I’m happy just to dance with you: A few thoughts on The Beatles

Posted: May 15, 2011 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

If you’re going to set up shop as a music writer, you will eventually have to write about The Beatles. I can’t put this off any longer, so let’s get right into it with a few words about Babe Ruth.

Babe Ruth changed baseball in almost every way. In 1920 he hit 59 homeruns. In case your memories of the 1920 baseball season have grown dim, the man in second place hit 19. There were eight teams in the American League that year and only one of them managed, as a team, to hit more homeruns than Ruth.

Babe Ruth sparked a conceptual leap in how baseball should be played, and within a couple of years other players were hitting almost as many homers. The long ball is still the name of the game today. You could say we’ve been copying Ruth for 90 years, but I say we’ve been covering him.

Befuddled TV producer after meeting George: “Do you think he’s an early clue to a new direction?”
The Beatles changed pop music in almost every way. They were a guitar band that covered other people’s songs until they started writing their own. That was unusual. Rather than ride a popular groove all the way to to retirement, they experimented with new grooves. That was extreme. They remained relevant right up until the day they broke up and went to court.

The Beatles had more hits in one week than most bands have in a lifetime. In early April 1964 they placed 12 songs on the Billboard 100 including all five of the top five: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Please Please Me.” Sinatra and Elvis had been popular but no one had seen anything like Beatlemania. (Children loved Babe Ruth, Yankee fans loved Babe Ruth, and Hollywood starlets really loved Babe Ruth.)

Of course The Beatles also gave us the prototype of the Boy Band, afflicting us with The Monkees, Duran Duran, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, *NSYNC, and Coldplay, but that’s a small price to pay. Plus I like The Monkees.

Every guitarist starts out with “Smoke on the Water” or “Stairway to Heaven,” but every band learns a Beatles song.

Manager: The train station is surging with girls!
John: Please sir, please sir, can I have a girl to surge with, sir?
Bands began covering The Beatles right from the beginning and the first band to do so was The Beatles: They recorded German versions of “She Loves You” (“Sie Liebt Dich”) and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (“Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand”). The Knickerbockers hit the charts in 1966 with “Lies,” which is so good and so Beatles-like it could easily have been the B-side of “Can’t Buy Me Love.” And then something interesting happened: The music of The Beatles escaped the pop genre.

Aretha Franklin raised the gospel roof with “Let It Be.” Al Green sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and though he’s obviously not working too hard, still, he’s Al Green. (A dozen of these gems were collected recently on Soul Tribute to the Beatles.)

Jazz artists loved The Beatles too, as you can see on The London Jazz Four’s Take a New Look At the Beatles (1967), particularly their superfun version of “Things We Said Today.” My jazz hero, pianist Vince Guaraldi, performed “I’m a Loser” on Vince and Bola (1966). Not only is this a beautiful work, at one point he wanders into the “Let It Be” melody, which Lennon and McCartney didn’t write for another three years. Only the man who composed the immortal music for the Peanuts specials could cover a band before they’d written the song he was covering.

I draw the line at 101 Strings Play the Beatles and Salsa Tribute to the Beatles.

Paul’s grandfather: I’ve been in a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room!
Today, as part of the public service I perform here at Run-DMSteve, I present four more entries in the panorama of Beatles interpretations.

Backbeat (1994)
This is the soundtrack to the movie about The Beatles in Germany. The band standing in for The Beatles is a supergroup of alt-rock giants:

Mike Mills (REM)
Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth)
Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs)
Dave Grohl (at that time, Nirvana)
Don Fleming (produced my favorite Screaming Trees album)
Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum)

Back then The Beatles were still playing American music, so the Backbeat band is covering The Beatles covering The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and etc. Party on, alt-rock giants! The Notorious S.M.A.L.L. gives this four paws up.

The Double White – A Tribute Hommage to the Beatles (2010)
Giacomo Bondi & Apple Pies
The Italians surprised me in my roundup of Rolling Stones covers and they’ve done it again here. You’re not going to like every song on this double-disc juggernaut and in fact I mostly listen to three: “Paperback Writer,” “Rain,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Check out the bagpipes. Grade: Solid B.

Meet The Smithereens! (2007)
The Smithereens

My favorite story about The Smithereens (“Only a Memory,” “A Girl Like You”) is that in the 1980s, while they were still scrambling to make a living, they toured with largely forgotten ’60s folk-rock icons The Beau Brummels. They are still together and they’ve found a way to make music and still make a living: They’ve turned themselves into a tribute band.

Meet The Smithereens! is their interpretation of Meet The Beatles! We get all 12 songs from the 1964 U.S. release. Unfortunately, 11 only make me want to listen to the originals. This isn’t because they’re bad; I don’t believe this band can play one bad note. It’s because those 11 sound like The Smithereens.

But the 12th  song, “Don’t Bother Me,” is the reason to own this CD. “Don’t Bother Me” was, I think, George’s first song recorded by The Beatles. It’s morose:

But ’till she’s here please don’t come near, just stay away.
I’ll let you know when she’s come home. Until that day,
Don’t come around, leave me alone, don’t bother me.

Fortunately, the Smithereens are all about morose. They wade into this song like they own it, and they do!

“I Should Have Known Better”
Volume One (2008)
She & Him
“She” is actress, singer, and composer Zooey Deschanel. “Him” is low-fi soft-rocker M. Ward. “Car sick” is me. On this unappetizing album they give “I Should Have Known Better” the Hawaiian treatment, which would have been intriguing if they had recruited Israel Kamakawiwo’ole to perform it for them. Ms. Deschanel’s voice is flat and she giggles. M. Ward is game but uninteresting. This is the kind of doorstop that hangs around in record shops for decades.

Pompous businessman: I fought the war for your sort!
John: I’ll bet you’re sorry you won!
The subheads this week are my favorite lines from A Hard Day’s Night. Stay tuned as Run-DMSteve looks at what women have been up to in rock ’n’ roll and takes the Rush challenge. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this blog without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited.

Special D’s a pretty nice girl but she doesn’t have a lot to say. Special D’s a pretty nice girl but she changes from day to day. I want to tell her that I love her a lot but I can’t hear myself over the dog’s hysterical barking. Special D’s a pretty nice girl some day I’m going to make her mine oh yeah, some day I’m going to make her mine.

Comments
  1. Michael Eichner says:

    Agree that a good indicator of how beloved a group is is how they’re covered. Here the Beatles far outpace their competitors, as did the Babe. The number of cover ALBUMS are in the thousands, from the classical genres of baroque, Bach, ragtime, and Japanese karaoke to the more simple concept albums like The Chipmunks, Snoopy, Bugs & friends, prisoners, babies, butchered, and Windham Hill.
    And the timeless master work, for The Notorious S.M.A.L.L. – barking dogs. Possibly, the mouth watering, meowing cats, too.
    Singles? Forget it. There are hundreds of thousands beyond the ones found on the albums, in every language known on Earth (and a few from off planet). With no end in sight. The producers at Exotica Records, for example, continually plead for ever more “unusual” covers to fill out future Beatle interpretive projects.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      I concur with my learned colleague, though the thought of Beatles songs performed by The Chipmunks and various Windham Hill artists makes me long for yesterday….Now I’ll have to go explore Exotica Records!

  2. Brent Simpson says:

    Paul McCartney is touring this year, and Ringo will be next year.

  3. Number 9 says:

    Come in, number 7, your time’s up! Thank you for another illuminating essay. I actually like the Salsa Tribute to the Beatles, but even better than that is the UW steelband’s arrangement of “Yesterday,” which Prof. Dudley always dedicates to me when I’m in the audience, bless his heart. By the way, I recommend the movie “Nowhere Boy,” about John Lennon’s imagined youth, except for the guy they cast as Paul.

  4. Accused of Lurking says:

    Reporter: Are you a mod or a rocker?
    Ringo: Um, no. I’m a mocker.

    Reporter: How did you find America?
    John: Turned left at Greenland.

    More dog’s hysterical barking please.

  5. SpecialD says:

    Awwwwww.

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