Vicarious Victories: The Beatles covers that hit number one

News Vicarious Victories: The Beatles covers that hit number one

It is no secret that The Beatles were a hit-making machine in the 1960s as they clawed their way into the US charts, paving the way for fellow British invasion acts. As fellow Quarrymen in the late ’50s, John Lennon and McCartney enjoyed covering songs by some of their favourite artists, including Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly, during gigs but had already begun honing their songwriting genius.

As the ’60s approached, The Quarrymen became The Beatles, and the Lennon-McCartney songbook began to grow. From the off, the band had number-one hits with original compositions, including ‘From Me To You’ and ‘She Loves You’, but also leant on a handful of covers over the first two albums. They famously covered Phil Medley and Bert Russell’s ‘Twist and Shout’ on Please Please Me and Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ on With The Beatles, but none of these would enter the singles charts.

With the finest songwriting partnership of all time on the brew, The Beatles would have been foolish to lean on covers for their singles. However, several artists leaned on that Lennon-McCartney genius to squeeze out their number-one hits. Famously, the band offered ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ to The Rolling Stones, who recorded it as their second single. While the track didn’t reach number one, it gave the rising group its first top 20 in the UK.

The first number-one hit Lennon and McCartney achieved through another artist’s cover was ‘A World Without Love’. Written by McCartney but credited to Lennon-McCartney, the single never saw the light of day as a Beatles song with the exception of rehearsals and isolated live performances. However, McCartney’s then-girlfriend Jane had a brother named Peter Asher, who sought a catchy tune to record with his old school friend Gordon Waller. Released in 1964, Peter and Gordon’s rendition swiftly ascended to the number one spot on both the UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.

Fast forward to 1974, and another McCartney-Lennon composition found its way to the top of the charts, albeit a vastly different song by a vastly different performer. Elton John, who had idolised The Beatles during his adolescent years, put his own spin on ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’, a potentially LSD-laced classic from The Beatles’ most psychedelic release, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Elton’s cover, released as a single from his album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, reached number one in the US and Canada, falling just short at number 10 in the UK.

The third and final entry to this mini-list should perhaps come with an asterisk. In 1981, the Dutch studio project Stars on 45 released a garish medley of Beatles songs. Usually titled ‘Stars on 45 Medley’, the single wove snippets of Beatles hits over a disco beat. As listeners, we are presumably expected to dance to the beat of sickening irony.

Among the 11 songs featured in the medley were seven Lennon-McCartney compositions, including ‘Drive My Car’, ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’, and ‘All You Need Is Love’. The song’s official title is ‘Medley: Intro Venus’ / ‘Sugar Sugar’ / ‘No Reply’ / ‘I’ll Be Back’ / ‘Drive My Car’ / ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’ / ‘We Can Work It Out’ / ‘I Should Have Known Better’ / ‘Nowhere Man’ / ‘You’re Going to Lose That Girl’ / ‘Stars on 45’, making it the longest titled song to ever chart in the US, where it reached number one. In the UK, it peaked at number two.

The Beatles covers that hit number one:

‘A World Without Love’ – Peter and Gordon

‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ – Elton John

‘Stars on 45 Medley’ – Stars on 45

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