Thursday, 4 June 2015

Re-imagining The Beatles #7 - Zoot

The Beatles have long been my favourite band. Why wouldn't they be? If it's power pop, piano balladry, proto-heavy metal, musique concrète, psychedelic experimentation or childlike whimsy that I want to hear, the Fab Four can provide it all with a verve and vitality that remains unequalled. Why then it's taken me until 2015 to get myself to a Paul McCartney gig is a mystery - perhaps a fear that he might not live up to expectations, or perhaps the cost of tickets (£125 each on this tour) played a part - but I finally crossed Macca's name off my bucket-list last month at London's  O2.

Macca puts on a show

McCartney is 72 years old, but you wouldn't know it to see him perform. His nearly-three hour show features a set-list that ranges from the oddball electro-pop of Temporary Secretary, through the drama and bombast of Live And Let Die, to the tender regret of Yesterday, even managing to shoehorn in a guest appearance by Dave Grohl on I Saw Her Standing There. McCartney's peerless back catalogue, the surefootedness of the band that he's assembled around him and the enduring cultural significance of The Beatles made the O2 show an emotional and life affirming event. During the opening bars of Paperback Writer it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks that I was watching an ex-Beatle performing on stage and the emotional weight of the moment got the better of me and my bottom lip. Elsewhere in the set a faithful run-through of Eleanor Rigby got me thinking about some of the cover versions of this Revolver classic that I've enjoyed. And so, in honour of the godlike genius that is Paul McCartney, I figured it was time to revive my Re-imagining The Beatles feature. 

There have been numerous attempts by bands to stamp their own identity on this Beatles classic. Notable examples include those by Vanilla Fudge who turn in a typically waffling, overwrought performance which gets bogged down in its own pomposity and self-importance; The Ides Of March who add stabbing horns and fuzz guitar wailing to the mix; and Pure Food & Drug Act featuring the one-time Canned Heat guitarist Harvey Mandel in full-on extended jam mode sparring with the fiddle player from hell.

All seem to have ignored the lyrical themes of loneliness and regret that inform the wistful sonic texture of the Beatles original and have toughened up the sound considerably. If you can get over the incongruity between the tone of the lyrics and the muscular reworking of the music in these covers, there is much to recommend them (even the Vanilla Fudge one if you're in the mood for a spot of earnest, po-faced, self-aggrandisement.)

Superb though these covers are, the best, and most brutal of all the Eleanor Rigby re-workings is by Aussie band Zoot who featured a young Rick Springfield (of Jessie's Girl fame) on guitar (but don't let that put you off.) I feel a bit of a fraud featuring this version here because I don't own the record. If you saw the prices it goes for on the rare occasions that it comes up for sale, you'd appreciate why I've yet to snag a copy. Any criticisms of Zoot's re-imagining of Eleanor Rigby (it's bludgeoning lack of subtlety, its disregard for McCartney's melancholic lyric) are all theoretically valid, but rendered moot by the sheer shit-kicking heaviosity of the riff that Zoot graft onto the song to transform it into a driving, proto-Metal monster. Like it or loathe it, there's no denying that it re-invents the Beatles' original. But is it better? Whoever posted this YouTube video seems to think so.


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