Music Review: Update, The Beatles on Ukulele, May 2010

One of the first things I did when I started this blog was promote one of my favourite sites on the internet, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. This site, starting from Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and going to the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics in 2012, plans to release an original cover of a Beatles song –in every genre of music under the sun by artists from around the world– until the entire discography has been so honoured.

Of course, one of the drawbacks of a blog is that hardly anyone ever goes traipsing through your backlist. Posting so early in my blogging experience drove almost no traffic to their site, and that struck me as a tragedy. More people need to know about this site. I talk it up at parties. I mention it to co-workers. I can’t recommend it enough: If you like anything in the Beatles’ body of work, this site is worth your time.

In December of last year I did a rather extensive review of their covers up to that point, and that blog post was rather well received: The site organizers got in touch with me, as well as several of the musicians, thanking me for my efforts. I also succeeded in convincing some of you to take a look. My blog gets an order of magnitude more traffic now than then, and a good body of new material has built up in the meantime, so the timing seems right for me to revisit my reviewing and bring you up to date.

I’m happy to say that the site continues to produce musical treasures, as well as brilliantly written essays detailing where the song fits into the Beatles experience. They have also recently revamped their free downloading set up, making it even easier to access the music.

Anyway, I promised reviews, so without further ado:

49. — Honey Pie covered by Sarah Mitchell
released on the week of December 22, 2009

Honey Pie is one of Paul McCartney’s salutes to the bygone music his parents listened to, in this case Vaudeville. Sarah Mitchell stays true to the old timey spirit of the original, while tastefully updating it to the 21st Century with just the same deft touch McCartney gave to his 1960s take on a 1920s jingle. I honestly cannot think of a better way to approach a cover of this song. Mitchell’s voice even seems honey-coated. Her tone sweeps and swoons. You can picture her singing into one of those giant steel cage microphones, dressed as a flapper, in some retro-themed bar. The essay, as usual, is excellent: Esoteric, thoughtful, playful. This is a solid, solid entry into their blog, well worth a listen and a read.

50. — We Can Work It Out covered by Like Trains and Taxis
released on the week of December 29, 2009

There aren’t too many times I claim this, but if the Beatles had never written this song, and this cover was the only version in existence, it would still be a hit. Like Trains and Taxis could build an album around this, and I would see their show because of it. It’s smooth, sexy, calm, composed. Where the Beatles seemed in a hurry over this one, Like Trains and Taxis lead singer seems almost philosophical about the situation he finds himself in, and when the rest of the band joins in on the chorus you really feel like they’re trying the soft sell approach on whether or not the relationship in question should continue. The essay was a real eye opener too, as I hadn’t really considered who Paul was addressing the song towards. This is worth a look, good readers. Click the link. I’ll wait.

51. — Back in the USSR covered by A.L.X.
released on the week of January 5, 2010

As much as I love this site and appreciate all its efforts, I’m not universally slavish in my praise. This song, to me, is a rare miss. It’s too… Calculated? Self-aware? This is where I admit I’m not a musician. I don’t know the thought process that goes into putting a cover together, but as a listener I can sense that a lot of planning went into this one. That’s like reading a novel and knowing the author had the whole plot written out in bullet points in a notebook just from how the prose flows. It takes you out of the moment to sense the framework behind the art. The essay, as usual, is very interesting. On the whole it’s not a terrible contribution to the site, by any stretch, but something just doesn’t sit right with me on this one.


52. — If I Needed Someone covered by Christian Jahl
released on the week of January 12, 2010

A couple of times in my last review I bemoaned a cover being done in a language that was not English. For this one, though, I have to eat some humble pie: It works. In truth, the original is more about the melody than the lyrics for me, so having a cover where I don’t understand the words except as a compliment to the tune works beautifully. As for the essay, I often find when Roger and Dave delve into George Harrison’s position in the Beatles it makes for interesting reading. As usual, they did not disappoint.

53. — You Can’t Do That covered by Ezra and The Harpoons
released on the week of January 19, 2010

Another one of the praises I don’t throw out there too often is claiming a cover is better than the original. The Beatles are quite a mountain to climb, and it takes a lot of work to surpass them at their own game. It’s easier when we’re not talking about their big hits, and Ezra and The Harpoons had that going for them: You Can’t Do That is one of those boilerplates of Beatlemania, written to be sung over screaming legions of hysterical women. Watching the Beatles play this in black and white is a treat, but that’s not to say the song is high art. The cover takes this starting material and turns it into something very true to its origin, but better in its delivery: More professional, less empassioned. You can listen to this without a roaring crowd and still feel the energy. Good on them. The essay left me a little flat, but the cover is a solid piece of work.

54. — Old Brown Shoe covered by Irv Irving
released on the week of January 26, 2010

This is another great, great cover. It takes the original and goes bluesier. It tickles the ivory, and purrs the lyrics. Irv Irving does top notch work here. The essay was also a revelation: I knew about George Harrison’s muse in passing, of course, but getting it all laid out like that was a pleasure to read, especially with this playing in the background. Well done, Roger, Dave, and Irv. I wouldn’t want to give it an actual number, but this has to be somewhere in my top ten to date, and when you consider the original song isn’t anything like a standout among the Beatles collection, the credit for that has to go to the quality of this entry on the Beatles on Ukulele blog.

55. — Fixing A Hole covered by The Repairmen
released on the week of February 2, 2010

From time to time the blog indulges in ambient sounds to enhance a cover, and I think this may be the furthest extreme they’ve ever taken that to. The whole thing is clearly set in a Western Saloon more than a hundred years ago. The only instrument that I hear –despite the ukulele’s mandatory presence– is a player piano. A bar brawl breaks out at one point. The lyrics are delivered in a shout from time to time. A gunshot sounds out at one point. You can hear carrousing, and a horse whinney… It’s not that it isn’t very well done, but from the perspective of a cover it’s less a song and more a presentation. Interesting, but I’m glad this is isn’t done all that often. The essay, as usual, is a good contribution, even if it does take a couple of casual stabs at how you’d have to be high to write drivel like this.

56. — Fool on a Hill covered by We Are Soldiers, We Have Guns
released on the week of February 9, 2010

When I first heard this, I shut it off immediately. I still haven’t quite brought myself to download a personal copy to my hard drive. Still, this is an earworm of a song. Once you’ve heard it, you almost can’t get rid of it. Let me set this up for you: What if Abba took a shot at Fool on the Hill, and didn’t really want to drift too far from their prerehearsed set list to do so?

It’s actually not bad. It’s not bad at all. Still, I’m not a tremendous Abba fan, and I do love this song in its original (non-Scandinavian pop) format. The essay was also more than a little harsh with Paul, whereas I often sympathize with his situation: All he wanted to be was the best, and he’s always done his utmost to attain that. John Lennon is rightly remembered as a genius, but so often people cut him a great deal of slack when it comes to his excesses because he never got a chance to mature. Well, Paul might have been a megalomaniac at times, and, yes, there is something ironic about writing a song about a fool on a hill and then filming a video of you singing about it while standing on a hill… But it’s still a beautiful song, and the man is still a genius in his own right.

Anyway, I can’t say I dislike this cover. I don’t. I just can’t bring myself to endorse an Abba mashup of something that was done so well in the original.

57. — Yesterday covered by Colton Ford
released on the week of February 16, 2010

Yesterday was the early proof that Paul McCartney was going to be just fine without the rest of the Beatles. The smartest thing the Beatles management ever did was shut up whatever damned fool suggested Paul should put this song out under his own name as a solo release when the Beatles were at the height of their mania. This song is genius, as the essay does a lovely job of illustrating. It’s also one of the most covered (if not the most covered?) songs in history. Colton Ford sells it. You can hear in his voice that he’s got a vision for how to deliver this thing. The cover falls apart on the background instrumentation, though. There’s too much going on, there. In trying to be unique, it becomes distracting. Just my two cents, but I would chalk this one up with some of the other covers of ‘the big hits’ that tried to distance themselves from their amazing original by being quirky, and just come across as trying too hard without actually bringing anything excellent to the new rendition.

58. — The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill covered by Gannon
released on the week of February 23, 2010

First off, this is a great essay. It’s fair, balanced, informative. I thought I knew quite a bit about this song’s back story, but Roger and Dave dug deep and came up with a lot of stuff that was both new and fascinating to me. The cover itself is a lot of fun, and that’s what it should be. The original is some strange intersection between whimsical and mean-spirited –in a way that only John Lennon could actually pull off– and it’s a much better idea to put out a bouncy, sincere tribute than try to really replicate the judgemental hippy vibe Lennon bullseyed with such casual verve.

59. — Golden Slumbers covered by Mike Harvey
released on the week of March 2, 2010

This is a beautiful song. The original is beautiful. The cover by Ben Folds (one of my favourite musicians) is beautiful. This version is also beautiful. It’s respectful, soft, true to the original while still being its own effort. The vocal backing is clever without being intrusive. Mike Harvey hits all the notes he needs to, and the instrumentation is so sparse as to be almost absent outside of the chorus. It’s lovely. Just lovely. Something about the essay left me a little underwhelmed, but otherwise this is a solid, solid entry.

60. — Love You To covered by The Specimen
released on the week of March 9, 2010

For the purposes of full disclosure, I don’t particularly like the original. Something about it sets my teeth on edge. I like a lot of George Harrison’s stuff, but sometimes he just goes too far for me. I don’t know how to articulate that into a cut and dry explanation, I’m afraid. This cover is pretty good, although there’s still something about it that just keeps me from gushing. I think The Specimen did a wonderful job with what they had to work with, and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not I should be more effusive. The essay, as I’ve so often said, is a strong contributor to my over all enjoyment.

61. — I’m Only Sleeping covered by Kati Mac
released on the week of March 16, 2010

This cover is genius. The opening soundbyte of ticking clocks is absolutely appropriate without being over done, and then Kati Mac launches into a love song to her snooze button that is spot on. In my last review I gushed over Christina b612’s cover of I’m So Tired, and this is on the same level as that. My only quibble is that I don’t like the original as much as I’m So Tired’s original, but that’s not to take anything away from Kati Mac’s inspired performance. The essay has a lot of fun with John Lennon’s work ethic too, which I got a kick out of. If this one isn’t in my top 10, it’s number 11. An excellent, excellent cover.

62. — Eleanor Rigby covered by Rhe De Ville
released on the week of March 23, 2010

I admit I am not always consistent in my praises and criticisms. That’s on me. I’m not a reviewer by trade or by training. I just “knows what I likes when I hears it,” if you’ll allow me to slur that so you can see how little you should hang your hat on my fickle opinions. Anyway, this is a long run up to walking back one of my previous stated positions: Quite often an artist approaches a cover of one of the big Beatles hits and says, “I can’t compete with this. I’ll just go in a totally different direction with it, and the distance will make me my own unique snowflake,” and then I point out that the distance just made them look like they were afraid to tackle the big project.

That’s not the case here. Rhe De Ville’s Eleanor Rigby couldn’t be further from the original and still be on the same planet, but she puts out a stellar cover. Her voice is perfect for a combination of harsh, staccato lyrical deliveries and spoken word proclamations. The background instrumentation effects is spooky, surprising, with just enough of the original’s tune that you don’t get lost. It’s an amazing transformation of one of the giants of the Beatles repetoire into something that doesn’t really fit into any genre I can put my finger on. It’s almost as if the singer is watching the lives of Eleanor Rigby and Father Mackenzie from the afterlife, and stands ready to sit in judgement upon them very soon. It’s… Otherwordly, extradimensional. Maybe that’s going too far, but I hope I’m not going out on a limb to call it unexpected and impressive.

Sometimes distance works. Here it does.

The essay does a nice job of deconstructing some of the accepted falsehoods about Eleanor Rigby, but it honestly can’t match up to what a pleasant surprise the cover was. Give it a listen.

63. — Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except for Me and My Monkey) covered by Clifford Lane
released on the week of March 30, 2010

Sometimes Roger and Dave put out an essay that completely changes how I listen to a song. This is one of those. I had no idea that this song was essentially John Lennon telling the world to f— off because he’s happy with Yoko, and that’s all that’s ever going to matter to him. I honestly thought it was about a drug trip, and knowing that it’s about John and Yoko back when the whole world was still trying to come to grips with their relationship just makes the song so much richer and deeper for me. My hat is off to the site’s authors. Thank you!

The cover is a solid contribution to the collection, but not a stand out for me. It definitely comes at the song from a fun perspective, and it has an energy and an intensity that I find endearing. The monkeys shrieking in the background are not nearly as irritating as reading this sentence might lend you to suspect they are, but their presence does explain why I can’t call this one a home run. For whatever reason, a lot of covers just involve background animal or vehicle noises that –for me, anyway– steal focus from what’s really going on. I’m prepared to admit I must be missing something. Still, as I said, solid entry, amazing essay.

64. — A Day in the Life covered by Eric Nicholas
released on the week of April 6, 2010

Just as I was prepared to don the sackcloth and ashes and admit I was wrong about Eleanor Rigby, I’m prepared to confess I expected terrible things for A Day in the Life’s cover, and was pleasantly surprised. That said, it’s not the total shocker of Eleanor Rigby, because I think A Day in the Life was to a very real extent The Beatles trying to go over the top themselves. John and Paul both contributed clashing content and fused it together with an orchestra going mad. Someone trying to cover that only has two options: Straight duplication, or get as far away from it as possible. Eric Nicholas does the later, and he brings in a great performance for his trouble.

In the beginning you can almost picture him plucking a ukulele for funsies on a beach somewhere, wearing a hawaiian shirt because it’s that kind of day. When his background singers jump in with their ‘Oh really? Jolly good!’ you picture a quartet in three piece suits, bowler hats, and false moustaches. He then immediately launches into something electronic to ratchet up the tempo, and on the far side he sounds exhausted and echoey. Then he’s right back to a folk duo la la laing before returning to that beach with his quartet of English gentlemen.

In short his cover, to me, is like something Salvador Dali might paint. When you think how weird and mismashed the original is, I have to admit this was a daunting song to cover, and Nicholas executed it with style, then stuck the landing. Perfect ten. The judges are on their feet. Well done!

Just a brief note on the essay: It has very, very little to do with the actual song. Truth be told, the entry reminded me powerfully of some of my own long, rambling annecdotal blog posts. I understand now why they get so little traffic (although I’ll be damned if I stop doing them. It is my blog, after all. Rambling annecdotes are the blogger’s bread and butter!).

65. — Do You Want to Know a Secret covered by Unisex Salon
released on the week of April 13, 2010

This cover sort of comes out of left field, but I like it all the same. It uses a lot of electronic tricks, interspersed with almost playful use of the ukulele, to come at the frantic Beatles delivery from a much gentler angle. I usually mention the essay, but there wasn’t one for this entry, I’m afraid. Still, a fun, original take on a Beatles classic. Well done, all the way around.

66. — Lovely Rita covered by David Pulkingham
released on the week of April 20, 2010

Lovely Rita, Meter Maid. I love this song for some reason out of all proportion to its actual quality. There’s something whimsical about it, and David Pulkingham very much keeps the sense of fun up front in his cover. He simplifies the song, using very little instrumentation, and really leans into the lyrics. There’s something almost children’s entertainer-ish about his delivery, but I mean that in a good way. He sings this song as if it was about a cat that will come back the very next day, rather than about a young man who’s trying to pick up a parking attendant. The accompanying essay is a little harsh about the original, I’m afraid, but Roger and Dave’s arguments about Paul McCartney’s lyrics are sound, even if I don’t agree with them.

67. — The Magical Mystery Tour covered by The Historians
released on the week of April 27, 2010

This is another one of those covers in a foreign language that I actually like. Magical Mystery Tour is less a song than an introduction to a movie (which, of course,was the point), so there’s something fun about taking the nonsense of the song and singing it with a lot of unexpected gluttal stops. Not understanding the lyrics takes nothing away from enjoying this song, and the cover’s instrumentation is full of force and purpose. I especially liked the electric guitar work. The essay –as I frequently say– is an excellent addition to the overall experience.

68. — Piggies covered by Jonah Smith
released on the week of May 4, 2010

I love Jonah Smith’s voice. I think I could listen to that man sing the phone book. That’s fortunate, because I’m not a big fan of the original song. I’ve never had much patience for people calling police officers pigs, even if this song was written in the two-week spread where this was trendy. I also tip my hat to Roger and Dave’s essay, which was an interesting read, and went in a direction I really didn’t see coming.

69. — Here Comes the Sun covered by Holly Palmer
released on the week of May 11, 2010

Roger and Dave have a gift for matching chanteuses up with their perfect cover. Holly Palmer’s voice is distilled sunshine, or at least the purring promise of warm light about to breach the horizon. It’s only been a few weeks, so maybe it won’t last, but I’ve found myself leaving this song on repeat for long stretches. You can’t be stressed with this song playing in the background. It’s soothing, gentle, hopeful, calming. The interjections of horns in a couple of place give it a much needed energy without being too forceful. The strings are delicate and true to the original melody, while still offering their own unique tone. This is just a lovely, lovely cover.

The essay is also a breath of fresh air. This is the ‘everything’s going to be okay’ story, when everyone knows the end is coming, but the end is just another beginning, right? Why were well all so stressed out?

Solid, solid entry. It’s still too fresh for me to give it a ranking, but it’s right up there, I’m sure.

70. — She Said She Said covered by Jeremiah Birnbaum
released on the week of May 18, 2010

I am not a musical person. Oh, I like to listen to it, and I enjoy karaoke, but I don’t have any formal training in the craft, nor the gift for innovation. When I imagine a possible cover for a song, I don’t drift too far from the original, and that means sometimes I’m jarred by the choices of people who do have the gift, the vision, the ability to move outside of the template musically.

One thing I love about this cover is that it feels comfortable and familiar. This is what I would have done if I were asked to cover this song. Maybe that’s not a good thing? Does that mean Jeremiah Birnbaum didn’t take enough chances? Or is it one of those happy coincidences where I just guessed right? Even a broken clock is right twice a day, unless it’s digital, right? Whether it’s criticism or not, I like this cover.

I will say one thing about this entry that I didn’t care for: The essay makes no sense to me. I mean no sense. I actually couldn’t finish it. Maybe I just don’t get this entry. Ah, well.

71. — Nowhere Man covered by Emily Bindiger
released on the week of May 25, 2010

Again, Roger and Dave really know how to match a female singer up to a song to cover. Emily Bindiger does a thorough, lovely cover of this Beatles hit. I will say it’s a bit too slow for my taste, but that clearly plays to her strengths. I also think she didn’t need the back up singers, but only because it comes across as too much of a good thing: I want to hear Emily sing this song, and the harmonizing draws my attention away from her excellent performance towards the end.

The essay, once more, is a great addition to a solid effort.

ADDITION:

I have also posted reviews for the 1st through to the 48th cover, the 72nd through 115th cover, and the 116th through 161st cover.

7 Responses to Music Review: Update, The Beatles on Ukulele, May 2010

  1. […] I have posted new reviews for the 49th through to the 71st cover. You can find it here. […]

  2. […] Complete on Ukulele, which I have mentioned at ever-increasing length on this blog here, here, and here, and he responded with a great deal of enthusiasm. We talked about The Beatles for easily half an […]

  3. […] have twice reviewed the entries to date, here and here. It’s been too long since I’ve resumed that project, and I’m sorry for that. […]

  4. […] 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 […]

  5. Hi there! This article could not be written any better!
    Going through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will send this post to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a very good read. Thank
    you for sharing!

  6. […] on Face in the blue, Music Blog, released on the week of January 12, 2010 […]

  7. Online

    One of the first things I did when I started this blog was promote one of my favourite sites on the internet, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. This site, starting from Obama

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