Arthur Alexander is a name you hear often from early Beatles’ lore. His song, “Anna (Go to Him),” was covered on the Please Please Me LP, and they covered a few more of his songs, including “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues” and “Soldier of Love,” as part of their live act.
Arthur Alexander. Such a regal name. And yet, as was the fate of many early Rhythm & Blues musicians, he never really cashed in on his talent. In spite of being the only songwriter to have his songs covered by the Sixties’ Holy Trinity – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan – he spent much of his life working as a bus driver and died of a fatal heart attack at the age of 53 shortly after he began performing and recording again, according to Wikipedia.
The Beatles recorded “Anna” during the evening portion of the Please Please Me recording session, when they were playing catch-up in their desperate effort to record all the songs they needed for the album before the studio closed for the night. They nailed it in three takes. John’s vocals were like velvet, George had faithfully replicated Floyd Cramer’s piano lick on his black Gretsch Duo Jet, and as for Ringo’s drumming, I think George describes it best:
I remember having several records by (Alexander), and John sang three or four of his songs. Arthur Alexander used a peculiar drum pattern, which we tried to copy, but we couldn’t quite do it, so in the end we’d invented something quite bizarre but equally original. A lot of the time we tried to copy things but wouldn’t be able to, and so we’d end up with our own versions.
– George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology
The Beatles did a number of gorgeous cover songs; this is one of my favorites. Here’s Alexander’s equally gorgeous original version. Have a listen.