Various Artists - We Can Work It Out

Various Artists – We Can Work It Out: Covers of the Beatles, 1962 – 1966 [3CD Box Set]

As a reviewer, wrapping your head around new music and finding the words to explain it can be exhausting, especially if the music in question is no bueno. It helps when there are already some assurances of quality, and this is why I leapt at the chance to review this 3CD collection of Beatles covers. The music of the Beatles has surrounded me since my childhood and it’s practically comfort food to me. Any chance to reassess their stuff and look at it differently is welcome to me, and with the new Beatles single Now and Then recently released, it feels particularly topical to do so.

So, what on earth is this thing? The Beatles are so enduringly popular that all their songs have been covered multiple times, with songs like Yesterday and Hey Jude reaching into the hundreds. You could make an unlimited number of CDs based on the premise of “Beatles Covers,” so how has We Can Work It Out refined its scope? First of all, only Beatles songs from 1962 to 1966 are considered, which fortunately means that the band’s best album – Revolver – is represented. I’m sorry, do you have another favourite?

Secondly, only Beatles originals are kept in, which means you won’t be hearing any Twist and Shout, You Really Got a Hold on Me or indeed, one of my personal favourites, Boys. It makes sense, I suppose because you couldn’t exactly call a cover of a song the Beatles covered a “Beatles cover”. Lastly, and most crucially, the set focuses on covers that were made shortly after the Beatles recorded them (with at least one made before) to chart the influence that the Beatles had on the contemporary music scene. As a result, most of the covers were recorded in the ’60s with the latest, Tempest’s hard rock reimagining of Paperback Writer dating from 1974. The compilation has been arranged in the chronological order of the release of the original Beatles songs, rather than when the covers were released.

For you, dear reader, I crunched the numbers. With three CDs packed to the brim with covers, there are 74 Beatles covers out of a possible 92 from the 1962 to ’66 period. This means that most of your favourite early Beatles songs will be present and you probably won’t miss anything else; in fact, there are so many covers that you’ll doubtlessly run into numbers you completely forgot, such as There’s a Place and Yes It Is.

You might struggle to differentiate some of these from alien songs such as Bad to Me and I’ll Keep You Satisfied, which I couldn’t remember hearing before. That’s because Lennon and McCartney often wrote songs for other people to play. Ten such songs are also included in this set, some of which are the original recordings, like the Fourmost’s Hello Little Girl, and some are covers of songs that the Beatles wrote for somebody else, such as Trea Dobbs’s It’s for You, which the band originally wrote for Cilla Black. It was fascinating to hear songs that the band wrote but never recorded themselves (except maybe as a demo); they all bear that Beatles touch of quality and most of the songs ended up being hits. It was also fascinating to hear how many of these artists had a personal connection to the Beatles; Cilla Black worked as a cloakroom attendant at the Cavern Club but occasionally made performances that impressed them. Meanwhile, Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon was Jane Asher’s brother and McCartney would hand them many songs that would go on to be chart-topping hits, the best-selling of which, A World Without Love, is included here; I suppose it pays to have a Beatle boning your sister.

While the unfamiliar songs are interesting, I really came for the covers of songs I know, and they come in all sorts of flavours. The dullest part of the collection is the songs that are played exactly the same as the Beatles’ versions, such as From Me to You by the Crickets and Tell Me Why by Me & Them; on the latter, they fortunately don’t attempt the falsetto on the bridge as they don’t have the skill, but it makes for a really boring cover. More forgivable are the live versions included, like P.S. I Love You by the Rattles, and Another Girl and You Like Me Too Much by the Baskervilles (who would later become Affinity). But this set proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how excellent the band and George Martin were at arranging tracks to get the most energy out of them and many times I found myself wishing I was listening to the original song. For example, You’re Going to Lose That Girl is a deep-cut favourite of mine and an in-joke with my friend revolves around the clashing “Watch what you do” and “Yeah!” in the bridge. In my mind, the “Yeah!” is iconic and essential, and yet it’s completely removed on the Five Man Electrical Band’s cover. Did they not also love that bit?

Also fairly dull were the foreign language versions of Beatles songs, mainly French. The Beatles made one single in German and decided never to do it again; listening to these tracks is like hearing what might have happened if they had relented. While it’s entertaining to hear French and Italian singers contort their native language to fit the English verse structure and the gist of the lyrics, they nonetheless lack the musical energy of the originals and feel desperately inferior. The one exception is the track that starts the set, Dick Rivers’ cover of Love Me Do; in just two minutes, I was charmed by Rivers’ upbeat and charismatic performance, and it’s no surprise that he was known as the French Elvis. While the Beatles’ timid version only has one verse repeated four times (as well as a bridge), Rivers’s has even more lyrics for the second verse, which adds a remarkable amount of depth.

But the juiciest parts of the set are the covers that act as complete reimaginings of the work, some of which are even better than the original. Four-lady folk act The Coterie deliver a sublime rendition of If I Fell that is delivered by soothing vocal harmonies over a soft organ timbre. The only thing it’s missing is the four-line introduction that helped make the song such a classic. The obscure Strawberry Fair give the Beatles a bossa nova twist with Things We Said Today. In one of the best covers of the set, the Buckinghams completely lift one of the Beatles’ most forgettable songs, I’ll Be Back, by giving it a cinematic arrangement reminiscent of John Barry’s James Bond scores. Count Basie provides a swing interpretation of Hold Me Tight, wholly different to the reggae version I heard on Stackridge’s Mr. Mick. Another fantastic and noteworthy interpretation is Junior Parker’s stately rendition of Taxman which boldly removes all the Beatles’ arrangements and instead has a recital of the lyrics over a funky soul backdrop. In between the choruses, he is no longer singing the lyrics but reciting them with ad-lib inclusions: “If you take a walk, and this is awful, I’ll tax your feet.” This lends the already gloomy song an even darker dimension. Getting closer to the source material again, Alma Cogan’s Eight Days a Week is utterly grand, slow at first but moving towards a rocking finale. Meanwhile, the Inbetweens add dynamism and contrast to their version of The Night Before, while Adam Faith and Tempest go hard and push I Wanna Be Your Man and Paperback Writer to their breaking points.

Not all the experiments work, however. Swingshift’s Here, There and Everywhere is lovely and soft with languorous, sultry singing from the female singer, however it simply doesn’t match the sonic perfection of McCartney’s original – it would be a miracle if it could. Also, The 5th Dimension’s soul-inflected Ticket to Ride should work on paper, but simply doesn’t translate all that well and loses the energy of the original. Brotherhood’s unhinged cover of When I Get Home almost sees them losing their way before they even get to the first verse. My notes read “psychedelic, but crap.” Frustratingly, the title track – also played by Swingshift (though with the male singer they sound like a different band altogether) – is overworked and strange. Just doing something ‘different’ doesn’t make it better. Gary McFarland and Gábor Szabó prove to be awful singers; their version of The Word seems to be sung deliberately out of tune and the result is atrocious. One unexpected cover comes from Noel Harrison, Rex Harrison’s son – no relation to George Harrison, mind – whose refined accent on the cover of She’s a Woman proves why McCartney’s faux-American drawl was so necessary in the first place. His outro ad libs are cringeworthy too “She’s a woman, she is a woman, she’s really a woman, she’s my woman, she’s just a woman…”. Admittedly, the original lyrics aren’t great either, but no need to make them worse! While Steve Marcus’s eleven-minute cover of Tomorrow Never Knows might seem like an epic way to conclude the proceedings, the freeform jazz gets a little tiresome well before its arbitrary fade-out ending.

The arrangement of Beatles songs in chronological order allows the listener to enjoy Beatlemania roughly as it unfolded, through all the highs and lows. Included is the first ever Beatles cover, the underrated Misery from Please Please Me, recorded by Kenny Lynch before the band ever recorded it themselves. I was surprised to hear songs as obscure as Little Child covered. Even on Jackie Lynton’s hard-rocking version with boisterous drumming and twanging guitars, those creepy, aged-like-milk lyrics are still insurmountable. Still the popularity of the Beatles was so all-encompassing that bands were quick to cover every tune under the sun, including the domestic-violence-propaganda Run for Your Life, played faithfully here by the Transatlantics. Naturally, as the Beatles evolved from simple beat numbers into more complex and all-encompassing numbers, so did the covers, with emphasis on sunshine pop, hard rock and psychedelia. It’s also great to hear covers from well-known names such as Liza Minnelli and Petula Clark, although I’m not sure Clark fully figured out the chorus to Rain.

While this is a very thorough rundown of Beatles’ songs, you might sigh when you realise what songs are excluded. I won’t lose any sleep of the loss of Ask Me Why, Not a Second Time or I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party, but the classics such as Drive My Car, Think for Yourself and Thank You Girl are sorely missed. I would particularly have loved to see how the experimental She Said She Said would have been covered, almost certainly with some ingenuity and imagination. At least one Lennon-McCartney song from every album is missing, including the earlier classics I’m Happy Just to Dance with You, Any Time at All, I’m a Loser and It’s Only Love. With only eighteen such songs to fill in, I feel like making an extended playlist to include covers of all the missing songs, starting with Yes’s Every Little Thing.

Possibly the best part of the set is the colourful booklet that gives some background to all 85 tracks, including pictures of album sleeves and single labels for every track except two: The Inbetweens and The Four Preps only receive a band photograph. The 85 stories are brimming with facts that take you across the world from the UK to Holland to Canda and even as far as New Zealand in the 1960s and give a picture of just what these artists were doing around the time they were influenced by the Beatles. When an artist is featured twice, the space is used to tell two parts of the same story, and there are some subtle links between some of these artists, connected across time and space. It’s joyful to read the success stories and a little sad to hear of the artists who petered out after a year or two.

Funnily enough, the very last track of the set isn’t a cover at all, but a comedy song by the Four Preps, whose song A Letter to the Beatles simultaneously decries and celebrates Beatlemania by moaning about a girlfriend who was infatuated by the Fab Four. Unnecessarily including parts of I Want to Hold Your Hand that add nothing to the track, it was quickly shelved as they did not have permission to include the Beatles song in their own. Nevertheless, it’s a fun, jokey way to end this rollercoaster set. It’s understandably full of hits and misses that depend on your taste, but any Beatles lover will appreciate hearing the familiar framework of these songs played in new and interesting ways. From the 1962 to 1966 caveat in the title, I’m hoping that Strawberry is working on a 1967 to 1970 follow-up to this collection, as I’d be down to hear more covers of the Beatles’ adventurous side.


01. Dick Rivers – Love Me Do (J’en suis fou) (2:18)
02. The Rattles – P.S. I Love You (2:26)
03. Mary Wells – Please Please Me (2:29)
04. Kenny Lynch – Misery (2:10)
05. Duffy Power – I Saw Her Standing There (2:32)
06. Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas – Do You Want to Know a Secret (2:05)
07. Mike Redway – Bad to Me (2:15)
08. The Crickets – From Me to You (2:00)
09. The Baconeers – She Loves You (2:16)
10. The Merseymen – I’ll Get You (2:13)
11. The Fourmost – Hello Little Girl (1:54)
12. The Kestrels – There’s a Place (2:16)
13. Tommy Quickly & Remo Four – Tip of My Tongue (2:09)
14. Cilla Black – Love of the Loved (2:05)
15. Les Lionceaux – It Won’t Be Long (Le temps est long) (2:10)
16. Marilyn Powell – All My Loving (2:25)
17. Gregory Phillips – Don’t Bother Me (2:42)
18. Jackie Lynton – Little Child (2:02)
19. Count Basie – Hold Me Tight (2:47)
20. Mike Redway – I’ll Keep You Satisfied (2:02)
21. Adam Faith – I Wanna Be Your Man (2:52)
22. Claude François – I Want to Hold Your Hand (Laisse-moi tenir ta main) (2:20)
23. Shirley Abicair – This Girl (2:31)
24. Peter and Gordon – A World Without Love (2:42)
25. Baby Cortez – Can’t Buy Me Love (2:17)
26. The Supremes – You Can’t Do That (2:32)
27. Frank Bacon – Nobody I Know (1:59)
28. The Applejacks – Like Dreamers Do (2:35)
29. The Mamas & the Papas – I Call Your Name (2:39)
30. Frank Alamo – A Hard Day’s Night (Je me bats pour gagner) (2:47)
31. Dino e i Kings – I Should Have Known Better (Cerca di capire) (2:21)

Time – 72:37

01. The Coterie – If I Fell (2:57)
02. Mark Wynter – And I Love Her (2:40)
03. Me & Them – Tell Me Why (2:11)
04. Joe Cocker – I’ll Cry Instead (1:45)
05. Strawberry Fair – Things We Said Today (2:38)
06. Brotherhood – When I Get Home (3:45)
07. The Buckinghams – I’ll Be Back (2:40)
08. Trea Dobbs – It’s for You (2:26)
09. The Ventures – I Feel Fine (2:12)
10. Noel Harrison – She’s a Woman (2:53)
11. Les Lionceaux – No Reply (Ne ris plus) (2:05)
12. The Hi-Fi’s – Baby’s in Black (2:25)
13. Glyn Johns – I’ll Follow the Sun (2:02)
14. Alma Cogan – Eight Days a Week (3:55)
15. The 5th Dimension – Ticket to Ride (4:04)
16. The In-Sect – Yes It Is (2:44)
17. Mary Wells – Help! (2:04)
18. The Inbetweens – The Night Before (2:55)
19. Jan & Dean – You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away (2:11)
20. The Sunshine Company – I Need You (3:19)
21. The Baskervilles – Another Girl (2:10)
22. The Five Man Electrical Band – You’re Going to Lose That Girl (2:19)
23. The Baskervilles – You Like Me Too Much (2:39)
24. Charles River Valley Boys – I’ve Just Seen a Face (2:43)
25. David & Jonathan – Yesterday (2:19)
26. P. J. Proby – That Means a Lot (2:36)
27. Mae West – Day Tripper (2:46)
28. Swingshift – We Can Work It Out (2:30)
29. Paraffin Jack Flash Ltd – Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (2:18)

Time – 75:59

01. Madeline Bell – You Won’t See Me (3:27)
02. Tony Rivers & The Castaways – Nowhere Man (2:32)
03. Gary McFarland and Gábor Szabó – The Word (2:16)
04. The Free Design – Michelle (3:12)
05. The Truth – Girl (2:38)
06. Davy Graham – I’m Looking Through You (2:05)
07. José Feliciano – In My Life (3:29)
08. Frankie Vaughan – Wait (2:31)
09. The Cryan’ Shames – If I Needed Someone (2:21)
10. The Transatlantics – Run for Your Life (2:16)
11. Tempest – Paperback Writer (2:51)
12. Petula Clark – Rain (3:01)
13. The Senate – Yellow Submarine (1:56)
14. Erick Saint Laurent – Eleanor Rigby (2:06)
15. Junior Parker – Taxman (3:46)
16. Zoot – I’m Only Sleeping (2:59)
17. Swingshift – Here, There and Everywhere (4:09)
18. Jimmy James – Good Day Sunshine (2:49)
19. Spanky & Our Gang – And Your Bird Can Sing (1:52)
20. Liza Minnelli – For No One (2:31)
21. Rage – Doctor Robert (2:07)
22. The Rackets – I Want to Tell You (2:39)
23. Jackie Trent – Got to Get You into My Life (2:41)
24. Steve Marcus – Tomorrow Never Knows (11:10)
25. The Four Preps – A Letter to the Beatles (2:58)

Time – 76:09

Total Time – 3:44:44

Record Label: Strawberry / Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: CRJAM3BOX020
Date of Release: 24th November 2023

We Can Work It Out – Cherry Red Records