by Mike Mehalick, Special Guest Columnist & Contributing Writer to Spinner.com
Talented, charming, loving, transcendental; the list of superlatives rolls on as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing of former legendary Beatles guitarist George Harrison. More so than any member of the Fab 4, Harrison’s life was just as interesting and accomplished away from the spotlight as it was running away from hordes of young, screaming women. To encapsulate Harrison’s influence on the artistic and religious community as a whole is deserving of a thousand page tome. However, we at SIMGE chose to celebrate The Quiet Beatle’s life with a compilation of our 10 favorite cover songs from his extensive library of classic tunes.
Yim Yames – “All Things Must Pass”
My Morning Jacket bandleader Jim James, working under his “Y” alias, strips away the Phil Spector produced ballad to its core with just an acoustic guitar and his signature southern croon.
Jeff Lyne & Eric Clapton – “Wah Wah”
Surely not the only performance from the Concert for George to appear on this list, this guitar driven classic is taken to new heights with an all-star backing band and the best/worst friend Harrison had in Eric Clapton on lead vocal.
Read on for renditions by Prince, Elliott Smith, Frank Sinatra, and more…
Billy Preston – “My Sweet Lord”
We weren’t kidding when we said we’d be referring back to the Concert for George. Although the debate rages on as to who owns the rightful title of “The Fifth Beatle” perhaps the one candidate everyone can agree on is Billy Preston. Signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records in 1969, Preston originally recorded “My Sweet Lord” for his album Encouraging Words. See here an inspired performance of the track just years before Preston’s own tragic passing in 2006.
Nina Simone – “Here Comes the Sun”
Written originally during a point of turmoil in Harrison’s life at his Hurtwood Edge estate “Here Comes the Sun” elicits the feeling of the sun actually returning after a long night’s sojourn. What Harrison was able to do with his guitar Nina Simone was able to replicate with her stunning voice.
Prince – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
In 2004 George Harrison was posthumously inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. Although featuring the likes of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Jeff Lynne, Steve Ferronne, and George’s son Dhani the moment truly belongs to the purple one. Completely out of nowhere the artist formerly known as delivers a blistering guitar solo that deserves ranking not only here, but on a list of top 10 Rock ‘N Roll HOF performances as well.
Stevie Ray Vaughn – “Taxman”
From one prolific guitarist to another Stevie Ray Vaughn and his band Double Trouble take on the Revolver opener with the usual honky-tonk on fire style that made them famous. Gone is the funky stop start of the original replaced by extended guitar solos and…some more guitar solos. That sits just fine with us.
Elliot Smith – “Isn’t It a Pity”
Despite being rejected by John Lennon in 1966, “Isn’t a Pity” went on to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts when it was eventually released by Harrison in 1970. A song written about the shame involved in the way people treat each other is appropriately taken on by the tortured solo artist Elliot Smith. Recorded live, Smith had a way of making himself sound alone in a room full of people which lends to the pleading tone of the song.
The Hollies – “If I Needed Someone”
Recorded in the same studio and released on the same day as Rubber Soul the inclusion of The Hollies take on Harrison’s first UK chart hit is included more for comparison than excellence. Further supporting the argument of George’s talents, this cover has been perceived as an attempt by The Hollies to ride The Beatles’ coat tails to the top. After becoming so familiar with the original recording the cover almost makes you cringe and later led to a series of angry exchanges between the two groups. As we hope we’ve imparted thus far, there’s only one George Harrison.
Ella Fitzgerald – “Savoy Truffle”
Although Phish’s live cover is just as worthy of a mention, the legendary Ella Fitzgerald’s take is uniquely her own. Replacing the song’s original guitar composition with an increased amount of horns the soul singer molds Harrison’s original strained vocal into her own signature cool delivery.
Frank Sinatra – “Something”
As Ol Blue Eyes said, “It’s one of the best love songs to be written in the past 50, 100 years, and it never says ‘I love you’ in the song.’” As one of the most commonly covered rock songs of all time, Harrison’s ode to Pattie Boyd, or Ray Charles depending on what you chose to believe, lives on as perhaps his most enduring work. Harrison would later adapt Sinatra’s lyrical adaption to his own live performances of the song making this version, of the many covers, the most definitive.
What do you think? Did we miss anything? Sound off in the comments below.