Looking Through A Glass Onion. The Beatles’ Psychedelic Songbook 1966-72 by Various Artists

2020 (all songs recorded 1965-72)

David Hepworth wrote a book a few years ago which was called “Nothing Is Real” and the subtitle was “The Beatles were underrated”. I think I agree with that and my obsession with their music which has lasted fifty seven years shows no sign of abating. What this means is I know all their music so well that there is often little left to surprise me when listening to their songs. I can still buy books about them and normally find that there’s a new nugget of information to be gleaned. This compilation from Grapefruit Records (which was released yesterday) comprises sixty eight versions of Beatles songs performed by a variety of British acts between 1965 and 1972. It’s a great way of listening anew to the superb quality of their song writing and whilst some of the interpretations are pedestrian, most of them bring a psychedelic quality to the instrumentation which is refreshing. Obviously, nothing here can match the originals but that doesn’t mean these songs are not worth listening to.

Disc 1

“Mystery Tour” by Camel (1969). This is a confusing start. There were two bands called Camel around this time. The more well known band included Peter Bardens but the Camel that recorded this outrageous version of “Magical Mystery Tour” (also incorporating “Got To Get You Into My Life”, “Paperback Writer” and “Good Morning Good Morning”) featured Alex Ligertwood who subsequently became lead singer of Santana. Camel temporarily moved to Rome to record their one and only album, “Underage”.

“Help” by Deep Purple (1968). This heavy version of John Lennon’s cry for help is taken from Deep Purple’s first album “Shades Of Deep Purple”. The lead singer is Rod Evans who remained the lead singer for Deep Purple’s first three albums. After a disastrous tour of the USA he was kicked out of the band in 1969 but in 1980 he formed a band of his own and called it Deep Purple. He was successfully sued for damages and had to forfeit all royalties from the first three albums. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

“Every Little Thing” by Yes (1969). Bill Bruford’s drums, Tony Kaye’s keyboards and Jon Anderson’s distinctive vocals take what was originally intended as a Beatles single (until Paul McCartney realised that “it didn’t have quite what was required”) and make it a progressive rock masterpiece that graced their eponymous debut album.

“I Am The Walrus” by Affinity (1968). This is the first of four versions of John Lennon’s wonderful protest song to appear on this box set. Affinity hailed from Sussex, released four albums and were the subject of a great “on the road” film made by Annie Nightingale. This is a dynamic version of the song but has been unreleased until yesterday.

“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by Rainbow Ffolly (1968). This is truly terrible. It sounds like the song was recorded by Pinky and Perky. The lyrics have been changed to “Everyone smiles as you drift past the Beatles that grow so incredibly high.” Rainbow Ffolly’s only single was called “Drive My Car” but it wasn’t the Lennon-McCartney song.

“If I Needed Someone” by Graham Nash (1965). George Harrison wasn’t impressed with The Hollies version of his song which got into the Top Twenty in late 1965 (I thought this box set was subtitled 1966-72?). He said “it sounds like session men who’ve just got together in a studio without ever seeing each other before”. Graham Nash was at the forefront of peace, love and understanding on the West Coast in the late Sixties but maybe he missed out on the forgiveness pill since, forty eight years later in 2013, he said “Pardon me, if you don’t like our fucking record, but keep it to yourself, if you please”.

“Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Mirage (1966). A great version of this incredible song by a London group who only ever released seven singles and no albums. This version features great harmonies from Dee Murray (who later became Elton John’s bass player), Pete Hynes and Dave Hynes (who later joined The Spencer Davis group).

In My Life” by Kippington Lodge (1969). A very heavy version of the first very personal song that John Lennon ever wrote. Kippington Lodge later changed their name to Brinsley Schwarz, a slightly odd choice of name although to name a band after their lead singer, Nick Lowe, would have been more odd, I guess.

“Yesterday” by Eyes Of Blue (1968). The introduction to this song sounds like another song by Yes and features strong vocals from Phil Ryan who later went on to form Man (Welsh rockers). There are some well thought out harmonies, some doom laden keyboard playing, wild drumming and an increasing tempo building to a dramatic crescendo. About as far removed from the original as it’s possible to get.

Flying” by Sounds Nice (1969). When a group of session men recorded a version of “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus”, publicist Tony Hall played it to Paul McCartney who replied “Sounds nice” which inspired the name of this group. They made one album which included a cover of The Beatles’ least interesting song.

Strawberry Fields Forever” by Design (1971). This is truly awful. Design were a six piece vocal band who, after appearing on “The Morecambe And Wise Show”, subsequently made over fifty appearances on TV light entertainment programmes including “The Benny Hill Show”, “The Two Ronnies”, “The Val Doonican Show”, “Cilla” and “Rolf On Saturday”. Need I say more?

Here, There And Everywhere” by Episode Six (1966). This is generally considered to be one of Paul McCartney’s most masterful compositions but I’ve never liked it and this version is pretty faithful to the original apart from the addition of some intrusive drums. The lead singer of Episode Six was Ian Gillan who later went on to replace Rod Evans in Deep Purple.

“Got To Get You Into My Life” by Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers (1966). A great song from “Revolver” and this version got into the UK Top Ten. This song was produced by Paul McCartney and the band were managed by Brian Epstein. It’s not entirely clear who plays on this song but members of The Rebel Rousers at one point included Chas Hodges (of Chas And Dave) and Roy Young (who played piano with The Beatles in Hamburg and was once asked to join them).

“Birthday” by Hair Rave Up (1969). I never found this a very interesting song but Alex Harvey, who was a member of the stage band for the musical “Hair”, gives a strong performance to make what is, arguably, a more exciting version.

“Eleanor Rigby” by Blonde On Blonde (1969). This Welsh group made three albums and appeared at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1969 where Bob Dylan (whose 1966 album provided the group’s name) appeared. This is an up tempo version of this song and features some interesting trumpet playing.

“Dear Prudence” by Atlantic Bridge (1970). Originally called The London Jazz VI, Atlantic Bridge were a jazz quartet and this is a lovely extended instrumental version of one of John Lennon’s most tender songs.

“Across The Universe” by Jawbone (1970). After Dee Murray left Mirage, they adopted the name Jawbone, in honour of one of their favourite songs by The Band. Members Kirk Duncan and Dave Hynes were staff songwriters at Dick James Music who found this song which had been recorded by The Beatles for a Spike Milligan charity record in 1969 but was otherwise unreleased until it appeared on “Let It Be”.

“Fixing A Hole” by Duffy Power (1969). Duffy Power (real name, Ray Howard) had a chequered life. He was signed to the Larry Parnes stable in the late fifties and The Beatles failed an audition to back him on a tour of Scotland. (They later backed Johnny Gentle). Larry Parnes liked to rename his acts to give them names like Billy Fury, Vince Eager, Marty Wilde and Georgie Fame. Duffy Power later teamed up with Graham Bond, Ginger Baker, Alexis Korner and Jack Bruce and became a well regarded blues singer. However, drug use, depression and financial problems ruined his career. This is a fine, atmospheric, bluesy version.

“Oh! Darling” by Trucial States (1970). Whereas Paul McCartney’s vocals on “Abbey Road” were deliberately raw and almost maniacal, this version features a more measured performance from Tony Howitt.

“Good Day Sunshine” by The Tremeloes (1966). When Mike Smith rejected The Beatles at a Decca audition, he recommended Brian Poole And the Tremeloes instead. Mike Smith produced this song from a band who are still performing with three of the original band.

“Taxman” by Infinity (1969). This is an exciting version of a great song and features excellent guitar work from Stu Calver who was an important member of Cliff Richard’s live band over the following ten years. Infinity never released anything until yesterday.

“Carry That Weight/You Never Give Me Your Money” by Orange Bicycle (1969). A thoughtful medley of two songs from “Abbey Road” from a band that started as a skiffle group in the late Fifties and featuring Will Malone who later went on to produce music by Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and The Verve. See also, Disc 3.

Disc 2

“I Am The Walrus” by Spooky Tooth (1970). This heavy version of the song, clearly indebted to Joe Cocker, appeared on Spooky Tooth’s fourth album, “The Last Puff”. The album was credited to “Spooky Tooth featuring Mike Harrison”, for some reason giving increased prominence to their lead singer. Three members of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band were temporary members of the band at this point including Henry McCullough who would later join Wings.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” by Plastic Penny (1968). The single “Everything I Am” reached Number Six in the UK Charts in 1968 and Plastic Penny released three albums before splitting up in 1969, their members going on to more well known bands – Mick Graham went on to join Procol Harum, Paul Raymond joined Chicken Shack and Nigel Olsson played extensively with Elton John. This version includes a passing reference to “Hello Goodbye” in the coda.

“The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill” by Rainbow Ffolly (1968). This is even worse than Rainbow Ffolly’s previous contribution on Disc 1.

“Within You Without You” by Big Jim Sullivan (1967). James Tomkins was a session guitarist who played on over fifty Number One songs including “The Last Waltz” by Englebert Humperdinck, “Yeh Yeh” by Georgie Fame, “Come Outside” by Mike Sarne and “Out Of Time” by Chris Farlowe. He recorded eighteen albums under his own name, one of which was “Lord Sitar” from which this instrumental version of George Harrison’s masterpiece is taken. He was a friend of George Harrison, learning to play the sitar with him and frequently visiting him at home in Surrey. See also Disc 3.

“Hey Bulldog” by The Gods (1969). The Gods had many personnel changes and by the time this cover was released, Mick Taylor, Cliff Bennett and Greg Lake had left the band. The Beatles’ version was, at the time, only available as one of four new songs on the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack and The Gods’ single was released eleven days after The Beatles’.

Cry Baby Cry” by Freedom (1969). A rather spooky song from John Lennon from “The Beatles”. Freedom were formed around two recently sacked members of Procol Harum. They released two albums and this is taken from the second of these “Freedom At Last” which was only available in France and Germany.

“Day Tripper” by Don Fardon (1967). In 1965 The Sorrows had a hit with “Take A Heart” but Don Fardon left the band a few years later. Otis Redding covered this song in 1967, reaching number 43 in the Charts and this version is very similar. A year later, Don Fardon had a UK Number 3 hit with “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” of which I have absolutely no memory whatsoever although I must have heard it.

“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” by The Frugal Sound (1966). I suppose this is what I feared the box set would sound like from beginning to end but thankfully, it isn’t. This is a bog standard cover of the song, sanitised to omit any emotional connection that we all felt with the original. Luckily, the box set is much more interesting than that with many interesting arrangements, great singing and excellent instrumentation. Having said that…..

“The Two Of Us” by Penny Arcade (1970). The original song is, of course, called “Two Of Us”. Penny Arcade were an obscure group and remain so, thankfully. This is even worse than the previous song and, considering the box set is subtitled “The Beatles Psychedelic Songbook” fails to live up to its billing.

“You Can’t Do That” by Andy Ellison (1968). Andy Ellison was in John’s Children, who briefly included Marc Bolan in their lineup and were once kicked off a tour supporting The Who in Germany in 1967 when they upstaged the headliners. This is a lovely version of one of my favourite early Beatles’ songs and features a big band along with Dusty Springfield and Madeline Bell supplying backing vocals.

“She Said, She Said” by Grand Union (1969). One of my favourite Beatles’ songs so a cover version has a lot to live up to. I think that when I know a song as well as I know this, it’s refreshing to hear someone else’s take on it. This features an interesting guitar hook and good harmonies. It will never replace the original but it’s definitely a pleasure to hear it. There is very little information about Grand Union.

“Mother Nature’s Son” by Davey Graham & Holly (1970). Davey Graham was one of the most influential acoustic guitar players of the Sixties. Martin Carthy said that he was “an extraordinary, dedicated player, the one everyone followed and watched – I couldn’t believe anyone could play like that.” He married Holly Gwinn and recorded two albums with her which were released on the same day in 1970.

“Back In The USSR” by Cliff Bennett & His Band (1968). Having dropped The Rebel Rousers, Cliff Bennett aimed to repeat his earlier success (with “Got To Get You Into My Life”) with another high octane performance. Two members of his band were guitarist Mick Green and drummer Frank Farley, both of whom had been in The Pirates (Johnny Kidd’s backing group) and a band called The Wayfaring Strangers who once finished second in a competition to The Quarrymen.

“With A Little Help From My Friends” by The Young Idea (1967). The Young Idea took this song into the UK Top Ten before Joe Cocker. It’s a very faithful rendition of the song and lacks the warmth of the original. The Young Idea were a duo, one of whom was Tony Cox who later went on to arrange and produce work by Caravan, Yes, Renaissance and Family. He also married Lesley Duncan and in 1996 they moved to The Isle of Mull. Sounds perfect to me.

“Paperback Writer” by The Shadows (1970). This is excellent. It’s Hank B. Marvin at his most extraordinary. I had never heard it until a couple of minutes ago. This is why I love these compilations.

“One And One Is Two” by Phillip Goodhand-Tait & The Stormsville Shakers (1967). I had never even heard of this Paul McCartney song which apparently was turned down by both Billy J. Kramer and The Fourmost. On first listen, it doesn’t sound like a very sophisticated song but this is a spirited version.

“A Hard Day’s Night” by The Majority (1969). Unreleased until yesterday, this is an excellent version incorporating great harmonies and a trademark late Sixties guitar sound.

“Birthday” by Trucial States (1970). I know very little about Trucial States but I have to say that their choice of Beatles songs to cover (“Oh Darling” on Disc One and this) is surprising. Paul McCartney said about the recording session for this song “We thought, ‘Why not make something up?’ So we got a riff going and arranged it around this riff. So that is 50–50 John and me, made up on the spot and recorded all in the same evening.” This version doesn’t really add anything to what is, in my opinion, a pretty ordinary song.

“Get Back” by Linda Peters (1970). This is more like it. The wonderful Linda Peters who subsequently married Richard Thompson gives a great vocal performance here. She really does have a wonderful voice. There’s nothing especially psychedelic about this version as it consists mainly of a strummed acoustic guitar. It was unreleased until yesterday.

“Drive My Car” by The Bo Street Runners (1966). The Bo Street Runners won a “Ready Steady Win!” contest in 1964 to find “The Next Beatles”. Their prize was £1000 and a Decca recording contract. Although Mick Fleetwood was briefly a member of the band, he had left by the time this version of the “Rubber Soul” opening song was recorded. Mike Patto sings excellent lead vocals on this version. In 1974 Mike Patto joined Spooky Tooth but he was to die of leukemia in 1979, aged only 36.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” by The Good Ship Lollipop (1969). One of the many pleasures of any box set on the Grapefruit label is the dry witted sleeve notes by David Wells. Here are his comments about this song. “The band promoted this disc by invading Piccadilly Circus in a brightly-coloured ‘Good Ship Lollipop’ galleon complete with driver and topless mermaid while the cannons blared out ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ at maximum volume. Fortunately, they were quickly moved on by a policeman, who presumably ignored passers-by complaints that the group already had a criminal record to their name.”

“The Fool On The Hill” by Stone The Crows (1970). The power of Maggie Bell’s singing makes for a completely new interpretation of this song. A soft melodic Paul McCartney ballad has been transformed into a full blown blues/rock blast. Very good.

“I Will” by Young Blood (1969). Paul McCartney said of this song “I wrote very simple words, straight love song words really. I think they’re quite effective. It’s still one of my favourite melodies that I’ve written.” Never my favourite song from “The Beatles”, but somehow this version accentuates the melody and is pleasing. Young Blood (not the American group, The Youngbloods) were a band from Birmingham, featuring Cozy Powell on drums who later went on to play in Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Emerson, Lake & Powell.

“Yellow Submarine” by The Hi-Fis (1966). Terrible.

“Yesterday” by The Tomcats (1965). This is a nice version of the classic song, lacking the string quartet but featuring an impressive bass line. The history of members of The Tomcats is highly complex with links to Mike Oldfield, Nirvana (the British group), Unit 4+2, Assagai, Dave Mason, Long John Baldry, Gong, King Crimson. We need one of Pete Frame’s family trees to fully understand their place in British underground music.

“I Am The Walrus” by Lol Coxhill (1971). I used to have “Ear Of The Beholder” by Lol Coxhill but sold it because it was so terrible. This version features Lol Coxhill (previously with Kevin Ayers And The Whole World) playing flute and maracas whilst his very young children (Claire, Maddie and Simon) sing tunelessly. It’s as terrible as it sounds but strangely compelling and certainly psychedelic.

Disc 3

“Come Together” by Jason Crest (1969). Jason Crest were from Tonbridge in Kent but I never knew any of them. This is a good version of a great song.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” by Tomorrow (1968). Three members of Tomorrow were Steve Howe who later became a mainstay of Yes, Keith West who had a hit with “Excerpt From A Teenage Opera (Grocer Jack)” and John Alder (also known as Twink) who went on to play with The Pretty Things, Hawkwind and The Pink Fairies. It’s obviously impossible to better the original version but this is a good hard rocking version of the song with good vocals from Keith West and great drumming from Twink.

“Norwegian Wood” by Circus (1969). After Philip Goodhand-Tait abandoned The Stormsville Shakers, they changed their name to Circus, by which time Mel Collins had joined the band as a saxophonist. He went on to become a member of King Crimson for several years as well as playing on, literally, hundreds of albums. This is an extended version of the short semi-humourous song from “Rubber Soul” and shows how re-interpreting a Beatles song can produce something excellent. There’s no attempt to copy the original and the end result is impressive.

“She’s Leaving Home” by Big Jim Sullivan (1967). As with “Within You Without You” on Disc 2, this is an excellent instrumental version of a great song, beautifully played on sitar by George Harrison’s sitar learning friend, Big Jim Sullivan.

“Exposition/We Can Work It Out” by Deep Purple (1968). Deep Purple’s first album (“Shades Of Deep Purple”) was released in July 1968. Their second album (“The Book Of Taliesyn”) was released in the USA in October 1968 (although its release was delayed until July 1969 in the UK) due to pressure being applied on them for new material when they supported Cream in the USA. Being short of new, original material, they recorded another Beatles cover along with an extended introduction. It’s great if you like heavy underground British progressive music from the late Sixties. Which I do – if I didn’t, I would hate most of this box set.

“A Day In The Life” by Affinity (1969). Linda Hoyle’s vocal cords needed an operation in late 1968 and so she was not playing with them when this version of The Beatles masterpiece was recorded, live, at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. It showcases the band’s jazz credentials and is an excellent instrumental. Affinity certainly knew how to pick amazing songs from The Beatles’ catalogue (see Disc 1)

“Help” by Andy Ellison (1968). This was recorded during the same session as “You Can’t Do That” on Disc 2 and is equally good.

“Please Please Me” by The Score (1966). Kenny White, who was the lead guitarist with The Score, had been in The Five Dimensions who backed Jimmy Powell. This is an ordinary version of The Beatles’ first Number One.

“Taxman” by Loose Ends (1966). Drummer Alan Whitehead was later in Marmalade. A competent version of a brilliant song.

“Good Day Sunshine” by The Eyes (1966). There’s a run of songs now on Disc 3 where great songs are given adequate treatments but add nothing whatsoever to the original.

“Penny Lane” by The Wilson Malone Voiceband (1968). This is better – an original working of the great Paul McCartney song featuring a kazoo, penny whistles, saxophones and wordless harmonies. Wil Malone later went on to arrange the strings for “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve and “Unfinished Symphony” by Massive Attack.

“The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill” by Young Blood (1969). Another strange choice by Young Blood (see Disc 2). It’s competent without being very original. There’s no strange falsetto for “Not when he looks so fierce“. Shame.

“I Will” by Real McCoy (1969). I have to say that this box set is beginning to drag a little. There’s nothing special about this version.

“Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” by The Spectrum (1968). A very commercial song and this version couldn’t compete with Marmalade in the UK but was a Top Twenty hit in Germany and Spain. Dull.

“Rocky Raccoon” by Brian Bennett (1969). The Shadows’ drummer released this instrumental version of Paul McCartney’s shaggy dog song. It’s certainly different without ever being interesting.

“Day Tripper” by Ice (1968). The members of Ice met Linda Hoyle after this radio session was broadcast at which point they changed their name to Affinity (see Discs 1 and 3)

“We Can Work It Out” by The Sorrows (1969). This is a heavy, Vanilla Fudge-style version of The Beatles first Double A side and features some interesting sitar.

“I Am The Walrus” by Octopus (1971). A good exciting version of this song with the lead vocalist taking every opportunity to substitute the word shit or shitty (“Shitting on a cornflake” or “Mister Shitty, policeman shitting”). Nevertheless, it’s an energetic live performance.

“Northern Medley” by Hardin & York (1970). This is a ten minute live medley of “Norwegian Wood” and “Lady Madonna” recorded by Eddie Hardin and Pete York who had recently left The Spencer Davis Group. David Wells writes that the sleevenotes to the original album (“The World’s Smallest Big Band”) records that the songs were recorded before ‘an invited audience of Soho deadbeats’. He adds “Of course, they might not have been deadbeats when they first arrived at the studio.” It’s rather self indulgent.

“Good Night” by Vera Lynn (1969). Exactly as I imagined.

I enjoyed Discs 1 and 2 of this box set but probably won’t be playing the latter part of Disc 3 much. I’ll never tire of investigating and exploring The Beatles. It’s no exaggeration to say that the world would be totally different if that meeting at a village fete in 1957 hadn’t taken place.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

7 thoughts on “Looking Through A Glass Onion. The Beatles’ Psychedelic Songbook 1966-72 by Various Artists

  1. Wow a lot of work has gone into this review only one day after your 21st anniversary.
    What have the Beatles done for the world? – reminds me of that line in ‘life of Brian’ – what have the Romans done for us?
    Imagine the world without the Beatles – that sounds like a good idea for a film?

    Liked by 1 person

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