Blondie’s Debbie Harry is a master of the cover, and some of her band’s most notable songs, such as ‘The Tide Is High’ or ‘Hanging on the Telephone’, are not even originals. However, they are delivered with such conviction that it becomes easy to forget this point. According to Harry, a good cover can never be an unconsidered rehash of the original. Instead, it should be a reimagined version that pays homage to the creator for the inspiration but ties in with the DNA of the covering artist.
Jimi Hendrix’s cover version of the Bob Dylan song ‘All Along The Watchtower’ is the perfect example of how to take on another artist’s creation. In fact, his take was so impressive that even Dylan admitted it blew the original out of the water. “I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way,” he once quipped. “Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.”
Due to just how exquisite Hendrix’s reinterpretation of Dylan was, nobody else has come close to matching his rendition of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ — but plenty have tried. Despite its popularity, however, there’s one other song that countless artists continue to gravitate towards, and it was created by Dylan’s close friends, The Beatles.
Astonishingly, ‘Yesterday’ by the Fab Four has been covered over 2,200 times, and everyone from Marvin Gaye to Elvis Presley has released their reimagining of the classic track. Meanwhile, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) claim that it was performed over seven million times in the 20th century alone, which is a breathtaking statistic.
Paul McCartney couldn’t believe the melody had formulated in his brain when it first arrived to him in a dream and, doubting himself for a moment, considered that he must have stolen it from somewhere. McCartney once recalled: “For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. Eventually it became like handing something in to the police – I thought if no-one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it.”
After mining for the melody and discovering it was an original, McCartney gave the song the working title of ‘Scrambled Eggs’, but thankfully, he changed it to ‘Yesterday’. According to producer George Martin, McCartney was initially unsure about the new name, and Martin needed to personally convince him to go with it. “Paul said he wanted a one-word title and was considering ‘Yesterday’, except that he thought it was perhaps too corny. I persuaded him that it was all right,” Martin once revealed.
The beautiful simplicity of ‘Yesterday’ makes it perfect fodder for a cover song, and there’s no other explanation for the melody than it arriving at McCartney in a dream. It’s also fitting that he never believed the song belonged to him, and as fate would have it, the song later became the most covered track of all time.