When I first started this blog I made a plug for what I consider one of the best sites on the Internet: The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. This site plans to cover the complete Beatles Discography on ukulele at the rate of one song a week by different artists in different genres.
It’s a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed, and it’s a shame that my earlier recommendation is now buried in my back log. To date, less than ten people have gone from my site to take a good look at what they have to offer. I’ve decided that needs to be remedied, and so I’ve decided I’ll periodically review their collection in the hopes that more of my readers will become their listeners.
1. — While My Guitar Gently Weeps covered by Dandelion Wine
released on the week of January 20, 2009
This is the perfect song to start off a ukulele-themed cover site. While My Guitar Gently Weeps is one of the best Beatles guitar tunes (putting to one side that George Harrison got Eric Clapton to do the heavy lifting on the track), and it translates very naturally into a ukulele ballad. A cello on the verses and an electric guitar on the bridge fills in some of the depth that the ukulele can’t produce, and the singer himself does a wonderful job of selling the lyrics. The essay that goes along with the song also sets the bar pretty high for what is to come: It’s funny, informative, eye-opening, and shows the site’s founders Roger and Dave have their ducks in a row musically, historically, and analytically. Despite being the first, this song is one of my firm favourites.
EDIT: I’ve just spotted this song has been recovered as of April 15, 2011 by John James. I’m afraid I don’t have a working link to the Dandelion Wine cover anymore. At a guess, I would say that Dandelion Wine’s later cover of I’m Looking Through You had the site organizers redo this entry.
2. — Oh Darling covered by Kathena Bryant
released on the week of January 27, 2009
This second cover is the first to introduce the idea of giving the song a setting independent of the original. In this case, Oh Darling is the story of a woman whose boyfriend is a mugger in New York. Upon her beau’s arrest, he begs her to stick by him through the lyrics of the song. It’s an interesting idea, and here it is done well. This song is also the first to drift from its original genre: It’s clearly an old-timey country crooning tune in Kathena Bryant’s hands, and she does a lovely, respectful job of it.
3. — You Never Give Me Your Money covered by Peter Buffett
released on the week of February 3, 2009
This one struck me as a challenge to cover, because it’s really a few half-finished songs mashed together (as often happened on the later half of the Abbey Road album). Peter Buffett does well with it. His version is, above all else, as easy to listen to as the original. It’s a wonderful translation of a wonderful song. The essay is pretty good too.
4. — Run For Your Life covered by Fiona Silver
released on the week of February 10, 2009
This is one of those songs that you feel uncomfortable listening to in this day and age, and Roger and Dave admit to that in their essay. John Lennon is threatening to kill his girlfriend if she cheats on him. A decade later he wrote the song ‘(I’m Just a) Jealous Guy’ by way of apology. Fiona Silver takes this piece of misogynist fury and turns it into a sultry threat to her lesbian lover. For that concept alone it would get top marks from me, but it’s also toe-tapping, which never hurts. Unlike a lot of the covers to come, this one stays very focused on the ukulele, and, as that’s the point of the site, that’s still more points towards it. An excellent cover all the way around. Well worth a listen.
5. — Here There And Everywhere covered by Bill Clift
released on the week of February 17, 2009
Here There and Everywhere is one of those songs you sometimes forget the Beatles wrote (they did so many). This cover is beautiful. It’s true to the original, but it has more energy. It feels like it’s building towards something, where the original seems more of a statement of fact in a single, level tone. It’s whimsical and dreamlike. In short, a great cover, perhaps even an improvement on the original.
6. — Tomorrow Never Knows covered by Declan Zimmerman
released on the week of February 24, 2009
Tomorrow Never Knows is an odd song, very much of its time and place. The cover is very true to it, although without that spark of originality Here There and Everywhere enjoys. The essay was a little flat for me as well. All in all, not the best the site has to offer, but nowhere near the worst.
7. — Come Together covered by Kirsty Rock
released on the week of March 3, 2009
Come Together is a very tough act to follow, but Kirsty Rock does a credible job of following up on it. You can definitely sense the drug scene playing in the background, although I could do without the police sirens. There was a lot of ways the song could have been worse, and those were mercifully avoided. All in all, a good cover, but nothing I would have sought out if it wasn’t part of this collection.
8. — Hey Bulldog covered by Not Quite Dead Yet
released on the week of March 10, 2009
Hey Bulldog is one of my favourites on this site so far. I don’t believe I had ever heard the Beatles original prior to the cover, and when I did, I must confess I feel Not Quite Dead Yet’s version is better. That’s high praise –even for a little known Beatles song– but I give it freely. This little ditty is not an easy one to rock out to, but NQDY gave it a shot, and the result is highly entertaining. The original, like most of the Yellow Submarine album, sounds almost like it was written for a children’s show. The cover is much closer to something you’d hear in the back of a smokey bar on a dark and stormy Saturday night. I really enjoy this one.
9. — I Will covered by Adam Green
released on the week of March 17, 2009
The plot injected into this song doesn’t do much for me: A boyfriend narrowly misses overdosing his girlfriend, and the song is his relief that she’s still alive the next morning. That said, the song itself is well done, focuses on the ukulele, and is gentle and sweet –even if one suspects the singer is trying to sound stoned while singing it. Once again, the essay is really well done too.
10. — I Want You (She’s So Heavy) covered by JJ Appleton And Tamara Hey
released on the week of March 24, 2009
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) is an epic song on Abby Road. This cover is not epic. It’s almost cutesy. Fun, almost light-hearted, but if the original wasn’t so well known, this song would be almost unentertaining. One gets the sense the musicians were intimidated by their subject matter, and decided to go art house with it in the hopes that contrast would make the listener’s opinion grow fonder. It’s not a bad effort to create distance from the original, but I still feel like I missed out on a better cover possibility.
11. — Cry Baby Cry covered by Vaughn Trapp
released on the week of March 31, 2009
Simple and sweet, this cover takes a messed up John Lennon song and turns it into something approaching a lullaby. I can dig it. The original is better, but there’s nothing wrong with this at all. The essay, as almost always, is really well done. It’s a solid contribution to the collection, without a doubt.
12. — In My Life covered by Leah Siegel
released on the week of April 7, 2009
Leah Siegel has a beautiful voice, but that’s the only thing I really look kindly upon with this cover. In My Life is one of my favourite Beatles tunes, but it doesn’t need to be slower, and it doesn’t need electric percussion. It also doesn’t need the overtones that the song is sung by a spurned lover. Can I listen to it? Sure. I do. Often. Does it hold a candle to the original? Maybe a small one, if the original in this analogy can be likened to an apartment complex on fire.
13. — Yellow Submarine covered by Fort Green Childrens Choir
released on the week of of April 14, 2009
I’ll say it right now: I don’t like children’s choirs that play up on the fact that they are comprised of children. It’s too cute. It’s precious. I understand Yellow Submarine is almost a child’s story, but having those kids chirp at me is unsettling. The essay, as usual, saves the entry. The song I can take or leave.
14. — Eight Days A Week covered by We The They
released on the week of of April 21, 2009
Eight Days A Week is transformed now into a slow ballad of devotion. It swoons and snuggles up to you. It’s delightfully innocent, where the original is energy given voice. I quite enjoy this cover, although I don’t remember much about the essay.
15. — The Inner Light covered by Bryn
released on the week of of April 28, 2009
The Inner Light is one of those ‘The Beatles also did this’ songs for me. To that extent, this is a fair cover. It’s true to the original, but updated into the modern music scene. It’s a good cover of a song I don’t particularly like. The essay’s a lot of fun, though.
16. — Good Night covered by Jamie Rae Branthoover
released on the week of May 5, 2009
I listened to the Oldies all through my childhood. I used to fall asleep listening to the radio, and at midnight the DJ of 104.3 out of Detroit used to sign off with this lullaby by Ringo Starr. It’s a very fond childhood memory for me, and this cover is a real pleasure because they got it so right. I would even suggest it’s an improvement, because Ringo’s singing of the song sounds like he’s stuffed up, whereas Jamie Rae Branthoover’s voice soars angelically. Top marks for a very gentle, much-loved song.
17. — Because covered by Ydob Rodo
released on the week of May 17, 2009
I love the original, and I love the cover. The overarching setting of this one is that a man named Frank is on his deathbed, and either family or an angel is telling him to hold on for a little longer, to not step into the light. The song is eerie, in that it extols the virtues of existence in a melancholy tone. It’s a spot-on cover that I enjoy a great deal. The essay’s quite good too. You get a real sense of how the song was written and why.
18. — Lady Madonna covered by Amanda Homi
released on the week of May 19, 2009
The cover is fine, better than fine, really, but what makes this entry for me is the essay. I never really understood what the song was about –and I can’t swear Roger and Dave have it nailed on the head either– but the idea that it’s the story of a woman who uses prostitution to support her family speaks to me. I haven’t been able to listen to the original the same way since reading that essay.
19. — Hold Me Tight covered by Emily Zuzik
released on the week of May 26, 2009
It’s pop. It’s fresh. It’s different. I don’t view it as an improvement over a very good original, but it’s something I can listen to with a bit of a smile on my face. What more am I really looking for?
EDIT: As of November, 2011, this cover has been redone by Jeff Mechai. I do not have a link to the Emily Zuzik version anymore. She has recently done a cover of Baby You’re a Rich Man for the same project, though.
20. — Polythene Pam covered by Genji Siraisi
released on the week of June 2, 2009
I don’t like this cover at all. Abby Road is a tough album to cover, and this one just gets it wrong. It’s militant while trying to be funny, and it comes across as a forced attempt. The essay, as usual, saves the entry. Worth a read. Not really worth a listen.
21. — Blackbird covered by Papa Dee
released on the week of June 9, 2009
Blackbird is one of those songs I have heard covered elsewhere wonderfully. Even Foo Fighters’ version where he admits at the end he doesn’t know all the words has charm. This cover isn’t bad, and I understand they decided to go in a funky reggae direction with it because of the original’s ties to the civil rights movement, but I’ll admit I don’t care for this particular treatment. The essay was interesting, though.
22. — Maxwell’s Silver Hammer covered by Bruisercharles
released on the week of June 16, 2009
Maxwell Silver Hammer has a special place in my heart. I sang this song on a street corner for over an hour at 2 a.m. waiting for a taxi in Rome once. It’s a fun song about a macabre subject. The essay is probably my favourite so far too: I didn’t realize Paul McCartney was trying to make this into a single while everyone else hated it, and I loved to learn that the startled laugh Paul put onto his final recording was prompted by John Lennon mooning him from the booth. That said, this cover is too spooky in its treatment. It reminds me a little of the Monster Mash. If they’d released it for the Halloween edition I’d have a fonder feeling towards it, but Roger and Dave are British, and Halloween doesn’t happen over there, so they missed their opportunity. The cover’s musically competent, but it just feels wrong to me.
23. — I Saw Her Standing There covered by Natasha Romonova
released on the week of June 23, 2009
I think this is one of the most interesting covers the site has produced so far. You almost lose the ukulele, but all is forgiven by what drowns it out. Who would imagine this song would do so well on the Russian Techno Dance scene? I have a friend who doesn’t care much for the Beatles, but loves club music. He thinks this cover is the cat’s meow, and I have to give my hearty agreement. It’s among my top five, for sure. The essay is pretty spectacular too.
24. — It Won’t Be Long covered by Ben Walker
released on the week of June 30, 2009
It Won’t Be Long is another one of John Lennon’s creepy stalker songs, and the cover does a nice job with it. The overarching plot of it is a World of Warcraft player who dreams of a fantasy girl. It loses marks with me, though, for the singer’s mother calling downstairs into the basement. My teeth are set on edge every time I hear, “Oy! Ben!” Good essay, as usual.
25. — No Reply covered by Jessie Murphy In The Woods
released on the week of July 7, 2009
Yet another creepy Lennon song (the site’s done a great job of opening my eyes to a lot of Lennon’s insecurities). The overarching plot of this one is a woman stalking Daniel Radcliffe whose passions are further inflamed by his nude acting in the Broadway play Equus. This is the furthest a cover has gone with its exterior subplot that I still enjoy. I think it’s a marvelous translation of the original, dated source material.
26. — For No One covered by Lee Feldman
released on the week of July 14, 2009
For No One is one of my favourite Paul McCartney songs. I think Elliot Smith’s live cover of it is better than this one, but not by much. This one is matter of fact in its helplessness, which I like. The music is a little sparse for my taste, but maybe Paul and Elliot spoiled me. I do find myself listening to it quite often, though, and that says something. The essay’s another great contribution.
27. — Your Mother Should Know covered by Alan Cohen
released on the week of July 21, 2009
This essay rocked my socks off, and the cover is delightfully flippant. Paul McCartney wanted this song to be an epic, and he failed in that attempt. Alan Cohen decided to take that drama to a whole other level by make it a Greek Epic, and so he interspersed a so-so cover with snippets of the Chorus from Oedipus Rex. It’s fun and funny. Not great music, but a great concept well executed.
28. — Don’t Pass Me By covered by Kenny White
released on the week of July 28, 2009
Bar none so far, this is my favourite cover to date. The original is an uninspiring Ringo Starr entry to the White Album that Roger and Dave take apart at great length and with great cruelty in their massive essay. The argument can and has been made that this song only made it onto the White Album because Ringo threatened to quit. The cover takes all the pieces of Ringo’s country contribution and puts it back together into something brilliant and timeless. I don’t know what kind of rights Roger and Dave or Kenny White have to these covers beyond what they’re already doing with it, but this is the sort of gem that needs to be put into movie and television soundtracks. There isn’t one part of this cover that isn’t better than the original. It’s an out of the park home run.
29. — Getting Better covered by Super Conductor Music
released on the week of August 4, 2009
The essay is lovely. The cover… The music is well done, but the concept is positively grating. The context is putting a reluctant little girl to bed, and she throws a temper tantrum that climaxes at a tear-streaked shriek of unhappiness at her parents’ cruelty. My sister used to throw fits like that, and I don’t miss them. One thing that this entry has clued me into, however, is how much John Lennon could influence Paul McCartney’s writing style. This is Paul’s song, but, “I used to be cruel to my woman. I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved,” is so unlike Paul’s general writing style that you wonder how on Earth John talked him into it. You almost wonder if it was a bet or a dare, like where they talk about wet dreams in ‘I’ve Got A Feeling.’ Did they just want to see if they could get away with it?
30. — Don’t Bother Me covered by Delaverde
released on the week of August 11, 2009
There’s something jarring about hearing the Beatles covered in another language. When you hear the Beatles sing some of their early stuff in German on Past Masters, it’s fascinating. When Delaverde do their cover, I’m less fascinated. Without the lyrics to hold my interest, I turn to the instrumentation, which is well done. I do wish this was in English, but I suppose variety is the spice of life. The essay, as usual, is a great contribution. It follows the angst of being George Harrison in the Beatles at some length, and I saw his early work in a different light after reading it.
31. — Why Don’t We Do It In The Road covered by Angela Reed
released on the week of August 18, 2009
I don’t care for the instrumentation, but Angela Reed’s voice is sexy as hell. It’s like Peggy Lee’s Fever. You have to pay attention, rapt attention, to lyrics sung that way. The essay is another great addition to the site. Paul’s perfectionism, and his capability for latching onto a single, mediocre idea and trying to drive it through to being a hit, are well described and documented here.
32. — Across The Universe covered by Krista Crommett
released on the week of August 25, 2009
Honestly, to me this is the worst cover to date. Across the Universe is one of those Beatles songs that gives me goosebumps. That’s a hard act to follow. I have heard Across the World covered beautifully by Rufus Wainwright. This version can’t hold a candle to the original or that non-ukulele cover. It just goes through the motions, and then the chorus goes to a strange, unwelcome place. I don’t dislike this cover for what it is, so much as what it didn’t manage to be. The site’s essay made for some interesting reading, though. You can always count on Roger and Dave to give value for your visit.
33. — Revolution 1 covered by La Rez
released on the week of September 1, 2009
Revolution is one of those songs that even the Beatles can’t really decide what it’s supposed to sound like. They sped it up and slowed it down themselves, and so those covering it have carte blanche to have their way with it. La Rez decided to make it a jazz-blues-rock fusion that isn’t unpleasant to listen to, but I have the sense that he was trying for greatness. With me, at least, he failed to find it. It’s a good cover, but I don’t even know what the brass ring it was reaching for looks like. If I had heard this in a bar, I would have been impressed. The site, though, has the ability to draw artists from all over the world and match them up to a song they can run with in their own special way. I don’t think La Rez was necessarily the best choice to do this particular song.
34. — Revolution 9 covered by Dave
released on the week of September 9, 2009
It was a cute idea to cover this on 09/09/09. Other than that, I have nothing to say. My dislike of Revolution #9 is so strong, I’ve never listened to the cover. Maybe it’s brilliant: It is covered by one of the site’s founders, so I imagine a lot of work went into it. I have no interest in hearing Revolution #9 in any form, though, so I gave it a miss. I suppose I have to leave something for you to find without my opinion being plastered all over it, don’t I?
35. — I’ll Get You covered by Golden Bloom
released on the week of September 15, 2009
I’ll Get You is another one of those Beatles songs that, for me, sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Golden Bloom cemented it in my imagination, though. They slowed it down, while giving it more of a beat. The essay is a bit flat for me, personally. Still, over all this is a good contribution to the anthology.
36. — Don’t Let Me Down covered by Craig Greenberg
released on the week of September 22, 2009
Don’t Let Me Down is one of my favourite Beatles songs. The essay really fleshes out for me why it was written. This is John Lennon celebrating Yoko Ono to the point where he throws his happiness in the face of his other loved ones. The cover is just as passionate. Sparse on the instrumentation, it is driven by Craig Greenberg’s singing, which is emotional and powerful. Great cover to a great song, with a great essay to give greater depth to what it’s all about.
37. — Within You Without You covered by Spottiswoode
released on the week of September 29, 2009
A wonderful essay to a good cover of a middling song. This song is George Harrison’s love affair with Indian music and philosophy. I don’t know much about either of those things, but I can appreciate it on an aesthetic level.
38. — I Am The Walrus covered by The Newspaper Taxis
released on the week of October 6, 2009
I Am The Walrus is the definitive John Lennon song (despite his Glass Onion red herring that ‘The Walrus was Paul’). The essay does a wonderful job of fleshing out what is really going on in this song. The cover is very true to the original. If anyone is worried that this site treats the Beatles discography lightly, I would advise them to see what they did with I Am The Walrus. It is thorough, respectful, but also independent. It doesn’t have the same energy as John’s manic performance, but it has a dreamy reverence to it. A great cover all the way around.
39. — The Word covered by Terry Radigan
released on the week of October 13, 2009
Terry Radigan takes The Word, which was an off-the-cuff Beatles song, and turns it into something sleek and sexy. The Beatles sang this for ten thousand screaming fans. Terry sounds like she’s singing it for one very special fellow in the audience of a back room venue somewhere. I wouldn’t say it’s better than the original –that’s a tough thing to offer– but it’s certainly as good. The essay’s not bad either.
40. — Mother Nature’s Son covered by Big Tree
released on the week of October 20, 2009
Somewhere there’s an environmental group –Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Federation or the Sierra Club– that needs to take this cover and make it their anthem. It’s beautiful and serene, just like the original. The birds chirping in the background aren’t intrusive. The easy-listening vibe isn’t dull. It’s gentle and sincere. A great cover, to be sure.
41. — Dig A Pony covered by Meahgan Farrell
released on the week of October 27, 2009
There’s a lot of extra sounds in this cover (I’m talking specifically about the repeated horse whinneys and raspberry blowings) that don’t need to be there, buy Meahgan Farrell’s delivery of the lyrics are wonderful. She takes a rock tune and turns it into a gentle love song. The essay going along with it is especially good, as it deconstructs the message behind the cipher-like lyrics in a way that might unsettle John Lennon, who always claimed it was a nonsensical song. Roger and Dave’s explanation makes a lot of sense to me. See what you think.
42. — And I Love Her covered by Shake Anderson
released on the week of November 7, 2009
I don’t like this cover much. It tries to go towards Gospel and Blues without quite making it. For me, it floats in a limbo that feels like an identity crisis. Shake Anderson has a great voice, but it seems to flail a bit here as it tries to do what Paul McCartney made look easy. The essay makes up a lot of the ground lost, though.
43. — Day Tripper covered by Elaine Caswell
released on the week of November 14, 2009
I think this cover is excellent. The Beatles’ Day Tripper is almost frantic in its speed. Elaine’s Caswell’s Day Tripper drawls through the lyrics and beat in a way that lets you feel the disappointment, the let down, that the girl in question is just a tourist in the world the singer inhabits. The essay, as always, opened my eyes to facets of the song I never picked up on as a child. Great cover. Great essay. Well done.
44. — Love Me Do covered by Andy Breslau
released on the week of November 21, 2009
Love Me Do handled by the Beatles is sweet. Love Me Do handled by Andy Breslau is sour. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Tom Waits took a cough drop, this would be his version. It’s bluesy, folksy, powerful. The harmonica rocks. The bass rolls. This is one of those covers that gains power by distancing itself from the original. I quite enjoy it.
45. — I’m So Tired covered by Christina b612
released on the week of November 24, 2009
This is probably my second favourite cover to date. The essay sets the scene: John Lennon was suffering from insomnia during his time in India. He was still married, but he’d met Yoko and he can’t get her out of his head. He wants to call her, but she doesn’t owe him anything yet. He fears rejection from the far side of the world, and finds no peace with delaying what he wants. He becomes frustrated and bitchy and –in places– incoherent. Christina (b612) Hansen takes this rambling ode to possibly unrequited love and owns it. Just owns it. You can feel her fatigue, her frustration, her angst. The instrumentation doesn’t get in the way of what is essentially a vocal acting exercise. This cover actually made me appreciate the original more. It’s a powerful contribution that I can listen to on repeat over and over again.
46. — Hey Jude covered by David L.K.Murphy
released on the week of December 1, 2009
Let’s be honest: No one is going to cover Hey Jude better than Paul McCarney sings it. All you can do is an homage. If that’s the bar you’re reaching for, David Murphy gets there. The essay is fine, although this is a rare example of my actually knowing what Roger and Dave were going to write before I read it. All in all, this cover had to be done, and it wasn’t done badly, but I never had high hopes, so they weren’t dashed.
47. — Norwegian Wood covered by Kiddeaux
released on the week of December 8, 2009
Norwegian Wood is one of my go-to karaoke songs. Everyone knows the tune. It’s slow enough and low enough that my untrained voice can cover it all with some attempts at style. Plus, enough people don’t really get the arson angle that they clap at the end with the pleasure of having figured it out for themselves while listening to me, if for no other reason. It’s a great song, and I was looking forward to the cover… Which is not sung in English. Kiddeaux’s voice is lovely. The ukulele and strings do a fine job of replacing the sitar. I just wish it was in English so I could sing along to it. Does that make me selfish? The essay, once again, is a strong contribution. I hadn’t really put it together before that John probably got the idea for the twist ending while smoking pot in an empty apartment. Long and the short, I enjoy this one, but I can’t bring it up into my top five or even ten.
48. — Get Back covered by Drew Smith
released on the week of December 15, 2009
This cover takes its outside plot element too far. Get Back is one of the great Beatles rock tunes. It’s a plea from Paul to John to come back and make beautiful music together. Drew Smith turns it into a ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ tune about a violin playing vixen. He even changes the lyrics. Is it terrible? No. It is what I wanted? Absolutely not. The essay, as usual, is a fine contribution.