You can hear Regina Spektor’s Japanesy version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps in the 2016 film Kubo And The Two Strings.


This year marks 50 since the Beatles officially broke up. In that time, something strange and wonderful has happened to their music — it found new young fans, lost much of its baggage and has become almost a collective property. A sort of creative pool from which to drink from and play in, a bit like (dare I say it?) Shakespeare’s plays. Listen to these retellings, which look back on yesterday as much as they fly beyond the sun.

Florence and the Machine’s Oh! Darling: Paul McCartney famously screamed on this one. So what did Florence Welch do in 2009? Forty years after the original, she adds a drawling, almost-country-music tone, hitting notes McCartney couldn’t have. The song and artist make a great match — Welch sounds romantic enough that when she sings “believe me when I tell you” you do believe her.

Regina Spektor’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps: George Harrison wrote the lyrics in 1968, as an exercise in randomness after reading the I Ching. Think of it as a song inspired by Chinese thought, recorded by a British band, given a restrained Japanese-style makeover by a Russian-born American musician. Spektor’s version plays in the animated 2016 film Kubo and the Two Strings.

Cornershop’s Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown): Yes, the band that did Brimful of Asha. It’s a straight-up Punjabi-language version, recorded for fun in 1997. The East-West vibes come full circle when you start wondering if Cornershop really needed to retain the sitar.

 

Fiona Apple’s Across the Universe: Widely counted among the best Beatles covers, Fiona Apple sands down an already smooth song in this 1998 version, at a time when yoga was getting popular yet again, in the West. That was a good period for the Fab Four’s music in Hollywood — this cover was on the soundtrack of Pleasantville and Elliot Smith’s version of Because played as the plastic bag floated around in American Beauty.

William Shatner’s Lucy in the Sky: Haters will say this version should not exist. And yet here we are, with back-up vocals, instrumental support and Shatner staying on-key as he takes this song only as seriously as the Beatles did. It’s perfectly silly, just “climb in the back with your head in the clouds”.

Billie Eilish’s Yesterday: For many, it was the best part of the 2020 Oscars. Eilish’s soft sighs break on the Lennon-McCartney lyrics. She’s almost weeping by the end, and you probably are too.

 

Alice Cooper and Steve Vai’s Hey, Bulldog: To be fair, the 1966 original was already almost metal — the guitar is jangly, the mood noisy. But Cooper and Vai go next-level with vocals and arrangement. The song appears on Butchering the Beatles: A Headbashing Tribute, a 2006 compilation of covers. Other rockin’ versions: Realm’s Eleanor Rigby, and Motley Crue’s Helter Skelter.

Bad Brains’ Day Tripper: Where the Fab Four are chirpy, the reggae band is chill. The sound is hardcore punk, taking its time with the beat, throwing in the screams as a surprise. It’s an altogether different song, and quite trippy.

Amy Winehouse’s All My Loving: Winehouse turns the gosh-darn wholesomeness of the boy band into something risky, almost a negotiation with a reluctant lover, in this 2008 version. As one YouTube commenter puts it: “Only Amy can make a Beatles song sound as if it’s her song.”

Blues Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night: None of that self-indulgent diversion on this 2017 track. The Brazilian band keeps the beat but adds a subtle jazz-nightclub vibe with the music, with vocals that sound just as heartfelt as the Beatles’ did. Hey, it’s always a hard day in music!

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