10 Notable R&B Songs that Were Covered by The Beatles

Like many British Invasion groups, The Beatles picked up on American culture and sold it back to us. Even in their Quarrymen days, they performed songs by Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles. Just as Elvis had drawn from the rhythm and blues well, The Beatles were turned on by the music of Larry Williams and Arthur Alexander. When they auditioned for Decca Records on January 1, 1962, they included songs by The Coasters, Chuck Berry, and Barrett Strong. Rhythm and blues made up a good portion of their live act, especially their earlier recordings.

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As the band transitioned into writing their own material, the influence of those R&B classics was always present. However, The Beatles never did place a single song on the Billboard R&B chart. Let’s look at 10 R&B songs recorded by The Beatles. (This list doesn’t include any Lennon & McCartney originals, only R&B covers.)

“You Really Got a Hold on Me” on The Beatles’ Second Album (written by Smokey Robinson)

What started as the B-side to “Happy Landing” ended up hitting No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1962 by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It became a regular part of Beatles’ live shows, and the three-part harmonies of The Miracles influenced the arrangements The Beatles used in their original songs.

Paul McCartney said in The Beatles Anthology, “Smokey Robinson was like God in our eyes.”

“Long Tall Sally” on The Beatles’ Second Album (written by Enotris Johnson, Richard Penniman, and Robert Blackwell)

“Little Richard was one of the all-time greats,” said John Lennon. “The first time I heard him, a friend of mine had been to Holland and brought back a 78 with ‘Long Tall Sally’ on one side, and ‘Slippin’ And Slidin” on the other. It blew our heads.”

Little Richard was also a gigantic influence on McCartney, and this song showcased his vocal prowess. During the A Hard Day’s Night sessions, The Beatles recorded the song in one take.

“Money (That’s What I Want)” on The Beatles’ Second Album (written by Janie Bradford and Berry Gordy Jr.)

Another Motown gem that found its way into The Beatles’ repertoire was discovered from one of the records imported into manager Brian Epstein’s NEMS shop. The Beatles would routinely scavenge the new releases.

“Roll over Beethoven” on The Beatles’ Second Album (written by Chuck Berry)

Chuck Berry was the poet of his generation, and this song summed up how many teenagers felt about the emergence of their own music. The Beatles performed many of Berry’s songs through the years, with Lennon usually singing lead. In 1961, George Harrison took over the lead vocals and was featured on the recording. 

“Anna (Go to Him)” on The Early Beatles (written by Arthur Alexander)

Arthur Alexander released “Anna” in 1962, and The Beatles covered it the following year. “Where Have You Been (All My Life),” “Soldier of Love (Lay Down Your Arms),” and “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues” were all songs The Beatles learned from Alexander. George Harrison adapted the piano part on the original into guitar.

“Twist and Shout” on The Early Beatles (written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley)

The Top Notes debuted the song, but it was later released by The Isley Brothers. The Beatles’ producer George Martin remembered, “I knew that ‘Twist And Shout’ was a real larynx-tearer, and I said, ‘We’re not going to record that until the very end of the day because if we record it early on, you’re not going to have any voice left.’ So that was the last thing we did that night.”

“Baby It’s You” on The Early Beatles (written by Burt Bacharach, Hal David, and Barney Williams)

This 1961 smash hit by The Shirelles reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart. The Beatles would also cover “Boys,” a Shirelles B-side, in 1960. A live recording from the BBC was released as a single in 1995 to promote Live at the BBC. It reached No. 67 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Mr. Moonlight” on Beatles ’65 (written by Roy Lee Johnson)

Dr. Feelgood & The Interns first recorded “Mr. Moonlight” as the B-side to “Dr. Feelgood.” The song failed to chart but was given new life when The Beatles recorded it in 1964. 

McCartney told Disc in 1964, “I play a bit of organ softly in the background, and John and I do the singing. Ringo got hold of a horn-shaped sort of conga drum for this with good effect.”

“Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!”on Beatles VI (written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and Richard Penniman

Composed of two R&B songs, The Beatles recorded two takes of this medley but chose to release the first. They had seen Little Richard combine the songs in concert and began doing it themselves. Another vehicle to showcase McCartney’s voice, the songs had been abandoned for a couple of years before they were dusted off for recording when there was a shortage of new songs in late 1964. 

“Dizzy Miss Lizzy” on Beatles VI (written by Larry Williams)

Initially released in 1958 with another song The Beatles covered on the flip side, “Slow Down.” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” was another song the Fab Four had performed since their earliest days. 

Of course, many more songs could be on this list. “Chains,” “Boys, “Please Mr. Postman, “Devil in Her Heart, “Rock and Roll Music, “Slow Down,” “Bad Boy,” “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” “I’m Talking About You,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues,” “Carol,” “Soldier of Love,” “Clarabella,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Memphis, Tennessee,” “Lucille,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “I Got To Find My Baby” are others the band recorded.

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Photo by William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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