Various Artists: It Was 40 Years Ago Today -- A Tribute to the Beatles
Bow down to the Beatles. You must. Everyone knows it. Every rock critic gives them instant five stars. Sgt. Pepper's and Abbey Road cannot be denied. The Beatles were the greatest band of all time. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. Not liking them is perverse. Confessing that you don't think they're the greatest thing to ever happen to pop music is blasphemy. If you don't list them at the top of your list of Greatest Rock Bands of All Time, you, my dearies, are total losers.
Bah. Don't buy into any of that. This music critic is telling you that enough time has passed since the Beatles' break up to not have such completely clouded judgments on the Fab Four. There have been enough bands and artists who have furthered music along in ways that the Beatles themselves couldn't have possibly considered that doing the Instant Beatle Bow Down anymore is just pointless. And let me tell you this: had it not been for Dylan, the Beatles wouldn't have made it past '65. And had it not been for George Martin, the Beatles wouldn't have mattered at all. So take that, fanatics.
Hey, I was a fanatic once, too. Anyone who badmouthed the Beatles would be on my shit list instantly. But there is truly only so far you can go with the whole '60s rock catalog, including that of the Beatles, before you realize that there's so much more out there to be heard. And for my money, the Velvet Underground was the best rock band to come out of the '60s, or of all time, period. I can't think of another group coming out of that time frame whose work doesn't sound dated, which cannot be said of a chunk of the Beatles' catalogue.
Anyway, with great influence comes the great need to cover Beatles songs. That's where It Was 40 Years Ago Today -- A Tribute to the Beatles comes in. Not since the epic disaster of the film soundtrack to All This and World War II has there been such a grandiose collection of Beatles cover tunes. The set was compiled over three years, with some new recordings being made and the rest being collected from previous sources, from what I gather. And let's face it, Beatles cover tunes are always a dodgy situation. Will the bands performing them go for a genuine take, or try to take them into newer territory? Well, both of these things happen in this collection, with varying degrees of success.
It may seem funny, but George Harrison's tunes covered here come off as the most adaptable to modern rock reworkings. The cover of "Long, Long, Long" here by Tom Hooper is actually a bit better than the original, for my money. Likewise, Dr. Lotech with Mrs. Hippie's rendition of "Taxman" and Paul Myers' take on "I Want to Tell You" are also worth repeat plays. It's only when things attempt to be a paint-by-numbers version, as in Jeremy Morris' cover of "It's All Too Much", that things become stale.
Really, I've heard the original version a million times cubed by this point, so let's hear some new twists on the old dinosaurs, only don't fucking cheeseball it up for us, OK? Take, for instance, Alison Solo's ridiculous version of "Paperback Writer" that sounds like it was tailor made for the next Hilary Duff flick. Or how about the way too precious reading of "Here, There & Everywhere" by Stacey Wheal, who turns it into a neo-Charlotte Church moment? Blech. Then there's also the dumb as hell punked-up version of "Eight Days a Week" by the Deal, which should have never seen the light of day. Oh well.
However, there are some gems here apart from the aforementioned Harrison covers, such as the Lolas' super-groovy rendition of Lennon's "Good Morning, Good Morning" that again betters the original, along with Jeff Jones doing up McCartney's "I've Just Seen a Face" quite nicely. And Phil Vincent's interpretation of "Oh! Darling" is one of the best things on here. But is it enough? Honestly, I think it all depends on your frame of mind whenever you put this set on. Some tracks, such as Goddo's "You Can't Do That" and Sun PK's "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You", are so helplessly by-the-numbers that you just want to shake these bands for not trying harder, but then at the same time you feel like praising them for pulling off nearly letter-perfect versions.
However, I would also like to complain about the sound quality of this set. It varies wildly, with the Dons' "Savoy Truffle" sounding like a washed out mp3 file that was worn out a few more times from being copied over and over. The producers could have certainly done a better job here on the sonic qualities. In other instances, some of the tracks sound like good quality demos smashed up against full-blown productions. It's all just a bit scatter-shot in the end.
But the true acid test is the Beatles fans themselves. Will they love it? Well yes, overall, I have to give this compilation better than average marks for at least attempting to cover a broad range of cover tunes here without seeing it all sink into the mud. I'd say the average Beatle nut will delight in a lot of the tracks here, regardless of my own picky opinions. There's certainly a lot of territory covered here in the collection's 50 tracks, so every phase of the Beatles' career is hit upon. Just don't be surprised if at the end of "Sie Liebt Dich" by the Trimatics you suddenly feel the need to hear the genuine versions. After all, even if I am pretty much over my personal Beatles obsessions, they did make some pretty damn great music when all is said and done.