Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Minnesota Beatle Project

Since the early days of Beatlemania, other performers have recorded songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney or George Harrison. It was common practice before the emphasis on the singer/songwriter for many performers to record "covers" of hit songs. The Beatles did it themselves on their initial albums, covering songs by Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, and several Motown composers. The Beatles helped shape a new attitude when they resolved to record only original material.

Of course, many musical acts were not up to the challenge of songwriting, and they continued singing Beatle songs on their pieced-together albums. "Yesterday" is sometimes said to be the most recorded song of the 1960s. I remember watching an Ed Sullivan show in tribute to the Fab Four with all sorts of singers covering Beatle songs. I thought it was awful and eagerly awaited the finale which was a new song performed by the Beatles via a film shipped from London directly Sullivan in New York.

With so many fans like me knowing Beatles' recordings so well, it is risky for any performer to cover what are almost sacred sounds. Only the best can pull it off, usually by not sounding like the originals or by recording lesser known songs. Even Frank Sinatra and Elton John stumbled with Beatle covers. I know there are some good covers out there, but I can not think of any off hand. Maybe Joe Cocker's "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window."

There are a lot of brave performers in Minnesota. To raise funds for music education in the state, Minnesota-born musicians and immigrants to the state have joined the Minnesota Beatle Project, which has to date released four music CDs. Surprised I have enjoyed listening to volume 4, which my daughter Laura gave me at Christmas. Of the 13 tracks, I am skipping only "For the Benefit of Being Mr. Kite." To be fair, this circus song was already very strange and Van Stee upped the ante in a very John-Lennon-like way. Hearing it once is enough.

What I really like are the modest, low-key covers of "Baby's in Black" by Trampled by Turtles and "Misery" by Halloween Alaska. These are lesser known songs at this point in time, and the results are positive. Almost contrary to my tendencies, I also love the Bloomington Jefferson High School Band's joyful instrumental performance of "She Loves You." I might be happy all day after hearing this brassy bouncy song. 

You can read more about the Minnesota Beatle Project and the good it does at the Vega Productions website. You can even order the recordings - some in vinyl!

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