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

121. —Yer Blues covered by L.U.V.
released on the week of May 10, 2011

This cover is made ten times better by the essay: No one is arguing that the Blues influenced Rock and Roll, but to what extent can anyone actually say The Beatles did a true Blues song? They absolutely did Country, and they took a good shot at Mo-Town. If they ever really tried the Blues, this would be it, but it doesn’t quite sit right on the ear, does it? So we have this cover, but instead of going straight into the Blues rendition the Fab Four couldn’t give us we get a progressive, snarly, up-tempo Blues-esque… Something…  I really don’t know what to call it, except that as a not-quite-right cover of a not-quite-right Blues song. There are clearly some wheels within wheels that are fun to watch spin once you are aware of them. Give it a listen and see what you think.

122. —Can’t Buy Me Love covered by Curtis King
released on the week of May 17, 2011

I’ve done my best not to name-drop other bands when doing these reviews –especially little-known indie bands from Canada that broke up more than a decade ago– but this cover to me is so close to something Moxy Fruvous might have done that I actually took a break and watched a bunch of their old YouTube clips. Curtis King is just so clearly having fun with all the vocal arrangements in here. (He’s the only one singing, for the record.) There’s energy and feel good-vibes flashing from one side of this track to the other, even when the lyrics drift into melancholy. It’s dazzling, and the essay’s a good bit of fun too –that includes a shout out to The Beatles Bible, a blog out to do to Beatles lore what TV Tropes does to pop culture story-telling. I enjoy this one. I hope you do too.

123. —Long Long Long covered by Neon Cough
released on the week of May 24, 2011

Several times in the course of my reviews I’ve mentioned there are wonderful opportunities in The Beatles discography for an artist to pick up a lesser work and make it their own. Neon Cough –how cool a name is that?– have really stepped up to the plate with Long Long Long. This is another one of those George Harrison songs no one really liked even when it was being recorded, but it was easier to let him have a couple of tracks each album than break up the band. Neon Cough took this horse apple and polished it into something slow and deep and moving. Their gem of a cover sounds like something from an Indie soundtrack: The Royal Tannenbaums, Juno, Garden State, all would be proud to have this song playing in the background as the hoodie-wearing protagonist walks through a park by a stream on a grey day and considers all the unlikely twists and turns of a life that brought him to a love that makes sense in a frightening and calming way. Honestly, give it a listen and tell me Michael Cera couldn’t stare into the middle distance and blink with that playing in the background. I’ll wait.

124. —Think For Yourself covered by Morgan Visconti
released on the week of May 31, 2011

This cover has multiple personality disorder: There are long stretches of it where Morgan Visconti plays it straight, an almost literal note for note rendition; then you get a taste of what Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound everything-but-the-kitchen-sink would have done with this perfectly serviceable George Harrison diatribe; next there’s an almost 50s Italian lounge lizard crooner vibe; before you know it, there’s a rapid bass line and a saxophone appears from nowhere, like a mugger stepping out of a dark alley off Baker Street. At the end of listening to this, I really don’t know what the artist wanted to say, and then I caught myself laughing. I’m supposed to think for myself. Morgan Visconti isn’t here for me. If that was intentional, it’s an amazing piece of mind gamery.

125. —What Goes On covered by Frankie Moran
released on the week of June 7, 2011

Before this project I never really appreciated how often The Beatles tried their hand at Country music, and I certainly never suspected how that was really Ringo’s influence on the Liverpool Lads. I think most people view Ringo as the poor relation in the band: John, Paul, and George were all great writers, singers, and instrumentalists, and –speaking charitably– Ringo was not. To his credit, Ringo is a perfectly serviceable percussionist –you could call his rhythm metronomic if you want to find a positive adjective for it– but too often he’s banging away on a tambourine or a cymbal back in the days where studios put all the sound onto just a couple of tracks, so he drowned out stuff audiophiles want to hear, damn it! Meanwhile, the nicest thing I can recall hearing about his non-drumming artistic abilities from the Beatles documentaries I’ve seen is that he was a truly gifted, world-class mime (not a joke). The fact of the matter is, though, that Ringo was older than the rest of the band, and he was a professional musician when they were still just kids. They looked up to him, and when he said ‘Country is Cool,’ they believed him. Fortunately, John and Paul had a knack for dialing Ringo’s twang down from an eleven to a seven. Frankie Moran shows us what could have been: If Ringo had been a solo act in Nashville, this would have been his rendition. As I’ve said before, I’m not a tremendous fan of country music, but in moderation I find it interesting.

126. —She Loves You covered by Lauren Molina
released on the week of June 14, 2011

I’m a sucker for a chanteuse with a cello. This is audible candy. It’s sweet and slow and warm and sad, all at the same time. If this entry was just the song alone, I would be more than happy. The fact of the matter, though, is this week’s cover is also paired up with one of the best essays I’ve read from this site in a long, long while. She Loves You is the #1 selling #1 hit The Beatles every recorded, but it was absolutely dead on arrival when it first came out in the US despite being a smash hit in Britain –but only with post-war youth. This was a zeitgeist-changing, generation-defining single, and when it did finally catch on in the US, it changed what pop music sounded like. Wow. Just wow. Read first, then listen to the original, then listen to this thoroughly wonderful and respectful (and very different) rendition!

127. —You’re Gonna Lose That Girl covered by Russ Velazquez
released on the week of June 21, 2011

I’m not universal or slavish in my praise of this site. Some weeks just leaving me feeling flat, and I’m afraid this entry is one of those. The essay doesn’t really add anything to my appreciation of the original or the cover. As for the cover, it’s perfectly fine, but it’s just not my cup of tea. It feels… Over the top, but in an undramatic way. Does that make any sense? I suppose I’m ambivalent. I can’t put my finger on why I feel underwhelmed, but that is my impression. Give it a listen and see what you think of it.

128. —The Night Before covered by AJR
released on the week of June 28, 2011

This is an interesting cover for me, with an even more interesting essay attached to it. That is not a woman singing: The band is three brothers, ages ranging from 20 to 13, with the vocal range to match. Why on earth would the project choose such an unusual group to cover such a tried and true Beatles anthem? Why, because The Beatles were the original boy band. They invented that stuff, and perfected it, and The Night Before is the absolute most-bubblegum pop single ever. Why not get three not-quite-men to sing of unrequited hand-holding and overheated hormones? It’s actually a really pleasant song to listen to, and that’s the point: There is nothing objectionable to it by design. Isn’t that a crazy thought? The essay flags contemporary singer Elvis Presley as the counter-argument. You could sell sex to teenagers. Of course you could! At the same time, parents pay for a lot of the music for their kids, so with The Beatles in the early 60s studio execs carefully craft the message so as not to spook the wallets. It’s a brilliant observation, and one I’ll apply to the Beatlesmania era stuff a little more critically moving forward.

129. —Drive My Car covered by Carmen Palaez and Joel Someillan
released on the week of July 5, 2011

Okay… I’m going to start off with the good things: This is a fun, Latin-infused take on a fun, American-infused Beatles hit. I like the energy. I like Joel’s voice. I love the bits that are actually done in Spanish. I could see doing this in karaoke after a few pints. “Beep, beep. Beep, beep. M’yeah!” remains one of the best nonsensical feel good choruses in music history, and these two did it justice. This ends my praise… Sometimes this website applies a role-playing theme to a song’s interpretation, and here we find a very poor actress flirting with a man by playing the big shot. That’s actually a fairly literal interpretation of the lyrics, but Carmen Palaez’s bravura performance of an actress with no chops and a big mouth is more than grating. I actually clench my teeth when she speaks, and her singing voice is also ‘over-acted.’ My hope is that this is a bit gone too far. Usually the project is impeccable in its recruitment of female singers. I honestly will not listen to this cover again, having finished the review. The essay is a solid contribution, though.

130. —Anytime At All covered by Delexilio
released on the week of July 12, 2011

In the same way I liked the Latin vibe of Drive My Car, I love it here. Beyond that, I don’t have much to say for the rendition, other than in my mind they’re all wearing sombreros, singing in the parking lot outside of a Mexican-themed restaurant in New Jersey. It’s a fun mental image. The essay, meanwhile, is a fascinating look at the Jimmy Nicol episode: Ringo came down with tonsillitis at the height of Beatlemania, and so a replacement drummer was foisted on the Fab Three. He was an okay guy, humble about what he was doing, and his promise that things were ‘Getting Better All the Time’ inspired wonderful things down the road. Good on you, Jimmy, and thank you to the author of the essay for bringing some more Beatles lore to my attention.

131. —Tell Me What You See covered by Thaumatrope
released on the week of July 19, 2011

Sometime The Beatles Complete on Ukulele just does a straight cover, and sometimes that lack of imagination doesn’t strike me as a missed opportunity. This is one of those. Thaumatrope does a simple rendition, very true to the original, adding no bells and few whistles. It’s absolutely listenable. It’s sweet and soft and just a little bit sour. The essay is equally spot on without much flash. A good addition to the collection, for sure.

132. —Sun King covered by Sonya Hensley
released on the week of July 26, 2011

I love this one. I absolutely do. Sun King has always given me the shivers, and Sonya Hensley’s version of it is both true to the original while adding something much needed to the Abbey Road version: Completeness. The Beatles’ Sun King is one of several half-finished songs mashed together on Abbey Road in an attempt to call their hellish studio experience an intended concept album. I like Sonya’s take: The song can stand on its own, a hymn in an unknown religion worshiping that rarest of British deities, the Sun. I also appreciate the essay’s translation of the gibberish Spanish, and a couple of insights into the role LSD played in this song’s chemistry. It’s a lovely addition to the project, no doubt about it. I can listen to it on repeat for twenty minutes at a stretch.

133. —She’s A Woman covered by Jamie Clayton
released on the week of August 2, 2011

This is another fantastic cover. This project has almost always had a beautiful gift for finding the right female vocalist for a given piece, and they haven’t let me down on this one. There’s a palpable aura of mystery in the delivery of the lyrics, and the instruments don’t get in the way of that. The essay was short and simple and shed no new light on anything for me. Still, a solid week’s work. Give it a listen, but not necessarily a read.

134. —Glass Onion covered by Sandel
released on the week of August 9, 2011

Oh, Glass Onion: John’s perpetual joke on his listeners. I love you and hate you, but there’s nothing wrong with this cover at all. It swoops and swells and climbs and crawls up and down the nonsensical lyrics, lingering on the favourite red herring, “The Walrus was Paul.” The cover ends with the interview where John says his songs are about whatever people think they’re about. What a maddening musical messiah he was. Good fun, all the way around.

135. —I Don’t Want To Spoil the Party covered by The Nu-Utopians
released on the week of August 16, 2011

I rarely pay this compliment, but The Nu-Utopians version of this song is head and shoulders better than The Beatles original sad-bastard ballad. This folkish rendition takes all the anger out of John’s take on the subject matter. The essay was quite interesting too: I should have guessed the country flavour of the original came from Ringo’s influence, and of course self-centered and frequently-depressed-with-his-own-success John stole it off Ringo and worked his morose magic on it. All the way around, this was a worthy addition to the project.

136. —Sgt. Peppers Reprise covered by Erik Liberman
released on the week of August 23, 2011

This is one of those covers where the set-up context works brilliantly. The original Reprise wrapped up the album that shifted The Beatles permanently into a different beast that would would never tour again, preferring instead to lock themselves in a room and stare daggers at each other. This was their last send-off at the end of a metaphorical gig –excluding the roof-top show some years later when the police showed up. Erik Liberman took that and made it literal: He’s a man on a stool with a microphone in front of him, singing to a full bar that is in the process of putting on their coats, settling their tabs, and walking out chatting before he’s done his set. The background noise gets progressively louder towards the end, and you can feel him losing the crowd. He also sings it better than John and Paul. The essay’s a nice bit of fun too.

137. —Dr. Robert covered by Joshua Gabriel
released on the week of August 30, 2011

This is another simple cover of a straight-forward song, if you can call a Beatles psychedelic anthem to a drug dealing doctor straight-forward. I like that it’s slower and dream-like. I love that the essay lists half a dozen suspected inspirations for Dr. Robert, all of them famous for getting drugs to celebrities during the 60s. It was quite a time to be a medical man in charge of psychotropic controlled substances. A good read, and a decent cover.

138. —I Call Your Name covered by Les Chaud Lapins
released on the week of September 6, 2011

A couple of times in the past I have bemoaned covers in a foreign language, but I wouldn’t dare speak an ill-word against this French vaudeville rendition of a Beatles tried and true. It’s charming, absolutely charming. The essay chronicles The Beatles ongoing relationship with the French, which was almost all news to me. This cover doesn’t set the world on fire, but it’s pleasant and interesting. That’s all I’m really looking for.

139. —Yes It Is covered by Happyhead
released on the week of September 13, 2011

If John Lennon was just one angry man with an electric guitar, snarling into a mike, this would be what Yes It Is would be. It’s almost proto-grunge. It’s so heavy with emotion, and it’s so much richer and darker the way Happyhead delivers it. The world wasn’t ready for something like this in 1965, but the lyrics are absolutely something the Pixies could have done on Surfer Rosa. I’m a little surprised Kurt Cobain didn’t do a cover of this: There was a man who loved obscure covers from otherwise successful artists. The essay’s a bit all over the place, but I love this track. Give it a listen!

140. —Baby You’re A Rich Man covered by Emily Zuzik
released on the week of September 20, 2011

I had to do a quick Google search to confirm this is the first Emily Zuzik cover The Beatles Complete on Ukulele has had the pleasure of hosting. She has a fantastic voice, and her delivery of an updated synth-pop cover of The Beatles original just feels so familiar and welcome and comfortable. Five stars from me. The essay goes into some uncomfortable territory about John’s bigotry towards Brian Epstein, which I do not begrudge in the slightest. I take nothing away from John’s gifts, but the man was an ass. It’s good that we sometimes get reminders of that.

141. —Savoy Truffle covered by Jenna Robinson
released on the week of September 27, 2011

Another great George Harrison song about Patti Boyd, written for Eric Clapton. I love reading about how messed up those people were, and how prophetic this song really was. It’s literally sickly sweet with a sour after taste, and Jenna Robinson does a terrific job of delivering the sexy jazz singer vibe. The instrumentals are a little sparse for my tastes, but that’s very much in keeping with the original. This one is well worth your time.

142. —I’m A Loser covered by Tommy Anonymous
released on the week of October 4, 2011

I’m A Loser really is a mediocre John Lennon song, but it’s ripe for that big-voiced 80s easy-listening singer-songwriter who isn’t afraid to get a gospel choir to ooh and ah in the background while he emotes. Tommy Anonymous does a solid job of Bill Withers-ing this song. There is no essay, unfortunately.

143. —Good Day Sunshine covered by Tyrrell
released on the week of October 11, 2011

Let’s be honest, Good Day Sunshine is going to make anyone feel better. Tyrrell does a fine job of keeping the happiness and warmth and pleasantness in a song that needs no tinkering with. It’s perky and fresh and just a little bit sharp and sparkly. The essay, predictably, focuses on the influence British weather has on British songwriting. Give it a listen and a read, and you will smile.

144. —I’m Down covered by Southside Johnny and The Poor Fools
released on the week of October 18, 2011

Paul wrote I’m Down because he loved Little Richard, but he should have written it because he loved B. B. King. If he had, we wouldn’t need Southside Johnny, but because he didn’t Southside Johnny and the Poor Fools gets to knock this R&B Wannabee so far out of the park they get to spend three and a half minutes depressed that they’ve lost their only ball, so now the game is over. This is stunningly good cover is starkly, darkly, deeply bad –in a good way. Switching genres is often the best method to made a cover shine, and this one comes up polished jet. The essay’s solid too. This might just be in the running for my top ten, but that is starting to be a crowded field and we still have several months to go…

145. —All Together Now covered by Bill’n’Dave’n’Carl
released on the week of October 25, 2011

God, this is good. It is so good! As the essay beautifully points out, this is a terrible nonsense song with a hook so barbed you can’t help but love it. How do you cover that? How about a bunch of gravelly old blue-collar men singing in an English pub until the crowd joins in, along with some heckling and colour commentary, ending in a bar brawl and some caterwauling? You can’t help but smile. Listen to it with a half-full pint, so when you swing your glass back and forth you don’t slosh all over yourself.

146. —I Want To Tell You covered by Lloyd Landesman
released on the week of November 1, 2011

Another George Harrison beauty that John and Paul hated. I like Lloyd Landesman’s take on it: What George should have done was tell his partners that he was really singing about them. It’s passive-aggressive, sliding slowly and melodically towards out and out aggression. Good on you, Lloyd. Let’em hear you!

147. —I’ll Follow The Sun covered by Amanda of Roma!
released on the week of November 8, 2011

Madonna felt like she was moving faster than the speed of light. Amanda of Roma! has taken her cue from that, or at least she’s trying to catch up with the sun in a thorough homage to whatever genre of electro-pop Madonna was experimenting with on that album. Amanda breaks some new ground by speaking it as a monologue rather than singing it. On the whole, this is a good departure from one of the big Beatles mega-hits. Distance from the original lets the cover shine on its own merits. The essay was fascinating to me: I had no idea Paul wrote this song at 16 and kept it under wraps for a while because he thought the other fellows would think it was too immature.

148. —Blue Jay Way covered by Still Above Ground
released on the week of November 14, 2011

In the same way this project has confirmed for me that John was a prickly ass and Paul was an insufferable perfectionist, I have absolutely solidified my original impression that George was a weird dude. I don’t know if he went ‘out there’ to make his own mark, or if experimental music was just part of the late 60s culture and he found himself with the power to be at the eye of the storm with the whole maelstrom swirling around him, but some of his stuff just isn’t meant to be listened to so much as experienced. Still Above Ground gets that. George has passed on to another plane of existence now, but I think he’d dig what Still Above Ground has done with his expression of mellow angst and impatience.

149. —Her Majesty covered by Jon Albrink
released on the week of November 22, 2011

Her Majesty is literally an unfinished song. Paul was going to put it in amongst all the other stubs on Abbey Road –couldn’t make it fit– and shoved it in at the end after The End, which is just silly. The song is half-formed, and the conclusion is what is missing! What’s particularly infuriating is that the song does have all the elements of a great Paul McCartney ditty. How would it sound complete? It was maddening, and now Jon Albrink has stepped up and finished it. He’s no Paul, but Paul took his eye off the shiny brass ring while Jon grabbed it with both hands, and I am indebted to him for that. The essay –which goes on at some length about Paul’s foolishness– includes complete lyrics to Jon’s rendition. Give it a listen, give it a read, and wonder with me how far off the mark Jon might be.

150. —I Need You covered by Ukulele Ray
released on the week of November 29, 2011

Yet another George Harrison song for Patti Boyd, but this one is more of a straight shooter than Old Brown Shoe or Savoy Truffle. Ukulele Ray plays it straight, and I like that about him. He even sounds a bit like George. The essay, as is so often the case, adds a lot of depth to my understanding both of the original, and the cover.

151. —It’s All Too Much covered by Laura Dayan
released on the week of December 6, 2011

This one gets better with repeated listenings. It’s a tough starting point: Another George Harrison opus, this one clocking in at a Hey Jude-esque seven minutes. Laura Dayan mercifully said ‘It’s All Too Much’ and boiled it to a lean two and a half minutes without really losing any of Harrison’s out-there vibes. It helps that Laura is Argentinian: Her enunciation doesn’t quite hit the lyrics head on, adding a soft and dream-like mood to George’s Yellow Submarine odyssey. The essay says her intention was to do what George would have done if he came up with this during his meditation phase rather than his heroin phase. I definitely hear the difference.

152. —Happiness Is A Warm Gun covered by Dave Foster
released on the week of December 13, 2011

I really like what Dave Foster did with this John Lennon’s ode to Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll. The temptation must have been powerful to bring in the electronic toys and try to go over the top with it, but Dave Foster keeps it simple, using just a couple of stringed instruments for momentum and doing the weird scales of the original strictly with vocals. The essay, as I so often say, is a solid contribution as well, breaking down John’s motivations, and also pointing out how much of this song Paul liked enough to steal in his later solo career.

153. —One After 909 covered by Cav
released on the week of December 20, 2011

This one got me nodding my head involuntarily, which was absolutely not what I expected. One After 909 is one of those silly Beatles forays into writing a song based on someone else’s success, in this case a traditional railway jingle “Rock Island Line.” It’s uninspired, too simple by half, repetitive, and quickly forgiven because it was The Beatles who sang it. Cav Manning took that grist to his mill, threw in some dubstep beats and a healthy dose of Jamaican flavour and produced something solid and weighty. If this was playing in a club, I’d wait for it to finish before going to get another beer. That’s high praise indeed. The essay does a nice job of walking through the halting evolutions of this mediocre Beatles tune too. Worth a read and worth a listen.

154. —The Long And Winding Road covered by Jessica Lee Morgan
released on the week of December 27, 2011

The Long And Winding Road is one of those songs that is just painful to hear covered. It’s too perfect. It’s even painful to hear the Phil Spector version once you’ve heard Paul’s infinitely better Wall-of-Soundless re-release from ‘Let It Be… Naked.’ I think Jessica Lee Morgan did the best she could with the hand dealt her. She sings it simply, almost distantly, with as little instrumentation as possible. If there’s a failing, it’s that I can’t really hear the melody anymore, but I would prefer that to an over-orchestrated muddle. I appreciate her restraint. The essay is a fantastic piece of context for the original.

155. —I Feel Fine covered by Casey MacGill
released on the week of January 3, 2012

Casey MacGill finally did what I thought I would hear a hundred times on this project: He did a ukulele cover that sounds like someone would play it under a cabana on a beach in Hawaii. It’s warm and sunny and light and bouncy. The delivery is fun, and the essay fills in all the stuff you were probably expecting about the famous electric guitar feedback intro episode that was happily left out of this cover.

156. —Little Child covered by Faiyaz Jafri
released on the week of January 10, 2012

I don’t care for this one at all. It’s almost robotic, a spoken monologue running over a ukulele that sound like a music box I had as a child. The essay is a solid analysis of the song, but the cover itself left me cold. To my understanding Faiyaz Jafri is a film maker, and I saw a link to a YouTube clip on the essay. Perhaps there’s a music video attached to the piece that lends greater depth, but I know even less about reviewing music videos than I do listening to music straight and plain. I’ll leave that to you, dear readers, if you have the interest.

157. —With A Little Help From My Friends covered by Gary Marcus
released on the week of January 17, 2012

This cover walks the fine line between genius and stupidity: Let’s get a novice musician to sing it largely flat and out of key, and then get a backing choir to help him find the right notes on the chorus. If that was the whole thing, I’d really be pleased, but his outro includes a quick monologue about how he was kicked out of a recorder class as a boy for his terrible rendition of Mary Had A Little Lamb. Its saving grace is his friends cheering him on as the track fades out. It’s both good and bad in equal measure. The essay –also written by Gary Marcus– is fabulous, and goes into some detail about Ringo’s anxieties about having to share a mike with three great singers. Read the essay, and enjoy the cover for what it is. We all know Joe Cocker did the definitive cover of this already.

158. —Not A Second Time covered by Steve “Boltz” Bolton
released on the week of January 24, 2012

I like this, but I can’t really tell you why. I suppose that makes me a bad critic, but I laughed upon reading the essay to discover John Lennon was also a little baffled at the critics’ reviews of this song. At one point a reviewer referred to Aeolian cadences, which John said, “Sounded like exotic birds.” John was just trying to write something Smokey Robinson might do. Steve “Boltz” Bolton is covering it the way Neil Young might. I like it. See what you think for yourself.

159. —Ask Me Why covered by Francis Hatch
released on the week of January 31, 2012

Does everyone remember Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game? This cover, to me, is Francis Hatch taking the mellower parts of that haunting, dream-like delivery and applying it to an unremarkable bit of Beatles fluff. It’s pleasant, although it does drift into easy listening country. I do really like that the ukulele is up front. This essay’s a bit on the thin side. Give it a listen and a read. See what you think of it.

160. —Good Morning covered by Neothaon3
released on the week of February 7, 2012

Of all the genres The Beatles can be covered in, the hardest has to be Hip Hop. That said, Neothaon3 steps up and spits it perfectly. (I’m a white boy: Is that how one praises Hip Hop?). Good Morning is such a great song to give the Hip Hop treatment to: It’s short and a bit jumbled to begin with, so why not break it up into small snippets, interspersed with verses of rapid fire praise for The Beatles as a group and as individual artists? For those wanting a more literal interpretation of the original, the essay speaks of it at some length.

161. —Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds covered by Dan Scanlan
released on the week of February 14, 2012

There are two terrific parts to this cover: The instrumentals are absolutely fantastically gorgeous, and the lyrics are delivered just the way Johnny Cash would have done them. Unfortunately, the two don’t quite play well together. Don’t get me wrong: I think this is great. Dan Scanlan is a terrific singer, and the arrangement is spot on. I just found myself remembering all the amazing covers Johnny Cash did, and he never would have kept Lucy so up-tempo if he’d bent the mike to this tune. Ah, well. The essay is also entirely absent of content. Two lines about drugs and kids’ paintings. I could write an essay on Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds myself, but this blog post is already pushing 6,500 words. Time to call it a day and listen to some more Beatles covers.

And now we’re up to date! I guess I’ll do a final review this summer at the conclusion of the project. In the meantime, be sure once again to check out The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. Bookmark it. Sign up for the Facebook group. This thing is updated weekly, and you always get value for your visits!


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

  1. Pingback: Music Review: The Beatles on Ukulele, 2009 « Face in the Blue

  2. Pingback: Music Review: Update, The Beatles on Ukulele, May 2010 « Face in the Blue

  3. Pingback: Music Review: Update, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, March 2011 « Face in the Blue

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