Friday, June 02, 2017

Why Fiona Apple's version of "Across The Universe" is the only Beatles cover that's better than the original

I wrote a piece for Saga to mark the 50th anniversary of "Sgt Pepper". I said there was only one cover of a Beatles song that was better than the original. This was asterisked in the print version but not named in the version online.

On Twitter and Facebook people were speculating what I could be talking about. Was it Joe Cocker's "With A Little Help From My Friends", Stevie Wonder's "We Can Work It Out" or Earth Wind and Fire's "Got To Get You Into My Life"?

If I'm honest (as the footballers say) I don't actually like any of those records. I don't like Ella Fitzgerald's "Can't Buy Me Love" for the same reason. They're all cases of people being told "you've got to do a Beatles song", realising they can't improve on the original record and then doing their own unnecessarily ornamental version just because they're the kind of artists who can.

To my ears they don't sound right. They're overdone. It's like hearing lines from The Sopranos declaimed by some actor of the grand tradition. They're all so American (particularly the Joe Cocker one) and they remind me of how British the Beatles were. They weren't ones to indulge their emotions.

Fiona Apple's version of "Across The Universe" is the only record of hers that's every done anything for me. I only heard it because it's used at the end of "Pleasantville". What I like about  is it goes the other way from the cover versions mentioned above. If anything it's slighter sparer than the original. And it seems to work slightly better in her blank after-hours style than it did in the original. I play it a lot. For me it's the only Beatles cover I would reach for in preference to their original.


  1. Thanks for clearing that up.

    Fiona Apple is also the only person to cover an Elvis Costello song better than the man himself (she's singing with him, so it may fail "cover version" on some technicality).

  2. I agree 100% that 99.9% of Beatles covers are useless and worse than the originals.

    Here is my only exception : the Byrds ( or is it Roger McGuinn solo ? ) cover of Harrison's "If I needed Someone".

    Because Harrison wrote the song with a conscious and deliberate Byrds influence - they were uniquely poised to get what Harrison was trying to do and to add even more Byrds style to the original.

    Agreed that Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra or Tiny Tim would have ruined it had they chosen to cover.

  3. I always had a soft spot for Aimee Mann's version of Two of Us - her voice in the middle eight adds an edge of sadness

  4. Anonymous5:54 pm

    I haven't heard this particular cover, will do so very shortly. But if you're right, there'll be two - that one and Earth, Wind & Fire's Got To Get You Into My Life which is not particularly faithful to the original, but keeps its spirit and builds upon it beautifully.