Few songwriters have been so thoroughly covered as Lennon/McCartney, and the diversity of Beatles covers is a tribute to the Liverpudlians unmatched mark on pop music.
As with the 50 Best Bob Dylan Covers of All Time, I’ve selected only one version of each song for our list, and each artist only appears once. I’ve also tried to limit the selections from any one album like the I Am Sam soundtrack or Rubber Soul anniversary tribute. And if I’ve missed your favorite Beatles cover, add it in the comments section—hopefully that just means there’s plenty for you to discover among the 50 that did make the cut (or you can use it as an opportunity to question my sanity).
50. Belarus – “Here, There And Everywhere”
The now-defunct Swindon band recorded the first Beatles cover that would have been home on Grey’s Anatomy (not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s lovely, really).
49. The Feelies – “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”
A full-on bar-rock-guitar onslaught every time they played it—the Feelies don’t even bother to with the mics when they scream the chorus.
48. Junior Parker – “Taxman”
Mr. Blues’ languid take was sampled by Cypress Hill for “I Wanna Get High” but California won’t be taxing that anytime soon.
47. John Denver – “Mother Nature’s Son”
When Denver sung this on his show in 1973, it sounded like The Beatles had written it specifically for him.
46. Brandi Carlile – “I’ve Just Seen a Face”
Brandi turns into into a sing-along hoe-down.
Runner-up: Slow Runner
45. Florence and the Machine – “Oh Darling”
Florence gets lounge-y on this track from the Absolute Abbey Road, radio stations sessions recorded at the studio made famous by The Beatles.
Runner-up: Bela Fleck, Bruce Hornsby and John Cowan’s version
44. Steve Martin – “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
Originally recorded on Abbey Road, Steve Martin sings the song as Maxwell Edison, a serial killer-turned-plastic-surgeon in the 1978 Sgt. Pepper film.
43. The Pixies – “Wild Honey Pie”
Nobody harmonizes their screams quite like Frank Black and Kim Deal. This is a cover only in the loosest sense of the word.
42. Ben Harper – “Strawberry Fields Forever”
Harper stays close to the original, but his silvery voice is a nice fit for the trippy ballad.
41. Echo and the Bunnymen – “Ticket to Ride”
Uncut released a CD with two dozen Beatles covers, but it’s Echo’s song that stuck with us.
Runner-up: Vanilla Fudge’s version
40. Rubblebucket – “Michelle”
The eight-piece Brooklyn band led by vocalist/saxophonist Kalmia Traver and trumpet player Alex Toth just released this version a week ago, but with a frenetic bass line and well-placed handclaps, they make it their own.
Runner-up: Ben Harper
39. Earth Wind & Fire – Got to Get You Into My Life”
This version and the accompanying scene from Sgt. Pepper is all the best kinds of ridiculous.
38. Toad the Wet Sprocket – “Hey Bulldog”
I’m not sure Toad ever rocked this hard on their originals, but they sound like a band finally letting loose here.
37. The Breeders – “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”
Kim Deal brings an even greater ominousness to The Beatles’ darker side.
36. The Langley Schools Music Project – “The Long and Winding Road”
These child-chorus takes on pop music were recorded back in the late 1970s but became a cult hit in 2001—and for good reason.
35. Thee Headcoatees – “Run For Your Life”
Holly Golightly’s original all-girl garage rockers made the threats of this song way too believable.
34. The Damned – “Help”
When the Damned sing “Help,” you believe they need it.
33. Mark Heard – “I’m Looking Through You”
One of our favorite underappreciated singer/songwriters stuck this gem on his best record, Nod Over Coffee.
Runner-up: The Wallflowers
32. The Jam – “And Your Bird Can Sing”
puts his rickenbacker to good use in this slightly sped up version.
Runner-up: Guadalcanal Diary’s version
31. Alison Krauss – “I Will”
Krauss makes it hard to believe this was a Beatles song and not some classic country hit.
30. St. Vincent – “Dig A Pony”
gives a minimalist take on the deep cut off Let It Be which was the only song recorded from the band’s famous Apple Rooftop performance.
29. Eddie Vedder – “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”
Paring it down as far as Pearl Jam goes, Eddie Vedder simplifies the song on the I Am Sam soundtrack.
28. Siouxsie & The Banshees – “Dear Prudence”
Siouxie had already covered “Helter Skelter” on The Scream five years earlier.
27. Brad Mehldau Trio – “She’s Leaving Home”
Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard crawl inside the Sgt. Pepper track and find a different, but equally lonely place.
Runner-up: Billy Bragg
26. Daniel Johnston – “Gotta Get You Into My Life”
I think it’s safe to say that Johnston brought something to this song that no one else has. He sings it as if to the chained prisoner he’s been stalking.
25. Oasis – “Within You Without You”
It’s been argued that their entire catalog is nothing but Beatles covers, but they’ve continued the Fab Four’s Brit-pop legacy as well as any.
24. U2 – “Helter Skelter”
This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles and U2 stole back.
23. Rosanne Cash – “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”
Originally a B-side of “Eight Days a Week,” The Beatles’ version peaked at #39 on Billboard. But Cash’s version topped Billboard’s hot country chart when Roseanne Cash recorded it as part of her Hits 1979-1989 compilation.
22. Richie Havens – Here Comes the Sun
The sun’s got no time to lose when Richie Havens sings about it.
Runner-up: Peter Tosh (When The Beatles played this, the sun came as a surprise. In Jamaica, it’s just a given.)
21. Oingo Boingo – “I am the Walrus”
We can’t imagine anyone else covering this better than Danny Elfman & Co. Or just plain covering this, for that matter.
20. Regina Spektor – “Real Love”
Originally a John Lennon solo release, the song was rereleased by the surviving three members of The Beatles in 1995. Spektor sings it with nothing but piano.
19. Ben Folds – “Golden Slumbers”
The build in this version from the I Am Sam soundtrack is subllime.
18. Jimi Hendrix – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
The Lonely Hearts Club Band never had a guitarist quite like this.
17. Nina Simone – “Revolution”
Simone singing “get your foot off my back” gives the song a whole new meaning.
16. Jeff Beck – “She’s a Woman”
Beck’s guitar gently weeps, then screams bloody murder on this one.
15. Sufjan Stevens – “What Goes On”
Part of the 40th Anniversary Tribute of Rubber Soul, Stevens alternates between sounding exactly like his Illinois-era self and stretching into unfamiliar psychedelic territory.
14. Emmylou Harris – “For No One”
You know what’s also great? Emmylou’s cover of every other song she sings.
Runner-up: Rickie Lee Jones
13. The Brothers Johnson – “Come Together”
Quincy Jones produced this funked-up version before helping out on Jackson’s.
Runners-up: Michael Jackson’s version and Aerosmith’s version
12. Joe Cocker – “With A Little Help From My Friends”
Cocker’s out-of-his-mind version from Woodstock is awesome on its own; it’s even better captioned for the clear-headed.
11. Wilson Pickett – “Hey Jude”
I don’t know how Jude could ignore the Beatles’ sage advice when presented by Wilson Pickett.
10. Gomez – “Getting Better”
The British quintet nails the down/up dichotomy that makes this song great.
9. Johnny Cash – “In My Life”
There’s a heft that Johnny Cash carried when he recorded American IV in 2002 that The Beatles just didn’t have in their mid-20s.
8. Aimee Mann & Michael Penn – “Two Of Us”
This track makes me think the married couple would do fine to give up their solo careers. They give this song so much joy. It’s the best track of the strong Beatles tribute I Am Sam soundtrack.
7. Elliott Smith – “Because”
Possibly the most chill-inducing track on this list, the a cappella opening is just haunting.
6. Aretha Franklin – “Eleanor Rigby”
Aretha completely owns the song in this incredible live recording that swaps its dark chorus for gospel pleading.
Runner up: Ray Charles’ version
5. The Black Keys – “She Said She Said”
Lennon once described this song as “acidy.” The Black Keys version will actually burn a hole in your ears.
Runner-up: Matthew Sweet
4. Ike & Tina Turner – “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
Tina sings the absolute hell out of this song.
3. Stevie Wonder – “We can Work it Out”
Stevie played this in front of Paul McCartney (oh, and President Obama) at The White House earlier this year and lived up to the moment. That harmonica solo? Damn.
2. (tie) Rufus Wainwright/Fiona Apple – “Across the Universe”
How to choose between these two version? I’m going to call it a tie.
Runner-up: David Bowie’s version
1. Al Green – “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
Al sings it with such soulfulness and desperation, holding hands only sounds like the beginning.