With a career that spans more than 50 years, Paul McCartney is widely regarded as one of the biggest, most influential singer-songwriters in music history. As co-founder and frontman of The Beatles, fans, critics and scholars alike agree that McCartney and his band mates John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr changed the face of music with their indelible catalog of songs which have crossed multiple generations and continue to impact hearts and minds around the globe.
McCartney went on from The Beatles to reinvent himself with Wings and enjoy huge success as a composer, arranger and solo artist in his own right. The 18-time Grammy winner has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to music, is a Kennedy Center Honoree, and a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee – both as a member of The Beatles and as a solo artist, among many other career achievements.
Thousands of Paul McCartney and Beatles covers have been performed across multiple decades (with 2,200 covers of "Yesterday" logged alone). Choosing only seven of the best covers was admittedly a tough task. After much debate, here’s a look at seven brilliant covers that deserve a spot on our list.
English native alt-rockers The Cure were one of a crop of iconic artists featured on the renowned 2014 Paul McCartney tribute album, The Art of McCartney. The chart-topping Beatles original version of Hello, Goodbye was released in 1967 as a non-album single and later included on the U.S. release of The Magical Mystery Tour EP. Robert Smith and his bandmates from The Cure delivered a straightforward, upbeat take on this beloved Beatles classic. The icing on the cake of this cover is that it features McCartney’s son James on keyboards and vocals. His inclusion makes an extraordinary tribute extra sweet.
Emmy-nominated musician-songwriter-actor Darren Criss caught his entertainment industry break by playing openly gay student Blaine Anderson on Fox’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning musical TV series “Glee.” “Silly Love Songs” was sung by Blaine and fictional a cappella group The Warblers in the 12th episode of the series' second season, which aired in 2011 and was also titled after the song. The spectacularly-harmonized performance in the vibrant, uplifting scene struck a chord with fans and helped the “Glee” version of Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1976 Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper climb to No. 45 on the same chart over three decades later.
Lots of comparisons have been drawn between the late, great King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Both artists ignited fan frenzies during live shows, with screaming, crying young fans even passing out at concerts. But most importantly, both artists revolutionized music in their own way, with the U.S. arrival of The Beatles and Beatlemania following Elvis Presley’s meteoric rise to fame by about 10 years. It seems fitting, then, that Elvis covered such an iconic song as “Yesterday,” which has been covered 2,200 times. Presley sang a beautiful live rendition of it in Las Vegas in 1969, and sometimes he extended his performance into a “Hey Jude” medley.
There are few soulful, R & B voices to rival Stevie Wonder. He covered “We Can Work It Out” on his 1970 album Sign, Sealed & Delivered and released the notably jazzy cover as a single in 1971. Wonder’s version reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1972. The Beatles’ version notably topped many international charts including the Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart.
The “Superstition” singer performed his rendition of the song on three separate occasions to honor McCartney and the Beatles: in 1990 when McCartney received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 10 years later when McCartney was awarded the Gershwin Prize by the Library of Congress and again in 2014 at the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ iconic appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
Elliott Smith employs his haunting, layered harmonies with breathtaking precision on his cover of The Beatles 1969 track from the Abbey Road album. Credited with the songwriting team of Lennon-McCartney, the original song features a chill-inducing three-part harmony from McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison. Smith did several beautiful Beatles covers before his tragic death in 2003. His previously-unreleased “Because” cover was featured on the end credits of the 1999 Oscar-winning film, “American Beauty” and the soundtrack album received a Grammy nomination in 2000.
If anyone made a Paul McCartney and John Lennon-penned Beatles song their own it was Joe Cocker. The late legendary blues rocker named his 1969 debut album after the song which originally appeared on The Beatles’ 1967 Grammy-winning album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Beatles drummer Ringo Starr was notably featured on vocals for the track.
Cocker’s brilliant reimagining of the song differed remarkably from the original both in tone and tempo. His slow, signature raspy growl brought a soul and a depth The Beatles track didn’t deliver. Cocker’s version was featured as the theme song for the TV show “The Wonder Years” and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.
1. Johnny Cash – “In My Life”
It may seem odd to think of a country music icon like the late, great Johnny Cash singing a rock ballad. However, the ruminating nature of the lyrics are a perfect fit for what turned out to be the last series of albums Cash would ever make. (On his album of mostly cover songs American IV).
If anyone could ponder a storied life, filled with love, loss, and everything in between, it would be Johnny Cash. His signature sparse vocals are heard on what arguably seems like a perfect ode from one prolific songwriter to another. We can almost see the Man in Black tipping his famous black hat to Sir Paul at the end of this song.