2 new Beatles cover albums are sure bets


From the Sept. 28, 2007, Deseret News

A friend of mine collects Beatles covers — that is, Beatles songs performed by other singers, not album covers.

He started doing this as soon as audiotape became a viable format in the 1970s. He'd discover that some singer had recorded one of the Beatles' songs and buy the record — back when 33-1/3 rpm vinyl was still the industry standard. Then he'd copy the song to a tape.

Gradually, he'd come across others and add them to the tape, until it was filled. Then he'd start "Volume 2," and then "Volume 3," etc.

He began sharing these with me in the early '80s but eventually became less earnest in his pursuit.

Some years ago, when I got my first computer with iTunes and a CD burner, I started a "Beatles covers" playlist, and as it grew, I began burning CDs for my friend.

The baton was officially passed.

But it's actually been a very casual hobby for us both.

After awhile it became clear that Beatles covers were coming faster than we could keep up with them. And today — for us anyway — there are far too many for even a serious hobbyist to be comprehensive.

My own, later iTunes playlist has grown to ridiculous proportions, and I'm sure it just scratches the surface.

There are literally hundreds of individual cover songs out there, and dozens of entire albums devoted to Beatles variations — classical ("Baroque Beatles Book"), soulful ("Motown Meets the Beatles"), heavy metal ("Butchering the Beatles"), comical ("The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits").

Yet, even at that, I'm not suggesting any single Beatles song has set a record ... so to speak. The Gershwins may hold that title.

But it's certainly impressive that there are so many collections of the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo — and that they keep on coming some 40 years later.

Anyway, all this brings me to a couple of new Beatles cover albums: "Judy Collins Sings Lennon & McCartney" and the "Across the Universe" soundtrack.

Collins is responsible for my single favorite Beatles cover of all time, "In My Life," which imbues the song with deep feeling and a sense of universality. (John Lennon's original can't be beat but this comes a close second in my book.)

Collins goes for a wide range in her choice of a dozen Lennon & McCartney tunes — heavy on McCartney — from early Beatles ("And I Love Her") to late Beatles ("The Long and Winding Road").

And while she includes some that have been done to death — "Blackbird," "Yesterday" — even they somehow seem to benefit from the 67-year-old Collins' still remarkably lilting voice.

She also takes less frequently covered songs — "I'll Follow the Sun," "Norwegian Wood," "We Can Work It Out" — and gives them a fresh perspective.

Best of all, she's having fun, which is contagious. Note the end of "When I'm 64," which she playfully changes to "When I'm 84."

I'm less enthused about "Hey Jude" and "The Long and Winding Road," but that's probably because they've never been my favorites.

As for "Across the Universe," it's been nearly 30 years since a movie's plot has been built around Beatles songs. Anyone remember "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," with the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and George Burns?

I've not seen "Across the Universe" yet (it opens today) but it has a similar premise, as 33 Beatles songs are used to propel a period yarn about '60s youth — from innocence to psychedelia to Vietnam.

Curiously, the soundtrack includes only 16 tracks, about half of the film's covers (performed by cast members and guest artists). On the other hand, maybe it's not so curious. Can "Volume 2" be far off?

And only one ("Something") is by George Harrison; all the others are Lennon-McCartney tunes.

From my perspective, the revelation here is Evan Rachel Wood, whose versions of "It Won't Be Long" and "Blackbird" are arguably the album's best cuts. I also enjoyed Jim Sturgess on "All My Loving" (although it's an odd choice to sing "ya" instead of "you"), as well as a countryfied "I've Just Seen a Face" and the title track.

Joe Cocker, Bono — and even Salma Hayek! — show up.

Cocker sings "Come Together" (he previously recorded "With a Little Help From My Friends" and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" to great effect), and Bono does "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "I Am the Walrus."

The weirdest choice is Joe Anderson and Hayek performing "Happiness Is a Warm Gun."

But I have to say, it's kind of strangely inspired to have Dana Fuchs channel Janis Joplin for "Helter Skelter."

Both albums are enjoyable, though I'll give the edge to Collins.

But Beatles fans can't go wrong with either one.

Or both.

NOTE: About a month after the initial soundtrack release, an expanded album showed up with another 13 tracks, giving a bit more attention to George Harrison. (C.H., April 1, 2013)