Stream the Revolver Reimagined playlist below or here
Happy 50th Anniversary to the Beatles’ Revolver, originally released August 5, 1966.
Revolver, one of the Beatles’ handful of album masterpieces, turns 50 this week. But “Revolver,” the body of music that grew out of this LP, is still very much a work in progress. Covers of the album’s fourteen iconic songs started to pour in almost immediately after its release and have scarcely slowed since. Like a Rodgers & Hammerstein songbook or a collection of Gregorian chant—or, for that matter, like most other Beatles albums—Revolver has proven to be a nigh-inexhaustible well of musical inspiration.
But it isn’t easy to make a great Revolver cover. Along with Rubber Soul, released eight months earlier, Revolver is typically viewed as a major step forward from the Beatles’ earlier work. The latter album in particular features some inimitable sonic innovations, presenting a challenge to the would-be coverer. It’s easy enough to reproduce a song’s lyrics and harmonies, but what about the collaboration with Indian musicians that made “Love You To” sound so new? What about the wonderfully goofy collage of found sounds on “Yellow Submarine?” These elements, the unique touches that set Revolver apart from its peers, are less easily imitated.
Predictably, then, most covers of Revolver songs simply don’t measure up to their source material. A few, though, are truly excellent, and with a little research it’s possible to cobble together a song-for-song, all-cover version of Revolver as diverse as it is engaging, which is precisely what I’ve done below. As the best covers always do, the best Revolver covers build on what made the originals so special while simultaneously offering a fresh new perspective. A top-notch cover is a win-win, not only giving us a great new track, but also deepening our appreciation of the original.
Here are my picks for the five best covers of songs from Revolver, followed by the full 14-track Revolver Reimagined playlist:
The quintessential Revolver cover, Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1978 version of “Got to Get You into My Life” peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won two Grammys, making it just as successful, if not more so, than the original. According to Paul McCartney, “Got to Get You Into My Life” is an ode to marijuana thinly disguised as a love song, which makes its appearance on the closing credits of last year’s animated film Minions hilariously incongruous.
Who knows whether Earth, Wind & Fire interpreted the song that way, but it isn’t difficult to imagine that their version—brighter, funkier, looser, and glossier than the original—represents a conscious playing-up of the psychedelic angle. In any case, just as Revolver showcases the Beatles at the height of their powers, “Got to Get You into My Life” finds Earth, Wind & Fire in top form. Perhaps that’s no surprise—their very next single was the timeless “September.”
On the face of it, the sweetly sincere “Here, There and Everywhere” would seem to be the song that least belongs on the groundbreaking Revolver. The old-school groove and uncomplicated love song lyrics almost make the song seem like a holdover from an earlier recording session. But aren’t the vocal performances a touch muted for such an earnest song? And what about those swerving guitar licks (1:02)? Might “Here, There and Everywhere” actually be a bit more complicated, a bit more melancholy than it first appears?
George Shearing certainly thought so. Shearing’s solo piano rendition of the song transforms it into a gently swaying, bittersweet meditation, almost classical in its restraint. Indeed the lonely wordlessness of Shearing’s cover suggests that the song’s beloved subject may, in fact, be everywhere but here.
No one really knows the story behind “And Your Bird Can Sing,” but a quick survey of the competing theories, which propose tiffs with Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger as possible sources of inspiration, confirms what is already clear from the song itself: somebody was upset with somebody else. The song’s boppy opening riff sets the tone of the original version, which exudes a kind of happy defiance.
Rogue Valley, in their cover for the second volume of the annual Minnesota Beatle Project, offers an alternative take on the song, slowing things down and transforming it into a surprisingly mellow, wavy jam. If the Beatles meant for “And Your Bird Can Sing” to demonstrate that they were unfazed by whatever prompted the song, Rogue Valley’s cover suggests they are too relaxed to be bothered by anything at all.
Quick: name your favorite pop song featuring the French horn. Coming up empty? Alan Civil’s French horn solo on “For No One,” an instrumental interlude dropped into the middle of the second verse, is among Revolver’s most unusual and most inspired details—attempting to recreate the magic of such an iconic moment would be a fool’s errand.
On her cover, the Brazilian songstress Cássia Eller smartly devises a different kind of interlude: a loose, freewheeling scat improvisation (1:18). Not only is Eller saved from having to replicate the irreplaceable, but her scat is also better suited to the tone of her version of “For No One,” which replaces the original’s dead-inside flatness with a more unvarnished representation of the lyrics’ crushing heartbreak.
“Eleanor Rigby” is the rare song with an accompaniment as famous as its lyrics—those chugging strings are unmistakable. In their place, Joan Baez’s cover features motoric piano and harp, crystalline bells, and smooth brass, all arranged by classical music composer and satirist Peter Schickele (better known by his stage name P.D.Q. Bach). This rich and variegated accompaniment, along with Baez’s haunting vocal performance, makes for a version of “Eleanor Rigby” so good that it might even be (if you can forgive the sacrilege) better than the original.
Whether you prefer Baez’s cover or the original, though, another version of “Eleanor Rigby,” and of all the songs on Revolver, will come along before too long. Revolver is the musical gift that keeps on giving, spawning new music for 50 years, with no signs of slowing down.