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).
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).
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.
Mr. Blues’ languid take was sampled by Cypress Hill for “I Wanna Get High” but California won’t be taxing that anytime soon.
When Denver sung this on his show in 1973, it sounded like The Beatles had written it specifically for him.
Brandi turns into into a sing-along hoe-down.
Runner-up: Slow Runner
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
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.
Nobody harmonizes their screams quite like Frank Black and Kim Deal. This is a cover only in the loosest sense of the word.
Harper stays close to the original, but his silvery voice is a nice fit for the trippy ballad.
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
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
This version and the accompanying scene from Sgt. Pepper is all the best kinds of ridiculous.
I’m not sure Toad ever rocked this hard on their originals, but they sound like a band finally letting loose here.
Kim Deal brings an even greater ominousness to The Beatles’ darker side.
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.
Holly Golightly’s original all-girl garage rockers made the threats of this song way too believable.
When the Damned sing “Help,” you believe they need it.
One of our favorite underappreciated singer/songwriters stuck this gem on his best record, Nod Over Coffee.
Runner-up: The Wallflowers
Paul Weller puts his rickenbacker to good use in this slightly sped up version.
Runner-up: Guadalcanal Diary’s version
Krauss makes it hard to believe this was a Beatles song and not some classic country hit.
Annie Clark 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.
Paring it down as far as Pearl Jam goes, Eddie Vedder simplifies the song on the I Am Sam soundtrack.
Siouxie had already covered “Helter Skelter” on The Scream five years earlier.
Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Ballard crawl inside the Sgt. Pepper track and find a different, but equally lonely place.
Runner-up: Billy Bragg
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.
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.
This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles and U2 stole back.
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.
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.)
We can’t imagine anyone else covering this better than Danny Elfman & Co. Or just plain covering this, for that matter.
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.
The build in this version from the I Am Sam soundtrack is subllime.
The Lonely Hearts Club Band never had a guitarist quite like this.
Simone singing “get your foot off my back” gives the song a whole new meaning.
Beck’s guitar gently weeps, then screams bloody murder on this one.
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.
You know what’s also great? Emmylou’s cover of every other song she sings.
Runner-up: Rickie Lee Jones
Quincy Jones produced this funked-up version before helping out on Jackson’s.
Runners-up: Michael Jackson’s version and Aerosmith’s version
Cocker’s out-of-his-mind version from Woodstock is awesome on its own; it’s even better captioned for the clear-headed.
I don’t know how Jude could ignore the Beatles’ sage advice when presented by Wilson Pickett.
The British quintet nails the down/up dichotomy that makes this song great.
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.
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.
Possibly the most chill-inducing track on this list, the a cappella opening is just haunting.
Aretha completely owns the song in this incredible live recording that swaps its dark chorus for gospel pleading.
Runner up: Ray Charles’ version
Lennon once described this song as “acidy.” The Black Keys version will actually burn a hole in your ears.
Runner-up: Matthew Sweet
Tina sings the absolute hell out of this song.
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.
How to choose between these two version? I’m going to call it a tie.
Runner-up: David Bowie’s version
Al sings it with such soulfulness and desperation, holding hands only sounds like the beginning.