The Beatles in their early recording days were under such deadline pressure from their record label to churn out more and more product that they resorted to covering songs by other artists. They often chose to cover material they had already been playing during sets of their stage act in Hamburg and at Liverpool’s Cavern Club. And they chose songs from their musical influences.
On three of their first four albums, the Beatles followed a formula of recording eight original songs and six cover tunes. Of course this would be the British versions of their albums, as the tracks on their early albums on the American side of the Atlantic were reshuffled in a way that corrupted the integrity of their music.
Carl Perkins. Of the 24 covers the Beatles did, three were of rockabilly legend Carl Perkins’ songs. George Harrison’s guitar playing was heavily influenced by Perkins, and Harrison sang lead on a cover of “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.” Ringo Starr sang lead on the other two Perkins’ covers, “Matchbox” and “Honey Don’t.”
Larry Williams. Surprisingly the Beatles covered three songs of the relatively unknown Larry Williams, an African American rock and roll pioneer. This ties Williams with Perkins for having the most songs covered by the Beatles. John Lennon liked Williams’ music and sang lead on all three of the covers, “Slow Down,” “Bad Boy,” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.”
Motown. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Beatles and Motown Records and its subsidiary labels were part of the same wave that appealed to young America between 1964 and 1970. The relationship was mutually beneficial. The Beatles were influenced by Motown, especially by Smokey Robinson. They promoted Motown by covering material from the label and speaking highly of Motown artists. This helped propel Motown to new heights by allowing its music to crossover to expanded audiences. The Beatles covered “Money,” “Please Mr. Postman,” and “You Really Got A Hold On Me.”
American girl groups. In the early 1960s the Beatles were enamored of soulful girl groups. In addition to “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes, they covered “Boys” and “Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles, “Devil In His Heart” by the Donays, and “Chains” by the Cookies.
Chuck Berry. The granddaddy of rock and roll was a seminal artist when it came to forming the foundation of Beatles music. They paid homage to him by covering “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music.”
Little Richard. If Berry influenced Lennon more than Paul McCartney, then Little Richard certainly had a greater impact on McCartney than Lennon. McCartney sang lead on the Beatles covers of Little Richard numbers “Long Tall Sally” and the “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” medley.
Here are the 24 covers the Beatles recorded and the artists who previously popularized the songs.
From the album “Please Please Me”:
“Anna (Go To Him)” by Arthur Alexander
“Chains” by The Cookies
“Boys” by The Shirelles
“Baby It’s You” by The Shirelles
“A Taste Of Honey” by Lenny Welch
“Twist And Shout” by The Isley Brothers (originally by The Top Notes)
From the album “With the Beatles”:
“Till There Was You” by Peggy Lee
“Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes
“Roll Over Beethoven” by Chuck Berry
“You Really Got A Hold On Me” by The Miracles
“Devil In His Heart” by The Donays, changed to “Devil In Her Heart” for George Harrison to sing lead
“Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong
From the EP “Long Tall Sally” and/or on the CD “Past Masters, Volume One”:
“Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard
“Slow Down” by Larry Williams
“Matchbox” by Carl Perkins
“Bad Boy” by Larry Williams
From the album “Beatles For Sale”:
“Rock And Roll Music” by Chuck Berry
“Mr. Moonlight” by Dr. Feelgood & The Interns
“Kansas City / Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” by Little Richard
“Words Of Love” by Buddy Holly
“Honey Don’t” by Carl Perkins
“Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby” by Carl Perkins
From the album “Help!”:
“Act Naturally” by Buck Owens
“Dizzy Miss Lizzy” by Larry Williams
After “Help!” the Beatles only recorded their own material, with the possible exception of “Maggie Mae,” originally an English folk song the Beatles rearranged for the “Let It Be” album. Lennon and McCartney increasingly wrote separately, but continued to place all their work under the Lennon-McCartney umbrella to avoid pettiness and jealousies over who had how many numbers on each album. Harrison also became an accomplished songwriter. It is noteworthy that well over half the songs the Beatles covered were by African American artists. The Beatles did a great deal to unify rock and roll music and break down artificial racial barriers.
Related articles: Top 10 Beatles B Sides, a Fan’s Take
Beatles Top 10 Songs From Their Post-Beatles Careers
The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show”
Beatles Number One Songs Trivia Quiz
“Please Please Me,” EMI Records, CD
“With the Beatles,” EMI Records, CD
“The Beatles, Past Masters, Volume One,” EMI Records, CD
“Beatles For Sale,” EMI Records, CD
“Help!” EMI Records, CD