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Classic and curious Beatles covers

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Joe Cocker's Beatles cover went to number one in 1968

By John Williams
Producer, Sings the Beatles

As part of the BBC's Beatles Week, BBC Four programme Sings The Beatles has delved into the BBC archives to look at some of the classic and curious cover versions of the Fab Four's tracks.

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS, JOE COCKER, 1968

With A Little Help From My Friends was released by The Beatles in 1967 as the second track on their Sgt. Pepper album. Arguably popular music's first concept album, it continued the musical innovations of Revolver and was their eighth studio record.

It was performed by Ringo Starr's alter-ego, Billy Shears, who is introduced as a character in the opening track on the album.

The Beatles
Ringo Starr's alter-ego Billy Shears performed the track originally

Sheffield's gravel-voiced Joe Cocker went to the top spot in the UK charts with a reinvention of the song in 1968.

Having performed under the stage name Vance Arnold during the early 60s, Cocker's first release in 1964, I'll Cry Instead, was also a Beatles cover. However, that record was a flop, and several other projects followed before he hit the limelight with A Little Help From My Friends in 1968, seen here on How It Is.

Cocker's recording featured a stellar line-up including Jimmy Page on guitar, Steve Winwood on piano and BJ Wilson on drums.

HELP!, THE CARPENTERS, 1971

The Carpenters sing Help!

The Help! album sound-tracked the 1965 Beatles film of the same name, which was released on the back of the success of their previous film A Hard Day's Night. The song Help! was John Lennon's cri de coeur when he was overweight and overwhelmed by celebrity status. He called it his "fat Elvis period", apparently.

The Carpenters covered the song on their second album Close To You. Their 1969 debut record, Offering, was a commercial failure aside from another Beatles cover, Ticket To Ride. However, follow-up Close To You went two times platinum and established The Carpenters as the number one American music act of the 70s.

Also featured in Sings The Beatles is a classic cover of Help! from Tina Turner in 1984. It was released just months before What's Love Got To Do With It, the catalyst for what was to become one of the greatest comebacks in pop music history.

DEAR PRUDENCE, SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES, 1983

Siouxsie performs Dear Prudence

Mia Farrow, along with her sister Prudence, joined The Beatles on a meditation retreat in Rishikesh, India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968. Prudence had become infatuated with meditation and, worried about the amount of time she was spending confined in her room, Lennon wrote this song asking her to "come out to play".

Siouxsie and The Banshees released Dear Prudence in 1983. It overtook 1978's Hong Kong Garden to become their biggest hit, and reached number three in the UK charts.

Sings The Beatles features a clip from Top Of The Pops which stars a young Robert Smith on guitar who was "on-loan" at the time from The Cure.

STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER, CANDY FLIP, 1990

Candy Flip cover Strawberry Fields

First released as the double A-side to Penny Lane in 1967, Strawberry Fields Forever is one of the defining masterpieces of psychedelic rock. The title was derived from the Strawberry Field Salvation Army children's home near to John Lennon's childhood house. Lennon described the track, along with Help!, as "one of the few true songs I ever wrote".

With their moniker deriving from the slang term for mixing ecstasy and acid, Candy Flip emerged from Mad-chester's Second Summer of Love in the early 90s.

They hit number three and featured on Top Of The Pops in 1990 with a rave cover of Strawberry Fields, sampling the famous break from James Brown's Funky Drummer.

But their debut album Madstock... The Further Adventures of Fish Rides a Bicycle, was a flop and they disbanded in 1992 as the English rave scene fizzled.

Keyboard player Ric Peet became a producer and went on to work with The Charlatans. More recently, vocalist Danny Spencer was involved in the production of four tracks for Robbie Williams's Rudebox album. Their cover of Strawberry Fields is now considered a rave classic.

I AM THE WALRUS, OASIS, 1994

Oasis cover The Beatles on Jools Holland

Much has been mooted as regards the derivation of the nonsense lyrics of I Am The Walrus.

A two-note police siren becoming "Mr City Policeman", Lennon enjoying sitting in his garden, and Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter apparently all providing inspiration. Written in 1967 at the peak of the first Summer Of Love, it was Beatles avant-garde at its best.

Originally the reverse of Hello, Goodbye, Oasis reinvented the Walrus as another B-side; for 1994 anthem Cigarettes & Alcohol. The Manchester rockers often closed their live shows with the track, and played it on Later...With Jools Holland.

The "eggman" in the song is supposedly a reference to Animals front man Eric Burdon, who, it was rumoured, liked to break raw eggs onto the bodies of naked groupies.

CAN'T BUY ME LOVE, KOREAN KITTENS, 1964

Korean Kittens play Can't Buy Me Love

This track is a little gem from the BBC archives. It went to air on the Tonight programme, which ran on the BBC between 1957 and 1965.

Girl four-piece the Korean Kittens perform a magical version of Can't Buy Me Love, a track written for third UK album A Hard Day's Night.

One of the Korean Kittens, Yoon Bok-hee, is now referred to as the "Mother of Korean Musicals", having performed the role of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar for 20 years from 1980.

It was after seeing a performance by Yoon in Singapore that show promoter Charles Owe asked her to join the Korean Kittens, and they subsequently came to London to perform on the Tonight show.

The Kittens went on to tour extensively, even entertaining US troops on the USS Bennington for Bob Hope's 1966 Christmas special.

For all these songs and more, tune into BBC Four for Sings the Beatles on 11 September at 2130 BST.



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SEE ALSO
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