The Beatles are such a touchstone for the melodic rock and roll genre that it’s not surprising that artists keep going back to the source again and again. At the same time, covering the Beatles is pretty much an impossible task. I mean, how do you improve on anything JPGR did? In one sense, you don’t – they’ll always be the definitive version. The trick is to reinvent their material in an unexpected but still recognizable direction. Today we visit acts taking the Beatles’ material to all sorts of new places while still remaining within the borders of the republic of Mersey.
Staten Island’s Goin’ Places is a pop punk group in the Ramones/Green Day mode, so not exactly the boys we’d expect to find hanging out at Lime Street Station. Yet it actually makes them the perfect outfit to punkify the Beatles’ catalogue. The lion’s share of the 18 cuts featured on their Fingerboard Road draw from the early to mid-period Fabs records. Some of what they put together is genius – all of it is fun. Fun like those Me First and Gimme Gimme’s albums of sixties covers! “I Saw Her Standing There” so works with a wall of punky guitars, the song being halfway there to begin with. Other songs that easily lend themselves to punking up include “She Loves You,” “Eight Days a Week,” and “Ticket to Ride,” the latter really only requiring hitting the lead guitar distortion pedal. Other tunes go punk simply because they were ballads that are now being played a triple speed: e.g. “Yesterday,” Something,” and “Hey Jude.” They sound jarring but remain melodically cool. “Norwegian Wood” and “I Will” get extra marks for inventiveness as the band add new musical interludes to spice things up. “A Day in the Life” is particularly special with its very Green Day treatment. But at other times punk gives way to just a rocking good time. Both “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Help” are simply exuberant rocking love letters to the originals. The Clash may have hated phony Beatlemania but Goin’ Places deliver the real ‘pop-meets-punk’ thing.
Stephen Krilanovich and Donny Newenhouse are the Wind-Up Beatles Chronicles, which they describe on their bandcamp page as a ‘pandemic music project.’ Whatever the impetus, man do these two nail the Beatles’ mid period sound (think Beatles for Sale to Revolver, with a few outliers). Sometimes they sail pretty close to the originals, which makes noting the small differences all that more interesting for Beatlemaniacs. For instance, “She Said She Said” is pretty Beatles note perfect. In other instances, they lean into various elements a bit more than the Fabs. “Wait” has a got an interesting and different guitar sound even while the timing is spot on and so familiar. “What You’re Doing” has got a bit more sparkle on the jangly guitar. “Rain” is probably the most different treatment here: less psychedelic and droney, more Brydsian. At other times the basic difference is simply that these two guys have got different voices than JPGR and no matter how clever the musical backing the overall effect is gonna be unavoidably different. “Paperback Writer” illustrates this well. The music sounds so much like the original single but the voices are pretty different (though pleasantly so). Probably my fave cut here is “I’m Looking Through You.” It’s delivered in a Rubber Soul approved light breeziness and sounds like an alternate take to the original. It’s fair to say that a splendid time is virtually guaranteed for all with this record. It’s definitely for Beatles fans who ever thought ‘hey, I like to hear those songs done differently but not too differently done.’
In 2013 Canada’s Bullseye Records decided to put out a three volume tribute to the Beatles entitled It Was 50 Years Ago Today: A Tribute to The Beatles. So many great tracks but two particularly stood out for me, The Lolas’ rendition of “Good Morning, Good Morning” and Eytan Mirsky’s take on Harrison’s first song-write “Don’t Bother Me.” The Lolas balance some guitar grind with a lighter take on the vocals than in Lennon’s original. They also straighten out the tempo, less off kilter that what we’re used to. The song gets a bit lost amid the chaos of Sgt. Pepper but here it gets a chance to stand out on its own. As for “Don’t Bother Me,” I’ve always had a soft spot for a tune routinely dismissed by Beatles experts as lightweight and rudimentary in terms of Harrison’s eventual song-writing prowess. Yet I always thought it had an original melodic twist. Eytan Mirsky works the song over, adding distinctive lead guitar tones and some nice call and response vocals. At times he sounds like The Zombies’ lead singer in full-on, white boy blues whine (and that’s a good thing). Sisters Gwendolyn and Lucy Giles of Dog Party offer up a double A sided single of Beatles tunes. Nothing ground shaking in these reworkings of early Beatles’ hits but their harmonies do manage to add to the magic allure of “I Feel Fine,” bending the melody here and there in new and exciting directions, while their vocal take on “All I’ve Got To Do” adds mystery and a bit of mischief to the proceedings.
Now for a project that is more than a bit out there: Fabs songs converted into Avengers exposition. Insane Ian is a comedian that sidelines as a modern day Weird Al, though needle dropping through his voluminous catalogue his ouvre is more about the immediate gag rather than something you might listen to more than once. But his Meet the Avengers album is a musical superhero riff of a different colour. The musicianship is pretty impressive, hitting the Beatles marks where they need to. And the writing is pretty funny too. So “Nowhere Man” becomes “Iron Man,” “Help” transforms into “Hulk,” “Lady Madonna” becomes “Lady Natasha,” and so on. Sometimes the new lyrical detail overwhelms the old tune, as when “Thor’s Big Silver Hammer” leaves “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in a bit of disarray. By contrast “Hawkeye” nails the cadence and lyrical spacing of “Blackbird.” Personal fave: the rocking reworking of “Day Tripper” as “Steve Rogers.” The chorus even shifts melody slightly. As a rule, comedy projects don’t have a long shelf life but Insane Ian’s clever writing, surprisingly good musical performances, and creative artwork give this effort legs. Meet the Avengers might be funny but it’s no joke.
Lover of all things 1970s Nick Frater takes us in a decidedly different direction with his Mersey-influenced outing, focusing on The Rutles rather than the Fabs directly. The point of his Nick Frater Presents The Rebutles: Ron, Dirk, Stig and Barry The Solo Years, Vol.1 effort was to imagine what The Rutles might have sounded like if they’d broken up like the Beatles and then gone on to release (send-up) solo singles. The whole thing is pretty meta but, as with all things Frater, ultimately pretty clever, highly accomplished, and very listenable. The songs go from a late Beatles rooftop motif (“Struck in a Rut”) to early solo sort-of Fabs (“Baby I’m Amazing”) to mock Bond (“You Only Live Once”) to later solo Fabs recycled nostalgia (“When We Were Eighteen”) to morbid pastiche reunions (“The Last Laugh”). You’ve got to be pretty far down the Beatles/Rutles rabbit hole to get all the jokes and references but the beauty of Frater’s work is you can just enjoy the songs for what they are: pretty decent songs, well played. The fact that Frater can toss projects like this in as a free insert with his more serious album releases is a testament to his prodigious talent.
The republic of Mersey is a groovy place, surely the ultimate green and pleasant land. You don’t need a passport to go there. All you need is love, an open mind, and a thirst for the evolving musical influence of the Beatles.