Welcome to part five of an ongoing series of freaky, funky, cool, and occasionally downright weird cover songs! A great cover can not only put a smile on our faces by delivering a familiar song in a new light, but also show another side of the performer's personality. Here are some of the more odd (but excellent) covers of Beatles tracks that have made their way to my collection.
Chicago's Vontastics were led by singer/ songwriter Bobby Newsome. The group released eight (excellent) singles, which included this killer version of "Day Tripper". With its heavy riff, heavy backbeat and ultra mod lyrics, "Day tripper" was one of the Beatles finest explorations into the contemporary soul sound, and it was a natural fit in both the original recording and sweaty, intense workouts by Otis Redding and JJ Barnes. I really dig how the Vontastics smooth out the edges and take it into something else entirely- namely, CHICAGO style soul. The group harmonies are lovely, and veteran arranger Burgess Gardner turns the groove into a lilting, swaying piece of delight.Hailing from Baton Rouge, LA, John Fred had a MASSIVE hit with the amaziing, Beatle-esque "Judy In Disguise" in 1967, but this veteran performer had a career in music stretching back to his teen years in the late '50's. One could easily be mistaken into thinking John was a black singer, as his heavy, deep south accent OOZES soul, and it's heard to great effect on this FUNKY cover of the song that opens The Beatles self titled 1968 LP, known forever as The White Album .The Playboy Band itself shows off how tight the group was, no doubt brought on by a decade of performing all over the south at Fraternities, sock hops, opening slots, and basically anywhere they could make a living as journeyman musicians. The music found on Rubber Soul found the Beatles reaching new heights of creativity, songwriting prowess and unique instrumentation. Between the fuzz bass assault of 'Think For Yourself" and the exotic sitar found on 'Norwegian Wood" I can only imagine what it would have been like to hear the record for the first time in 1965. Hidden as the b-side of Jan & Dean's silly-but-fun "Popsicle" 45 (itself basically a commercial for the Popsicle brand) is this freaky take on "Norwegian Wood" that replaces the sitar with fuzz guitar, some very stoned-sounding vocals from Jan & Dean, haunting harmonies, and an overall VERY trippy LA '66 vibe. I would be willing to bet that Brian Wilson is among the harmony singers, but it's never been confirmed. At the very least, I bet that Brian dug this take; a favorite track from the album that influenced his own Pet Sounds.
The sitars (of the electric variety) are back in full force for Barbara Love's gorgeous take on "Across The Universe". This seems to be the only release from Barbara Love, and I'm afraid that I know nothing more of her biographical info. The track is very "produced" but it still somehow captures the majesty of one of John Lennon's greatest philosophical tracks.
I'll leave you with this one; Sergio Mendes is, along with Astrud & Joao Gilberto, most responsible for spreading the gorgeous sound of the samba to the world at large. While the Beatles take on the Sgt Pepper LP is, arguably, THE understated masterpiece of that album, the Mendes version takes the song somewhere else entirely. The message of love and togetherness found in the words of the song lend itself perfectly to an arrangement that takes the Beatles words and message into the international feel of the samba, making the message of unity even stronger. The vocals and instrumentation are just gorgeous, and while these Herb Alpert productions sometimes get criticism for being too far on the pop spectrum, there are some truly transcendent moments found in the music that erase any possible negativity in anyone but the strongest of music cynics.
until next time, Derek See.