The Beatles eponymous ninth studio album, The Beatles—known as the “White Album” for its famous plain white cover—turns 50 this year (it was released on November 22, 1968). It’s a massive, 30-song opus, and an unusual new turn from the psychedelic heights of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour.
The White Album is like an artistic line in the sand, and unlike the Beatles mid-‘60s efforts, is stripped down, raw, improvisatory (somewhat), and loose. It’s a band album, meaning, at least in theory, that the band is playing together in the studio—it isn’t heavily orchestrated or produced—and its look is simple and nondescript.
The Beatles didn’t release any singles from the White Album—that’s not how it was done in Britain in those years—although “Hey Jude,” backed with a non-album version of “Revolution,” was recorded during the White Album sessions and released separately. It came out in August, 1968, and spent nine weeks at number one in the U.S.
But even without a single, the White Album reached the top spot on the album charts anyway. It sold millions of copies and continues to sell. But sales—not to mention critical acclaim—don’t tell the full story. The White Album is important because it influenced, seemingly, everyone.
Just look at how many artists have covered the songs on the White Album.
Every track has been covered, and most have been covered multiple times (Phish even covered the entire album as their “musical costume” on Halloween in 1994). The diversity of artists covering its songs is astounding and includes people like swing legend Benny Goodman, Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, Groove Collective, Pixies, Sia, Fats Domino, John Denver, Desmond Dekker, Mötley Crüe, and on and on.
The more difficult task, it seems, would be to compile a list of artists who haven’t covered a song from the White Album.
In celebration of the White Album turning 50, we’ve put together an all-covers version of the Beatles classic. Not only that, but we’ve also provided alternate versions (in case you’re not a fan of one), giving you 50 options to choose from. Work your way through this list and marvel at the White Album’s impact, influence, and universality.
And as a bonus, you can check out Elvis’ rendition of “Hey Jude."
"Glass Onion" is one of the more idiosyncratic songs on the White Album, but it was covered by a few artists, like the British group Big Linda
. Perhaps the best version is Atlantic Records producer and arranger Arif Mardin's largely instrumental version of the song for his 1969 solo album, Glass Onion
Reggae icon Desmond Dekker played up the song’s obvious ska tendencies—as did Gwen Stefani’s group, No Doubt
, when they covered the song at a 1997 concert
"The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"
"The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" is the only Beatles’ song to feature a non-Beatle singing a lead vocal (Yoko One sings the line, "Not when he looked so fierce"). Deerhoof
covered it in 2006 on their self-released untitled EP and nailed the song's mix of childish wonder and general strangeness, as anyone familiar with Deerhoof's music may expect from the band.
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
There’s something about this song—maybe it’s the classic descending minor chord progression or maybe it’s because it is about a guitar—that can bring out a guitarists worst tendencies, although Prince managed a tasteful—and posthumously iconic—solo at the 2004 Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Todd Rundgren’s cover, with Joe Jackson on piano and featuring the amplified string quartet Ethel, avoids the cheese-inducing pitfalls and manages to sound somewhat alternative. (You can find the live video of the performace here.)
"Happiness Is a Warm Gun"
"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" is three sections from different songs pasted together—something the Beatles did later with song fragments on side two of Abbey Road
—and may contain somewhat veiled drug references. The Breeders covered it on their 1990 debut, Pod
"Martha My Dear" is an ode to Paul McCartney’s English sheepdog, Martha. "Hold your hand out, you silly girl, see what you've done"—makes sense. Groove Collective did a cool jazz cover on their 1999 album, Declassified
Indie icon Elliott Smith
covered John Lennon’s paean to insomnia in concert on a number of occasions (like this one, from a show in 1998).
The British folk noir duo Pumajaw
covered George Harrison’s subversive hymn for the Mojo
compilation, The White Album Recovered
, in 2008.
Swing legend Benny Goodman recorded this version with vocalist Jack Sheldon in 1978 in honor of the 40th anniversary of his era-defining concert at Carnegie Hall. Singer-songwriter Jessie Baylin
sang it as part of her live set in 2008, which you can view here
"Don’t Pass Me By" is one of two songs Ringo sings on the White Album. Eighties-era southern rockers The Georgia Satellites
(their big hit was the 1986 single, "Keep Your Hands to Yourself") covered it on their album, Open All Night
. If you can find it, alternative iconoclast Eugene Chadbourne
does an insane cover as well.
"Why Don’t We Do It In The Road"
The original was banged out in two nights with Paul McCartney on everything except drums. The Dead
covered it in their live set in 1985. San Francisco rockers The Stone Foxes
covered it in 2009 on tour as well. You can watch their version here
"I Will" is a whimsical Paul McCartney-esque love song and sets the tone for a quiet end to side two. South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela covered it on his 1970 release, Reconstruction
. Jazz duo Tuck & Patti
covered it on their 1998 album
, Paradise Found
John Lennon wrote "Julia" for his mother, Julia Lennon, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1958—although it may also have been written with Yoko Ono in mind. Sean Lennon
dedicated it to his mother when he covered it during his performance at Come Together: A Night for John Lennon's Words and Music
in 2001. Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood do an alternative, jazzy instrumental version
on their album Out Louder
"Birthday" opens side three and—unlike most of the other songs on the White Album, which were demoed and written in advance—was written on the spot, in the studio. The New Zealand indie band, The Ruby Suns
, did a dreamy, spacey cover in 2008.
American blues artist Lucky Peterson covered "Yer Blues" on the 2002 compilation, The Blues White Album
, which you can hear here
. However, the coolest version of the song was performed on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
, a British TV program that was recorded in late 1968, but never aired and was not released until the mid-‘90s. That version of "Yer Blues" features John Lennon backed by Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Richards on bass.
"Mother Nature’s Son," with its carefree lyrics about grassy fields and daisies, was recorded at a time when the band was beginning to fall apart. "You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife," Ken Scott, who engineered the session, is quoted as saying in Rolling Stone
. John Denver covered the song on his 1972 release, Rocky Mountain High
, and also on his Emmy-winning TV special, An Evening with John Denver
"Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"
John Lennon wrote "Sexy Sadie" after he became disillusioned with the Maharishi (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) during the band’s spiritual retreat in India (where many of the White Album’s songs were composed). The French jazz singer Anne Ducros
covered it on her 2007 album, Urban Tribe
"Helter Skelter" is probably the heaviest song in the Beatles’ catalog, which explains why the ‘80s hair band Mötley Crüe covered it
on their 1983 debut, Shout At The Devil
. The Bobs
did an a cappella version in 1983 as well (their version was even nominated for a Grammy for Best Vocal Performance).
George Harrison’s song, "Long, Long, Long," closes side three and ends with an eerie crescendo caused by a wine bottle rattling against a Leslie speaker (the Beatles were into these happy sound accidents—check out the beginning to their early hit "I Feel Fine"). Terry Scott Taylor, the singer for the band Daniel Amos
, covered it on his 1987 solo release, A Briefing for the Ascent
The Beatles recorded multiple versions of "Revolution," the more famous version being the rambunctious B-side to their mega hit, "Hey Jude." The album version, "Revolution 1," is slower and includes acoustic guitars and shoo-be-doo-wop backing vocals. The ‘80s British pop band the Thompson Twins
covered it on their 1985 album, Here’s to Future Days
did a big band arrangement of "Honey Pie" in 1997 on his album, Our Love Is Here to Stay
"Cry Baby Cry" was the first song demoed at Esher, when the band gathered to work out ideas for the White Album. The song’s coda, which could easily be an intro to the next song, "Revolution 9," is an outtake spliced in from the sessions for "I Will." Katie Melua covered it
in 2006. The ‘90s band Samiam
covered it on their 1997 release, You Are Freaking Me Out
"Revolution 9," with its tape loops, splices, and conversation fragments, isn’t for everyone. It’s also an odd song choice for a Beatles album—especially since the White Album was a conscious attempt at making a band album after the experimentation of Sgt. Pepper
—but for eight minutes and 22 seconds, the Beatles give you taste of the avant-garde. Kurt Hoffman’s Band of Weeds
does a somewhat more accessible cover of the song on the 1992 compilation Downtown Does The Beatles Live At The Knitting Factory