Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, et. al – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Some covers are remarkable in their reinterpretation of the original recording. This is not one of those covers. The assembled supergroup, honoring George Harrison’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, mostly sticks to the original script … and then one of the most talented dudes to ever pick up an axe elevates Harrison’s classic to new heights of emotion. If Clapton made his guitar gently weep on the original recording, Prince made his guitar sob harder than I do at the end of every Pixar movie. The best moment of this video comes when Dhani Harrison, George’s son and one of the rhythm guitarists performing, witnesses Prince about to melt everyone’s faces and gleefully smiles in anticipation. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is arguably the best song on The White Album, and it deserves to have this level of skill and melodrama poured into it every time it’s performed — and it’s performed a lot. Enough to have more than one entry here.
Jake Shimabukuro – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro covered “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for a New York show called Midnight Ukulele Disco in 2006. Without his knowledge, someone uploaded the video to YouTube, and it went viral — one of the earliest viral videos on the now-ubiquitous platform. Shimabukuro brings unbelievable dynamism to the song, despite possessing two fewer strings than any guitarist would. His subtle improvisations on the melody create a plaintive, florid mood, and his finger-picked background emphasizes the beauty of Harrison’s original chord progression — perhaps fittingly for a song named after an instrument, the lyrics appear largely superfluous.
Phish – “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”
This cover comes from a Halloween concert in 1994 where Phish played the entire White Album front to back (with the exception of “Good Night”). It’s worth checking out in its entirety — Phish, like all good jam bands, excel at live performance — but this song’s scathing, humorous lyrics and jangly bounce fit the band’s style and sensibilities particularly well. The falsetto vocals in Phish’s version become even funnier when you realize that Yoko Ono sang the high harmonies on the original recording.
Jack White – “Mother Nature’s Son”
Paul McCartney received the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Performance in 2010, and Jack White honored the occasion with a solo performance of “Mother Nature’s Son”, one of McCartney’s loveliest, most folksy melodies. The small errors that White makes on the guitar, combined with the raw tenor of his vocal performance, strip down an already-simple song to the bare emotions that underlie it. Perhaps the best moment of the performance arrives when White seamlessly transitions into another McCartney song, “That Would Be Something”, taking on a Robert Plant-esque howl in the process.
Crosby, Stills & Nash – “Blackbird”
With the increasing individualism of The White Album’s tracks came a decreasing use of vocal harmonies — a real shame, considering that The Beatles’ harmonies were intricate and beautiful. Crosby, Stills & Nash provide us a glimpse of what “Blackbird” might have sounded like if McCartney had enlisted the support of his bandmates rather than recording the track solo. The trio claims that the song is one of their favorites, and they proceed to apply their trademark vocal blend to the sparse acoustic arrangement. The high notes they hit evoke the titular bird taking flight.