A Playlist for the (previous) Week

Man I wish I had hair like that...

I was going to get on and write a post about the physics of bicycles tonight, but then not one, nor even two, but three people sent me stuff criticizing me for not continuing to share playlists like I promised I would do. Well, I’m nothing if not accommodating. Here’s a new playlist, extra-long since it was severely tardy. And note, this is to make up for missing LAST week’s playlist, so there’s still one forthcoming for this week.

The theme for this playlist was inspired, of course, by how impressed I was by that one kid’s Dylan impression (I’m tired of linking to the post about it. Just scroll down if you don’t understand). But don’t worry, it’s not a celebration of obscure Dylan. Instead, it’s a celebration of talented mimicry. I present to you “Beatles Impressions,”  a chronological tour of the Beatles career, told through the sound of songs written by other artists some 30-40 years afterwards. The playlist is here, the detailed comments are below the jump.

By the way, this list has been almost a year in the making, as it was a comment from my friend Mark about one of the songs on this list that eventually turned me on to the idea of making a playlist of Beatles soundalikes. Since then, I’ve been dutifully making a note in my pretentious but oh-so-worth-it little black notebook every time I’ve heard a song that fit the bill. And let me say, there are just so, so many. So many that this list represents probably less than half of the candidates I had gathered (they aren’t particularly the “best” ones, they’re chosen to complete the chronology).

Pay attention to how many different, stylistically diverse artists have been clearly influenced by the Beatles. Then, think about how many additional “styles” the Beatles had that aren’t imitated anywhere on here. For all the different types of artist represented, nothing on here sounds too much like “Within You Without You,” or “The Ballad of John and Yoko,”  or “I am the Walrus” or “Norwegian Wood,” and so on. I guess what I’m saying is, ” Man, were those guys versatile. So sit back and relax, and listen as 22 different artists try to replicate just a small fraction of the Beatles creative output.”

The Songs

Colorful Revolution–The Redwalls

You can object to this song’s presence on the playlist on the grounds that it’s actually a Dylan soundalike, or a Donovan soundalike, but I’d ask you to bear in mind the fact that the reason I discovered the Redwalls in the first place is that one of my friends described them as “all your favorite early 60’s hits rolled into one band.”

The lyrics aren’t early Beatles, but this set is only concerned with the overall sound, and on that front, this one is a winner. It may not capture their earliest of early sounds– there’s no harmonica, for example– but it definitely evokes the sound they conjured the first time they started to step slightly outside the box. Picture the hard-rocking sound of ’63 or ’64 era hits like “It Won’t Be Long” and “Tell Me Why.” The Guitar has just the right plunky, dry sound, and the backing harmonies are spot on.

Don’t Make Me Wait– Locksley

I almost didn’t include this song out of spite, because in addition to channeling the Beatles, it’s a fairly obvious rip-off of OK Go’s clearly superior “Don’t Ask Me,” which was released several years earlier.  Check it out for yourself, I’m confident you’ll agree.

Unfortunately, I was a little short on “earlyish” Beatles songs, and this one’s great for that. Ok, I know, the Beatles never used that muted alt-strum which forms the basis of the guitar riff, and the count-off at the beginning sounds like later Beatles. In particular, it sounds so much like the count-off before the Sgt. Pepper reprise that I wonder if it’s a sample. But the combination of harmonies, the way the guitars and drums mix together, and the classic early Beatles bridge are spitting images of the kind of up-tempo explorations in the ’64 and ’65 eras which culminated in “Help!”

Lines In The Suit– Spoon

The somewhat dulled sound of the drums immediately convinces you it’s Ringo at the set, being recorded by a 1965 microphone. For a second, you think it’s going to be a cover of ” Things We Said Today.”  The you hear the first word, and you suspect it’s actually a version of “I should have known better.”  But eventually, the slower tempo. the use of vocal double-tracking, and subtle marcato piano chords convinces you that it’s was actually written by the Beatles just after “A Hard Day’s Night,”  when the band was in the mood of “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” but that it was too low-key to fit into the “Help!” soundtrack. Good thing Spoon tracked it down.

Big Me–Foo Fighters

I always knew there was a reason I wasn’t embarrassed that I liked the Foo Fighters. And then I realized it’s because, once you stop letting Dave Grohl’s growl distract you, and if you imagine the guitar sound lightened up a bit, a lot of their lighter stuff sounds like the Beatles during the years when their genius really started to flex its wings. This is a simple tune, but like so much of the stuff on “Revolver it wanders a bit outside their usual song constructions, rolling the verses and chorus together into a nearly unbroken line of lyrical melody. The playful drums and lighthearted guitar sound make this one sound like a McCartney track that got bumped from the album in favor of “If I Needed Someone,” for George’s sake

TV Mystic–The High Dials

This song was clearly recorded using guitars and amps that were stolen from the Beatles studios during the recording of “Revolver.” And like the Revolver material, it retains some of the familiar “pop” sound but begins to mix in some slightly more hypnotic, vaguely psychedelic sounds in the background and in what the Beatles would have called the “middle eight”.  Oh, and once again, listen to that vocal and harmony part and tell me you’re not hearing McCartney behind Harrison.

Lady Picture Show–Stone Temple Pilots

Where do you go after producing an album as good as “Revolver”? If you’re the Beach Boys, and you just recorded “Pet Sounds,” the answer is “downward.” In fact if you’re just about any band, an album as good as “Revolver” represents your acme. But of course this is not true for the Beatles, who moved on to “Sergeant Pepper,” and album on which many tracks feature a slightly “bigger” sound, slightly splashier drums, more use of synths for ambiance. I particularly love the moment in this song around 2:35 in when the vocals re-enter after short guitar solo. The understated growl sounds just like something Lennon would have done, and moments later, when the harmony begins, it’s Beatles perfection?

Are you noticing a theme? One of the best ways to imitate the Beatles is to steal their signature harmonies. But note, most bands these days resort to using two copies of their lead singer to produce this sound. Then understand that the Beatles had at least three different pairs of vocals they could use for different harmony effects. Or they could go three- part. Or on a rare occasion, they could form a three-part backing group for Ringo

Run–Supergrass

This is probably the second most obviously Beatles-sounding track in this playlist, so just savor it. Of course, a lot of Supergrass sounds this way, but this is the absolute epitome. It’s pure Beatles from either a late Pepper or an early “Magical Mystery Tour” era, when their use of LSD-laced backing vocals first appeared and their penchent for swoop synthesizers emerged. Also, check out the tom drumming during the instrumental coda and tell me that’s not Ringo practicing up for the more complicated stuff he uses during “Strawberry Fields.” I dare you.

Oh and what’s this? The song runs out into a long, building instrumental end that goes on for a surpassingly long time, and then seems to vanish, only to re-emerge in a slightly different form punctuated by some odd horn-work? Can you listen to that without expecting to hear someone say “I buried Paul” (or something like it) in the background?

All These Things That I’ve Done–The Killers

I struggled about whether to include this one, too, because superficially it doesn’t sound a lot like the Beatles. A little bit, maybe, but hardly in contrast to the previous track. On the other hand, there is simply something about the construction of this song that has sounded like a Beatles project to me since the first time I ever heard it. I was jogging on the Cathy Fromme Prarie at the time, and it stopped me dead in my tracks.

I still can’t put my finger on it exactly, but here are some of the elements that trip my “Beatles” sensor: first, there’s overall structure, which defies the “verse, chorus, verse, chorus” structure you’ve come to expect just a bit, including a few stylistic shifts like the marvelous “A Day in the Life.”  In fact, the break before the “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” part could just as easily lead into “Woke up, fell out of bed” if you just added an alarm clock. Also the use of a choir in the background, while not obviously a Beatles technique, actually ends up sounding similar to the Fab Four’s favorite trick of recording nine copies of John, Paul, and George in their best falsettos. And finally, this is one of the few pop songs anywhere that features bass playing good enough to be compared to McCartney’s. People don’t realize this, but a good case could be made for the fact that McCartney’s bass playing was the single greatest musical talent among those four. He basically invented the use of the melodic bassline in pop music, an art that had started to disappear for a while what with the Dave Farrells of the world working so hard to popularize the technique known as “thumping quarter notes on the tonic.”  Thank goodness, The Killers’ bassist Mark Stoermer is bringing it back.

Nine In The Afternoon–Panic! At The Disco

A lot of people fancy this is a Beatles-Like song, but they erroneously compare it to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” I can see their point, but more apt, I think, is the comparison to “Penny Lane” and to a lesser extent “I am the Walrus” and “Magical Mystery Tour.” But really, it’s Penny Lane. How can you not hear that? The trumpet? The Bells? The string backing? The soaring vocal parts, complete with harmony? The trumpet coming back in the outro? Even the lyrics, though not the focus of this playlist, evoke the same nostalgia for your freewheeling youth that Penny Lane seeks. I pronounce this song the third most obvious Beatles imitation in the list

Karma Police–Radiohead

So that wraps up the MMT era soundalikes, bringing us to the White Album (which is actually just titled “The Beatles.”) For some reason, the vast majority of Beatles-like songs I have ever found have belonged in this category, and I dunno why. Because it’s a double album and there’s more to copy? Because I like this album so much (my second favorite behind Abbey Road) that I naturally gravitate towards modern music that sounds like it?

Either way, I’m kicking the White Album section off with “Karma Police” because, well, Its so obviously starts off intending to be “Sexy Sadie” that to this day I can never remember which is which until the singing starts. And although they diverge a little bit at that point, it still stays pretty white-albumy.

Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up– LCD Soundsystem

Oops, how’d those nonchalant swear words get in there? Alright, I’ll grant you the Beatles wouldn’t have done that, although trust me, they would have wanted to.

Where to start with this song? It’s mostly “Dear Prudence,” as evidenced by the bass part (although not as cool as in the original Paul) with also the same buzzy guitar wandering around all arpeggio like in the background. The vocals, too, have the same laconic delivery, with maybe just a touch of “I Will” and “I’m So Tired” mixed in.

LA Breeze–Simian

I’m still not entirely convinced this track isn’t just something that Danger Mouse mixed together using demo tapes of the Beatles recording things like Back in the USSR, and Birthday, and Revolution Number 9,  with just a little bit of Gorillaz sounding buzz added in the background.

Why Don’t You Get a Job–The Offspring

Memo to people who though that “Nine in the Afternoon” sounded like “Ob La Di” : THIS is “Ob-La-Di.”

Disenchanted Lullaby–Foo Fighters

Way to go, Foo Fighters, for being the only ones to appear on this list twice. A lot of other bands could have been on here twice, but the two Foo tracks are unique in that they both sound pretty different, and yet both still sound like the Beatles.

Of course, this is another one of those that I was a little hesitant to include, because the resemblance is more shallow than many of the others. Still, I’m convinced this song is something the Beatles would have loved to record near the end of the White Album sessions. And for those of you who think the Beatles would never have wanted to produce the kind of raw vocals, dark, heavy guitar, and overall edginess of this track, I refer you to “Yer Blues,” “I Want You” and “Helter Skelter,” respectively.

Three Weeks, She Sleeps–Blue October

Because nothing says “The White Album” like a weirdly short fragment of something that sounds like it would have been a just marvelous song if only it had been a bit longer, leaving you thrilled, disappointed, and wanting more all at the same time. Featuring an orchestral arrangement that’s classic George Martin, two styles of plunky and jangly guitar that the other George would certainly have had fun with, and once again some trademark harmonies, this song is probably one of my favorite tracks under 2 minutes.

Look What You’ve Done–Jet

This is, hands down, the most obviously Beatles-sounding song in the playlist, although ironically, it’s also the one that has the most trouble mapping to a particular place in their chronology. I’ve put it here because it invokes some bits of the White Album sound (including some lyrical and structural borrowing from “Sexy Sadie”) but also foreshadows some of the “Let It Be” sound, particularly the way cello-sounding strings are used in the background to augment the low guitar sound. It also reminds a lot of poeple of “Hey Jude” (as a matter of fact, the first few fluttered Piano Chords could very well be the start of a cover version) which was, conveniently, released as a single in between the White Album and the recording of Let It Be.

The Scientist–Coldplay

As a side note, I think this is probably the most impressive piece of songwriting in Coldplay’s repertoire. Note that it’s not my favorite Coldplay song, but I think it’s the one in which they most successfully balance their taste for abstract lyrics with the importance of injecting actual meaning, an also manage to control their schizophrenic oscillation between minimalist instrumentation and overproduced soundscapes just long enough to strike the perfect balance. This song was overplayed on the radio for a long time, but it’s clearly one of the best things ever written.

Alright, to the Beatles comparison. It’s post-White Album, so you might be guessing that this was supposed to represent the “Abbey Road” period. If you are, you are temporarily banned from this blog until you read up on your Beatles history, because while “Abbey Road” was released before “Let It Be,”  it was actually the last thing the Beatles recorded together (save the infamous “You Know My Name” curio). So that’s what this song is here for; of course, the thirds-over-bass-notes piano progression and the smooth, melodic vocal sound like the title track itself, but other aspects of the song, like the  late-entering bass track and soaring use of falsetto “ooohs” as harmony could also come from “The Long and Winding Road.” Note that, while this song most naturally fits with the “stripped-down” version of the album that McCartney always preferred, it even features a gradually building string section in the background just to make sure that those of you who prefer your “Let It Be” the Phil Specter way get to feel the similarities too.

Flowers In The Window–Travis

It was hard for me to find a song that represented my beloved “Abbey Road,” and this one doesn’t do nearly enough, but it does seem to share some of the same personality of “Something” and “Octopuses Garden,” While maybe mixing in some of the bouncy sound of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” without being so morbid. I would have included “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis here, as well, except that I couldn’t find a good version on Grooveshark. In fact, there’s precious little Oasis of any kind on Grooveshark, which strikes me as odd.

For completeness, this song also serves as a retroactive representative of the “Yellow Submarine” album, since it includes that brief interlude with the surf-and-seagull sounds in the background.

The N.S.–Sloan

So that’s it– We’ve reached the end of Abbey Road and the Beatles are broken up. Why are we still here, you might as?

Well, because I promised you an extra-long playlist as interest from last week, and so I’ve even managed to scrounge up songs that sound like they’re channeling the Beatles solo careers post-breakup. And we start with this gem from Sloan that sounds exactly like the hollow, minimalistic recordings John, Yoko, and Klaus Voorman did in the immediate aftermath of the bitter breakup. It’s one of those songs where the resemblance is so obvious you have to assume it was intended that way. After all, where did these guys find a keyboard that could sound that much like a Moog if they didn’t steal it from one of those recording sessions.

The slower, heavier parts are of course the ones that sound the most like Lennon, but the upbeat sections are actually not all that atypical either; he just didn’t often mix them together in one song like this during this era. Oh, and he probably didn’t make as many references to Canada.

I’d Like That– Xtc

Now we’re a few years removed from the breakup, and McCartney has found his footing. He’s starting to assemble Wings, experimenting with airy, reverbing vocals and sudden hits of synthesizer to make room for Linda in the band. At the same time, since all of the principle members are from England, many of the songs are laced with references to quintessential Britishness. But of course, some of the other lyrics are just to sweet-but-goofy for you to be able to like them. Well, at least not in public.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that somewhere in between “Country Dreamer” and “Another Day” the folks from Wings took time out to record this gem, only to forget about it, allowing Xtc to release it like 30 years later. Seriously though, you can’t tell me that’s not McCartney singing. How could that not be McCartney’s singing? This song might have beat out “Look What You’ve Done” for the “best soundalike” prize, except that the group it sounds so much like technically isn’t the Beatles.

Melt With You–Modern English

Anyway, as long as we’re endulging vocal soundalikes, how much does Robbie Grey sound like Ringo here? (No offense to either man, but the similarity is nowhere more apparent than when he has trouble holding pitch when he hums the low notes in the middle.)

Beyond the vocalist, however, the flangy-yet-sparkly guitar (a la ” It Don’t Come Easy), the large, splashy “cymbals-in-an-airine-hangar” sound and the trademark synth also serve to make this song sound like it came right off Ringo’s “Photograph” album. Please note, I don’t really like this song and I’m sorry I got it stuck in your head. But I had to include it, obviously.

A Shot in the Arm–Wilco

Bear with me– I know this is a pretty electric sound for the Beatles, and unlike the previous three it doesn’t particularly sound like a familiar Beatles voice singing harmony. But here’s the thing: just take George Harrison’s distinctive voice and substitute it in for Jeff Tweedy, and I think you’ll see why this is on the list. If you don’t, it’s just because you didn’t listen to enough solo-era George Harrison.

We’re Going to be Friends–The White Stripes

Yet another song? We covered the Beatles, and each of their respective solo careers. I know but here’s the thing, McCartney has sort of had a third productive period in the last decade, post wings, including great albums like “Flaming Pie” and building up to “Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard,”  which was nominated for Album of the Year at the ’06 Grammys and probably could have won in a year with less-stiff competition. Like say, Last year. And as a side-note, wouldn’t that have been quite an achievement, to win a grammy for album of the year nearly 40 years after winning with the Beatles for Sgt. Pepper?  And as a side-side-note, how amazing is it that the Beatles had 5 of their albums in a row nominated for album of the year? And how stupid is it that one of them lost to “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”?

Sorry, I’m getting side-tracked. If you know “Flaming Pie,” “Chaos and Creation” and, to a lesser degree, “Memory Almost Full,”  Then you’ll recognize this song as basically being “Jenny Wren” with a happy ending. If you don’t, well, there’s your homework assignment.

That completes our musical revue of the evolution of the Beatles, featuring only music by non-Beatles. And my goodness! It’s become quite late, and I’ve become quite tired. I guess what I’m trying to say is “now it’s time, to say goodnight/ goodnight, sleep tight…”




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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

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