Unwinding “Universe”: Four strong covers of a Beatles classic

Can we start by agreeing that the greatest Beatles song ever written is 1968’s “Across the Universe“? Composed by John Lennon and seen first on a charity album, it was released on the Beatles’ last album, Let It Be. The cosmic lyrics combine with a haunting melody to create a tune that even 40 years later can inspire a movie.

As Wikipedia notes about the song, it’s well-covered. The easiest way to deconstruct a song is to see it ripped apart by others. By seeing it rebuilt, its underbelly exposed and vulnerable, you can get your mind around it and hear it wholly new.

Here are four completely different takes. (All links to YouTube; please let me know if something disappears.)

  • Rufus Wainwright’s 2002 version is probably the most straightforward cover. But it may also be my favorite version, modernizing the song (ditching sitars for unadorned guitar) without ruining it.
  • Fiona Apple’s 1998 cover created for Pleasantville is absolutely mesmerizing. Her languid delivery is a perfect match.
  • If you know anything about Laibach, you may be surprised by their 1988 attempt, emphasizing the vocals over instrumentation, and amping up the chant-like components. Hypnotic.
  • Then there’s David Bowie’s 1975 take, off his Young Americans album (with John Lennon singing and playing alongside); Bowie’s goal was to “hammer the hell out of it.” Mission accomplished.

Even the Beatles themselves had an alternate version: Different speed, different mix of instruments, this is the so-called “psychedelic” version, released officially on the 1996 Anthology 2 album.

I can listen to the Rufus Wainwright and Fiona Apple covers endlessly, but for me the others (including the original) are best in small doses.

Without a doubt, the worst version I’ve heard is this Roger Waters’ travesty. Frightening.

Got a favorite cover of this song? Tell me about it.

One Response to “Unwinding “Universe”: Four strong covers of a Beatles classic”

  1. Stuart Says:

    Thanks for the education. It’s a song I’ve heard but never really listened to..if you know what I mean.
    I really do like Fiona’s version, but then again I’ve always had a thing for her 😉
    Hmmm…I can either interpret this as a song about individual isolationism (no alternative thoughts/beliefs can change mine), or about staying true to your own credo despite the rest of the worlds insanity. I’ll side with Fiona.

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