Music Review: Round Three: The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, February 2012

February 20, 2012


The Beatles have been a part of my world as far back as I can remember. I love to share my enthusiasm for them, and –as I’ve mentioned several times before– it is a weekly pleasure of mine to visit  The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, an ongoing art project that plans to publish an original cover of the entire Beatles discography, reworked in any number of genres by artists from around the world (as long as there’s a ukulele in there somewhere).

There have been some changes along the way from their first heady days following Obama’s inauguration: One of the project’s founders left; the site has gone through a number of evolutions resulting in dead links and lost essays, and there have been oscillations in the amount of background material, context, and analysis presented with each song. None of that has taken anything away from the quality of the music. The site’s organizers have given artists a framework to build wonders, and I cannot say enough good things about what this project has done on a weekly basis for the last several years.

To date I have thrice given short reviews of each cover (Songs 1 to 48, Songs 49 to 71, Songs 72 to 115), and I’m long overdue for a fourth installment. If you would like to listen to any of these songs without following my links to the individual pages, this page can stream all of them for your enjoyment. I really must start off these reviews –as I have before– with a few words of caution. I am not any kind of critic. I’m just a Beatles fan. I have no training in music, and if my two cents strike you unkindly, please consider them not worth the hypothetical copper and zinc they are minted out of.

Without further preamble, here’s my take on songs 116 through 161:

116. –It’s Only Love covered by Erin Bowman
released on the week of April 5, 2011

I picked a lousy place to break my reviews. Misery –number 115– is one of my least favourite Beatles songs, although The Big V did a fine job with their rendition. Now I find myself starting this new series of short opinions with another Beatles tune that never really fired up my blood, and it’s being covered in the genre of Tween Pop by the woman who apparently sang the opening theme to the latest Pokémon movie. No part of that speaks to me. I turned to the article in search of something I could hang my hat on, but I’m afraid the guest essayist spent the bulk of his time talking about Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies for some reason. For me, this entire entry was a rare miss in the collection, but I encourage you all to give it a listen and a read to form your own opinions.

117. –Taxman covered by Matt Gibson
released on the week of April 12, 2011

Now this is more in line with what I love about the project. Taxman is famous for being George Harrison’s railing against having to pay so much of his Beatles fortune to the British Government. Matt Gibson took that premise and kicked it up several notches by infusing it with an American Libertarian bent, all country and western with sawing fiddles and Bon Jovi-esque pedal steel, and a couple of very ‘Big Government is out to get you’ voice overs. The cover even came out the week United States citizens need to file their income taxes, which is a cute bit of timing right up there with Revolution #9 coming out September 9, 2009 (09/09/09).  The essay is excellent as well. I don’t know that I would listen to this regularly –it’s not my genre, and I’m generally okay with paying income tax– but as an example of what The Beatles Complete on Ukulele is capable of, this one is a shining example.

118. –I’m Happy Just To Dance With You covered by John Conte
released on the week of April 12, 2011

This is one of those songs even The Beatles didn’t like (as the fine essay points out). They needed this as a point A to B transition in the movie Hard Day’s Night, and it was banged out with little thought and less art. John Conte took that lack of enthusiasm and slowed the song down dramatically. There isn’t anything happy or bubbly in it. If you were actually dancing with someone while this covered played, you wouldn’t even have to move your feet: Just sway a little bit. It’s sleepy but not sappy, which takes some doing considering the lyrics. I neither love nor hate it, which I suspect is the point.

119. –Penny Lane covered by Gerald Ross
released on the week of April 19, 2011

I was more than a little surprised that this cover is strictly a ukulele instrumental piece, but after several listenings I’ve really warmed to the idea. Penny Lane can be considered the quintessential Beatles melody: You can hear more of their flavour in it than anything else that springs to mind. This project too often says, “And there’s a ukulele in there somewhere.” Why not let a virtuoso show us why this instrument is so suited to John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s work? Is anyone really going to be terribly upset that just this once we aren’t asked to puzzle through the double entendres about the fireman and the nurse? The essay is a lovely piece comparing Paul’s Penny Lane to John’s Strawberry Fields: It’s well worth a read, and I’d suggest playing this lovely cover in the background while you do so.

120. –I’m Looking Through You covered by Dandelion Wine
released on the week of May 3, 2011

Most of you have probably never asked yourself in a quiet moment, “What would I’m Looking Through You sound like as an 80s Hair Metal Power Ballad?” and that’s a shame, because here we have the answer. I’d like to say the cellos make this piece, but the lead singer’s voice is the real instrument here. The essay uses that rasp to link this song to Rod Stewart’s Maggie May in a way I never thought of before, but will always add to my enjoyment of the song moving forward. It’s a solid, solid entry to the collection. No doubt about it.

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