The Beatles Get Covered – 25 Of My Faves

 

Turntable Ted, ace record-collector and good friend, suggested this topic of my favorite Beatles cover versions.  What with the silly new movie (Yesterday) in the theaters about a mediocre singer who supposedly becomes a star covering the Fab Four in a world that has forgotten them, the topic seems relevant.  Looking at other online lists of favorite Beatle covers it became clear that very few of the versions your Dentist would chose have cropped up on other top lists.  With a basement with over 5000 cover versions to choose from, the process of elimination seemed daunting but was helped along because frankly most of the covers are awful (which is a great topic for a later date).  After whittling things down to 60 or so goodies, it becomes obvious that more than one post will be needed to do it properly so this is part one.  To keep things fair, only one version of a particular song will be included this time out.  Covering a Beatles song is generally an exercise in futility as you are trying to top the masters.  I am always torn – is it best to do a faithful copy or try to rearrange what the Beatles did originally?  Rocking it up (or slowing it down), adding some funk/soul or turning a Beatles pop song into a country hoedown are just a few ways acts tackle the tunes.  Guess you can decide (feel free to send comments with your choices).  These are not meant to be the best, most important, biggest hits, etc. – only your humble Rock N Roll Dentist’s fab 25.

1.Ringo Starr – I Call Your Name

A bit of a cheat perhaps as Ringo was one of them, but he didn’t sing the original version (John did) and it is hands down the best Beatles cover ever for me.  The band is made up of heavy-weights in Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Joe Walsh and Jim Keltner (more cowbell!).  This was only available as a video tribute to Mr. Lennon’s 50th birthday (and the 10th anniversary of his untimely passing).  It is truly a pity that this was never released on a legit record or CD as it is one of the best things Ringo has ever done.  Maybe a Ringo rarities set will rescue it from obscurity.

2.The Inmates – Little Child

The best album of Beatles cover versions is by far this rare 2001 UK import CD (The Inmates Meet The Beatles on Riverside/BMG) documenting a Paris concert from 1987.  The production by the late Vic Maile makes the sound jump out of the speakers showcasing what a fantastic rock and roll combo Bill Hurley and company were (you remember “Dirty Water”?).  While you could choose any song from this set, “Little Child” seems to surpass the original just in sheer energy.

3.Stevie Wonder – We Can Work It Out

Given production credit for the first time on this 1971 single (it hit #13 on the charts), Stevie changes things up from the 1965/66 #1 Beatles original hit by giving it some driving funk.  He supplies the clavinet (electric keyboard) and harmonica solo with backing from the Funk Brothers.

4.Link Wray – Please Please Me

The man behind the hot guitar instros “Rumble” and “Rawhide” was scheduled to release this as a 45 in April of 1965 on Swan.  The single was withdrawn and languished in the vaults until a series of Wray rarities albums on Norton Records resurrected it in 1990 (Some Kinda Nut – Missing Links Volume 3).  While it likely wouldn’t have charted, this instrumental version still rocks pretty good.

5.George Martin – Yellow Submarine In Pepperland

Okay this could be seen as cheating again as it was the last track on the Beatles soundtrack album, but it was an orchestral version arranged by their genius producer as opposed to the Ringo-sung original so it stays.  This arrangement was not from the film, but was specifically recorded for the Apple album.  This jaunty version combines a march with a flute middle section that emphasizes the childlike nature of the song.  Like it or hate it, the release on a Beatles album gave Martin a tidy royalty check.

6.Fairport Convention – Rain

For over four decades the British trad folk band Fairport Convention have hosted a highly successful festival in Cropredy (Oxfordshire, England).  Several import albums have chronicled the excellent music that had been played there including a boxset for the 1997 lineup from which this comes.  While he wasn’t in the band for long (six months in 1976), Breton musician Dan Ar Bras returns to take the lead on this searing workout.  The power of the band and lead guitar work make you want to duck and cover to avoid the deluge.

7.Joe Cocker – I’ll Cry Instead

When you think of Joe Cocker covering the Beatles, the first song that comes to mind is “With A Little Help From My Friends” due to his hit U.K. single and powerful 1969 performance at Woodstock.  Go back five years to his first record, however, and you get this excellent rockabilly cover.  Cocker had been performing as Vance Arnold when he signed with Decca in England to release this non-charter (the 45 was on Philips in the U.S.).  The production was by Mike Leander who arranged the strings on “She’s Leaving Home” for the Beatles (he also was behind Paul Raven/Gadd getting reborn as Gary Glitter – “Rock & Roll, Part 2”).

8.Elton John – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

Elton once asked his friend John Lennon if there was a song of his that would have made a good single, but wasn’t released as such.  Lennon replied “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” from the Sgt. Pepper album (which didn’t have any 45s taken from it at the time).  In 1974 with help from Lennon as Dr. Winston O’Boogie (guitar and vocals), Elton recorded this cover at Caribou Ranch in Colorado.  The single ended up being the first #1 of 1975.  Lennon performed this song as part of a three song guest appearance with Elton John on Thanksgiving  night 1974.

9.The Sweet – Paperback Writer

Had The Sweet not become glam rock stars in the ’70s this version would have never surfaced as it was only recorded for playback on a British BBC radio program.  While it is too bad a cleaner studio recording wasn’t done, the digital era has allowed a remastered version to see the light of laser on a CD of their Beeb recordings.  The Beatles’ original was a #1 hit in the summer of 1966 and heralded a bit of a heavier sound.

10.The Georgia Satellites – Don’t Pass Me By

Ringo’s “Don’t Pass Me By” was a bit of a country throwaway from The Beatles that didn’t even have George or John playing on it.  For their 1988 LP Open All Night, the Atlanta band The Georgia Satellites really rocked the original up greatly improving on the song with classic Chuck Berry-like guitar riffage.  The only song people remember by these guys is the rocker “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”, but they put out some other classic three chord rock and roll (leader Dan Baird continues to fire off excellent albums to this day).

11.The Dillards – I’ve Just Seen A Face

Doug and Rodney Dillard from Salem, Missouri formed a bluegrass band using their last name and are mostly remembered as the Darling family appearing from 1963-66 on The Andy Griffith Show.  With electrified instrumentation and longer hair, they pioneered bluegrass for a younger audience.  Like so many other pioneering bands, however, they were not able to have chart hits.  Their fourth album Wheatstraw Suite was their first to go in that more electric style and contained a cover of Paul McCartney’s acoustic guitar workout from Rubber Soul (Help in the U.K.).  The Charles River Valley Boys had originally recorded this in 1966 as part of their fine Beatle Country album.  Rodney still leads a version of the Dillards to this day.

12.The Rolling Stones – I Wanna Be Your Man

The story goes that before Mick and Keith became songwriters, they (or their producer) asked John and Paul if they had any material the Stones could record.  Lennon and McCartney went to their recording session and finished off this song which would become the Rolling Stones’ second 45 later in 1963 (peaking in the U.K. at #12).  Bill Wyman’s driving bass really makes the song jump while Brian Jones plays slide and sings background vocals (a rarity for the band).  Frankly the Stones rockin’ take is superior to the Ringo-sung Meet The Beatles album track (With The Beatles in the U.K.).

13.Byron Nemeth Group – I Am The Walrus

Equador born Nemeth fronts his own Cleveland based prog-rock inflected band whose music can be found on such albums as 100 Worlds and The Force Within (from which comes this loud guitar instrumental take on the psych classic).  The original album was released in 2007, but you should look for the greatly expanded 2018 version.

14.Geoff Richardson & Jim Leverton – I’m Looking Through You

It would be nice to play this country-rock version of the old Rubber Soul Paul-sung song, but apparently it isn’t on youtube – sorry.  These two have played together since 1995 in the Canterbury prog band Caravan (Richardson on violin/flute/etc. and Leverton on bass) plus they have released albums as a duo.  This cover comes from their 2000 album Poor Man’s Rich Man.  Leverton was also in the Noel Redding band after he was pushed out of the Jimi Hendrix Experience- Fat Mattress.

15.Mary McCaslin – Things We Said Today

This is a gently wistful acoustic take on the Something New album cut (in the U.K. – A Hard Day’s Night).    Her country-tinged voice lends an Appalachian old-timey feel to the song which originally was the opening track from her 1977 album Old Friends.  That this song lends it’s name to McCaslin’s ‘best-of’ album speaks to the regard folks have for her version.

16.Billy Preston – Eight Days A Week

As the only musician to share credit on a Beatles single (“Get Back”), Preston’s organ playing was a big part of the early Apple era (releasing records of his own including “That’s The Way God Planned It”).  As a sideman with Little Richard, the Beatles knew the 16 year old Preston as early as 1962.  In the vein of Booker T & The MG’s, Preston recorded some instrumental albums in the ’60s including Early Hits Of ’65 from which this comes.  In the U.S. the Beatles’ version was a #1 hit while it was only an album track in the U.K. (Beatles For Sale).

17.The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band – Yer Blues

Ringo has said that one of funnest tracks to record from the White Album was John’s “Yer Blues” as they did it live in a cramped closet.  Shepherd’s version amps up the growling guitars from the original on his How I Go album in 2011 (though the bass playing is way more pedestrian than Paul’s much nastier sound).  Vocals are by Noah Hunt.   Shepherd is a Shreveport native and along with Joe Bonamassa has been instrumental in keeping guitar based blues alive a la Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter.

18.Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – And Your Bird Can Sing

Between 2006 and 2013, power poppers Sweet and Hoffs (the Bangles) released three albums containing pretty faithful covers of various pop songs.  Each album was from a different decade with “And Your Bird Can Sing” from Under The Covers Vol. 1 – the one devoted to the ’60s.  The fact that the album even charted at all amazes me albeit the position was a lowly #192 (guitars and tuneful songs haven’t been the flavor of the charts in many years).  John’s composition (mostly) was one of my faves from the 1966 Capitol release Yesterday & Today (Revolver in the U.K.) and featured a nice dual guitar riff played by Paul and George.

19.Johnny Rivers – I’ll Be Back

John Ramistella under the name Rivers had a nice run of fine rock and roll singles that were mostly covers.  His last chart single was in 1978 and one could be excused for not following him since.  For those not aware, he has from ’98 on put out a fine if sporadic series of albums including Last Train to Memphis that year and Reinvention Highway from 2004.  Chris Hillman, Benmont Tench, Waddy Wachtel, etc. supplied the backing on such songs as “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” (the Byrds) and “I’ll Be Back” which was on my fave Beatles album – Beatles ’65 (in the U.K. – A Hard Day’s Night).  While the Beatles did the song on acoustic guitars, Rivers’ take has ringing 12-string electric.

20.The Kentucky Headhunters – I’m Down

The Beatles replaced “Long Tall Sally” as their closing rocker with “I’m Down” in their final year of touring (1966) – a song only found as a single B-side in 1965 (“Help”).  Paul wrote the song in the style of Little Richard.  John moved from guitar to the Vox Continental organ on which he can be seen going ape during the Shea Stadium film of this song.  Since their 1989 debut album, the Kentucky Headhunters have been carrying the torch for Southern country-rock (they placed 12 songs on the U.S. country charts).  Their 2005 Big Boss Man was an album of covers including a nice version of Roger Miller’s “Chug-a-Lug” and a quartet of Hank Williams songs.  The Headhunters closed the album with this rockin’ version.

21.The Grip Weeds – The Inner Light

With a band named after a John Lennon character in the movie How I Won The War (Musketeer Gripweed), you can tell where their music is generally headed.  The fact that they named their 2015 album, from which this song comes, after that movie and that the cover image looks alot like Lennon in the movie is not a coincidence.  This is one of their best albums yet only confirmed power pop fans have a clue who they are.  The album closer is an excellent cover of the George Harrison single B-side (“Lady Madonna”) – his final of three Indian music themed songs.  “The Inner Light” only had vocals by John, Paul and George with instrumentation recorded in Bombay by Indian session players on non-rock instruments.  While the Grip Weeds version still retains that Eastern sound, it has a heavy guitar/bass/drum backbeat during the instrumental breaks that improves the song mightily.

22.Gerry Rafferty – Because

If you remember Rafferty it is because of his huge hit “Baker Street” or because he was a member of Stealers Wheel (“Stuck In The Middle With You”).  As an alcoholic who suffered from chronic depression, his career suffered which is a pity as he obviously still had a musical gift right up to the end in Jan. 2011 as this 2009 album shows (Life Goes On).  Rafferty’s version of John’s beautiful Abbey Road song is pretty faithful with gorgeous harmony vocals and gentle keyboard instrumentation.

23.World Party – Fixing A Hole

Ex-Waterboy Karl Wallenger formed World Party as essentially a solo project starting in 1986 and is best remember for “Ship Of Fools”.  “Fixing A Hole” comes from the 2012 five disc Arkeology compilation and is pretty faithful to the Paul McCartney original found on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

24.Peter Sellers – A Hard Day’s Night

Sellers had been a part of the Goons, a comedy act produced by George Martin pre-Beatles.  He and the Beatles became fast friends and as a tribute Sellers recorded several of their songs in spoken form.  “She Loves You” and “Help” were both done comedically, but “A Hard Day’s Night” was in the style of a Shakespearean performance with recorders quietly backing the reading.  George Martin was again behind the glass for this 1965 recording of the title track to the Beatles’ first movie.

25.Lana Lane – Across The Universe

For such a fine Lennon song, it never seemed like he came up with a great recorded version (Phil Spector came close on Let It Be).  This version that starts mellow then adds driving drums is pretty darn good at capturing the tune better (though the Lennon voice can’t be beat to these ears).  Lane has sung on two albums by one of my fave neo-prog bands Ayreon and is married to producer Erik Norlander who played keys for seven years with Asia.  Lane’s first album Love Is An Illusion was released in 1995 while her most recent one is El Dorado Hotel – 2012.  This cover version is found on her 1998 album Ballad Collection.

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Put Your Lips Together & Blow: 25 Spiffy Whistling Songs

The definition of whistling is “to emit a clear, high-pitched sound by forcing breath through a small hole between one’s lips or teeth”.  This musical instrument is well within the playing skills of most of us non-musicians so whistling songs hold a special fondness when listening to a familiar tune on your fave sound generating device allowing you to join in.  My wife Aimee thought a blog post devoted to whistling songs might be fun and I agreed.  I figured these sorts of songs were a lost genre like instrumentals till I started hunting.  Turns out artists like Flo Rida (“Whistle”), Peter Bjorn & John (“Young Folk”) and Bruno Mars (“The Lazy Song” – great video too) have kept the style alive that goes back at least as far as Bing Crosby’s “Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)” from the ’30s.  Looking on-line, there have been a few lists devoted to whistling songs, but none of them seemed to reflect all the great songs I wanted to highlight.  I was surprised at how many nifty songs I came up with meaning that several ended up hitting the cutting room floor.  I decided to eliminate the show tunes (though I do love songs like “Heigh Ho” and “Whistle While You Work” plus newer ones like “Always Look At The Bright Side Of Life”) and concentrate on the rock era.  I also eliminated songs that only featured a non-musical whistle like “Walkin’ The Dog” by Rufus Thomas and “Short Shorts” by the Royal Teens.  So many of the songs that people think are humans whistling are actually synthesized fakes so they were eliminated from my potential list right away.  My favorite song with that title (“The Whistler” – Jethro Tull) doesn’t even contain any whistling – only fife – go figure.    Grab a beverage to wet your whistler and get ready to pucker to the following.

1.Whistling Jack Smith – I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman

Quite the jaunty tune composed by British Rogers Cook and Greenaway, this was a #20 U.S. hit in 1967 just pre-summer of love.  The actual identity of who did the whistling is still a mystery since it was a studio session with no real artist.  When it became a hit, Billy Moeller (aka Coby Wells) was drafted in to pretend to be Mr. Smith and record a quick (but fun) cash-in LP.  John O’ Neill or the producer Noel Walker have been rumored to have been the lead whistlers.  Either way, this is pure ear candy.

2.Gordon Lightfoot – Ghosts Of Cape Horn

This neo sea shanty comes from Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s fine 1980 LP Dream Street Rose.  He seemed particularly skilled at songs about the sea with my favorite song by him being “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” which was a #2 hit in 1976.  By the ’80s he was still recording nice folk styled LPs but finding it harder to crack the charts (this album peaked at #60).

3.Mitch Miller & His Orchestra & Chorus – March from The River Kwai & Colonel Bogey

As the head of A&R for Columbia records, Miller’s sound created a pile of hits including this medley from the 1957 Alec Guinness movie about the miseries suffered at a Japanese prisoner of war camp in World War II by British prisoners.  The main theme was composed by Malcolm Arnold with an added counter melody of the 1914 “Colonel Bogey March” composed by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts.  Miller’s sound was always bold, bright and layered with heavy echo giving it a stirring quality.  Sing-along with Mitch became a big thing in the ’60s, but no singing here – only heavily echoed whistling.

4.Earle Hagen & His Orchestra – The Andy Griffith Theme

Boy if every boomer can’t whistle this song, I would be stunned.  Hagen composed (with Herbert Spencer) and whistled a really catchy tune that had the advantage of being on an extremely popular and long-running TV show so we have heard this song hundreds of times.  I own the 1961 single on the old purple Capitol label though it didn’t chart.  With lyrics written by Everett Sloan, the song was titled “The Fishin’ Hole” but it was the whistled instrumental we all knew by heart.  Hagen was a prolific composer writing ” Harlem Nocturne” plus themes for shows like Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy and The Mod Squad.

5.The Beatles – Two Of Us

This Paul McCartney composition was one of the happier songs from the dismal experience that was the recording sessions for what became the Beatles last released LP – Let It Be.  While Paul says he wrote it for wife Linda, the lyrics sound more like a tribute to his musical partner John.  Over a year after they recorded it, the clip of this song from the movie Let It Be was shown on the Ed Sullivan Show.   March 1, 1970 would be their last appearance on the show that over 6 years earlier had launched them into the U.S. living rooms of so many kids and their parents.  John Lennon is credited with the whistled line towards the end of the song.

6.Glen Campbell – Sunflower

One of my fave Glen Campbell songs, this happy ditty was written by the prolific Neil Diamond and was a perfect summer song in 1977.  This was the second single released from his hugely successful Southern Nights LP and was arranged by Jack Nitzsche .  While it only hit #39 on the Hot 100, it charted #1 Easy Listening and #4 Country.  The whistling refrain near the end feels like someone walking down a country road in the sunshine.

7.Perry Como – Magic Moments

Burt Bacharach and Hal David had a very successful writing career mainly in the ’60s and mostly for Dionne Warwick.  This was one of their very first compositions.  The Ray Charles Singers, bassoon and whistling arrangement lend a wistful air to this huge early 1958 hit.  With 8 weeks at #1, it was Perry’s biggest U.K. hit.  In the U.S. this #4 hit was paired on one great single with the #1 hit “Catch A Falling Star” on the A-side.

8.Paul McCartney – Dance Tonight

Between the mandolin and happy whistling, this is a McCartney composition guaranteed to make you smile.  Some 40 years after Sgt. Pepper…, Paul could still write a catchy tune.  It was from his Memory Almost Full album and was released as a single in the U.K. on his 65th birthday June 18, 2007 (my dad’s 79th as well).  It charted there at #34 and in the U.S. at #69.  I bought this album when it was released through Starbucks in Monterey, CA on the 5th of June.  It always reminds me of our 30th Anniversary trip that also marked the anniversary of the big pop festival held there in 1967.

9.Pat Boone – Love Letters In The Sand

Pat Boone should be in the rock and roll hall of fame.  Whatever you think about his sanitized covers of songs like “Tutti Frutti” and “Ain’t That A Shame”, he and Connie Francis were pioneers of early rock and roll – period.  This song fit his style far better than his rock covers and like many of Connie’s hits was a cover of a much older song.  With piano triplets and Boone’s whistling, it was a #1 in the summer of 1957.  The original song was published in 1931 with music by J. Fred Coots and lyrics by Charles & Nick Kenny.

10.Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra & Chorus – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The Clint Eastwood starring Sergio Leone movies were dubbed “Spaghetti Westerns” as they were made in Italy (and Spain).  The Italian cowboy pictures made Eastwood a rugged action hero after his initial run on the TV series Rawhide ended in 1966.   This was the theme song to the third Leone western becoming a #2 hit in early 1968 – 2 years after the film was released in Italy and a year after it came out here.  Composer Ennio Morricone used snips of his theme throughout the movie featured the whistling of John O’Neill who may have also been Whistling Jack Smith as we saw earlier.  Hugo’s version used an ocarina (also in the Troggs hit “Wild Thing”) with whistled counterpoint.

11.The Lovin’ Spoonful – Daydream

For a short period mainly in 1966, John Sebastian was a hit writing machine making the first 7 Spoonful singles top 10 chart hits – a feat matched in that era only by Gary Lewis & The Playboys.  At a concert a few years ago, he said the opening chords were inspired by the song “Baby Love” by the Supremes.  The relaxed good-time vibe of the song in turn inspired Paul McCartney to write “Good Day Sunshine”.

12.Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

How bittersweet was it that Otis wouldn’t live to see his crowning success of having this fine song top the charts in early 1968?  After his breakout appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, Otis rented a houseboat in Sausalito, CA and was inspired to write about his experience which guitarist Steve Cropper helped lyrically turn into a hit totally different than his other rawer r&b songs.  Otis recorded his vocal November 22nd and died in a plane crash December 10th near Madison, WI.  The whistling at the end is credited to Sam Taylor.

 

13.The Tremeloes – Here Comes My Baby

The first U.S. chart hit for the Tremeloes was this cover of a Cat Stevens composition.  It would hit a peak of #13 in the U.S. just before the summer of love in 1967.  Mike Smith produced this raucous sounding session of the group that he had chosen over the Beatles for a Decca recording contract in 1962 (at that time Brian Poole was their leader, but later left for a failed solo career).  In addition to the whistled lead break, you also get cowbell as an added bonus.  The band is still going today with only drummer Dave Munden left from the original members.

14.John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band (with the Flux Fiddlers) – Jealous Guy

It was hard to choose this version over the excellent Lennon tribute remake by Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, but it gets the edge because this is John Lennon, after all.  This was originally an album track from John’s best solo album 1971’s Imagine.  After his murder in 1980, “Jealous Guy” charted at #80 as a single from the 1988 documentary Imagine: John Lennon.  Bootleg recordings from 1968 show this tune used on another song inspired by the Beatles’ trip to India – “Child Of Nature”.  Paul’s “Mother Nature’s Son” was also inspired by the same subject.  John later changed the lyrics to talk about his feelings of inadequacy.

15.Bobby Bloom – Montego Bay

Bobby Bloom is known mostly as a one-hit wonder for this island’s inspired percussive treat from 1970 (#8 chart hit).  He was a songwriter mostly in a pop-bubblegum vein which included this co-write with Jeff Barry.  The song is about Jamaica and is arranged as a calypso with whistling.  Bloom died in 1974 at age 28 from what was deemed an accidental gunshot wound.

16.Larry Williams – Short Fat Fannie

At #5 (1957) this was rocker Williams’ biggest success on the charts.  He is far better known, however, from the great covers of his songs by the Beatles and The Rolling Stones (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, “Bony Moronie”, “Slow Down”, “She Said Yeah” just to name 4).  Williams couldn’t overcome his demons and would go to jail for dealing drugs in 1960.  At age 44 on Jan. 7, 1980, Williams was found dead in L.A. from a gunshot.  It was ruled a suicide at the time, but was suspicious.

17.Gene Pitney – Only Love Can Break A Heart

So many of the whistled songs are happy, but this was an aching ballad trilled by the late singer Gene Pitney.  In the fall of 1962 Pitney took this Burt Bacharach & Hal David song to #2.  In an ironic twist, the song that kept Gene from #1 was “He’s A Rebel” by the Crystals – a song Pitney wrote.

18.The New Vaudeville Band – Winchester Cathedral

The whole first part of the song is whistled till the megaphoned crooner comes in on the next verse taking the song to #1 in December 1966.  British songwriter Geoff Stephens had recorded his song as a studio session with another songwriter John Carter (the Ivy League) singing lead.  When the record became a hit, an unrelated New Vaudeville Band was quickly assembled for touring.  The song won the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary (R&R) Recording which is about as rock and roll as the Grammy awards got back then.

19.The Highwaymen – Michael

During the early ’60s folk boom, this cover of the African-American song “Michael, Row The Boat Ashore” went to #1 on the charts in the U.S.  Perhaps it was the slightly out of tune whistling or the simpleness of the song, but the rest of the world ate it up too pushing the song to #1 in the U.K and #4 in Germany.  Their only other top 20 hit was “Cotton Fields”.  Note that the country act with folks like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash was not the same Highwaymen.

20.Mitch Miller & His Orchestra & Chorus – Tunes Of Glory

There must be something about Alec Guinness movies that inspired Mitch Miller whistling hits – then again maybe it was because the music in this 1960 movie was supplied again by Malcolm Arnold who had done The Bridge Over The River Kwai.  The tune is better known as an unofficial anthem of Scotland – “Scotland The Brave”.  The song is usually performed on bagpipes, but  Miller chose a whistler to lead instead.  While it only got to #88 in 1961, it is indeed a stirring anthem.

21.Fitz & The Tantrums – The Walker

Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs and James King proved that a catchy song can still be made with whistling in 2013.  The song’s popularity in culture (being used in movies and TV a number of times) is at odds with the low chart placement of #67.  The band’s indie soul inflected pop sound isn’t in tune with the modern hip-hop culture which is a pity as they write catchy songs including this and “HandClap”.

22.Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontier

While only a #48 charter in the U.S., this single charted at #4 in the U.K. in the fall of 1980 for the former Genesis lead singer.  If one can believe Wikipedia, the whistling is performed by Gabriel with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.  Gabriel’s quirky lyrics seem to be a commentary on world politics and war.  Background vocals are by Kate Bush.

23.The Monkees – Tapioca Tundra

I was at first resistant to include this Mike Nesmith tune due to his atonal whistling at the beginning, but since the song is catchy and has some of his finest lyrics, it stays on the list (plus Mike was my fave Monkee at the time – sort of their Lennon).  By the time of the 5th Monkees LP The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, the band members were pretty much working on their own songs without help from other band members.  This was mostly a Nesmith solo record with Eddie Hoh on drums and charted as a single B-side at #34 in early 1968 (the A-side was “Valleri”).

24.J. Geils Band – Centerfold

The first two J. Geils Band albums were excellent American blues-rock and their Atlantic album Full House is one of the best live albums ever.  After that I lost interest in the band for a number of years as they dabbled in various r&b styles.  It was, however, hard not to get renewed interest in the band in the ’80s with great songs like “Love Stinks”, “Freeze Frame” and this #1 hit (February 1981).  This song was their only real U.K hit at #3.  There is just enough whistling at the end of this Seth Justman composition to qualify for this list.

25.Don Robertson – The Happy Whistler

Songwriter Don Robertson passed away at age 92 in 2015 having composed such hits as “Ringo” (Lorne Greene), “Anything That’s Part Of You” (Elvis Presley) and “Born To Be With You” (The Chordettes).  As a one-hit wonder he hit #6 whistling this merry little tune in 1956  (#8 in the U.K.).

The Zen Of Fame, Or The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl CD

Whither fame?  Having just read comedian/actor Tim Allen’s 20-year-old book I’m Not Really Here plus a Mojo Magazine interview with Paul and Ringo about the reissue of their live music with the Beatles over 50 years ago, that’s the seed that took me to type out more meaningless drivel to the blogosphere so 3 or 4 people can skim it and yawn their appreciation.

Mr. Allen’s book is an odd (but compelling) read in that it isn’t a cover to cover comedic farce, but rather a comically corrupted musing on Physics and the whyness of it all – a true conundrum that you don’t expect from the voice of Buzz Lightyear. When he wrote this book, Allen was in the midst of a hit TV series that hilariously encapsulated what has been lately annoying me as I look back on my own career years.  Home Improvements focused on the dopey ‘guyness’ of men and the Neanderthal roots of hammering and building with more power.  What’s been bugging me is how unguy-like my own career (and most men’s careers) has been.  Look at the cars in the morning heading to work sometime and think about it.  The men in the baseball hats crammed into the old Chevys are going to pour concrete, drive a backhoe or pound nails then come home with a satisfied sheen of something created tangibly with the sweat of their sinew.  The other XY’s are heading to offices in their leased Hondas likely to shuffle paper, try to stay awake at meetings or answer phone calls then frustratingly fight traffic heading home knowing they left nothing of any lasting import.  What seems more guy-like – a 20 floor skyscraper or a cap on tooth #30?  Makes you want to get out the shovel and plant an oak.

I was roped in by the weirdness of Allen’s book as one assumes that the average reader was looking for laughs and not an explanation of string theory (which has nothing to do with the stuff wound around a yo-yo but always made me feel like a yo-yo when trying to understand this odd concept).  It was the small parts of the book that really interested me, however.  Since we all hate to realize we mean so little in the cosmic continuum, we (I) look for ways to identify ourselves with famous people.  I loved the Dave Clark 5 as a kid and so did Tom Hanks ergo we must be simpatico buds – pals to the end – and I just know in my heart Tom would love to talk to me and share a coupla burgers.  In Allen’s book he mentions watching, as a kid, a Denver show which I loved as well – immediately I felt the warm zen-like oneness young Tim Dick and I had with that shared Sheriff Scotty moment.

The other short but memorable takeaway from his book was his conflicted thoughts on fame.  He, like so many other public figures, discussed longing for the anonymity of being able to grab a steak at the grocery store without causing a stir as everyone approached him for an autograph – yet he also realized without that fame he wouldn’t have a career.  It seems like Alan Alda might have said something to that effect as well – when someone told him how great it must be to have fame and fortune he said he loved the fortune but they could keep the fame.   In the October 2016 Mojo Paul McCartney talks about that as well: “this is so exciting…then after a while it got more and more boring.”

How odd is fame, really?  Here are these rich successful people wanting to give it back while so many numbskulls like Honey Boo Boo or the Kardashians will seemingly do anything to stay famous – get Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes by any dumb act they can think of.  To extrapolate from a musing in Allen’s book where he brings up the postulate that if you can’t see the moon then does is exist – if you are famous for something but you don’t know it then are you really famous?  If Frank Zappa hadn’t had such an eclectic recording career but had only appeared on the Steve Allen Show playing the bike would he still have been a genius?

 

What I mean is based on 2 weird examples.  I can’t conceive of how odd it would be that 230 years after your death your name would be famously associated with something you couldn’t even fathom in your lifetime – yet that is what happened to British agronomist Jethro Tull.

How would he have felt that his name was well-known not for botany, but as a musical group famed for the flute and Aqualung?

What weird thing will be named George Krieger in 2250?  Does it matter if I don’t exist?  Why are the French called Frogs?

Another one in that vein:  you write a stirring march in 1893 and give it a patriotic name “The Liberty Bell” meant to fire U.S. patriotic fervor.  37 years after your death it becomes the ironic theme to a U.K. sketch comedy show only truncated ending on the sound of a whoopee cushion.

    

Would Sousa be a Monty Python fan?  Will someone discover music I’ve written in my lifetime but never performed and a 100 years from now have a hit with it?  If I don’t exist – who cares?  Why does Progressive allow that annoying Flo to live?

And fame is so fleeting really – if you are over 60 and want a humbling exercise, just ask a teenager who Gary Cooper or Sam the Sham are.

But in the ostensibly 4 1/2 billion years that the earth has been in existence what does any of this really matter anyway?  Does the fact that I have a record autographed by the bassist and drummer from Ambrosia matter in the grand schema of life (maybe to my kids who will have to dispose of all my crapola in a few short years)?  Heck, I’m starting to think we humanoids are merely a biologic infestation of Terra meant to die out shortly since we are so fragile and unadaptable.  If it gets just a little too hot or cold, we consume more and more earthly resources so that we can exist in a cocoon of comfort – to do what?  Horde more junk – terrorize each other – sit in traffic – surf the internet – play fantasy football?  If anyone believes we are meant as the be-all and end-all, perhaps they may want to ask the next Stegosaurus or Dodo they see what their opinions are about eternal existence (or just how happy the dinos are to be running our cars for a few years).  This dodo figures that the insects of the world who seemingly laugh at climate change will ultimately find my Beatles CDs buried under layers of decaying Paris Hilton pictures.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to have been created by my long-suffering parents to have my Georgeness inside this collection of strings (thanks Tim) in the land of the free and in the era of plenty I was sired into.  But why am I in this protoplasmic form and not in that annoying buzzing and flying thing that I want to smash with a newspaper (when those things are gone in a few years, by the way, what will people use to squish bugs one wonders)?  Hey, I’m grateful to be in me and not in a dung beetle in Ethiopia endlessly rolling my treasured dung for who knows what reason, but why me and not thee?  If only Tim Allen had told me.

How lucky to be around now.  Not only did I get to live Pink Floyd, Elvis, the Stones et al but now it is actually easier to acquire all that music again in better sound quality and in bigger quantities than when it was popular.  Back in the 60’s I remember a futile search for a vinyl 45 at a small record store in Fort Collins for the song “I’m A Man” by the Yardbirds.  It might as well have never existed yet it was only a few weeks after it dropped off the charts.  Here it is over 50 years later and I can buy a used copy of the single or a CD in the store.  Heck, I don’t even have to go to the store – I can order it at 3 AM on my computer.  Or, I don’t even have to wait – I can download it and play it now. And I can even get outtakes previously unreleased by the Yardbirds.  Who would have believed it?  Beethovan would roll over.

50 plus years after the concerts happened (and nearly 40 years after it came out on vinyl), we Beatles fans are lucky enough to finally get Live At The Hollywood Bowl on CD/download.

With 1977 technology, producer George Martin managed to make a pretty good 13 track album that showed the Fabs to be great singers and musicians in the face of overwhelming fan screams that rendered their primitive stage setup inadequate (Ringo in that Mojo article says that he had to watch the movements of the other band members to know where they even were in the song as he couldn’t hear the instruments).  The new CD adds four more tracks (one – “Baby’s In Black” – already came out on the “Real Love” CD single) while Martin’s son Giles has greatly improved the sound using modern technology and better source tapes.  The jet engine-like screams are still there, but the band is more upfront while there is far more treble and bass giving the sound more presence.  Knowing how many of the so called ‘live’ albums of the past were actually overdubbed in the studio to improve the harmonies and playing, it is remarkable how flawless the Beatles are on this ‘warts and all’ set from 1964/65.  It likely sounds better on CD now than it ever did to the fans or even the band on stage.  Yes, it would have been nice to have all the songs from the shows, but what we have is excellent.  The packaging is fine though one can quibble with changing the cover from the old vinyl album (which isn’t even reproduced in the generous booklet) to match up with Ron Howard’s documentary, but it does look good.  I wonder if Tim Allen likes it.

Beatle Book Reviews

Us crazy Beatles fanatics have a tendency to read everything written about the Fabs then find reasons to nitpick (or on those rare occasions – praise) the book.  The Beatles are almost like a cult in that they still inspire fanatical worship some 45+ years after they broke up and even still have Sunday morning radio shows devoted to analyzing everything about them and their music.  It truly is amazing that you don’t find such in-depth analysis of longer lived groups like the Rolling Stones.  What really drives me mad is a book full of errors and typos (bad editing) and especially one with the author’s critical comments about the music.  Honestly, I don’t read a book about the Beatles to find out that the author doesn’t love a certain song – who cares, just give me the facts! No editorial With lawyer/friend Stan Soocher set to release a new book about lawsuits associated with the band (Baby You’re A Rich Man: Suing The Beatles For Fun & Profit), it seemed like a good idea to look a couple of other recent publications about our fave raves.

The two newest books I have read are Ringo: With A Little Help (Michael Starr – no relation) and George Harrison: Behind The Locked Door (Graeme Thomson).  Honestly, I found both lacking in some way with the former the most annoying.

The appeal of the Starr book is that there has never been a true in-depth bio of Ringo. My rating of this is book (giving it 2 1/2 starrs) is based more on my interest in the subject matter than the veracity of the content.  This book, sadly, contains more than it’s share of small mistakes and really doesn’t shed any new light on the subject (however, at least the author collects enough stories on Ringo to keep you reading). It’s admirable that right away the author informs the reader that no real insiders would cooperate in the interview process and that the subject has distanced himself from the book. That tells you that his information will be gathered second hand and basically amounts to a rehash of everything else previously written about Mr. Starkey.  Mark Lewisohn’s “Tune In…” series of books is/will be (when completed) the most in-depth study of the Beatles and is probably too detailed for casual fans but is highly recommended over books like this for any analysis of the Beatles years for any of the four band members. That leaves some 45 years of information to cover since the break-up , however and the author offers no insight into such details as his recording career (look in the index – no mention of Mark Hudson or the Roundheads who recorded so much of Ringo’s great later-day solo product) or his touring (how hard would it have been to include a list of All-Starr Band members by year, set lists or at least an interview with a player or two?).
There are so many typos (p. 263 is an example – the band the Monkees doesn’t have a “y” in it’s name) and errors (“Boys” was a Luther Dixon composition on the b-side of a Shirelles Nov. 1960 single, yet on p.30-31 it becomes a Ray Charles classic Ringo knew to audition for Rory Storm in March of 1959) that one has to wonder if there was an editor. A list of all the errors would take too long, but some examples are: on p. 96 he has “I Want To Hold Your Hand” appearing on the LP With The Beatles when the Fab’s UK LPs didn’t include singles generally – in talking about the confusing release history of “Love Me Do” on p. 65 he says correctly that the Andy White drum version was on their first album but then on p. 80 he says “among the album’s fourteen tracks were… his drumming-not Andy White’s-on ‘Love Me Do‘…”. He contradicts himself several more times in the book to the extent that I started wondering if he actually read his own book.  If you want a breezy read on Ringo then there is enough here to read in a day or 2 – otherwise wait for the man himself to write his story or at least an insider like Joan Woodgate, Bruce Grakel or Hilary Gerrard (which may admittedly never happen).

The Harrison book as fewer typos (such as on p. 299 he lists Allen Klein’s company as ABCKO then ABKCO – fairly minor, but sloppy) but more annoying editorial comments by the author.  He says that the song “Piggies” “comes off only as smug and superior” (p. 152) and on p. 173 he dismisses “For You Blue” (“Lennon’s ramshackle slide guitar wheezing away in the background next to McCartney’s high, irritatingly jaunty road house piano was a true feather weight”).  Gee, wonder why I even listen to the Beatles if they were so terrible.

On p. 379 he dismisses the 1995 “Free As A Bird” reunion single as “in the end, a failure, as it had to be…”.  A failure!?!  Most of us Beatles fans love(d) the song and bought this ‘failure’ in droves making it peak at #2 in the UK and #6 in the US on the charts.  It also won the Grammy in 1997 for best pop performance for a duo or group with vocal.  Failure indeed!

When discussing the use of a second drummer, he refers to Harrison’s “questionable taste for playing with twin drummers” (p. 267).  An odd statement at best, but one has to wonder what he thinks about the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and the Mothers Of Invention who also used twin drummers.  Finally, on p. 347/8 he criticizes the Beatleisms of “When We Was Fab” which are precisely the reason most of us liked that song and was the point of the song – heck, George was in the Beatles so one assumes he would sound like a Beatle.  Read the book for the history, but in the end you come away wondering if the author didn’t dislike his subject as he makes Mr. Harrison fairly unlikeable.

So, finally, what Beatles books are worth reading?  Well without rating each, the ones that I always come back to are:

  Beatles Gear – Andy Babiuk

A fascinating and loving look at all the instruments played by the Beatles in their career.  Gearheads will rejoice, but it’s fun to simply see what made the sounds we all loved.

                     Mark Lewisohn – Recording Sessions, Chronicles, Tune In

Having had unprecedented access to the archives of the Beatles and great attention to detail has put Lewisohn at the head of Beatle bookwriters.  When the Tune In three part series is complete, it will be the Bible of all-things Beatles – probably too much detail for any but the most crazed fans (and I am one of them).

 The Beatles Anthology

Meant to accompany the TV show/video set, this is a lavish coffeetable book that is less a history book then a high quality Beatles photo album and diary.

 A Hard Day’s Write: The Story Behind Every Song – Steve Turner

The title says it all and is much better than that orange/red covered monstrosity by Margotin on the same subject that is riddled with errors.

  The Beatles: The Biography – Bob Spitz

If we didn’t have Mark Lewisohn, this would be the definitive bio of the boys.  Great if still too detailed for casual fans looking for history.

  The Beatles – Hunter Davies

When this first came out in 1968 (the color cover), it was the first thoughful accounting of the Beatles.  It has since been updated and is probably the best book for a simple band history.

  Here, There And Everywhere – Geoff Emerick

Not just about the Beatles, but a most interesting read about a man who, second only to George Martin (who put out a less than interesting book years ago himself), had first hand knowledge of at least later day Beatles recording sessions.  Emerick seems to have an issue with George Harrison, but the book is still good.

 Miss O’Dell – Chris O’Dell

To get a read on the female insider’s perspective, this is the one to read as opposed to the awful Pattie Boyd book (who apparently never paid much attention to George or Eric Clapton’s music careers judging by her lack in insight).  This book is about way more than the Beatles as O’Dell was involved with booking tours for other artists, but her days with the Beatles are a fun read.