Friday, September 27, 2013


Bizarro Sgt. Pepper's, Side Two

Maybe you have to have been a Vinyl Baby to get this, but the division between Side One and Side Two is significant.  How could you follow "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" without a moment to exhale, lift the needle, and turn over the record? And then once you had turned it over . . .

"Within You, Without You" [read the original]
Cover by Big Head Todd & the Monsters
A 90s band out of Colorado, so how would I know about them? Yet this cover, better even than Patti Smith's version, dives to the trippy heart of this song. Recorded for a George Harrison tribute album, it adds layers of shimmer and distortion that George Martin would never have imagined, then serves it all up with a blues jam twist. About time somebody put a little unh-hunh to raga rock.

"When I'm Sixty-Four" [read the original]
Cover by Cowboys on Dope
Now this is a hoot. A German country-rock band tackles this Paul McCartney music-hall chestnut and totally transforms it.  Minor key, for one thing -- how brilliant! The "cowboy" part of their name adds some down-and-dirty twang, but it's the "dope" part -- the gritty woozy undertone -- that makes this so delectable. And why shouldn't boozy losers also be able to imagine knitting by the fireside and renting a cottage by the Isle of Wight?

"Lovely Rita" [read the original]
Cover by Fats Domino
Okay, so maybe he loses the campy irony of the original.  Still, the King of New Orleans soul is out to score with this lady Rita, and he lays out some considerable charm to do so. Most telling variation from the original: "When are you free to have a drink [NOT TEA] with me?" The loungy tempo, the playful vocals -- it's all good, sugar.

"Good Morning Good Morning" [read the original]
Cover by Micky Dolenz
Who knew?  I'll admit to having been obsessed with the Monkees in the fall of 1966; for a while there, Davy Jones even toppled Paul McCartney from my fangirl list of must-haves. But it was Micky who really made the Monkees work as a rock/pop band, and now I can admit that. This particular gem from his 2012 solo album Remember -- a mixed bag at best -- kicks Lennon's tortured bio-tune into easy samba mode, which some may see as sacrilege. Not me. Micky runs the whole song through a California soft-rock filter and it comes out surprisingly well. Maybe John Lennon had a hard time getting through his daily grind in 1967 London, but in 2012 Micky is surfing life, shifting gears and chord changes when he has to, riding it all on a wave of copasetic whatever. I would have thought that this angry, conflicted song could never be dialed back to yoga mode. I was wrong.

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" [read the original]
Cover by the Persuasions
The original reprise offered a distinct contrast to the opening track -- let's go for contrast again. Whereas we had Jimi Hendrix jamming it up for Track 1, let's dial things back to 60s doo-wop with the Persuasions, jacking up the tempo and adding an insouciant wink of fun.

"A Day in the Life" [read the original]
Cover by John Mark Nelson
Coda or climax? It's never been clear which "A Day in the Life" was meant to be, and let's leave it in glorious ambiguity. This version is from the Minnesota Beatle Project, an intriguing 4-CD series (2009-2012) that celebrates a panoply of Minnesotans tackling Beatles material. A wunderkind from Minnetonka, MN, young John Mark Nelson somehow gets this complex and ambiguous song. He changes up the tempos and alters the textures of the song even more radically than John and Paul, intent on blending their disparate material, ever did. More importantly, Nelson restores to this song the youthful earnestness that we forgot it deserved. (Because really, how old were John and Paul when they wrote this sweeping indictment of mass media?)  His voice trembles with the sorrow that lives down deep in things - what more could this song deserve?

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