Let me take you down...
The Beatles' songs were so sturdy and well-crafted that artists such as Matt Monro and Ella Fitzgerald became early adopters. But from the start, John, Paul, George, and Ringo's contemporaries had been just as likely as the older generation to mine their songbook. As the sixties continued and the Beatles ushered in the shift from pop to rock (minus the "and roll"), similarly youthful artists brought their own increasingly adventurous spins to the lads' material. Countless various-artists collections of Beatlesongs have proliferated over the years - enough to more than fill any collector's shelf. But the new entry from Cherry Red's Grapefruit label is a most worthy addition. Looking Through a Glass Onion: The Beatles' Psychedelic Songbook 1966-72 focuses on British artists of that period as they tackled Beatles hits and deeper cuts; some reinvented them and others stuck to a straightforward interpretation. But by and large, these 68 songs on 3 CDs are a window onto Great Britain in the age of Sgt. Pepper's and how the ubiquitous music of The Beatles informed and was filtered through psychedelia, progressive rock, and beyond.
Most of the material here draws from The Beatles' later period but there are some exceptions. Decca's The Score went all the way back to the bright pop of 1963's "Please Please Me" to give it a psychedelic thrashing; "One and One Is Two" was a Beatles castoff passed on by both Billy J. Kramer and The Fourmost in 1964 before Phillip Goodhand-Tait and The Stormsville Shakers injected it with a dose of bleating brass three years later. 1964's Beatles for Sale album track "Every Little Thing" was dusted off by Yes in 1969 for a dramatic, murky makeover that became a highlight of their first album. The Majority's "A Hard Day's Night" (recorded in 1969 but initially shelved) slowed down its tempo, added more prominent electric guitar, and most of all, lustrous harmonies to differentiate itself from the '64 original. "Help!" gets a couple of airings here, first Deep Purple's slow, desperate, dirge-like take and then vocalist Andy Ellison's unusual cabaret take with female backing vocalists and a blaring horn section.
The folk-rock-inspired Rubber Soul might be considered the start of the "mature" Beatles, and its standouts, too, were quickly covered by other artists. A surprisingly thunderous version of the ballad "In My Life" hails from pre-Brinsley Schwarz band Kippington Lodge. Circus (previously The Stormsville Shakers) offers a lengthy jazz-rock jam on "Norwegian Wood." (The Frugal Sound's version is here, too.) The most famous of the Rubber Soul covers here belongs to Manchester's Hollies. George Harrison publicly dismissed their fine take on "If I Needed Someone" (released late in 1965 despite this set's title - the earliest track on this collection) which was released the same day as The Beatles' own version; today, it still stands up with its sparkling Hollies harmonies and tight production.
1966's Revolver was equally ripe for the picking. In addition to Loose Ends' "Taxman," Glass Onion showcases Blonde on Blonde's proggy "Eleanor Rigby" (which emphasized the dark qualities already present in the song); a freewheeling rehearsal take of "Yellow Submarine" from The Hi-Fis; "She Said She Said" from the trio known as Grand Union; a couple of "Good Day Sunshine"s including one from The Tremeloes (recently anthologized on Grapefruit and the band to whom the Fab Four had lost out on a Decca recording contract in 1962); and Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers' near-soundalike of "Got to Get You Into My Life." Bennett's group was part of the Brian Epstein stable, and Paul McCartney even contributed piano to the storming, brassy interpretation of his song. (Bennett recurs on the even more rocking but less successful "Back in the USSR.") A tender reading of "Here, There, and Everywhere" comes from the catalogue of pre-Deep Purple band Episode Six.
Deep Purple recurs with their cover of the 1965 single "We Can Work It Out," prefaced by the majestic, classically-inspired "Exposition." But they're far from the only hard 'n heavy rockers here. Camel blended multiple Fab songs for the track they called "Mystery Tour" (minus the "Magical") in which they also incorporated "Got to Get You Into My Life," "Paperback Writer," and "Good Morning, Good Morning" but without the whimsy American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson brought to his "You Can't Do That" mash-up (not included here). Spooky Tooth deliver a slow, searing "I Am the Walrus," but would you rather hear the Lewis Carroll-inspired tune sung by children? Looking Through a Glass Onion has it, too, with Lol Coxhill's rather disquieting rendition featuring his three warbling kids. Plastic Penny, the psychedelic pop/R&B band featuring future Elton John drummer Nigel Olsson, were right at home with "Strawberry Fields Forever."
Much like the hard rockers, the progressive-rock bands also brought a different feel to The Beatles' songs. The pre-Yes Steve Howe plays guitar on another "Strawberry Fields," this time from his early group Tomorrow. "Yesterday," one of the most recorded songs of all time, shows up here twice. Eyes of Blue's version conjures an ominous atmosphere with haunting harmonies and funereal church organ while The Tomcats' stab is rough-around-the-edges but earnest. The keyboard-led group Atlantic Bridge melded prog with jazz on their loose "Dear Prudence." If any song lent itself to wending jazz improvisation, it's "A Day in the Life," heard here in Affinity's originally-unissued 1969 recording. On a live "Northern Medley" from keyboardist Eddie Hardin and drummer Pete York, they bring their own improv-based power duo sound, soloing and stretching out to "Norwegian Wood" and "Lady Madonna."
Folk and R&B get airings, too: the former via Davey Graham and his wife Holly's acoustic "Mother Nature's Son" and Linda Peters' (the future Linda Thompson) vocal-and-guitar take of "Get Back." With Martin Carthy on the guitar, Peters showed her chops as she stripped the tune to its essence. On the soulful side, Don Fardon channeled Otis Redding on an aggressive "Day Tripper." Maggie Bell led Stone the Crows' dramatic reimagining of "The Fool on the Hill" as a rootsy, bluesy showstopper. Bluesman Duffy Power's "Fixing a Hole" is a spare, haunted look at the Sgt. Pepper's melody.
Even the novelty genre is represented with the off-kilter likes of Rainbow Ffolly (not a typo)'s zany, cartoonish, and primitive take on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and somewhat better though still quirky "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill." The Wilson Malone Voiceband's utterly kooky deconstruction of "Penny Lane" is another bizarre highlight.
Many more familiar names crop up throughout this collection, such as session guitar hero Big Jim Sullivan. George Harrison was much friendlier towards Big Jim than The Hollies, and indeed, Sullivan's prowess on the sitar is clear on his recordings of Harrison's "Within You, Without You" and Lennon and McCartney's (well, mostly Paul's!) "She's Leaving Home." David Bowie and Elton John collaborators Paul Buckmaster and Gus Dudgeon teamed with keyboardist Tim Mycroft for an instrumental version of "Flying" released under the name of Sounds Nice, inspired by an offhand comment made by McCartney as they were laying down tracks at Abbey Road. Macca wasn't wrong; Buckmaster's strings still "sound nice." Scottish musician Alex Harvey, later of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, was performing in the pit band for the West End production of Hair when he recorded "Birthday" with the company of the musical. Cliff Richard's group, The Shadows, are heard on an instrumental run through "Paperback Writer."
Of the lesser-known artists - and there are many to discover here - vocal group Design's baroque version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" stands out with its striking choral interlude. Orange Bicycle's respectable Abbey Road medley of "You Never Give Me Your Money" and "Carry That Weight" was released "in-house," so to speak, on Parlophone, and the lack of orchestral instrumentation on it gives their track a lean, appealing quality to differentiate it from The Beatles' originals. Singer Andy Ellison's brassy, insinuating "You Can't Do That" has Madeline Bell and Dusty Springfield on the coy, knowing backgrounds.
The Young Idea isn't terribly well-remembered today, but their 1967 Columbia single of "With a Little Help from My Friends" was actually a top ten hit, released just a week or so after Sgt. Pepper's hit stores. The Good Ship Lollipop brought a bright bubblegum flavor to their faithful cover of (bang-bang) "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," and in a similar pop vein is The Spectrum's "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." The band was promoted as Britain's answer to The Monkees, and while that didn't pan out exactly as planned, they left behind an enjoyable discography including this decent, paint-by-numbers cover. (Their complete 1964-1970 recordings were issued by Grapefruit in 2017.)
The set largely avoids the many MOR covers of Beatles material, but one happy exception is the closing track, appropriately from Dame Vera Lynn. Dame Vera died earlier this year at 103 but not before touching generations of Britons - including John Lennon whose White Album composition "Good Night" was likely inspired by her WWII-era "Goodnight Children Everywhere." Her 1969 single release is in full orchestral fashion, with her strong and clarion voice as comforting as ever.
Looking Through a Glass Onion has been mastered by Simon Murphy. While the sonics on a handful of rare tracks is less than ideal likely due to lack of master sources, most of the 68 cuts sound altogether stellar. The collection is packaged in a slipcase, with each disc in an individual paper sleeve. A full-color 40-page booklet is an integral part of the set, boasting compiler David Wells' informative and often opinionated track-by-track notes shedding light on the artists both known and unknown. He's chosen a diverse and engaging group of songs while leaving enough wiggle room for a second volume. After all, where are the covers of "Something," "Here Comes the Sun," "All You Need Is Love," and, well, "Glass Onion" itself? Okay, that last one is a stretch...but over in America, Arif Mardin certainly did a smoking cover in 1969! This collection is as fine a tribute to the strength, durability, and ingenuity of The Beatles and their contemporaries as any.
- MYSTERY TOUR - Camel (RCA Italy PM 3497, 1969)
- HELP - Deep Purple (from Shades of Deep Purple, Tetragrammaton LP T 102, 1968)
- EVERY LITTLE THING - Yes (from Yes, Atlantic LP 588 190, 1969)
- I AM THE WALRUS - Affinity (rec. 1968, originally unissued)
- LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS - Rainbow Ffolly (rec. 1968, originally unissued)
- IF I NEEDED SOMEONE - The Hollies (Parlophone R 5392, 1965)
- TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS - The Mirage (Philips BF 1534, 1966)
- IN MY LIFE - Kippington Lodge (Parlophone R 5776, 1969)
- YESTERDAY - Eyes of Blue (Mercury MF 1049, 1968)
- FLYING - Sounds Nice (from Love at First Sight, Parlophone LP PCS 7089, 1969)
- STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER - Design (from Tomorrow Is So Far Away, Epic LP EPC 64653, 1971)
- HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE - Episode Six (Pye 7N 17147, 1966)
- GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE - Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers (Parlophone R 5489, 1966)
- BIRTHDAY - Hair Rave-Up (from Live from the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, Pye LP NSPL 18314, 1969
- ELEANOR RIGBY - Blonde on Blonde (from Contrasts, Pye LP NSPL 18288, 1969)
- DEAR PRUDENCE - Atlantic Bridge (from Atlantic Bridge, Dawn DNLS 3014, 1970)
- ACROSS THE UNIVERSE - Jawbone (from Jawbone, Carnaby LP CNLS 6004, 1970)
- FIXING A HOLE - Duffy Power (rec. 1969, originally unissued)
- OH! DARLING - Trucial States (from Together, Sky LP 7040, 1970)
- GOOD DAY SUNSHINE - The Tremeloes (from CBS 202242, 1966)
- TAXMAN - Infinity (rec. 1969, originally unissued)
- YOU NEVER GIVE ME YOUR MONEY/CARRY THAT WEIGHT - Orange Bicycle (Parlophone R 5811, 1969)
- I AM THE WALRUS - Spooky Tooth (from The Last Puff, Island ILPS 9117, 1970)
- STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER - Plastic Penny (from Two Sides of a Penny, Page One LP POL 005, 1968)
- THE CONTINUING STORY OF BUNGALOW BILL - Rainbow Ffolly (rec. 1968, originally unissued)
- WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU - Big Jim Sullivan (from Sitar Beat, Mercury U.S. LP SR-61137, 1967)
- HEY BULLDOG - The Gods (Columbia DB 8544, 1969)
- CRY BABY CRY - Freedom (from Freedom at Last, French BYG LP 529325, 1969)
- DAY TRIPPER - Don Fardon (from German Hit-Ton HT 300125, 1967)
- NORWEGIAN WOOD - The Frugal Sound (Pye 7N 17062, 1966)
- THE TWO OF US - Penny Arcade (Pye 7N 17943, 1970)
- YOU CAN'T DO THAT - Andy Ellison (SNB 55-2508, 1968)
- SHE SAID SHE SAID - Grand Union (CBS 3956, 1969)
- MOTHER NATURE'S SON - Davey Graham & Holly (from Godington Boundry, President PTLS 1039, 1970)
- BACK IN THE USSR - Cliff Bennett & His Band (Parlophone R 5749, 1968)
- WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS - The Young Idea (Columbia DB 8205, 1967)
- PAPERBACK WRITER - The Shadows (from Shades of Rock, Columbia LP SCX 6420, 1970)
- ONE AND ONE IS TWO - Phillip Goodhand-Tait & The Stormsville Shakers (rec. 1967, originally unissued)
- A HARD DAY'S NIGHT - The Majority (rec. 1969, originally unissued)
- BIRTHDAY - Trucial States (from Together, Sky LP 7040, 1970)
- GET BACK - Linda Peters (rec. 1970, originally unissued)
- DRIVE MY CAR - Bo Street Runners (Columbia DB 7901, 1966)
- MAXWELL'S SILVER HAMMER - The Good Ship Lollipop (Ember EMBS 276, 1969)
- THE FOOL ON THE HILL - Stone the Crows (from Stone the Crows, Polydor 2425 017, 1970)
- I WILL - Young Blood (Pye 7N 17696, 1969)
- YELLOW SUBMARINE - The Hi-Fis (rec. 1966, originally unissued)
- YESTERDAY - The Tomcats (from Spanish Philips 436 387 PE, 1965)
- I AM THE WALRUS - Lol Coxhill (from Ear of Beholder, Dandelion LP DSD 8008, 1971)
- COME TOGETHER - Jason Crest (rec. 1969, originally unissued)
- STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER - Tomorrow (from Tomorrow, Parlophone LP PCS 7042, 1968)
- NORWEGIAN WOOD - Circus (from Circus, Transatlantic LP TRA 207, 1969)
- SHE'S LEAVING HOME - Big Jim Sullivan (from Sitar Beat, U.S. Mercury LP SR-61137, 1967)
- EXPOSITION/WE CAN WORK IT OUT - Deep Purple (from The Book of Taliesyn, U.S. Tetragrammaton LP T 107, 1968)
- A DAY IN THE LIFE - Affinity (rec. 1969, originally unissued)
- HELP - Andy Ellison (rec. 1968, originally unissued)
- PLEASE PLEASE ME - The Score (Decca F 12527, 1966)
- TAXMAN - Loose Ends (Decca F 12476, 1966)
- GOOD DAY SUNSHINE - The Eyes (Mercury MF 934, 1966)
- PENNY LANE - The Wilson Malone Voiceband (from Funnysad Music, Morgan LP MR 112P, 1968)
- THE CONTINUING STORY OF BUNGALOW BILL - Young Blood (Pye 7N 17696, 1969)
- I WILL - Real McCoy (Pye 7N 17704, 1969)
- OB-LA-DI, OB-LA-DA - The Spectrum (RCA Victor RCA 1775, 1968)
- ROCKY RACCOON - Brian Bennett (from The Illustrated London Noise, Columbia Studio 2 TWO 268, 1969)
- DAY TRIPPER - The Ice (rec. 1968, originally unissued)
- WE CAN WORK IT OUT - The Sorrows (rec. 1969, originally unissued)
- I AM THE WALRUS - Octopus (rec. 1971, originally unissued)
- NORTHERN MEDLEY - Hardin & York (from The World's Smallest Big Band, Bell SBLL 136, 1970)
- GOOD NIGHT - Vera Lynn (Columbia DB 8529, 1969)