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Notes on Covers 1

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This article is from Alan W. Pollack's groundbreaking series "Notes on the Beatles". Links in the orginal article is written in this colour: index to the series, while links I have added appears as standard links. Go here for more information on my site about the song

Notes On The Cover Songs That Appear On The "Please Please Me" album

General Points Of Interest

Our study of the songs of the Beatles would not be complete without a modicum of attention paid to "the covers"; at least a brief comparison of the Beatles versions to the originals, as well as a consideration of the the cover repertoire in its relationship to the emerging Lennon/McCartney compositional style.

The group maintained an astonishingly broad variety of cover songs in their stage repertoire while on their way up, but when it came time to establish themselves as recording artists, it seems clear that they had, from the very beginning, a strong preference to record their own material. Witness for example their pushing back as early as September '62 on George Martin when he wanted them to do "How Do You Do It" for their first single instead of "Love Me Do". Even more significantly, note how, in England, they carefully avoided releasing any cover on a single, even as a B-side! Filling out EPs and LPs was one thing, but not for singles.

It is most common to rationalize the specific cover song choices on the "Please Please Me" album as having been selected on the basis of their nicely showcasing the talents of the group and providing a way for them to pay hommage to the music which they themselves enjoyed and which most directly influenced them.

Beyond this common wisdom, I think our cursory notes on each song below tend to suggest a number of additional ironies surrounding these cover songs:

  • 1) They were at least partly chosen for the way in which they rounded out the group's repertoire or filled gaps in what the they were interested in or compositionally capable of providing for themselves at this stage of their career; i.e., these covers provided a type of material ready-made that they could/would *not yet* write as a matter of lacking some combination of technique, imagination, or nerve. On the later albums, (e.g. "For Sale" and "Help!") perhaps the very appearance of any covers was quite frankly a shortcut to filling out two sides of vinyl. At this early stage, it was a matter of fleshing out the act itself.
  • 2) As much as the Beatles might be said to have been "inspired" or "influenced" by these specific cover songs, it is curious to note the extent to which these songs do *not* manifest very many, if any at all, of what we have come to see as the punchlist of early Beatles musical trademarks; the tricky chord progressions, the pungent vocal harmonies, the clever word play etc.
  • 3) Most surprising of all is the way in which, for some of these covers, the Beatles' version transcends the original recording, not just by virtue of performance quality, but because of structural tweaks to the arrangement and composition!

Song-By-Song Walkthrough


KEY D Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Mini-refrain -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Mini-refrain (complete ending)

COMPOSER Alexander

INFLUENTIAL VERSION Arthur Alexander (1962)

The original version is in the key of C and is slightly less syncopated than that of the Beatles. The Beatles arrangement closely follows the original with two telling differences: 1) it does not mimic the way that Alexander adds a string section to the backing starting in the second verse. This sort of layering would later become a common technique for the Boys but they didn't take the hint this time. 2) They replace the fadeout ending of the original with a complete one; already this had become a marked preference in their own material.

Among the six particular songs in this group, this one is among the most Beatles-like as a result of the love-related anguish in the lyrics, the slightly free-form phrasing of the verse, and of course, John's intense single track vocal. This is, btw, the only one of the six covers here to have been recorded by its composer.

Harmonically, note the emphasis on the I-vi progression starting right off in the intro, and the use of the minor iv chord in the bridge. Both these devices are fairly widespread and I don't mean to imply that their frequent use in the original songs of the Beatles is in any way directly related to *this* song; by the same token though, the appearance of such harmonies in this song *does* help reinforce whatever Lennon/McCartney-like resonance it may already have from other sources.


KEY B-flat Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (fadeout)



The original recording is in the higher key of 'D.' and is performed a bit slower than the Beatles version. As with "Anna", the two treatments are remarkably similar with the exception of a saxophone used in one and an harmonica used in the other.

The verse of this song is in 12-bar blues form, and though its in a Major key, there are a number of minor-sounding inflections in the melody making the music sound both more bluesy and exotic. As I've written elsewhere (in an article on the Quarrymen in _Illegal Beatles #17_, as well as a 'Note' on the song "Birthday"), it seems that when it came to The Blues, that the Beatles preferred ordering takeout rather than take a chance with cooking it up for themselves; this song, as well as "Boys" below are certainly examples of this phenomenon.

The fadeout of the original version loops on a rote repeat of the final phrase; the Beatles characteristically stretch out one of those repeats, over a minor iv chord, no less.


KEY E Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse (guitar solo) -> Verse -> Bridge -> Outro (fadeout)

COMPOSERS Dixon/Farrell

INFLUENTIAL VERSION The Shirelles (1962)

The original version is in the higher key of G and includes a piano and sax in the arrangement. The Beatles needed to change some of the words in order to make the gender pronouns come out right for a male lead singer, though they went beyond this and also changed the scat-sung phonemes for the backing vocals. The Shirelles save that backing vocal for the second verse but the Boys start it right off the bat -- further evidence that they had not yet learned the layering trick.

This song employs the 12-bar blues form throughout by use of a fairly old trick in which the backbeat and arrangement are modified for the "bridge" in order to disguise the fact that the music (or at least the chord progression and phrasing) is identical to that of the verses. The placement of the second bridge at the very end with a third repeat of it into the fadeout is an additional formal novelty, though personally, I don't think it is sufficient to prevent a certain monotony from setting in.

Intentional or not, this song started what would develop into a long-lived tradition for Ringo to be relegated to covers and/or novelty numbers for his carefully rationed solo vocal assignments. Up until Rubber Soul, the only *non*-cover was "I Wanna Be Your Man", and from then onward, even with his own few original compositions, we'd hear him more often than not on the likes of "Yellow Submarine" and "Octopus's Garden."

"Baby It's You"

KEY G Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Verse (first half, piano solo) -> Outro (fadeout)

COMPOSERS M. David/Bachrach/Williams

INFLUENTIAL VERSION The Shirelles (1961)

Again, the Shirelles play it in the higher key of B-flat (the same relative transposition as in "Boys") and their vocals are more breathy and soulful, though perhaps, compared to John, less "intense." The original features an organ instead of a piano for the instrumental solo. And you might say that the Boys more smoothly join the gap between solo and second half of the middle verse.

This one is also rather Beatles-like for many of the same reasons enumerated above re: "Anna", right down to the heavy use of the I-vi chord progression. Other subtle touches which resonate with the Lennon/McCartney style are the verse opening on IV instead of I, the minor chords which hang like a cloud over its middle section, and the way its final phrase is rhetorically extended to an uneven length.

The form is very unsual, likely a consequence of the longish verse and slow tempo. There are only three verses in the song, and in instead of a real bridge, the first half of the middle verse is done up as break-like instrumental solo passage with the regular vocal part resuming in the second half. Although the form of "From Me To You" is otherwise quite different, the instrumental break there is very similarly handled.

"Taste of Honey"

KEY f# minor

METER 3/4 (Verse) and 4/4 (Bridge)

FORM Intro -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Bridge (complete ending)

COMPOSERS Marlow/Scott


The original is in the lower key of e and runs a bit faster. It also has a *third verse* (plus bridge) absent from the Beatles version; perhaps their slower tempo argued in favor of dropping it. The arrangements are otherwise rather similar, although the Beatles feature a scalar walking bassline and a complete ending whereas the original fades out.

The music features a number of tricks: the slow intro and outro, the modally inflected minor key, and the constant switching between ternary and binary meters from section to section; the latter would eventually make its conspicuous appearance in several Beatles compositions, but not until much later.

This also happens to be a type of sticky sweet ballad of the sort to which Paul must have always been drawn but did not write for himself until, say, "And I Love Her" Interestingly, that particular song is not only heavily in the minor mode, but also has one special detail in common with "A Taste of Honey" -- both end surprisingly on a Major chord.

"Twist And Shout"

KEY D Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge + Arpeggio buildup -> Verse -> Bridge + Arpeggio buildup (complete ending)

COMPOSERS Russell/Medley

INFLUENTIAL VERSION The Isley Brothers (1962)

IMHO, this is the cover in which the changes made by the Beatles result in the most radical change of character and impact. The Isle"Yellow Submarine" play this in the higher key of F and the rhythmic swing of their performance and their brassy arrangement gives the song an entirely different feel from the Beatles' rendition; bluesy in an almost Latin way, as opposed to hard rock.

What the Beatles do to the *form* of the song, though, is what really counts; even more so than John's unprecedented vocal performance. The Isle"Yellow Submarine" end the song with an extended jam on the verse which follows the first arpeggio buildup. The Boys had the savy to not only repeat the bridge and buildup but to parlay the latter into a slow-triplet-bound complete ending. This gives the overall thrust of the song a much greater sense of teliology, of having "arrived" somewhere; the Isle"Yellow Submarine" (itself not at all a bad version by any means) sounds in comparison more like just static vamping.

Two other musical features, the use of only three chords (I-IV-V) throughout, and the antiphonal backing vocals, are reminiscent of the Beatles' own style, even though they had not yet, at this stage, written original songs with quite the same blistering beat in them as this one has. But that they surely would do, soon enough.

Alan (

"Have you no natural resources of your own ?" 090891#35

Copyright (c) 1991 by Alan W. Pollack

All Rights Reserved

This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.

These articles were originally posted in the News Group The content from this newsgroup is archived at, and Alan W. Pollacks "Notes On" series can be found at

. I used to link to the versions published in Soundscapes before I decided to include them on my own site.

If you want to learn more about the musical side of song writing, chord progressions, harmony and theory through The Beatles songs (and/or The Beatles in particular), I recommend the following book:

Artist: Dominic Pedler

Arranged by The Beatles

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