The Fab Faux: Meet the Beatless

A few months ago, back when the scariest thing that might threaten you at the airport was an overzealously handsy security officer, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and took a trip to Liverpool, a secular pilgrimage that every dyed-in-the-wool Beatlemaniac should undertake at least once, inshallah. Though I usually try to avoid the usual trappings of a tourist, I had no qualms when visiting the home of the Quarrymen, booking a ride on a Magical Mystery Tour bus that took me to various sites around the city, from their childhood homes to Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields to the front steps of the Cavern Club.

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In concert with my pilgrimage, I wanted to do something more than just revisit the Beatles catalog all the way through—something I do every year anyway, along with most of their solo work. Inspired by the radio program Off the Beatle Path on Austin’s own KOOP 91.7 FM, I started to amass a massive Spotify playlist of my favorite Fab Four covers, which by now has ballooned to over 140 hours of music and nearly 2,400 songs (and I add more whenever I come across them). As I searched through what seemed like an endless selection, from “A Day In The Life” to “Your Mother Should Know,” I began to wonder whether there were any songs by the Beatles that had never been recorded by another artist at one time or another.

The best (or at least most interesting) way to answer that question, I figured, would be to go through each of their thirteen albums, as well as the Past Masters compilation, one by one and track by track, which would give me a better sense of which periods in their timeline produced the most (and the most interesting) covers than if I were to proceed alphabetically. What’s more, as I went through the different recordings of each song, I began to single out my favorite (or at least the most interesting) iterations, creating ersatz album playlists that are, if not note for note, track for track reproductions of the original records.

While I had no overriding rhyme or reason for selecting one version of a song over another, I tried to stick to five general rules:

  1. First, to stay away (when at all possible, as was the case for all but a few deepcuts) from recordings by bands that exist only to perform covers
  2. Second, to avoid placing the same musicians twice on the same playlist (though some, like Sarah Vaughan, appear throughout)
  3. Third, to choose more marginalized artists, such as black women, over those that look and sound like the original group, all else considered
  4. Finally, to save any instrumentals or non-English covers for a later version of the overall project, which would amount to a replica of a replica

Following those basic principles produced playlists with much greater diversity, not just in terms of what sort of artists are represented—an international, intergenerational lineup fit for the Pepper’s cover—but genres of interpretation as well, ranging from bossa nova to bluegrass, soul music to synthpop. In general, I endeavored to choose those renderings that did more than merely cover the original arrangement, instead seeking musicians creatively reinterpreting the songs in their own ways, toward often drastically different ends. At the same time, I have tried to retain the fluid arrangements and suggestive juxtapositions that characterize the real albums; hence, even if I slightly preferred version X over Y for whatever reason, I would choose the latter if it sounded better in the context of the playlist.

Because the search function on Spotify was only of limited value, particularly when it came to tracks with more prosaic titles like “I Will” or “Yesterday,” I relied on the online databases at WhoSampled and SecondHandSongs to find some of the more obscure iterations. To help with my decision making process, I frequently turned to Alan W. Pollack’s “Notes on…” series, Mark Lewisohn’s Complete Recording Sessions, and my own collection of piano sheet music for insights into the songs themselves.

The Fab Faux Playlists List:

*combines the Magical Mystery Tour LP (1967) with the original tracks from the soundtrack to the Yellow Submarine animated film (1969)

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