When I first heard that studio whiz/multi-instrumental tour-de-force Jason Falkner was producing a CD full of all-instrumental versions of Beatle songs targeted for kids, I salivated at the possibilities. A self-proclaimed fanatic of all things both Beatle and Falkner, I figured this for a musical match of unparalleled proportions and eagerly waved my reviewing hand high in the air when the release date approached.
Now that it’s out, I have an obligation to tell the whole story here. It achieves what it sets out to do; yet it’s not what I expected (lesson for the future: read those labels carefully). Lest all you powerpop boys and girls let your expectations run amok, know this: it is a lullaby album. Seriously. As in “a quiet song intended to lull a child to sleep”. Eleven instrumental jewels from the plentiful diamond mine of Lennon and McCartney songs are given loving treatment from Mr. Falkner, with the goal of sending those sleepy-time infants off to slumber-land via something with musical class.
When it comes to the children’s music market, people either dumb things down (countless kids’ collections that feature cheesy instrumentation and singing of allegedly classic kids’ songs), or steal melodies and replace them with their own horrible lyrics (e.g., a certain purple dinosaur) or have very low expectations (hence the success of Raffi). Sure there are exceptions, but with songs for “young children”, there is a tendency to expect the worst. Happily, class and distinction is what you get here, in abundance — which is a big relief.
On the first page of the CD booklet, Jason F. offers up his confession/mission statement as follows: “I had to serve several muses while recording this record. The Beatles themselves were first in my mind. Would they approve? I’ll probably never know — but I hope they feel the love that I have for their music in every note of this album.”
Bedtime With The Beatles does reflect that love, and provides a nice choice of tunes. From the distinctively Lennon side, we get “Across the Universe”, “I’m Only Sleeping” (ironic when translated into a sleepy lullaby), and “In My Life”. As one might expect, the sweet McCartney melodies take slight precedence in such a project, and so you get “Blackbird”, “And I Love Her”, “If I Fell”, “The Fool on the Hill”, “Mother Nature’s Son”, “Michelle”, “Here There and Everywhere” and “The Long and Winding Road”.
With only the most muted of percussions, these songs are interpreted with keyboards, guitars, synth strings and real strings to offer a sort of musical soporific. They really do send you gently off toward quiet dreaming. Falkner takes his classical training and puts it to good use with spare arrangements that never dumb down the music and successfully meet the challenge to remain above the fray of “elevator muzak”. By adding subtle hooks (e.g., the moog-synthesizer work in his “Blackbird”), Falkner holds the listener’s interest and avoids turning this into mere musical wallpaper.
The tempos, for the most part, are slowed to appropriate lullaby time frames, which allows for an almost technical dissection of the musical aspects contained within. The slowing down of “And I Love Her” provides big airy spaces within the song in which to lose one’s self. The newly somnambulant “I’m Only Sleeping” is transformed from a psychedelic jaunt to a quite pleasant musical translation of the missing lyrics — this person is holding fast to a dream, not wanting to be awakened.
“If I Fell” becomes a soothing electric piano’s elegy, smooth and flowing from music-box simplicity into an airy auditorium’s song carried on the wind. “The Fool on the Hill” starts as a delicate lounge keyboard classic, demanding your attention and captivating a smoky room into silence, then uses a synthesizer to fly just a little bit higher.
The genius of what makes these arrangements work is the way the songs are served. Simplicity is the order of the day, in stark contrast to the full “wall of sound” production Falkner seems to favor with his own more recent work. Yet there are passages that come across as lush and full. There is great respect for the inherent music of the originals, while managing the transformation into docile lullaby fare.
“Michelle” gets a jaunty continental flavor that manages to capture the French phrasings that the absent words can’t convey. What’s interesting in the packaging is that the CD booklet offers up the lyrics for each song, though the songs remain strictly instrumental. However, these arrangements provide room in the music that allows one to ponder the meanings behind the missing words (if one is so inclined).
All told, this is a very whimsical peaceful musical experience that serves its source material and its intended marketplace. It’s time for yet another new generation to come to appreciate these lovely melodies. Falkner proves himself with skill and grace here, grasping the music and giving it the kid treatment with kid gloves. He covers the melodies, and manages to build in the harmonies and extra musical touches that make for a solid foundation. If this is the latest in child development, I’m happy to report The Beatles can take their rightful place alongside Brahms, Beethoven and Bach in providing soothing music for the post-natal set.
Apparently, Sony Wonder has recognized the fact that this makes a great baby gift, and the CD is available in either pink or blue versions (I won’t get into that debate). In truth, it’s a great birthday or holiday gift as well. But you don’t have to be a baby or a parent of a newborn to love it — babies of all ages can mellow out to this. This is gratifying music — pleasant and nostalgic and soothing, simple and sophisticated too.
It doesn’t condescend, but rather transforms Lennon and McCartney’s music into a true universal for all ages.
Jason also includes a note saying that “Although this album is gentle and sleep inducing, it also sounds good at maximum volume.” I tried. Cranking it up does little but enhance the calming quiescence, alas. You have no choice here but to surrender to sweet Beatles dreams.