With the passing years, the Anglo-Saxon group The Beatles have become one of the most covered. In Hispano-America, for instance, their songs and covers enjoyed and still enjoy great popularity.
Throughout the years there have been – and still continue to appear – Spanish versions of Beatle songs. This is a polemical theme, because good, medium or bad, there are ever more interpretations in different languages of the Boys from Liverpool’s compositions.
We’re facing a very interesting topic, because it’s the Spanish versions where the circle of talented interpreters who’ve risked this endeavor tightens. In Cuba, it was practically through these versions that many became acquainted with the Beatles.
The Beatles’ work is among the most outstanding in the 20th century in the field of music. But sublime things usually have followers. Not only in the basic direction, but also repeating the same road taken by the creators, infinite versions of Beatle themes emerge in their own English language, some with creative and interesting arrangements like Ray Charles’ Yesterday, Aretha Franklin’s Let it Be and Sara Vaughn’s Something, milestones of U.S. soul. In opposition to the saying “seconds are never good,” we could provide an extensive list of covers successful both for their commercial nature and the talent they exhibit; of course, the list of the most successful would mostly be English versions.
Because of this, despite the existence of great performers of The Beatles’ work in Hispano-America, there are few who sing in Spanish.
The starting point of Anglo-Saxon rock in Spain was the influence left there by the Cuban Llopis, the Mexican Teen Tops and the Argentinean Cinco Latinos, all within the first half of the 1960s. The Spanish groups began by singing the hits of the day in English, but gradually introduced covers of the same themes in Spanish. The music revolution started by the Beatles made the Spanish groups rapidly incline towards the British beat and contributed to a great boom of musical groups. In the Iberian Peninsula, one of the main interpreters of these covers were the “official Beatle translators,” the Mustang quintet, with nearly twenty arrangements of their songs.
In Latin America, the covers spread, not always with artistic rigor. In Mexico, many raised their voices against the simplistic ones, urging their recording industry to promote creation and not piracy.
In some nations of the American continent, sales of records with Spanish versions were higher than the originals, sometimes even exceeding the Beatles’ themselves. The explanation is simple: identification with the language and the economic factor, since the records of local interpreters were cheaper than imports and even cheaper than those issued by national record companies with licenses for the masters.
In Cuba, the criteria of diffusing Spanish covers prevailed. The first heard was the version of Michelle by Los Cinco Latinos. Another very popular one was A Hard Day’s Night interpreted by the Cuban quartet Los Bucaneros, followed shortly after by I Want to Hold Your Hand, Roll Over, Beethoven, and particularly I Should Have Known Better, which, according to specialist Carlos Bartolomé Barquez, ranked among the most popular on Radio Progreso’s program Nocturno in September 1967 – something difficult to achieve in those days when Pello el Afrokán’s mozambique beat was all over the radio and national television channels. By the way, he, too, created a Spanish version of A Hard Day’s Night with his metals and giant drum band.
Radio music programs for youth also introduced Beatles’ songs in different versions that competed for preference with the original ones.
The positive element of the good or bad Spanish copies is that they played a prominent role in the dissemination of pop music, both in Cuba and abroad. In many cases, Cubans developed an interest in the original songs after having heard the copies. With the passing of years, new covers have renewed nostalgias and laurels, and they will continue to do so in the future. I think, instead of prejudicing ourselves against them, we should see them for what they are: an ode to the great, to those Beatles who are unique and at the same time universal. All those who sincerely interpret their songs in any language are giving us part of their art.
The Beatles’ influence on popular culture was and still is huge. Robert Greenfield, former associate editor of the magazine Rolling Stone, stated: “People continue to admire Picasso and the artists who surpassed the limits of their time to reach something unique and original. For the way in which they worked to construct popular music, no one will be more revolutionary, more creative and more distinctive than the Beatles.” Because of this and much more there are thousands and thousands of imitators of their style.
Since 2011, we have the Yellow Submarine in Cuba, a cultural center that spreads the work of the Boys from Liverpool and of all the Anglo-Saxon groups that were active in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Groups like Magical Beat, Los Kent, Dimensión Vertical and performer Luna Manzanares, among others, sing the Beatles’ music in English. The founders of this center got it right when they included doing covers of the mythical band and Anglo-Saxon music of those twenty years among the requirements to perform there. All this is appreciated by the huge horde of nostalgics who meet at the place, emulator of the mythical Cavern Club.
Although the Beatles never sang in Spanish, and excluding the unsuccessful early attempt with Bésame mucho, all their imitators were somehow possessed by the spirit of those icons of the counter culture of the 1960s, catalysts of bohemian life and activism in diverse social and political spheres. In this way, far from being a detriment to them, they made a great contribution so that even today, thirty-two years after their dissolution, they are the most covered group of all times.
Translated by Olimpia Esperanza Sigarroa Santamarina
Revised by CF Ray