MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
In 1964, there was a seismic shift in American music. The Beatles had arrived, which not only opened the doors to the British invasion, but also shifted pop music’s focus away from singers and onto rock bands… rock bands who wrote their own music. But there was no denying the Beatles’ skill as songwriters. This week, in honor of Paul McCartney’s 80th birthday, we’ll explore some jazz and traditional pop treatment of Beatles songs, from some very early Beatles covers by Ella Fitzgerald and Keely Smith in 1964, to some more recent covers from this century.
It’s The Lennon-McCartney Songbook, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “YESTERDAY”
Frank Sinatra with the Lennon/McCartney song “Yesterday.” That comes from Sinatra’s 1969 album My Way, which featured a number of more contemporary rock songs, like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” and Ray Charles’s “Hallelujah I Love Her So.”
“Yesterday” was the most obvious choice for Sinatra’s first Beatles cover. It was seen as a watershed moment in the Beatles career, evidence that these young lads could write ballads as compelling as any of the great songwriters. “Yesterday” would go on to become the most covered song of all-time, not just by the Beatles, but by any artist...
MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “YESTERDAY”
MUSIC CLIP - RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO, “A HARD DAY’S NIGHT”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring jazz treatments of the songs of the Beatles, and what you’re hearing in the background is an early jazz Beatles cover. This is the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1965, live performing “A Hard Day’s Night,” with the Beatle-loving audience cheerfully singing along.
I’m calling this show “The Lennon/McCartney Songbook,” which is a sort of a lie and also sort of a joke about this next song I’m going to play. Messieurs John Lennon and Paul McCartney, while they did write the lion’s share of Beatles song, were not the only songwriters in the group. Ringo Starr wrote on occasion, and towards the end of the 1960s, George Harrison was writing some of the Beatles’ best songs.
Not everyone was aware of that fact though, including Mr. Frank Sinatra.
Sinatra and the Beatles had a complicated relationship. In the early 1940s, hoards of Sinatra-loving teenager bobby soxers created a “Sinatramania,” so when “Beatlemania” came around 20 years later, Frank was not impressed (and probably a little jealous). He even insulted the Fab Four in the famous Gay Talese Esquire article “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” from 1966, calling them, quote “kid singers wearing mops of hair thick enough to hide a crate of melons.”
Years later, Sinatra would bury the hatchet and started to perform Beatles song, including the song “Something” from Abbey Road. He loved the song, calling it one of the best love songs from the past 50 years. But he also mistakenly referred to “Something” as his favorite “Lennon/McCartney” tune, when it was in fact 100% a George Harrison tune.
Sinatra’s version from 1979, backed up by an arrangement by Nelson Riddle, is one of his best recordings, and he entirely makes the song his own.
Here’s Frank Sinatra with George Harrison’s “Something,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “SOMETHING”
Frank Sinatra in 1979 performing “Something,” a Beatles song off of Abbey Road.
While Sinatra was slow to adopt the Beatles music into his repertoire, Ella Fitzgerald started singing their songs almost immediately. An early America hit for the Beatles was “Can’t Buy Me Love,” released in March of 1964, just a month after they performed on Ed Sullivan. Less than 3 weeks after that release, Ella Fitzgerald was in the studio cutting her own version of “Can’t Buy Me Love” as a single, which became a minor hit in the UK.
It helps that “Can’t Buy Me Love” is essentially a blues, a style Ella was more than comfortable singing.
Here’s Ella Fitzgerald in 1964 with her hit version of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “CAN’T BUY ME LOVE”
MUSIC - KEELY SMITH, “A HARD DAY’S NIGHT”
Keely Smith in 1964 with the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” This comes from her album Keely Smith Sings The John Lennon - Paul McCartney Songbook, released just a few months after the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night.
Before that, we heard Ella Fitzgerald, the first jazz artist to embrace the Beatles, with her version of “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Later on in 1964, Ella even released an original song called “Ringo Beat” all about this new Fab Four phenomenon
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “RINGO BEAT”
As the years went on, other jazz and traditional pop artists from the earlier generation also embraced the Beatles, some more successfully than others. Sarah Vaughan, for instance, released an entire album of Beatles songs in 1981. It features arrangements by Marty Paich and his son David Paich (along with members of Paich’s new band Toto). A few songs like “Here There And Everywhere” and “Blackbird” are OK, but most the arrangements range from overly maudlin to downright bizarre
MUSIC CLIP - SARAH VAUGHAN, “GET BACK”
Much more successful was Tony Bennett, who recorded two Beatles songs on his 1971 album Tony Sings The Great Hits of Today.
Here’s Bennett with the Lennon/McCartney song “Here There And Everywhere,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE”
Tony Bennett in 1971 with the Beatles “Here There and Everywhere,” originally from the Beatles album Revolver.
Some more soulful jazz artists also covered the Beatles in the late 1960s/early 1970s, including Ray Charles and George Benson. Charles recorded about half a dozen Beatles songs, including “Something” and “Yesterday,” and Benson recorded an entire album called The Other Side Of Abbey Road, just a few months after the release of the Beatles’ Abbey Road.
I’ll start with Ray Charles, performing another song originally on the Beatles Revolver. This is “Eleanor Rigby,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “ELEANOR RIGBY”
MUSIC - GEORGE BENSON, “OH DARLING”
George Benson in 1969, with Lennon and McCartney’s “Oh Darling,” a track off of Benson’s album The Other Side of Abbey Road. Before that we heard Ray Charles in 1968 with his soulful version of the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby.”
MUSIC CLIP - MCCOY TYNER, “SHE'S LEAVING HOME”
After a short break, we’ll hear more jazz versions of Beatles songs, as we celebrate the 80th birthday of Sir Paul McCartney. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - RAMSEY LEWIS, “DAY TRIPPER”
MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been looking at jazz versions of Beatles songs this hour, and what you’re listening to right now is Count Basie and his Orchestra, doing a version of the Lennon/McCartney “Do You Want To Know A Secret”
This comes from the album Basie’s Beatle Bag, which actually came in 1966 during all of the hype of Beatlemania. Basie was one of the first jazz artists to record the Beatles.
Where we left off, we had heard from Ray Charles and George Benson, two soulful male artists who covered the Beatles in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I want to play for you now two soulful female artists who were doing that same thing around that time.
First, here’s Aretha Franklin in 1972, not long after the Beatles broke up, performing their song “The Long And Winding Road,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, “THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD”
MUSIC - NINA SIMONE, “HERE COMES THE SUN”
Two Beatles songs from 1969, recorded by soulful artists in the early 1970s. We just heard Nina Simone in 1971 with the George Harrison song “Here Comes The Sun,” from Simone’s album of the same name. Before that we heard Aretha Franklin with the Lennon/McCartney song “The Long And Winding Road,” from her 1972 album Young, Gifted And Black.
I want to jump ahead now, and play some creative reimagining of Beatles songs by some more contemporary jazz singers. Both of these next two recordings come from the past decade by two of the most acclaimed jazz singers of today: Kurt Elling and Cassandra Wilson.
I’ll start with Elling, with a track off of his 2011 Grammy-nominated album The Gate. This is Elling with one of Lennon and McCartney’s more mysterious songs “Norwegian Wood,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - KURT ELLING, “NORWEGIAN WOOD”
MUSIC - CASSANDRA WILSON, “BLACKBIRD”
Cassandra Wilson with the Beatles song “Blackbird.” That’s off of her 2010 album Silver Pony. Before that, we heard Kurt Elling in 2011 with the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” from his album The Gate.
I have one more Beatles jazz cover for you this hour. Unfortunately, I had to leave a number of great songs on the cutting room floor. Perhaps I’ll do a part two in the future, in case there are more jazz favorites you’d like to hear.
But to close off this hour, I’ll turn to singer Madeleine Peyroux from her 2011 album Standing On The Rooftop. This charming Beatles song is one that’s rarely covered, and was Paul McCartney’s love song to his sheepdog Martha. Here’s Madeleine Peyroux with “Martha My Dear,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MADELEINE PEYROUX, “MARTHA MY DEAR”
Madeleine Peyroux in 2011 with the Lennon/McCartney song “Martha My Dear”
As we celebrate Sir Paul McCartney’s 80th birthday, Thanks for exploring jazz Beatles covers with me on this edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - BRAD MEHLDAU TRIO, “BLACKBIRD”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow