Photos: David Redfern/Retna (Beatles, Franklin), J. Scott Wynn/Retna (Smith), G. Hanekroot/Sunshine/Retna (Wonder), Edd Westmacott/Retna (Sonic Youth)
Hitting movie theaters this weekend is Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe , a pop musical that tells the story of the sixties through the songs of the Beatles. In it, Bono sings “I Am the Walrus.” Is it any good? Who knows! But, to test out our sexy new streaming audio player, here are Vulture’s top ten all-time favorite Beatles covers. Note: If you think we missed one, you’re wrong — we listened to it and decided we just didn’t like it.
10. The Libertines, “Eight Days a Week” (2003)
By the time the Beatles got around to writing this song in 1964, George Martin had whipped the former bar band into a crack team of metronomic studio professionals. So, we’d like to extend our sincerest thanks to Pete Doherty and Carl Barat for this madcap pisstake, which we’re pretty sure was recorded on the walk home from a pub.
9. Echo & the Bunnymen, “Ticket to Ride” (2001)
The psychedelic Liverpudlians soak the Help! track in reverb and synthesizers. This is how the original version might’ve sounded had the Beatles tried LSD two years sooner (also if synthesizers had been available in 1965).
8. Elliott Smith, “Blackbird” (2003)
Smith made his love of the Beatles pretty apparent by remaking almost their entire discography at his concerts. This is our favorite of his covers; with his half-sung, half-croaked delivery, he sounds every bit the song’s broken-winged protagonist.
7. Rufus Wainwright, “Across the Universe” (2001)
Many of Wainwright’s own songs owe their best moments to over-the-top arrangements for gospel choirs and 90-piece orchestras. But here, he just strums an acoustic guitar and sings the crap out of Let It Be’s ineffable highlight.
6. Aretha Franklin, “Eleanor Rigby” (1969)
The melancholy of the Beatles’ version is erased in this upbeat cover, replaced by Aretha’s grim determination to push on through to the other side. Who knew that inside the Beatles’ most chamber-music-inspired track was hidden classic R&B?
5. The Breeders, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” (1990)
Kim Deal, on leave from the Pixies, transforms The White Album’s signature song into something jagged, cranky, and twice as dangerous. A great example of a band remaking a Beatles track in its own style, without concern for the preciousness of the original.
4. Cornershop, “Norwegian Wood” (1997)
Tjinder Singh’s short-lived but brilliant Anglo-Indian dance band reclaims all those sitars, and Singh translates the whole song into Punjabi to boot. A witty and enjoyable comment on cross-cultural appropriation. And you can boogie to it!
3. Wilson Pickett, “Hey Jude” (1969)
Duane Allman’s guitar soars on this cover, which accomplishes the unimaginable — it matches the Beatles’ version in pure, rhapsodic emotion. It just makes things a little more grungy.
2. Sonic Youth, “Within Without You” (1988)
Thurston and friends sic their guitar pedals on Sgt. Pepper’s Hindu-tastic centerpiece. Is that an actual sitar or a problem with somebody’s Telecaster? Not even Vishnu knows for sure.
1. Stevie Wonder, “We Can Work It Out” (1970)
Stevie finds the funk in the Beatles’ folksy workout and makes it even more joyous and exciting. Why is this No. 1? Because none of the covers on this list, excellent though they may be, improve on the Beatles’ originals … except this one.