Recently, Paul McCartney released a version of his last album reinterpreted by several artists from the last three decades, the result was called McCartney III Imagined, so I have decided to do something similar with his career and make a review, not meticulous, with an imagined double album that covers his time with the Beatles, his early solo work, even leaving room for a little wonder of this 2021, by an artist who could be his granddaughter.
The selection is totally arbitrary and 15 different albums could be made, as we are talking about possibly the composer with the most covers, with his “Yesterday” (a song that has been left out) being the song with the most covers in history. Just a small portion of the gigantic names who have covered McCartney, but Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Prince, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Elliott Smith, The Cure, Marvin Gaye, Nick Cave, U2, Amy Winehouse, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Billie Eilish… have been left out.
I’ve divided the album into what would be the four sides, on vinyl of course, a first side with a bit of everything, rock, ballads, folk and country, both from his time in the Beatles and as a solo artist; a second, focused exclusively on his solo career; a third, with covers of the most famous album he has ever played on, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; and a final side with covers of soul artists from his time of splendour with the Beatles.
Little Richard – I Saw Her Standing There (1970)
McCartney and the Beatles have always liked to start their albums on a high note, it seems that Lennon and McCartney fought over which song would open the album, always looking for one of the best. Among the Beatles’ album openers are “I Saw Her Standing There”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Help!”, “Drive My Car”, “Taxman”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Come Together”.
So we’ll copy the Liverpool band and start this album with the song that opened their first album, and we do it in the best possible way with one of Paul’s greatest idols, Little Richard, the man who taught him how to shout those characteristic “whooooos” (and in his own opinion, everything else).
It’s such a good song that when Lennon lost a bet with Elton John and had to go up and play with him, this was the song of choice. This is how John introduced it: I’d like to thank Elton and the boys for having me tonight. We were trying to think of a song to end with so we could get out of here and get drunk, and we thought we’d do one about a former fiancé of mine, now estranged, called Paul. This is one I never sang, an old Beatles number, and we almost knew it….
The Faces – Maybe I’m Amazed (1971)
The song with which McCartney dealt with the break-up of the Beatles and spoke of his blossoming love for Linda Eastman. He recorded it before the final split of his band and recorded all the instruments himself. Just under a year after it was released, the Faces recorded it and released it as a single on their own, as well as making it a permanent fixture in their live shows. In the introduction they used to say the following: You may or may not know this one, but if you don’t I don’t know where you’ve got to, which proves its enormous popularity at the time, despite McCartney’s decision not to release it as a single. Ronnie Lane and Rod Stewart each sing a part, with the latter proving that he is one of the few who can match the incredible vocal ability of the original songwriter.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Helter Skelter (1978)
Paul McCartney is seen as the Beatles’ softie, the guy with the ballads that mothers and daughters like, and it is obvious that there is something of that in a guy with an insulting melodic ease, but it is often forgotten that McCartney is also the most experimental of the band, the one who studied John Cage long before it was cool, the one who got the most out of the studio or the one who was in a battle with the Who to see who could make the heaviest song. And McCartney is also the author of “Helter Skelter”, that living guy with the heavy guitars, screams and blisters on Ringo’s fingers that gave Charlie Manson’s asshole schizophrenic visions. Years later U2’s Bono, in his usual messianic way, said This is a song Charles Manson took from the Beatles, we’ll give it back to hi“, but they were already a decade ahead of Siouxie and the Banshees who recorded a good version, giving it their gothic, punk vision and twisting the song even more, with a dark, penetrating bass and guitars that sound like a chainsaw. Can there be a link between McCartney and punk? There is, it’s called “Helter Skelter”.
Pearl Jam – I’ve Got A Feeling (1991)
Kurt Cobain is usually considered the biggest Beatles fan in grunge (the Nirvana icon had John Lennon as a clear favourite, although the only recorded version that exists is him doing McCartney’s “And I Love Her”), but the ones who had a Beatles piece in their repertoire from the beginning were Pearl Jam, who took this song from Let It Be, a song mainly by McCartney but with a little bit of another Lennon song (Everybody had a hard year…), and put it in the Japanese version of Ten, as well as playing it several times live.
Odetta – Every Night (1970)
One of the fundamental figures of the folk revival in the USA in the late 50s and early 60s, a figure revered by the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and activist Rosa Parks. In 1970 he sought to update his sound, moving closer to soul with several of the musicians from Muscle Shoals and another handful of top session musicians such as Carole King on piano and the future Eagle Bernie Leadon on guitar. The repertoire also showed an approach to the times with covers of Elton John, Randy Newman, James Taylor, the Rolling Stones or this little wonder that had appeared that same year on McCartney’s solo debut, “Every Night”, in which Odetta made the most of her powerful voice and showed that that debut was much better than the critics who had not forgiven McCartney for his lo-fi approach had thought.
The Dillards – I’ve Just Seen A Face (1968)
One of the many hidden gems in Paul’s repertoire for the Beatles, a folkie wonder with country touches that was hidden on the second side of Help! Three years later, the Dillards, one of America’s leading bluegrass groups, picked it up for the best album of their career, Wheatstraw Suite, even though they no longer had their main member, Doug Dillard, who had left with his banjo to accompany Gene Clark in Dillard & Clark.
SIDE B (Solo Side)
Guns N’ Roses – Live And Let Die (1991)
Released as a single on the first of the Use Your Illusion volumes, this is one of the songs, along with “Knockin On Heaven’s Door” on the second, that Guns N’ Roses used to position themselves as the continuation of the big names in classic rock and the ultimate rock stars, something that, had it not been for Nirvana, they would have been. The song did not appear on any of the artist’s solo albums and was released only as a single for the soundtrack of the James Bond film of the same name. The Guns N’ Roses version came after Axl Rose and Slash discovered it was one of their favourite songs without them ever talking about it.
Phoebe Bridgers – Seize The Day (2021)
The song responsible for this article, and what Phoebe Bridgers has done with this McCartney III song is a true marvel divided between the verses, which sound like her indie rock, and a chorus that takes us to the psychedelic period of the Beatles (there are moments when you’re waiting for a trumpet solo à la “Penny Lane”).
We All Together – Bluebird (1973)
A Peruvian band that released two remarkable English-language albums in 1973 and 1974, their sound was far from original, having a huge imprint of Paul McCartney himself, but if you like the late 60s Beatles, McCartney’s early 70s solo albums and Badfinger, you’d be silly not to listen to them. Among their covers are several from Paul’s songbook, including this lovely flirtation with bossa nova that appeared on his most acclaimed solo album, Band On The Run.
Los Shakers – Too Many People (1971)
We don’t leave Latin America and we go to Uruguay with one of the most legendary bands of Latin rock, Los Shakers. It was not in vain that a song by this band was the title track of the famous (and controversial) documentary on the same subject released by Netflix: “Break It All” or “Rompan Todo“. Of course, that was in the mid-60s, with their best-known line-up, whereas when they made this version, released in the same year that the song was released on Ram, the band had formed again with Pelín Capobianco and Caio Vila, but without the Fattoruso brothers, and the album was released under the name Shakers due to commercial pressures in the three countries where it was released, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. The version is faithful to the one that appears on Ram and in which John Lennon wanted to see a furious attack on himself.
Badfinger – Come And Get It (1969)
Pete Ham’s band was the best continuation of the Beatles legacy in the early 70s, but they had started a little earlier by being one of the first groups signed to Apple, the company that opened for the Fab Four in 1968. The band had been playing as The Iveys since 1961, but it wasn’t until their signing with Apple that they began to be recognised, the band were ardent fans of the Liverpool band and were delighted when Paul McCartney decided to give them, and produce them, this “Come And Get It” which was the first song they signed under their new name, Badfinger, with which they would be one of the first bands of what became known as Power Pop. This little wonder, with Tom Evans on lead vocals, was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, cracking the top ten in both the UK and US singles charts.
Fiona Apple& The Roots – Let Me Roll It (2012)
And we end the first side in style, with one of the best songs on Band On The Run, a soulful blues track perfect for McCartney’s voice, in an incredible version by the great Fiona Apple, with the Roots as backing band, recorded live to celebrate Macca’s 70th birthday in 2012. There hasn’t been a better sung birthday present since the one Marilyn Monroe dedicated to John F. Kennedy in 1960…
SIDE C (Sgt. Pepper’s Side)
Jimi Hendrix – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
This must be Paul McCartney’s most repeated anecdote in his life, proof that this must be the version he has been most excited about in his entire career. On 26 May 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, a week later Jimi Hendrix, who had just released his first album Are You Experienced, was playing at the Saville Theatre in London after his first European tour. In the audience were Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the curtain opened and Hendrix appeared playing the title track from the Beatles album on his white Stratocaster, McCartney has always considered it one of the greatest honours he has ever been given…
Joe Cocker – With a Little Help From My Friends (1969)
The song that followed “Sgt. Pepper’s”, after the band’s introduction, was “With a Little Help From My Friends”, sung by Lonely Hearts singer Billy Shears. It was a song Paul McCartney had written specifically for Ringo Starr, but a couple of years later Joe Cocker took it to another dimension, leaving his powerful throat along the way. Its appearance at Woodstock and its inclusion as the soundtrack to Those Wonderful Years did the rest to make Cocker’s version the definitive version of it.
The Wedding Present – Getting Better (1987)
Another of McCartney’s songs for Sgt. Pepper’s, although this time with Lennon’s help on the lyrics, particularly that part of I used to be cruel to my woman/I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved/Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene/And I’m doing the best that I can, which Lennon himself acknowledged in 1980 that tells of his troubled relationship with women in his youth: I’m a violent man who has learned not to be and regrets having been. The fact is that in 1987 the Wedding Present made an excellent, edgy B-side version of one of his singles in George Best’s time.
Harry Nilsson – She’s Leaving Home (1967)
In 1968, while promoting the newly formed Apple, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney had words of praise for Harry Nilsson and his Pandemonium Shadow Show album, of course the American had earned them with two versions, one of Lennon’s “You Can’t Do That” containing almost 20 references to Beatles songs, while the other, McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” was a beautiful recreation of a song that had appeared just six months before the release of that album, in December 1967. Nilsson would later become Lennon’s inseparable and drunken companion during the infamous lost weekend of the year he spent separated from Yoko Ono, but musically he was always closer to McCartney.
Fats Domino – Lovely Rita (1968)
As in the case of Little Richard, this version is another of the ones that Paul McCartney must have been most excited about. Fats Domino, the New Orleans music legend, was one of his greatest idols, someone of whom several versions were made in the days of Hamburg and The Cavern. Domino would also do a wonderful version of “Lady Madonna”, a song that Paul wrote with him as a reference.
SIDE D (Soul Side)
Stevie Wonder – We Can Work It Out (1970)
A true delight of a cover, one genius covering another, a multi-instrumentalist, wonderful singer and author of several masterpieces (a definition that works for both) reinvents this great song and turns it into an unstoppable danceable soul track. The chemistry between the two would end with the two collaborating in the early 80’s with “Ebony & Ivory”, but that song is several steps below this marvel.
Otis Redding – Day Tripper (1966)
Recorded for his excellent 1966 album Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, Otis Redding does with “Day Tripper” what he had done a year earlier with the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, making it totally his own and achieving an irresistible version in which the riff is played by the winds and the ending is pure soul madness with Otis unleashed on vocals.
Esther Phillips – And I Love Him (1965)
The original version of the song appeared on the A Hard Day’s Night album and soundtrack, one of the first times the Beatles were heard unplugged, with Paul McCartney bringing out his romantic balladeer side. A year after its appearance, singer Esther Phillips turned the genre on an upside down and delivered one of the band’s own favourite versions. The great Rita Lee, of Os Mutantes, would draw on Phillips’ version for her own, which appeared on her first solo album, Build Up, in 1970.
Ike & Tina Turner – She Came In Through The Bathroom Window/Get Back (1971)
In the late 60s and early 70s Ike & Tina Turner specialised in taking great songs by white rock bands and putting their own unique stamp on them, especially Tina’s aggressive vocals. Thus came their big hit, “Proud Mary”, but the group they covered the most, of course, was the Beatles, from whom they borrowed “Come Together”, “Get Back”, “Let It Be” or this “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” which belonged to one of the best moments of Paul McCartney’s career, the medley that closed the second side of Abbey Road in which the songs went on and on without a break. That’s why I’ve chosen this performance in which the Turners play “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and then follow with another great McCartney song like “Get Back”.
Wilson Pickett – Hey Jude (1968)
And I end with the song that is usually the highlight of McCartney’s concerts, because there is nothing better than ending with Duane Allman totally on fire on guitar, performing what Eric Clapton considered the best solo to that date, a solo so incredible that the producer decided to keep the na, na, na, na, nas that are the most recognisable part to a minimum, and let Duane’s guitar take centre stage along with Wilson Pickett’s unbridled screams. He didn’t make the slightest mistake. A perfect ending for an album with which to pay tribute to the guy who most easily came up with unforgettable melodies, even if many of them are nothing more than silly love songs…