Conventional wisdom has it that it was Kenny Lynch, whose version of the Lennon-McCartney composition “Misery” was issued on 15 March 1963. Well, yes and no…
Who was the first recording artist to cover a Beatles song?
Gareth Jones is a music connoisseur and the author of the book “French Pop: from Music Hall to Yé-Yé”
Sixty years ago, on 11 January 1963, The Beatles released their second single, and the world would never quite be the same again. A few days after its release, it entered the UK charts, buoyed by a television appearance on Thank Your Lucky Stars. Climbing rapidly and continuously over the following weeks, it hit the top spot on the New Musical Express charts on 23 February, giving the band their first UK number one hit (don’t believe the Official Chart Company – it really was a number one hit!). By then, the band had already recorded their first album, and other artists were queuing up to cover their songs. Which leads to a conundrum, and a controversial quiz night question: Who was the first recording artist to cover a Beatles song?
Conventional wisdom has it that it was Kenny Lynch, whose version of the Lennon-McCartney composition “Misery” was issued on 15 March 1963. Well, yes and no… “Misery” was famously written by the pair during their first UK tour, as an opening act for Helen Shapiro, with John Lennon offering her the song as a candidate for her next single. When her producer Norrie Paramor vetoed the idea (oops!), Kenny Lynch (who was also on the tour) grabbed it for his own next single, which did indeed appear on 15 March. The problem is… that’s a week before the Beatles’ own version appeared, as the second track on their debut LP, Please Please Me. It’s definitely their song, and Kenny definitely picked it up from them, but as his version made it to market first, it is not, technically, a cover. So to correctly answer the question, we need to look elsewhere.
There is actually an earlier contender than Kenny. Back in the early sixties, the hits of the day were rapidly covered by a posse of in-house singers and musicians working for the Embassy label. Embassy releases were only available in the UK via the Woolworths retail chain, and specialised in quick, cheap covers, with hit songs on each side of a single, which would be sold at a cheaper price than regular singles. Aimed at cash strapped music lovers, these releases sold quite well, although as Woolworths were not among the retailers surveyed for the charts, the label’s releases never showed up in the hit parade. In February of 1963, a faceless Embassy outfit trading as The Typhoons knocked out a quick cover of “Please Please Me”, which was in the shops before the end of the month. This then is definitely the first released cover of a song previously written and recorded by The Beatles, no question, but as The Typhoons were not a real band, they probably don’t qualify as recording artists, so the search continues…
The next logical contender is Billy J. Kramer, who was offered “Do You Want To Know A Secret” for his debut 45, recorded with his backing group The Dakotas and issued on 26 April. This had definitely already been released by The Beatles, on their debut album, so it is most definitely a cover and if one sets aside both Kenny Lynch and The Typhoons for the reasons given above, it is almost certainly the first one to appear on the UK market, yet as it happens, Billy was beaten to the punch by sixteen days. How so?
To find the answer, we actually have to travel across the Channel to France, where expatriate English singer Petula Clark had been living and working since the late fifties, This had brought her massive success across the western half of the continent, particularly in France, where she had been one of the biggest selling recording artists of 1962. For her first EP release of 1963 (EPs being the preferred format in France until 1968), she selected the self-penned “Elle est finie (La belle histoire)” and a cover of Barbara Lynn’s “Second Fiddle GIrl” (“Que ton coeur me soit fidèle”). Needing two more tracks to round out the release, she looked back across the Channel and picked out two recent chart-topping singles. The Shadows’ “Dance On!” was given a French lyric and recorded as “Je me sens bien (auprès de toi)” while the final slot went to “Tu perds ton temps”, the title used by lyricist Pierre Cour for the French version of… “Please Please Me”. The results were issued in France on 10th April, sixteen days before Billy J. got his record to market in the UK, making Petula’s recording the first cover of a Beatles’ recording (as opposed to a Lennon-McCartney composition) by an actual recording artist, anywhere in the world.
So, the answer to the question, “Who was the first recording artist to cover a Beatles song?” turns out to be a singer who was, until earlier this month, still treading the boards in London’s West End at the age of ninety, the international star that is Petula Clark. Take a bow, Petula. And let the quiz night arguments begin…
Listen to “Tu Perds Ton Temps” by Petula Clark
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