2009 has been a big year for the Beatles brand, from the stereo and mono remastered box sets to the release of The Beatles: Rock Band. It was also the 40th anniversary of the release of Abbey Road, so we saw some cover action from Mojo Magazine who put together a full album cover compilation and The Art of Time Ensemble who put covered the album live (listen here).
We also saw the beginning of the epic Beatles Complete on Ukulele project spearheaded by Roger Greenawalt and Dave Barratt, which started in January and will continue until July 2012, a new Beatles ukulele cover every week for free. Since I last mentioned the project, Megg Farrell's Dig a Pony has become my latest favourite. This very Sunday December 6th, The 2nd Annual Beatles Complete On Ukulele Festival will be performed in Brooklyn. Running from 11am to midnight, a ragtag band of singers and musicians will be performing all 185 original Beatles songs. You can get in, presumably at any point, for $10 admission, though free if you bring your own ukulele at 11am to join a ukulele playing mob. Notable among the multitude of performers are Guster's Ryan Miller (slated for Something and I'm Looking Through You) and The Zambonis, who any hockey fan would recognize from their ubiquitous I Wanna Drive the Zamboni played at NHL games everywhere [EDIT: it has been pointed out to me that the song is originally by The Gear Daddies, though The Zambonis have also recorded it]. Another exciting surprise is that Zee Avi, probably my favourite new artist of the 2009, is set to perform And I Love Her and Good Night at the show. I'm excited to see her live in Vancouver next week, so expect a Zee Avi cover post coming right up. More information including the hourly schedule for the Complete Beatles on Ukulele show is here.
Anyway, today marks another milestone that's particularly dear to my heart, the 45th anniversary of Beatles for Sale. Released December 4, 1964 in the UK, it's my all-time favourite Beatles album with arguably my all-time favourite Beatles song in No Reply-- arguably, since who can really pinpoint one favourite Beatles song to the exclusion of any other? In the US, songs from Beatles for Sale were split between the releases Beatles '65 and Beatles IV. After the all-original A Hard Day's Night, which was recorded and released in the same year (ridiculous!), The Beatles returned to the mix of originals and covers that marked their first two albums. Critics (and fans) have been pretty harsh on the album, noting the band's apparent weariness (ha, look at that album cover!), the originals to cover song ratio, and the cynicism of the title itself (the album was rushed for Christmas release). Even Lennon and McCartney consider several of the tracks as filler. But I say pshaw to all of that! Favourite Beatles album of all-time! That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Now on to the cover songs!
Yellow Matter Custard - No Reply [originally by The Beatles]
Yellow Matter Custard was a Beatles tribute supergroup made up of Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Paul Gilbert, and Matt Bissonette who only ever performed twice, though one show was recorded for a live CD and DVD. This cover isn't particularly great, but it supports something I've always believed, that No Reply basically has the greatest bridge of all time. When I was young, I used to repeatedly listen to that section of the song and immediately rewind it to hear it again, years before I even knew what the bridge part of a song was. When I first heard this version, I just had to laugh when the band finished the song but went back to replay the bridge part because it was so great. AMEN! The song is filled with bubbling rage, jealousy, and paranoia as the protagonist is repeatedly gets "no reply" from his lover. Or maybe it's all in his head and he's a stalker. Rubber Soul's Run for Your Life makes a particularly vicious sequel to this song.
Marianne Faithfull - I'm a Loser [originally by The Beatles]
The second in the so-called Lennon trilogy that kicks off the album, I'm a Loser carries on with the somewhat dark and dreary themes brought up in No Reply (just you wait 'til Baby's in Black!). Not along ago they were singing Love Me Do and All My Loving, but now John's repeatedly singing "I'm a loooooooooser". He's lost his girl and is now filled with self-loathing. Lovely! This peppy version by Marianne Faithfull has an air of tragedy if you listen to it while perusing her wikipedia article.
Punch Brothers - Baby's in Black [originally by The Beatles]
One of the darker themed Beatles numbers, here the protagonist is in love with a girl who is grieving the death of her man. "Though he'll never come back, she's dressed in black". Yikes! The song is also notable for John and Paul's great harmonies, which are admirably covered here by the Punch Brothers, a bluegrass band fronted by ex-Nickel Creek mandolinist Chris Thile. This is from their live performance on the Kent, OH online radio station Folk Alley.
The Beach Boys - Rock and Roll Music [originally by Chuck Berry]
The first of six covers on the album, The Beatles were reaching back into their catalogue of live covers from their days playing clubs in Hamburg and Liverpool. This was reportedly one of their favourites to play live and is one of several Chuck Berry covers they recorded. More than 10 years after The Beatles' version, The Beach Boys released this on their 1976 album 15 Big Ones, a bomb of an album (though a hit) that mixed covers and originals. Hmmm... sound familiar? Listen to the difference between the Beatles "cranking one out" and The Beach Boys trying to cash in on renewed public interest following the success of their Endless Summer compilation.
Glen Phillips - I'll Follow the Sun [originally by The Beatles]
This Glen Phillips cover comes from the 2009 Eddie Murphy film Imagine That. Has anybody even heard of this movie? Well, the film's soundtrack takes an I Am Sam all-Beatles cover approach, though the only other artists I recognize are Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs who perform Got to Get You Into My Life. From what I've heard of the rest of the album, the covers are very by-the-numbers though I dig this one's extended coda.
The Hollies - Mr. Moonlight [originally recorded by Dr. Feelgood and the Interns]
This has been called one of the worst songs the Beatles ever recorded. What can I say, I like it. A commenter on The Beatles Bible website said of this song: "Each time John sings 'And the night you don't come my way...', possibly totaling 10-15 seconds worth of Beatles history, is emblazoned in my mind as perhaps the best 15 seconds in musical history!" I've always thought so too and I'm glad to read someone else pinpoint the exact moments of greatness in this cover. John's raw delivery particularly on those eight words completely makes it work and this distinct vocal quality is missing on other covers and even the original. The Hollies cover actually predates the Beatles' by 11 months on their Stay with the Hollies album.
Count Basie - Kansas City [originally by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller]
The seventh track on Beatles for Sale was a medley of Kansas City and Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, the latter by Little Richard who usually performed this same combo live. This instrumental big band cover is from American bandleader Count Basie and his orchestra who released an album of Beatles covers in 1966, Basie's Beatles Bag.
The Undertakers - Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey [originally by Little Richard]
The Undertakers were contemporaries of the Beatles in Liverpool, led by Jackie Lomax who later became an Apple recording artist. His 1969 album Is This What You Want? was produced by George Harrison and also featured Paul, Ringo, and Eric Clapton.
Billy Preston - Eight Days a Week [originally by The Beatles]
The most outright pop song on the album, it's probably not a surprise that it was also the only song on the album to hit #1 on the charts. This upbeat organ cover is by Billy Preston, sometimes called the Fifth Beatle. Now just how many "Fifth Beatles" were there?? Answer: many. But Billy Preston made key contributions to several Beatles classics: electric piano on Get Back and Don't Let Me Down and Hammond organ on Something and I Want You (She's So Heavy). In fact, the Get Back single was credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston", the only time an official Beatles single shared a credit with another artist. Another fun fact: Billy Preston's version of My Sweet Lord was actually released 10 months before George Harrison's!
Jessica Lea Mayfield - Words of Love [originally by Buddy Holly]
This austere, dreamy cover by Jessica Lea Mayfield is from this year's Sweetheart cover compilation from Starbucks and it's actually one of the stand-outs, although I suppose I am a sucker for Beatles for Sale covers.
Ben Folds Five - Honey Don't [originally by Carl Perkins]
As sung by Ringo for his one vocal spot, it was recorded during the final session for Beatles for Sale. Coincidentally, this would be the last song Ben Folds Five ever recorded together. It was featured in the PBS special Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records, although it was left off the accompanying CD release (Paul McCartney's That's All Right Mama made the cut). It was eventually released on DVD.
Yes - Every Little Thing [originally by The Beatles]
This might be one of the most drastic reinventions of any Beatles song, let alone one of their least covered ones. From the prog rock band Yes and their self-titled 1969 debut album, this cover starts off as an unrecognizable psychedelic instrumental that more or less sums up prog rock for me . . . then after a couple minutes of that, the lead guitar boldly blares the song's melody and even sneaks in the Day Tripper riff. Every single line in the chorus is punctuated by a musical exclamation mark and the whole thing is actually kind of awesome after a jarring first listen.
Rhythms of New Guinea - I Don't Want to Spoil the Party [originally by the Beatles]
I found this random CD at the library, which is a collection of songs recorded by artists from Papua New Guinea. There aren't really any liner notes to speak of nor any explanation of any sort, but it does randomly feature this Beatles cover! Apparently Papua New Guineans are equally capable of by-the-numbers cover songs as any other nation.
James Husband - What You're Doing [originally by The Beatles]
After No Reply, this is probably my next favourite original from the album. From James Husband of the band Of Montreal, this is actually the only cover of the song I found (excluding Beatles tribute bands).
Johnny Cash - Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby [originally by Carl Perkins]
This cover comes from the Johnny Cash's Unearthed box set, outtakes and alternate takes of songs recorded for his series of American Recordings. I didn't include it, but his daughter Rosanne Cash actually had a country hit in 1989 with her cover of I Don't Want to Spoil the Party.
Happy Anniversary, Beatles for Sale!
P.S. If you really want to see Beatles for sale, check out their official US webstore. For all your Beatles shot glass, fountain pens, and jigsaw puzzle needs. Sheesh.