The Beatles

The Beatles, of course, have been covered thousands of times, but that doesn’t count as adaptation.  What I’ve tried to find are things that somehow adapt the concept of Beatleness as a whole.  Apart from the various official musical productions that have been done over the years, what we find is mostly mashups, parodies, and subversions of one sort or another – although in some cases the classification is debatable.


• I wouldn’t count the movies that the Beatles made in the 60s as adaptations, but how about the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film that came out in 1978, starring the Bee Gees, and that was pretty much universally panned?  Here it is in full:


• There was a musical revue called Beatlemania which first played on Broadway in 1977.  A good source of information about it is this Web site:


• There’s also The Beatles Love, which began as a Cirque de Soleil production in 2006 and was also released as an official mashup album. There is “exclusive footage” of a performance on YouTube:

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any free (legal) way to get the album.  The iTunes store has it at the primo price of $12.99.


Rain was another jukebox musical that ran on Broadway from 2010–11, and now is on tour.  Here is the Web site:


Let It Be is a British musical that debuted at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 2012.  Here is the Web site:


• There are also plenty of mashups in the strict sense—that is, albums constructed out of recordings of the Beatles along with some other artist(s).  The most famous is probably Danger Mouse’s Grey Album, which combines music from the Beatles’ White Album with Jay-Z’s Black Album.  You can download it on

Here is a recent Slate blog post about it, with a stream of a “remastered” version:


• Another hip-hop-based mashup is The Beastles, which combines the Beatles with the Beastie Boys.  One of the tracks, “Let It Beast”, is on YouTube:

The Web site of the project has free downloads of everything:


• Beatallica is a “mash-up band” that plays combination Beatles and Metallica songs.  You can find a bunch of their songs on YouTube.  Some favorites are “Sandman”, which combines “Enter Sandman” with “Taxman”:

And “The Thing That Should Not Let It Be”:


• The Rutles are a fictitious parody band created by Eric Idle, of Monty Python, and Neil Innes, who wrote most of the music for the Monty Python movies.  They are best known for the BBC TV movie All You Need is Cash (1978), which is on YouTube in full:

There is also an extensive Wikipedia page about them:


Mr. Show also had a segment parodying the Beatles, with a group called the “Fad Three”:


The Simpsons episode “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” is a parody of the Beatles’s career.  I don’t think there’s any way to stream this (save for sketchy Web sites), but the DVDs are not hard to come by.


• Not a parody of the Beatles in themselves, but The Simpsons also parodied the Yellow Submarine film back in the day:


• The British comedy show Absolutely Fabulous has an episode in which an engineer at Abbey Road Studios discovers the “lost tapes” of the Beatles:


• The Better Beatles were a group of four teens from Omaha, Nebraska in the early 80s who recorded tuneless, soulless, yet oddly infectious renditions of Beatles songs with cheap keyboard.  Again, there is a bunch of stuff on YouTube.  My favorite is “Penny Lane”, which was released on a 7”:

Here is an interview:

There are some free MP3s at the WFMU blog:


• There were a couple of Beatles parody segments on Sesame Street:


• It’s not hard to find Beatles wigs in costume stores, not to mention Sgt. Pepper costumes.  Adaptations?  Here are some wigs on eBay:


• Finally, I said I wasn’t going to include cover versions, but I will make an exception for Peter Sellers’s dramatic rendition of “A Hard Day’s Night”, done in the style of Olivier’s Richard III (which actually made the UK charts twice, first in 1965 and then again in 1993):

And here is an animated music video for William Shatner’s rendition of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”:


A Smiles of a Summer Night post will come tomorrow…

5 thoughts on “The Beatles

  1. Jeff, I agree that the Beatles’ movies aren’t an adaptation case per se, but I do think they make some interesting comments on (and tweaks to) celebrity persona. The decision to have the band play versions of themselves (as opposed to, say, Elvis, who plays fictional characters in his movies even when he’s singing Elvis songs) is an interesting one, to begin with. Hard Day’s Night, with its mockumentary structure, makes it seem as though we’re seeing the actual Beatles on screen (albeit, in McCartney’s case, with a fictional grandfather in tow that I’d think their fanbase would have known wasn’t real). Help! is a little different: it puts the band in fictional scenarios (the shared house in London, the madcap trips around the globe, the encounters with the cult [whose worship of an actual Hindu goddess grossly misrepresents the religious tradition that Harrison was just beginning to discover]). Ringo, in particular, perhas by virtue of getting the most individual screen time, comes off as a character in both films. (George’s mission to rescue him in the Bahamas is my favorite part of Help!.)

    What I love about the mashups Jeff included (as well as my favorite pairing, the Beatles and the Wu-Tang Clan on Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers: is the implicit commentary on both bands in each pairing. Early in their career, the Beastie Boys evoke the Hard Day’s Night Beatles with their playfulness (not to mention their name).

    Tom Caruana, the creator of Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers, was asked by the New York Times whether Danger Mouse’s legal troubles with The Grey Album worried him. His reply is an interesting summation of some of the issues inherent in adaptation: “I’m still under the impression that Beatles lawyers really want to go after people that are uploading Beatles music directly. In my defense, what I would say is, I’m not stopping people from buying Beatles music by giving it for free – I’ve taken bits of their music, made something new with it, and if anything, might spark people’s interest in the Beatles again. [laughs] That’s a bit of a bold statement. We shall wait and see.” (Interview here:

    Lennon, interestingly, in his second book A Spaniard in the Works, writes a parodic adaptation of Snow White. His version is called “Snore Wife and the Several Dwarts.” (It’s available here, about halfway down:

  2. Great post Hilarie- I agree that Hard Day’s Night is an interesting mockumentary, where we are actually seeing the Beatles, yet they are playing themselves. I for one thought it was hilarious- having a younger sister who was enthralled by the Beatles for years, I saw many documentaries and films about the Beatles, and I still cannot get over how their fame exploded. I have also listened to the full CD of Cirque de Soleil’s The Beatles Love. In the album, all of the songs connect and sort of bleed together in an interesting way, which actually changes some of the melodies of certain songs. Again, this is not necessarily an adaptation, but certainly the Cirque de Soleil performance is. We’ve seen many examples of dance adaptations in this course, and I am becoming more fascinated with this form of adaptation than I have ever been before. I wonder how seeing a dance performance of certain Beatles songs may change the tone of the meaning of the song. Certainly, the imagery and filming of the mini “music videos” in the Across the Universe film worked in a similar manor.

    Although Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe did not have the greatest story-line ever told, I really enjoyed how the songs were connected to the plot of the film, and how the characters’ names were taken directly from Beatles’ songs (Jude, Prudence, Lucy, Maxwell). Again, this can be a bit cheesy, but that’s what you are expecting when you watch a movie which is a Beatles musical. The strongest moments in the film (to me at least) were the scenes related to actual social issues going on in the ’60s, such as race riots. The funeral scene during the song Let It Be was particularly moving. Again, the film does play into stereotypes, and goes from strange drug-induced colorful Bono-influenced scenes to scenes of death and political outrage. I think this style works as a sort of mirror to the Beatles songs, which cover such a huge range of styles and tones.

    I’m interested in how many covers there have been of Beatles songs. I know that we are not necessarily including covers as adaptations, but I think that sometimes, they warrant that label. In any case, whatever one may call them, covers can change the tone and the style of the song, or place the song in a particular landscape which changes its meaning. My favorite Beatles song has always been Across the Universe (I am not unique, as this is covered often.) However, I wanted to share one such cover done by Fiona Apple for the Pleasantville soundtrack (which is also a great movie): This song is particularly interesting when put in conversation with the movie’s message and imagery, which you get a little of in the video. John also shared the fantastic David Bowie cover of Across the Universe with me. Here it is: Of course this title is also the name of the Taymor film- why? (Interestingly, the song in the film didn’t even get played in full, always bothersome to me).

    My last comment is how much I enjoy the William Shatner version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. It will never get old.

  3. I forgot to say that I think the Rain tour is really interesting because it seems that the singers are dressed up like The Beatles and pretending to be them (like Elvis impersonators?) A few years ago my mother’s friend told me to go see a Beatles cover band who do the same thing- they impersonate The Beatles and apparently “sounded just like the real Beatles.” I did not see them, because I find this kind of adaptation strange. Although we can look at the Beatles as “characters” since they had a certain persona within the band, it still seems odd to “play” them in this way. Although actors do similar things in musicals, there is a storyline besides the music that makes these impersonations more common. Any thoughts on this?

  4. I had not really been thinking about impersonators, but it seems to me there is a point where a musical act’s cover-ability transcends into full-blown replicability. That is to say, many songs receive covers, and influential bands often warrant cover bands, but only culturally iconic artists merit full-blown impersonations, with an convincingly imitative visual or physical aspect as equally, or maybe more, important to the musical performance (Elvis, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Madonna are some popular ones). You know you’ve made it when you have impersonator acts (and you’re still alive.) What’s more, these acts become commonplace and are not considered rip-offs or thefts because they are consciously imitating exact looks or periods in the musician’s career; bands that “steal” looks or sounds without giving any credit or citing influence are demonized in a way Elvis-impersonators are not (y’know, relatively). But then are these impersonators adaptations? Are poser-bands more nearly adaptors, even without a proper works cited? Besides being tremendously influential for their music, the Beatles have hugely contributed to visual pop culture – and here I’m thinking of Sgt. Peppers, The Yellow Submarine, the “original” Beatle look, even album covers. These visual cues get adopted almost as frequently as Beatle songs get covered, and very often these fashion references extend beyond mere impersonation or referentiality, but, like the adaptations we’ve looked at so far, use the earlier “material” to comment, or critique, or update, etc.
    As Jeff noted, covers don’t necessarily suggest adaptation, but I think if a cover is radical enough it can. We can also take into account how many covers actually subvert the original song’s place in the cultural consciousness and obscure it altogether. Some covers perform “faithful” renditions – these are the kind with questionable status as adaptation – but some covers transfer the song to a new genre or update it for modern times (here is a fantastic French jazz-lounge cover band that strictly does 80’s punk and New Wave music. I think the string of female singers, as well as the laid-back lounge feel, is meant as a kind of irony aimed at the boys club of this terrible, terrible music fad ) “Across the Universe” is an interesting film because the Beatle songs have been covered in a mostly faithful manner, but they have been updated or changed slightly to reflect their placement in the film’s story. The original setting and characters are more or less synchronous with the Beatles own time period and music, and yet this kind of music-video opera as a genre seems a more contemporary thing.

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