Blackbird by The Beatles - Best Cover Versions
The Beatles song which I think is their best can change from week to week to be honest.
The Beatles back catalogue, their canon, is filled with so many quality songs that choosing a 'best' from them feels like a sort of betrayal.
One day I might say 'Eleanor Rigby' and the next day I might hear 'Everywhere' and change my mind and pick that as their best.
It is almost impossible especially when you're a big Beatles album fan - some of their songs not selected as singles stand alone as brilliant songs and I am an album fan!
So I have chosen the song 'Blackbird' by Lennon and McCartney (but actually written by just Paul McCartney) and I present it to you through the best cover versions of it.
'Blackbird' - More Than Just a Pop Song
'Blackbird' had something of an interesting beginning.
Paul McCartney and George Harrison used to try to learn a Johann Sebastian Bach piece called 'Bourree in E Minor' when they were school boys.
'Bourree in E Minor' was originally written for the lute and both McCartney and Harrison liked to listen to classical music and especially classical music for stringed instruments (though McCartney also listened to a lot of classical piano pieces, Eleanor Rigby came out of his love of the use of the Modal Scale in piano compositions) and 'Bourree in E Minor' was a piece they tried to learn on their acoustic guitars so that they could show off to their mates.
Blackbird was written in response to racial tensions in the USA in 1968 and appears on The White Album, now considered one of The Beatles best albums.
'Blackbird' is an incredibly beautiful, simple song with a pared down vocals by Paul McCartney.
Here are my favourite cover versions of it, with some information about the artistes who have given their best to bring it to our ears.
10. Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin was born in New York in 1950 and both of his parents were opera singers so being a vocalist must be in his blood.
Bobby doesn't need any hype from me ; he is a great artiste, famous for his accapello songs, all done by himself and that is quite a feat. He writes vocal arrangements for all of what would be instruments and then plays them all with one instrument - his voice!
His version of Blackbird is a Number 10 for me, just because I prefer the more musical versions but he makes himself sound musical - so amazing.
Bobby has won 10 Grammy Awards and had a number 1 Billboard hit in 1988 with 'Don't Worry, Be happy'.
Dave Grohl - Blackbird
9. Dave Grohl
None of us can be too shocked at the ever amazing Dave Grohl's ability to being us a great cover version of a Beatles song.
Dave Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana and then he reappeared later as the lead vocalist and lead guitarist for Foo Fighters. He remains musically diverse, still drumming for a side band called The Crooked Vultures and appears regularly as an invited session musician on many other artiste's albums.
This version of Blackbird is very raw but all the better for it. Just Grohl playing a song he loved to play.
He has admitted at concerts where he's covered it that is is a hard song to perform and that's clearly why he likes playing it - for the challenge!
8. Herbie Hancock and Corinne Bailey Rae
A brilliant composer and musician meets a fab blues/jazz vocalsit and magic is created.
Herbie Hancock is most well-known for his vocoder inspired hits like Rockit but started his musical career as part of the second Miles Davis Quintet. He has achieved great reknown as a composer who is able to embtace funk, soul, jazz, blues and pop and somehow manage to meld them into the same song, real fusion music.
Corinne Bailey Rae is a British vocalist from Leeds, Yorkshire. Her albums have sold in their millions. She has won 2 MOBO Awards and has been nominated for Brits Awards and Grammys. Whilst working as a hat check girl after university at a jazz club, she was invited on stage to sing and that's where her career began. She joined Herbie Hancock as guest vocalist on 'The River-The Joni Album'. Their version of Blackbird is rather good!
7. Elliott Smith
Elliott Smith had a short and tragic life because he was plagued by depression, alcoholism and drug abuse.
He was only 34 when he died, found in his apartment with two stab wounds to the chest, possibly self-inflicted. This version really touches me because he sounds so vulnerable.
Elliott Smith had been a folk musician for a number of years and performed live regularly as well as producing a number of recorded tracks, one of which 'Miss Misery' was featured in the movie, Good Will Hunting'.
He went solo in 1994 after a stint with his band, Heatmiser and was known for the many Beatles covers he performed live. His voice was known for its fragility and I think this is particularly poignant in 'Blackbird'. Just lovely, so sad he dies so young.
6. Sarah McLachlan
I include this because I am a huge Sarah McLachlan fan and I think she really does 'Blackbird' justice.
Sarah McLachlan is a Canadian vocalist, most famous for having a gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice and for writing brilliant ballads, many of which have been big hits. She has won 2 Grammy Awards as well as many Juno Awards.
She also did a gorgeous cover of fellow Canadian, Joni Mitchell's song, 'Blue' on her 1993 album, 'Fumbling Towards Ecstacy', which also has the track, 'Possession', which was featured in an episode of 'Going South' (which I saw and fell in love with the song and her music).
5. Kendra & Mike Grimm
Well folks, I know absolutely nothing about these two artistes. I discovered their version on You Tube when I was looking for Dave Grohls' video but I really liked it so I have included it here.
On You Tube it has over 7,000 hits so I am hoping they are out there in the USA gigging somewhere tonight.
A nice version with a good vocal and fine guitar playing.
4. Mike Masse
Mike Masse is an artiste who performs mainly in Salt Lake City. The video I have features is a performance he did at The Pizza Pie Restaurant in the city.
He has a devoted following and lots of his videos appear on You Tube.
He isn't famous, just a jobbing musician but he does a nice version of Blackbird, both on guitar and vocally and I love the idea that there are still people appearing live like Mike (or even doing karaoke) of Beatles songs.
This shows how timeless their music is, and Blackbird will still be covered for many years to come.
Hub Elite would call it 'evergreen' I expect!
3. Cameron Mitchell
Cameron was not all that famous when he made this video for You Tube but I think you'll agree that it is one of the best cover versions featured.
Cameron was participating in a U.S. TV show called 'The Glee Project' which gave winners the opportunity to appear live in an episode of the now extremely popular TV series, Glee.
Cameron, though turned his back on The Glee Project, preferring to go his own way.
He has actually gone on to bigger and better since then so good luck to him.
He is a very talented young man, with a fine voice and is an engaging guy.
This is a really lovely heatfelt version of Blackbird, made, I suspect for younger ears! Once again, The Beatles prove that their music is timeless and ageless.
2. Glee Cast
It was inevitable that the Glee TV programme would feature the Beatles and eventually they did after Paul McCartney sent producer, Ryan Murphy a mash-up of the songs he would like to see them perform on the show.
They could have ruined 'Blackbird' but gave us a truly great cover version of it, mainly because of the amazing lead vocal provided by Chris Colfer. His voice is so pure, just wonderful.
Glee has gone on to inspire many similar shows and features and was possibly an inspiration for the enormous box office hit, Pitch Perfect though surprisingly the movie has no Beatles songs (probably too expensive to use?).
1. Gianni and Myles
So we come to #1 on my list.
I gave you some nicely produced versions (Sarah McLachlan, Chris Colfer, Kendra and Mike Grimm) and some more raw versions (Dave Grohl).
I threw in a few live versions (Bobby McFerrin, Herbie & Corinne, Mike Masse and Elliott Smith) and then I gave you a version produced just for You Tube (Cameron Mitchell) after he decided not to be on Glee!
So to my favourite cover version by Gianni and Myles.
Gianni Luminati is a member of the Canadian indie band, Walk Off The Earth. If you haven't heard of them, where have you been? Their cover version of Gotye's single, 'Somebody That I Used To Know' has become the stuff of legend on You Tube, getting over 78 million hits since it went up there in early January. If you haven't seen it, then you MUST!!!!!!
So to Gianni singing Blackbird with his nephew, Myles, live in Central Park, just great to see a guy and a young man jamming outside in the sunshine. Myles plays the ukelele in this video so that was another reason it is my Number 1.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Jools Hogg