Friday, June 17, 2011

Better Than the Beatles

I’ve said before that I listen to the Beatles, own all their albums and play them more than I like to admit (I even have, and wear, half a dozen Beatles t-shirts), but I’m not a big fan. I can’t really explain it more than to say that while I do enjoy many of their albums immensely, it doesn’t fill me with the same emotive inspiration or awe that so many other artists do, and for all practical purposes my interest in them is purely academic.

Of course I’m in the vast minority with this viewpoint, and that’s fine. The almost religious fervor that surrounds the “myth” of the Beatles is sometimes interesting, sometimes annoying and always, it would seem, present in the music of the last five decades. From Motley Crue to Lady Gaga, everyone has to show their roots, reverence or raditude (oh yes I did) by drooling all over them in interviews and/or by laying down a little homage to the Fab Four on either record or in concert.

More often than not folks cover a Beatles song ridiculously true to the original, and while a good Beatles song performed to the “B” is (almost) always enjoyable, as often as not I ask, “What’s the point?” So it’s nice when someone uses one of these “rock n roll hymns” as nothing more than a blueprint to do their own thing and effectively blow the notes off the page.

I’ve been toying with the idea of a “best cover versions” post for some time now, but earlier today it hit me that some of the best ones are songs by the Beatles. I even find it interesting that really all my favorite Beatles covers come from the “White Album,” which I feel is a grossly overblown and overrated outing, where the best songs (I Will, Julia, Good Night and anything not by Lennon/McCartney) are often overlooked for some of the most banal rock n roll slush ever (Back in the USSR, Birthday, Helter Skelter, etc).

Of course that’s way, way off topic…so, here are four Beatles songs from the White Album reworked by other artists and, in my opinion, much more agreeable for the effort.

Dear Prudence – Siouxsie & the Banshees: Admittedly this one isn’t far off the initial mark, but there’s a spooky, sexy spark (as always with Siouxsie) that kicks this otherwise low key yawner into pop perfection, which is likely the band just getting off on how much they love the original, but still makes the experience a hundred times more enjoyable. Plus, it’s got Mad Bob on guitar, so…there you have it.

Wild Honey Pie – The Pixies: I’m really not a fan of this screechy stomper, and the Pixies don’t necessarily make the song any better, but they give it a visceral, caustic, borderline sinister edge that at least makes it more entertaining, with some of Black Francis’ best screams put down on tape.

Happiness is a Warm Gun – The Breeders: Kim and Co make this their song. I mean they seriously, seriously own it. It’s as if the Beatles version was basically a demo written for the Breeders, waiting for them to get together and make the Pod album and then literally kick the life into it. The hokey, almost dorky original rendition of “mother superior jumping the gun,” when in the hands of the Breeders, is a conduit for startled bitterness verging on violence, which in turn makes the chaotic, ramshackle “bang, bang, shoot, shoot” breakdown more poignantly disturbing and ultimately believable. This is likely the best cover version of any song by any artist…ever.

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey – The Feelies: This is a fun song no matter how you shake it, but the Feelies’ vicious attack fully realizes its true potential…even in this modern day live version. Crazy Rhythms (1980) is one of those albums that existed back with the creation of the earth and hung around in the stratosphere for the right time to manifest itself. Me and My Monkey was written to be on this album. Jerky, quirky, so high school awkward it makes me break out in pimples, it becomes an excellent centerpiece for an album that took the worn out, tired conventions of rock n roll, shook all the worthless posturing into the trash can and stitched everything back together with nothing but raw, impassioned energy holding it all in place. Go buy that record right now.

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