Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Los Paranoias

From wikipedia:
Beatlesque (pronounced /ˌbi:təl'ɛsk/) is a term used to describe rock and pop bands and musicians who were influenced by The Beatles and make music that is very similar. New bands are promoted as being "The next Beatles" or "The new Fab Four", and members of the media refer to musical acts as being "Beatlesque".

The Beatles' influence is so pervasive, it can be hard to quantify. They influenced just about all popular music that came after them in one way or another, whether that be in songwriting, publishing, image, approach to albums and singles, live performance, promotion.... But their direct influence is easier to trace. In the early days, their mix of R&B, skiffle, the Everly Brothers and girl group harmonies were copied by many other Liverpudlian and British bands. Even bands like the Rolling Stones, who would come to be invoked commonly as everything the Beatles were not, were influenced by them in their formative years, going so far as to cover a Lennon-McCartney song. Once they had left their earlier rock & roll style behind them and become a more ambitious and expansive rock band, in the late 1960s, then it was more specific aspects of their sound that followers began to ape. But when people use the term "Beatlesque" they are usually referring to an attempt to sound like the Beatles between 1966 and 1968, the psychedlic era, when their records seemed to explode into technicolor and they began to explore the limits of recording technology and the form of the popular song. But even in this era, they
BEatles sound was almost impossibly eclectic and diverse. Once they stopped touring and became a studio-based band, they listened to and digested all of the pop culture of the late 60s, and you can hear it in their records. Its part of what made the music of that era so exciting - the Beatles and their peers were listening to each other, bouncing off one another, replying to one another. So John Lennon ripped off Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross" for "Sun King" off "Abbey Road". Paul McCartney read an interview with Pete Townshend where he talks about a Who song as being the heaviest, loudest thing ever done, and writes "Helter Skelter" there and then. Jack Bruce sees Jimi Hendrix's very first London performance, and inspired by him, writes "Sunshine of Your Love", which Hendrix will later cover. Brian Wilson gves himself a nervous Breakdown trying to outdo "Sgt Pepper."

What this means is that any band trying to sound like The Beatles are attempting the impossible. They can sound like specific Beatles modes - a McCartney piano ballad, say, a string based anthem, maybe - but it is impossible to replicate such a wide range of influences and talents in any one song. Oasis, often referred to as inspired by the Beatles (not least by themselves) really sound nothing like them. The guitar sound on "Definitely Maybe" may be modelled upon the guitars on "Revolver" and the use of strings on songs like "The Masterplan" and "Whatever" may recall the Beatles songs backed by big orchestral arrangements, but the songs themselves are far more rudimentary and the sense of adventure across albums entirely absent.
Nobody really sounds like the Beatles. Except briefly, on a song here, a song there. These songs: a fantasy tracklisting for a "Beatlesque" compilation (excluding some of the really obvious stuff like Tears for Fears' "Sowing the Seeds" and the work of Klaatu, mainly because I don't really like them).

1. ELO - "Mr Blue Sky"
Really, this could be a dozen ELO songs. Jeff Lynne plainly worships the Beatles, and has spent a large part of his career trying to perfect an approximation of their sound. He hasn't done a bad job, either, and the fact that he can write a great hook and is something of a production genius has helped. He eventually became friends with George Harrison, produced "Cloud Nine" (his most Beatlesque solo album), was a member of the Travelling Wilburys, and was finally brought aboard to produce the new songs on the Anthology records. I love ELO for their insane ambition, the scale of the sound of their records - every song sounds widescreen - and Lynne's lovely way with a melody. This song, recently given a newly hip profile by its use in the "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" trailer, was the immediate standout on my first ELO record, a secondhand vinyl copy of their Greatest Hits I bought when I was in College. It always sounded like it wanted to be the Beatles, too (Lynne used to refer to it as "I Am the Walrus Part 2"). The big arrangement, with strings and horns breaking through into the song every so often, the funny, cartoonish backing vocals, the booming drum sound, the massive chorus, the snatch of radio broadcast at the beginning, the nonsense lyric, the epic, pounding coda which tails off wistfully into a beautiful string and vocoder moment - its all very 1968. Its also a great song to either close or open a record. It closed that fantastic "Greatest Hits" album, but here its got to be the opener. It sets the tone.
YouTube Link

2. Badfinger - "Come & Get It"
The Beatles, alongside a few other bands, basically invented Power Pop. But it was only one of the many coats they modelled, whereas the bands who defined and solidified the genre were dedicated solely to that particular coat. One such band, Badfinger, were big Beatles fans - signed by Apple, the Beatles label, named after an early and subsequently abandoned title ("Bandfinger Boogie") for "With a Little Help from My Friends", they even received this McCartney composition as a gift from their new patrons. The McCartney demo is on Anthology 3, and its identical (impressively, given that McCartney played all of the instruments himself) but the Badfinger version slightly shades it. It has a plump bass sound, rolling alongside the piano melody, and an identifiably Lennon and McCartneyesque harmony on the catchy chorus. Badfinger would go on to write a couple of classics of their own ("No Matter What", "Without You") before tragedy tore the band apart, but they never did anything quite this good again.
Youtube Link

3. Bob Dylan - "4th Time Around"
He influenced the Beatles - especially Lennon - as much, if not more than they influenced him, and that is exactly what this song is about. Apparently he played an early acoustic version for them when they met in 1965. Which Lennon then ripped off shamelessly - you can hear it in the melody and the lyric - for "Norwegian Wood". Dylan in turn altered his own lyric to comment directly - "Everybody must give something back, for something they get" and "I didn't ask for your crutch, so don't ask for mine". But there is a light, almost poppy quality to this song which does suggest the Beatles, and perhaps an acceptance of its own lovely tunefulness not always present in Dylan's work from this era.

4. Julian Lennon - "Saltwater"
Julian Lennon is cursed, somewhat, by the fact that he not only looks but also sounds so much like his father. But then I suppose he has made a small, thwarted little career out of that fact. And on a song like "Saltwater", he intentionally plays up to it. It begins like "I Am the Walrus" played at the wrong speed - that carousel organ sound playing a two note melody. Then Julian (the subject of "Hey Jude", as if the whole Beatles thing wasn't already enough of a millstone for him) just adds an escalating series of Beatles references as the song progresses, all the while sounding more like his father than ever before. Theres a McCartney-esque middle eight and a Harrison guitar line thrown in. Plus - and this is the kicker - the lyric is an insufferable little lecture on enviromentalism (First line : "We are a rock revolving around a golden sun") reminiscent in its way of "Imagine". Meaning that it has none of the scathing wit of Lennon Sr. in his prime. What it does have is a lovely melody, and a winning earnestness. Its not a patch on Julian's other big hit "Too Late for Goodbyes" but it sounds waaay more like the Beatles than that does.
YouTube Link

5. Emmitt Rhodes - "Long Time No See"
I don't think I've ever met anybody else who likes Emmitt Rhodes. Prior to the inclusion of "Lullaby" on the soundtrack of "The Royal Tenenbaums" I don't think I'd ever met anybody else who'd even heard of Emmitt Rhodes. I once bought one of his records in a secondhand shop and the guy behind the counter laughed and said that nobody had ever bought an Emmitt Rhodes record from him before, and he'd worked there 8 years. But the thing is, Emmitt Rhodes is a sort of neglected little genius. And he virtually invented Power Pop. And had an obvious McCartney fixation. Emmitt Rhodes was the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with The Merry-Go-Round, a baroque-pop band from L.A. in the late 60s, and when they split he went as Solo as possible - writing his own songs, playing every instrument and producing the subsequent records at home. With his first album, "Emmitt Rhodes" (1970) he produced something of a minor classic. But it was slavishly indebted to McCartney, in tone and musical and vocal style. Rhodes seemed to have studied the drum, bass and piano sounds and arrangements McCartney favoured, and he deployed them well throughout his own music. What makes it work, what stops it from crippling him straightaway, is the fact that he was a great songwriter. His melodies stand up for comparison with McCartney's and his arrangements and playing are superb. He has borrowed one of the keys to McCartney's work - every element seems melodic. McCartney, in his best work at least, doesn't just write a bassline or a guitar riff to move the song along to the catchy bit, he makes the bassline a melody, he makes the riff a melody - its like he sees opportunities for hooks in every corner of a song. Rhodes copies that, and he copies it well. I could literally pick any of the songs off that first album for this slot and it would fit perfectly. But I'll go with "Long time No See", perhaps the best song on the album, and the darkest and rockiest. McCartney would be proud of it.

6. The Knickerbockers - "Lies"
The first time I heard this I thought that it was some Beatles song I'd never heard before. The Knickerbockers produced such an artful Beatles impression - including a lead vocal that sounds just like Lennon in his Rock & roll days - that this song was a big hit, their only one. But its more raucous than most Beatles songs from that early era, rocks harder, feels wilder somehow. It sounds like The Beatles as they were portrayed in Ian Softley's "Backbeat", in their raw Hamburg days, before the teenyboppers and mind-destroying fame. Its a great song in its own right. But damn, it trys so hard to sound like the Beatles.
YouTube Link

7. Jellyfish - "The King is Half Undressed"
Jellyfish never had a chance at being successful. Playing 60s-inflected powerpop at the height of Grunge wasn't the greatest career plan and it didn't work out all that well. They split after two albums but those two albums are stuffed with amazing songs. Those songs are all obviously derivative of great bands, from the Who to Big Star to Queen to Elton John. "The King Is Half Undressed" (alongside "Babys Coming Back", recently covered by McFly) was the closest they ever got to a hit, and it sounds like about 5 other songs, but in a great way. It sounds less like they wrote and recorded it and more like one of them pulled it out of the air, fully formed. It sounds like the Beatles, too, if they had focused on the power-pop strain of their songwriting and had enjoyed access to 1990s recording techniques. It rocks, and the backing vocals for the chorus go "Ba Ba Ba Baa". Its absolutely awesome.
YouTube Link

8. Sleepy Jackson - "Good Dancers"
Luke Steele's songwriting has a heavy Gram Parsons influence, but you can always hear some Beatles in his music too. Thats mainly because he seems to have modelled his guitar playing on George Harrison. He has that same clean slide sound, flutey and melodic, and if anything, he does it even better than Harrison. Its to the fore in this song, which has a Lennon-esque melody and a great harmony on the hook (evocative of "No 9 Dream" for me) and even breaks down into a backwards guitar-cum-sitar coda, just in case you missed th eHarrison references.
YouTube Link

9. The Rutles - "Cheese & Onions"
Its just plain strange that the Rutles, a Harrison-endorsed Beatles parody from the "All You Need Is Cash" mockumentary were given some excellent songs by the musician-actor playing their Lennon (Ron Nasty) Neil Innes. But then, the Rutles-inspired Spinal Tap produced a couple of good songs too, I suppose. The Rutles aren't as funny as the Tap - metal is funnier than the Beatles - and the parody is only really mildly amusing, but the songs are great, and the Rutles went on to become a real band, touring and releasing a parody of the Beatles anthology in the 90s. This is easily the best song, later covered by Galaxie 500, perfectly capturing the Beatles vibe from 67/68 and managing to stay funny as it does so. Best lyric: "Do I have to spell it out? C-H-E-E-S-E-A-N-D-O-N-I-O-N-S, oh no."
YouTube Link

10. Nilsson - "Without Her"
Harry Nilsson is best known for his versions of two songs written by other songwriters, Fred Neil's "Everybodys Talkin" and Badfinger's "Without You". But in the early days of his career, he suffered from an obvious Beatles obsession. His 1967 album "Pandemonium Shadow Show" features a cover of "you Can't Do That" which contains several references to other Beatles hits in its vocal arrangements. He would go on to become drinking buddies with John Lennon in his late 70s L.A. "Lost Weekend" years, while also writing the music for a vaguely "Yellow Submarine"-ish musical, "The Point." He also wrote some extraordinary songs. This one is founded on a melody played mainly on a bass guitar and its interplay with a single line of cello and a flute. It sounds something like the Beatles early experiments with using strings in "Yesterday" and on "Eleanor Rigby". Plus its a lovely song, and Nilsson had an absolutely immortal voice. The YouTube version below is acoustic, therefore less Fab-esque, but still great.
YouTube Link

11. Cotton Mather - "My Before and After"
That "Revolver" guitar sound is one of the Beatles modes that bands find easiest to replicate, and so you hear it in a lot of work. Its that chiming, bright sound, heavier than the Byrds sound, full of melody yet weighty and rich too. Oasis approximate it but make it a bit louder, a bit more 90s. Lots of Power Pop and Britpop bands, from Fountains of Wayne to Menswear, ape it to one degree or another on various songs. Cotton Mather get it just right, all the way down to the thin Harrison lead fills. Singer Robert Harrison does his best to sound like Lennon, too, and this is even a Beatlesque song, catchy and rocking to just the right proportions.

12. Crowded House - "Not the Girl You Think You Are"
He's never been and never will be fashionable, but I think Neil Finn is, well, a genius. He's written a fistful of stone cold pop-rock classics, and he has always reminded me of Paul McCartney. Firstly because of his unbelievable facility with a melody, secondly because of his gift with harmony (especially when combined with his brother Tim), and thirdly because...well its hard to articulate. His songwriting just seems to glow with a sort of warmth, a joy and humanity you don't hear in many others songwriters work. But it was there in McCartney's work at one point. In saying that, this Finn song actually sounds like John Lennon, from the woozy fairground organ to the high register he employs on the gorgeous chorus. Its a shambling, delicate piece of pop beauty.
YouTube Link

13. The La's - "Timeless Melody"
I had to have one Scouse nu-Skiffle band on this, didn't I?
The La's single, perfect album was one of the founding stones of Britpop and a hundred times better than the Stone Roses' debut, which was released around the same time. Lee Mavers, odd little perfectionist lost scouse genius that he is, knew how to write a fantastic pop song in his day, and like fellow lost scouse genius Michael Head (of Shack and the Pale Fountains and the Strands) he could not avoid the influence of the Beatles, hard though he may have tried. This one has a great dynamic sound and an optimism in its uplifting theme together with an anthemic, positive chorus which is extremely Lennon-esque. Better still, it lives up to its title.
YouTube Link

14. XTC - "Dear God"
This opens with a guitar figure very reminiscent (or identical) to the one used in "Rocky Raccoon" and "Blackbird", then goes on to add a full band and a 60s-style string arrangement. Andy Partridge, once he had developed into a mature songwriter, always seemed to write with the Beatles hovering over his shoulder, and the ambitious nature of the song-cycles on albums like "Oranges and Lemons" and "Skylarking" show a very definite Lennon-McCartney fixation. But he has his own voice, oddly spiky and intelligent, in combination with a great pop nous. "Dear God" has a funny lyric to match its nagging melody, and was XTc's big breakthrough in America.
YouTube Link

15. The dBs - "Amplifier"
One of the problems with labelling artists as "Beatlesque" is that late in their career, the Beatles really had no signature sound. The key quality of their albums was the diversity of tone and genre - The White Album has country songs, chamber pop, folk, heavy rock, ballads, orchestral does an artist who wishes to pay tribute to such adventurous spirit do it without resorting to his own eclecticism? Artists from the Boo Radleys on "Giant Steps" through Elvis Costello on "Imperial Bedroom" to Prince with "Around the World In A Day" all seemed inspired to make sprawling, diverse collections of very different songs. Other artists take one little slice of the Beatles sound and expand upon it. Power-pop, as a genre, comes from an appreciation of the work of a few central 60s bands, amongst them The Beatles, the Byrds and the Who. Some bands sound more Beatlesque than others, and some songs from normally un-Beatlesque bands sound very Lennon-McCartney. The dBs had a New Wave edge that sometimes dulled the euphoric 60s feel of the songwriting, but they routinely covered "Tomorrow Never Knows" in their live shows, and they specialised in lovely harmonies on their always hooky choruses. "Amplifier" sounds like a blueprint for the entire career of These Mighty Giants, and its fantastic.
YouTube Link

16. Todd Rundgren - "Hello Its Me"
Something about Paul McCartney seems to inspire a certain kind of singer-songwriter. Rundgren, like Emmit Rhodes, did his time in a British Invasion-worshipping US Garage Band (The Nazz) before going solo and releasing a string of albums on which he plays every instrument, sings, writes and produces every note. His talent is more individual and unique than Rhodes', however, and after a couple of McCartney-esque records he began to stretch out and delve into other areas, including Soul and Prog. But he never bettered those earlier records. This is one of his most famous songs, a McCartney-esque piano ballad with a beautifully building structure and a lovely horn arrangement.
YouTube Link

17. The Wonders - "That Thing You Do"
This has got the lot - a big backbeat, the melodic, mobile bassline, big singalong harmonies on the choruses, a "WAAAaaaaH!!" that is really an "OOOOOoooooohhhh!" in disguise, the chiming guitars, the optimistic lyric...but then it was sritten deliberatley as a Beatles pastiche. Or if not the Beatles, then as a US Garage band inspired by the British Invasion, which means it sounds like the Beatles anyway. Written by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and Ivy for Tom Hanks' "That Thing you Do" (1996), this song is a believable 60s smash hit. Believable because it follows a certain Beatles formula to the letter, and because it has that fun 60s vibe records never have any more...unless they're making ironic tributes to the 60s.
YouTube Link

18. The Hollies - "Bus Stop"
Of all their British Invasion peers, The Hollies were probably the band most similar to the Beatles. They began as schoolboys, more or less, in a Northern English City (Manchester rather than Liverpool), they built their early shows around covers of American R&B and Rock & Roll staples, and when they started to make their own records, their style leant heavily on three part harmonies (they always sound as if they're all smiling) and cheery melodies. They even developed into folk and psychedelic directions as the 60s wore on. They were, at least commercially, massively successful, even after their best songwriter, Graham Nash, left and they began to drift into MOR territory in the 70s. They were obviously hugely influenced by the Beatles - everybody was in the British Music industry in the 60s - but the question of how much becomes irrelevant when they could write songs quite as good as this one, probably the best thing they ever did. It came out just as the Beatles were leaving pop music behind and inventing rock, and it has a tougher, more adult tone than their earlier material, while maintaining their feel for a great pop song. Its chief pleasure for me, however, is that guitar intro.
YouTube Link

19. World Party - "Is It Like Today?"
Karl Wallinger expressed his love of the Beatles in two ways. 1) He wrote songs that sounded like the Beatles could have written them, and recorded them using methods similar to those used by the Beatles. 2) He made big albums full of lots of different songs in different styles, with psychedelic, busy cover art. "Is Is Like Today?" is a history of Western philosophy and a great pop song with lots going on under the surface, and the album its taken from ("Bang") together with its predecessor ("Goodbye Jumbo") are two of the better Beatlesque collections of the last few decades.
YouTube Link

20. Blur - "This Is a Low"
Funny that while Oasis were endlessly going on about the Beatles, Blur were the ones who had something in common with them. They made the ridiculously ambitious eclectic albums, they incorporated different styles and voices into their sound, they seemed to always try something different. Noel Gallagher could never have written "This Is a Low", but Damon Albarn probably could have written "Wonderwall". "This Is a Low" may be their only song to properly flirt with psychedelia, but it does it so well, with such weary majesty and such a casual feel for the epic, that it makes a perfect album closer, and Beatlesque in the subtlest, most effective way, Beatlesque in its bruised magnificence, and in its vaunting sense of adventure. You feel the Beatles might have ended an album with a song like this. And Graham Coxon plays a blinder.
YouTube Link



Blogger jamesinbrasil said...

Very interesting David. May I suggest my own Brazilian offerings, as the Beatles influence was truly global before globalisation really kicked in:

Os Mutantes - Panis Et Cirenceses

The Beat Boys

7:52 pm  
Blogger David N said...

I know Os Mutantes well, and thought about including something by them, but none of it sounds like the Beatles to me. They're obviously an influence but it just sounds generally psychedelic. Great song though.

Will investigate the Beat Boys further...

12:43 am  
Blogger Monsterwork said...

Wait. Don't you want to hear what a guy with no love for The Beatles, and musical references that begin and end in the 1990s has to offer?

Of course you do.





1:50 pm  
Blogger Beezer B said...

Nice. I don't know half of these. I'll listen in although despite liking the Beatles a lot, Beatlesque is a word that puts me right off a lot of the time. Probably because, as you say, being Beatlesque isn't something the Beatles would have been.

I guess your comments on Blur are right and they are Beatlesque for being ambitious and stuff but... I still can't gather any enthusiasm together for anything Albarn has ever done. Ever.

3:15 pm  
Blogger David N said...

I just amended the post and added a new song. Its at No 19 now. I originally meant to include it and totally forgot, then mention of the album in the Grauiad's 1000 albums list jogged my memory. Plus 20 is neater than 19.


Redd Cross - that song is a Beatles pastiche, alright, but generally they sound like a dozen other power-pop bands from that era - the Lilys, the Posies etc. I picked Jellyfish to represent those bands, coz thy're the best of those bands. Good video though.

Stone Temple Pilots - Sounds like Cheap Trick. Which is a good thing.

Dillinger Escape Plan - is a joke, yes? Tell me you don't actually like that. Please.

Beezer - I think hes a twat, but he is a great songwriter. Effortlessly, it seems. Life isn't fair.

1:28 am  
Blogger Monsterwork said...

I like how you don't revert back to the "Blogger: Response" format for Beezer, but stick to the "Band - Opinion" instead. Which makes it look like you think Ossie is a twat, but a talented one.

10:06 am  
Blogger Beezer B said...

Ah if only it were the case.

11:31 am  
Blogger David N said...

Effortless though. I think so.

12:04 am  

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