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0 Soul of the Beatles

  • Songs
  • by Kingsley H. Smith
  • 11/15/2023

Soul of the Beatles past and present

Why has everyone under the sun recorded John Lennon - Paul McCartney songs? Why have artists from all genres recorded Beatles music?

Because whether it was John, Paul, George Harrison, or Ringo Starr, the fab four are icons of twentieth century music. 

Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. even note the iconic status of the Lennon - McCartney songwriting team in the subtitle of their 2021 record Blackbird.

In the early 2000s, I named one of my two online music streams fabfoursoul. You'd hear all Beatles music performed by R&B, soul, and jazz artists.

I mention it in my book Powerhouse Radio: Rough Roads, Radiance, and Rebirth.

Read on to discover more about the fascination hundreds of musical performers share with Beatles songs.

Recently, I finally listened, for the first time to all of the songs on the McCoo & Davis CD multiple times.

Lucky for me and other CD owners with a paper package, Marilyn and Billy present written social posts we can see within the art space on the CD jackets.

You don't get that if you pick their MP3 downloads.

Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. Blackbird

There are six panels containing art. The cover above is a "say their name" tribute. Whose name? People who are no longer with us due to murder, violence and hate.

Another panel shows a timeline titled Blackbird Tears listing eighteen violent attacks on Black churches and worshippers from 1822 to 2019.

Yet another page takes a lighter tone. Davis & McCoo are depicted in a colorful illustration brushed in oil painting style. The pair walk cross "Abbey Road." The depiction mimics the famous cover from the Beatles album.

One super benefit of the CD: complete song lyrics are printed in an easily readable font size inside of a stapled booklet.

The songs

  1. "Got to Get You Into My Life" featuring Yancyy
  2. "The Fool on the Hill" featuring Natalie Hanna Mendoza
  3. "Blackbird"
  4. "Yesterday"
  5. "Ticket to Ride"
  6. "The Long and Winding Road"
  7. "Silly Love Songs"
  8. "Help!"
  9. "(Just Like) Starting Over" featuring James Gadson
  10. "And I Love Her"

The Marilyn and Billy husband and wife team have called their record "Blackbird."

If you are not familiar with the reason why Lennon - McCartney wrote "Blackbird," I will point you to an audio interview McCoo & Davis Jr. did that partially explains the social awareness of their album name and covers.

See below for more information. Here's a summary of the CD.

"Got to Get you Into My Life" is sung in a medium tempo by Billy who takes the lead with help from Yancyy. This one is breezy, bouncy, jazzy and soulful.

The explosive energy igniting Earth, Wind & Fire's "Got To Get You Into My Life" is still my favorite cover version.

"Fool on the Hill" gets a slow to medium pop treatment and reminds me of the 5th Dimension's "Love Lines, Angles and Rhymes" in the way it is orchestrated.

Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. were members of the hit making group the 5th Dimension. You may not know the 5th Dimension, but you've heard their songs.

"Fool on the Hill" features McCoo, Davis, and Natalie Hanna Mendoza sharing lead vocals. Nice!

"Blackbird." This is my favorite song in their collection. Marilyn's lead carries the song's gospel overtone while she is accompanied by a sublime choir. Crafted orchestral touches are prominent in the arrangement.

Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. have different vocal styles. They do know how to blend them together on duet parts.

Marilyn's controlled voice has lots of pop appeal. That's why the 5th Dimension were so successful back in the day.

Billy Davis Jr.'s song styling is harder edge with a subtle touch of R&B rasp when he sings solo. He's smooth, but reminds me of Johnnie Taylor, Wilson Pickett and Charles Bradley. That's a compliment.

Track four, "Yesterday," features McCoo immersed in a medium to up-tempo Bossa nova style. Think South American and Brazil. Think Astrud Gilberto and Flora Purim. The treatment is jazzy. Marilyn gives it a fine rendering. This song is the only one on the album that fades out.

"Ticket to Ride," handled by Billy Davis Jr. is certainly bluesy. A blues guitar solo takes charge during this medium to up-tempo song.

A touch of neck bone ad-libbing by Davis Jr. near the end of the song reminds you of traditional blues belting.

"The Long and Winding Road" is done slowly with just enough rhythm to keep the pace toe tapping with a delightful beat. Marilyn sings this one close to the Beatles original. It's the closest cover on the record to a Beatles original version.

I really like "Silly Love Songs." It is the only real up-tempo song here.  The rapid pace echoes an Al Green - Willie Mitchell produced styled (but faster) with lots of horns that even Isaac Hayes would love.

Billy Davis Jr. takes the Paul McCartney song and gives it new life with his strong delivery. We get a tight 4 minute 18 second song rather than the almost 6 minute Wings original.

"Silly Love Songs" was written by Linda and Paul McCartney and appears on their album Wings at the Speed of Sound (by Paul McCartney & Wings).

You might choose something else, but this is my second place personal favorite on this collection.

Songs eight, nine, and ten are fine and should be slotted where they are.

"Help!" is turned into a slow ballad. I wasn't expecting that. The Beatles original is fast. You get some good emotional expression here from Billy Davis Jr. in this slow interpretation.

"Help!" is sung with spiritual soul that exposes the desperation of the original song lyrics. This one is different.

"(Just Like Starting) Over" featuring James Gadson is light and bouncy with a big pop treatment style that opens with dare I say a touch of new jack swing! This is a charming, middle of the road duet. It is not father John Lennon's style.

I had to pull out the original 12 inch vinyl single from my library to listen to the John Lennon original (off of the John Lennon / Yoko Ono album Double Fantasy).

The Lennon version teases with nostalgia. Music artist Big Bopper and other styles from the 1950s and 1960s are used while Lennon frolics along with a heavy rock and roll beat.

Finally, "And I Love Her," presents Billy and Marilyn trading duet and lead parts giving the tune a sweet, torch song treatment.

If you like Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. and the Beatles, then you'll like "Blackbird."

The McCoo - Davis Jr. versions are strong. Musicians backing the songs are excellent.

Beatles: Motown, folk, reggae, acappella, and more

Here are five other soul of the Beatles albums that are quite good. We'll list them in chronological order.

Motown Meets The Beatles

Motown Meets the Beatles: seventeen songs are on the CD released in 1965. Who doesn't love The Supremes, Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Jr. Walker, Edwin Starr, and Syreeta.

All of the Beatles favorites are here along with the feel-good Motown Motor City magic.

It is wonderful to listen to Diana Ross in her prime singing John Lennon's "Imagine." That's one of the standouts.

We played this version often in our fabfoursoul R&B, jazz online Beatles stream.

Richie Havens Sings Beatles and Dylan 

Richie Havens sings eleven of the eighteen Sings Beatles and Dylan songs from the Beatles songbook. Subtitled Old & New Together & Apart, this CD dropped in 1987.

Vocals are mixed upfront so you can hear the clarity of Haven's voice. Acoustic guitar, synth-bass, drums, electric guitars, conga, and percussion is all that's needed to convey the Beatles musical message. Top notch.

A Reggae Tribute to The Beatles

As 2001 rolled in, the Snapper Music label released A Reggae Tribute to The Beatles. There are thirty-two tracks on this double CD. Among the artists, John Holt might be the most familiar. He sings two songs, including John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over).

All reggae and all Beatles. Nuff said.

The Persuasions Sing the Beatles 

This is the back of the CD that I chose instead of the front so you can easily see the songs.

The Persuasions are an all voice only group. Their style is commonly called acappella. KEM who sings "Doo Wop Christmas (That's What Christmas Is All About)" is a contemporary acappella group.

What do you get with no instruments other than the authentic human voice? You get a street corner vocal style with The Persuasions giving you Beatles melodies with soul.

Soul Tribute to the Beatles 

Soul Tribute to the Beatles was released in 2003. You can see the artists above. Fats Domino, Otis Reading, and Esther Phillips are performers you might not expect.

As I've already noted, everyone in music could record the Beatles without any fear or reservations.

I had digitized just under 400 tracks from R&B, soul and jazz performers belting out the Beatles during the days when I presented the fabfoursoul online stream that won a Best of Live365 station award.

Here's one song that was very different. James Brown's version of "Something," was written by George Harrison. I found Brown's "Something" on the 'B' side of one of his hit 45 RPM vinyl singles. James' version is unique!

It's certainly soulful, certainly unexpected, and certainly James Brown.

Tropical Tribute to the Beatles

A sixth bonus for you is below. Our Latin community amigos can't be left out. "Live" from Radio City Music Hall: Tropical Tribute to the Beatles was released on DVD in 2003.

Video clarity shot at the New York City venue is not 2023 high definition 4K quality, but it's good enough to experience exciting Latin flavor lighting up Beatles songs.

Thirteen performances are captured live. Half of the songs are sung in Spanish. Half are sung in English. A couple of the featured stars are Tito Nieves who sings "Let It Be" accompanied by percussionist Tito Puente on timbales / drums.

Celia Cruz closes out the show singing "Obladi Oblada." How do you sing "Obladi Oblada" in Spanish?"

You sing "Obladi Oblada" and it works!

Tropical Tribute to the Beatles

Here are some of the many Beatles books in my library:

Max Milk, Yellow Submarine, New American Library, 1968.

This is a picture book building off of the "Yellow Submarine" movie based on the song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Yellow Submarine The Beatles

Edwin Goodgold and Dan Carlinsky, The Compleat Beatles Quiz Book, Warner Books, 1975. 

What's inside:

  • Questions about song lyrics
  • Song rhymes to complete
  • Song titles
  • Beatle history
  • Beatle travel trivia
  • Beatle bio facts

The Compleat Beatles Quiz Book also contains games and other fun stuff.

The Compleat Beatles Quiz Book

Penelope Rowlands, The Beatles Are Here!, Algonquin Books, 2014.

If you want to read what fans, musicians, disc jockeys, writers, and significant personalities of the Beatles era have to say, The Beatles Are Here! is the book for you.

I learned a lot from this one.

Organized into chapters, reflections of Beatles memories and influence are told by 50 folks including:

  • Billy Joel
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Renee Fleming
  • Janis Ian
  • "Cousin Brucie" Bruce Morrow, disc jockey
  • David Dye, radio host
  • Gay Talese, reporter

Other musicians, writers, and fans talk about their connection to the Beatles in a historic context. The complete title: The Beatles Are Here!: 50 Years After the Band Arrived in America, Writers, Musicians, and Other Fans Remember." 

The Beatles Are Here!

More about Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.

  1. Summer of Soul…or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised
  2. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. Stay Sweet
  3. 5th Dimension Catalog to be Reissued 

You'll find the location of the McCoo - Davis Jr. "Summer of Soul" and "Blackbird" interview in post #1.

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