September 2, 2009

Prelude To The Beatleocalypse

We’re now just a week away from the Beatleocalypse and trust me, 9/9/09 may just end up the end of the world or the heralding of paradise on Earth if you follow any of the online forums discussing such matters. On one such den of iniquity (where I admittedly lurk. sigh), one of the key engineers in charge of remastering these Arcs of the Covenantses for the masses and smaller mass of obsessives actually posted and provided helpful corrections and calming words about the process and the source material. NOT GOOD ENOUGH. To paraphrase one response, “Are you sure they’re using the original original masters for Pepper? Are you sure? ‘Cause I heard they were lost…”

I won’t even get into the concerns over loudness. Or the count on the numbers of mono box sets left in the world. Or the great news that a collection of the oft-shoddily bootlegged Beatles Fan Club Christmas messages will finally be made available, but only locked deep within the Rock Band game.

How to calm my nerves then? Well, how about some Beatle tributes?

WAIT – DON’T CLICK AWAY YET! Look, I hate tributes. Especially Beatle tributes. Why? How can you win? Too close a cover, and what’s the point? Make it your own and you’re rolling the dice I’m not even going near that new Sgt. Pepper set that Cheap Trick put out last week (which seems to fall into the former category).

The solo stuff is even tougher. Remember Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute to the Music of Paul McCartney? Didn’t think so – who thought that the world wanted to hear SR-71’s take on “My Brave Face?” (Side note: this set does, however, have one track worth seeking out: Sloan’s truly great cover of McCartney II’s “Waterfalls”).

Once in awhile, though, collections come through that have just the right spirit. Tom Scharpling, the host of the WFMU’s legendary “Best Show on WFMU,” a call-in show featuring the hilarious and strange characters of Superchunk (and usually several other bands) drummer Jon Wurster and whoever else calls in (who are sometimes even more strange), is known to regular listeners as an unabashed fan of McCartney (and Abba!) so it isn’t surprising that Tom: A Best Show on WFMU Tribute to Ram is a lovingly-curated tribute to McCartney’s second post-Beatles set.

The A&R on this is nearly perfect: the chamber-pop opener “Too Many People” goes to Aimee Mann; the demo-y solo track “Ram On” goes to Portastatic; the finely crafted “Dear Boy” could have been written by Death Cab For Cutie; the really strange one, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” goes to Dump, the rollicking “Smile Away” gets torn up by Hank IV, the other strange one, “Monkberry Moon Delight” is inhabited by Danielson, and the soaring “Back Seat of My Car” is knocked out of the park by Ted Leo.

This is so good and worth your time that it pains me to tell you that you blew it. This was available only as a premium to donors to WFMU’s annual pledge drive. That’ll teach you. Give ‘em some money next year – the show and the station in general are well worth it.

All is not lost, though. You can drown your sorrow of missing out on Tom by spending some time with Tribute To, a somber and absorbing tribute to George Harrison by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (operating here under the name Yim Yames for some reason). It sounds every bit like it was recorded shortly after Harrison’s death in 2001, which it apparently was. These sparsely arranged takes really capture a certain spirit that almost feels closer to the heart of these songs than some of the original versions. This may not be surprising to Harrison fans – when All Things Must Pass was reissued in 2001, Harrison indicates in the liner notes that he was tempted to strip some of the songs back from Phil Spector’s bigger production values, and the bootlegs of demos from that era certainly portray a haunting quality that, for all of its greatness, the finished piece downplays.

So there you go. Next week, I’ll either be listening exclusively Beatles for the next 6 months, or trying to avoid it. I suppose it’ll depend on how the already simmering marketing blitz goes. -- Michael Piantigini

The Beatles: Internerds | MySpace | Vidya Games |
WFMU: Internerds
Best Show on WFMU: Streaming Archive | Internerds | Recaps | Scharpling and Wurster | MySpace
Yim Yames: Internerds | MySpace

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