On this day in 1969, Marmalade were at No.1 on the UK singles chart with their version of The Beatles song “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”. It gave the Scottish group (who were formally known as The Gaylords after the notorious post-war Chicago Gaylords street gang) their first and only chart topper.
Covering a Beatles song was good sport in the ’60s; artists scrambled to try their versions and interpretations of the latest Fab Four offerings and some were more successful than others. I’m sure someone somewhere has counted how many artists have had hits with Beatles songs, and it will be dozens. McCartney’s “Yesterday” is one of the most covered songs in the history of music with over 1,600 versions recorded.
So, where to begin? Ella Fitzgerald became one of the first artists to have a hit with a Beatles cover when her version of “Can’t Buy Me Love” entered the UK chart in May 1964. Lennon and McCartney also had a hand in giving The Rolling Stones an early hit when they covered “I Wanna Be Your Man”.
Stevie Wonder won a Grammy nomination and a Top 20 hit for his version of “We Can Work It Out” released from his 1971 Signed, Sealed & Delivered album. Stevie takes the song from the Rubber Soul sessions to new level, giving it the full Wonder funk treatment. A lesser known version of the song is by Deep Purple who recorded the track on their 1968 album The Book of Taliesyn; the band also recorded a version of “Help!”
Elvis, of course, covered loads of the Fabs’ songs: “Yesterday”, “Get Back”, Hey Jude” and the George Harrison song “Something”. Possibly after “Yesterday”, Harrison’s ballad from Abbey Road must be up there as one of the most covered. Welsh singer Shirley Bassey had a hit with it, others, like Ike & Tina Turner, Tony Bennett, James Brown, Julio Iglesias, The Miracles, Eric Clapton, and Joe Cocker, all recorded versions. Frank Sinatra called it “the greatest love song ever written”. Harrison stated that his favourite cover of the song was James Brown’s, which he had installed in his personal jukebox.
And then there are the more obscure covers of Beatles classics – one of my favourites is Jeff Beck’s version of “She’s A Woman” on his 1975 George Martin-produced album Blow By Blow. Beck lets his guitar do all the talking on this instrumental and the results are stunning. Another brilliant version of a Beatles track is World Party’s take on “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”. Some would say it’s better than the original (which is surely impossible), but World Party’s Karl Wallinger delivers a perfect interpretation of the Lennon song from The White Album (Tori Amos has also recorded a great version of the song). Another great cover from the same album is by Prince, who does an amazing version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which shows what an amazing guitarist he is.
John Lennon’s “Across The Universe”, which found a home on The Beatles’ Let It Be album, is one his best and most overlooked songs of which there have been some great cover versions. Fiona Apple did a fine job, which was featured in the Pleasantville soundtrack, as did Rufus Wainwright on his Poses album. David Bowie, Roger Waters, and Cyndi Lauper have also delivered versions.
And then there’s the not so good. Ozzy Osburne’s favourite Beatles song is “In My Life”, which you should give a wide berth. Actress Goldie Hawn once murdered “A Hard Day’s Night”, William Shatner did the same with “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and how about Tiny Tim’s version of “Hey Jude”?
I could go on; so many artists have covered songs by the biggest group in the world. Let’s finish with a McCartney song, which he banged out one morning by himself at Abbey Road and then very kindly gave it to Badfinger who had just signed to Apple. Apparently Paul gave the group strict instructions to follow his demo (on which he’d played all the instruments). The result was almost a carbon copy of McCartney’s. They did a great job.
So, whatever happened to Marmalade? Well, after enjoying just one week at the top of the charts with “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”, they returned with a handful of self-penned hits before taking the long and winding road to their place in pop music history.
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