40th Anniversary of John Lennon’s Assassination: Best Beatles Covers by Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Others

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo by John Pratt/Keystone/Getty Images)

Forty years ago today, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon four times in the back in front of The Dakota in New York City. Lennon left behind a family, several solo albums, and a legendary catalog of music with The Beatles. In the years since his death, many musicians have recorded Beatles covers.

The Beatles were one of the most influential bands to ever step into a recording booth. So, it is no surprise that some of the biggest names in music have decided to record their own versions of Beatles tunes. Several country greats have put their own spin on the Fab Four. Here are a few of the best.

Emmylou Harris – “For No One”

The Beatles first released the song “For No One” on their 1966 album “Revolver.” Ten years later Emmylou Harris covered it for her album “Pieces of the Sky”.

In her version of the song, Harris slows the tempo. Her vocals are haunting and dripping with sadness. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think “For No One” was written to be a sad country song.

Dolly Parton: Queen of Country and Beatles Covers?

“Help!” is one of the Beatles’ most well-known songs. It’s a high energy tune about growing up and realizing that you can’t do it all on your own. The Beatles released it on their 1965 album of the same name. Dolly Parton covered the track on her 1979 album “Great Balls of Fire”.

Dolly makes everything her own, even Beatles covers. In her version of “Help!” Parton speeds up the tempo a little. The addition of a banjo and mandolin transform this Beatles hit into pure country gold.

Johnny Cash – “In My Life”

“In My Life” was originally released on the Beatles’ 1965 album “Rubber Soul”. It was a slow love song. The lyrics, from the perspective of a young person, talk about the strength of love for one person over all else. “I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before. I’ll often stop and think about them. In my life, I love you more.” The sentiment is sweet. It’s something a young man could hold his best gal’s hand to in a malt shop or however dating worked in the sixties.

Cash’s version feels much different, though. While the lyrics are the same, the way Cash sings it makes it sound like the reflection of a man who is at the end of his road. It’s as if Cash is thinking back over his life and singing to June.

His cover of the song was on his final album “American IV: The Man Comes Around.” It was released in 2002. Both Johnny and June were getting up there in age. Johnny Cash is famously quoted as saying “This morning. With her. Having coffee.” when asked about his idea of paradise. Knowing all of that makes this slow, stripped-down version of “In My Life” all the more powerful.

Willie Nelson Has Multiple Great Beatles Covers

Willie Nelson has a couple of great Beatles covers. Firstly, let’s look at his cover of “One After 909.” The song was originally released on the Beatles’ final album “Let It Be.” It’s a bluesy rock track that was a perfect choice for the Red-Haired Stranger to cover. He did so for the 1995 compilation album “Come Together: America Salutes the Beatles.”

If you’re familiar with Nelson and have heard the song before, you almost know what it sounds like before you hit play. It’s a great tune.

The other cover we’ll look at is Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard doing “Yesterday.” The track is also off the “Help!” album. There’s a good chance that you’ve heard at least one cover of the song. There are over 2,000 covers of “Yesterday” making it the most covered song in the history of recorded music.

You can find the track on the Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson album “Seashores of Old Mexico.”

Here Comes the Sun – Billy Strings and Terry Barber

“Here Comes the Sun” is arguably the most popular Beatles song. It has hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify. The simple guitar intro somehow sonically captures the rising of the sun and is instantly recognizable. The story goes that George Harrison wrote the tune while skipping a business meeting to hand out with Eric Clapton.

While the lyrics are fairly simple, the track is musically complex.

Billy and Terry cover the song live. The stripped-down cover features the father and son duo and their acoustic guitars. While they are both accomplished bluegrass guitarists, they play the song as close to the original as possible. There’s no embellishment, just respect for a great song.