top ten hit until 1995. The blasting brass instruments were a tribute to the Motown Sound. Fittingly, one of the best covers of the song was recorded by Earth, Wind and Fire in 1978. Their rendition made it to number one on the Soul Chart.
The most covered Beatles’ song of all time is the song "Yesterday." Popular songs like “Help!”, “Hey Jude” and “Come Together” might have come to your mind, but “Yesterday” has been covered over 2200 times by everyone from Ray Charles to Elvis Presley to Linkin Park.
What is interesting about the popularity of this song is the controversy around it. It was written by Paul McCartney and he is the only Beatle singing on the song. Because the song was so different than their other hits, the rest of the Beatles vetoed its release in the UK. Their band managers were terrified that the song would lead people to believe that the band was breaking up. The song was not released in the UK as a single until 1976, six years after the group broke up.
As a note of trivia to end our whims about covers, seven of the fourteen songs on the Beatles’ first studio album were covers of other recordings, though the Fab Four placed their own stamp on each.
— Tom May is a freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.