REVIEW – Looking Through A Glass Onion | The Beatles Psychedelic Songbook 1966-72, Various Artists, 3CD

Out 16 October on Grapefruit/Cherry Red – a new collection of late sixties and psych driven covers of Beatles songs. Order here.

From the Rolling Stones picking up I wanna be your man from Lennon and McCartney to Joe Cocker transforming With a little help from my friends so many bands have sought to hook themselves to the slipstream of the Fabs and snag a hit alongside some kudos. Some of these covers have straightfoward recreations, others reinventions. Some Bands have gone the whole way and recreated entire Beatles albums – from Booker T and MGs’ McLemore Avenue covering Abbey Road to the Flaming Lips’ With a little help from my Fwends covering Sgt Pepper. The former works better than than the latter in my view (it has some good moments but not a high point for the Lips).

There are Beatles covers in all genres and sometimes hard to know where to start. The two free CDs that came with Mojo Magazine back in 2004 are one of the best sets of cover versions I have.

To go with this review I’ve also created my own playlist of favourite Beatles covers. Do add more suggestions via Twitter.

Before moving on to the main review I must also flag the excellent series Steve Carr has produced on mixcloud – in three parts he walks through one of the best collections of Beatles’ covers I’ve ever heard – a must-listen. While we’re here, Steve’s new book on record collecting Every record tells a story is also must read!

Cherry Red’s Grapefruit imprint has been producing some great boxsets, covering psych and freakbeat, sixties pop, and the heavier scene of the early seventies. I’ve particularly enjoyed the compilation sets I’m a freak baby, covering the heavy psych scene from 68 to 72, and Let’s go down and blow our minds which focuses on UK psych sounds of 1967.

Looking through the glass onion comes as a three CD set (and great price at £17.99). The blurb from Cherry Red sets out the aims of the set:

“Looking Through A Glass Onion” assembles these disparate strands into one cohesive package, with the studio day trippers, the cultural pranksters, the genre-benders, the folk club stalwarts and the hair-down-to-his-knees prog-rock brigade all grooving up slowly to the starting line.

The result is the proverbial Magical Mystery Tour, a Fab Four parallel universe, a Looking-Glass world in which ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ can be an Elizabethan garden party madrigal or a churning slice of Fudged-up sludge, where a spaced-out Duffy Power takes the lyrics of ‘Fixing A Hole’ perhaps a little too literally, ‘Penny Lane’ becomes avant-garde easy listening, the likes of Nick Lowe, Alex Harvey and Ritchie Blackmore try out early identities, and the Walrus was Lol.

There’s a great range of stuff on the compilation and lots I’ve not heard before – not all stone cold classics or reinterpretations – but the whole thing is great timepiece – you want to listen through end to end. All corners of Beatle singles, EP and albums are explored – from the early days to the end. The set also has one of the great covers from that era – The Score’s freakbeat version of Please Please Me (this was number 1 in The Guardian’s list of Beatles’ covers a few years back).

The set starts off with a belter with Camel’s version of Magical Mystery Tour – taking a nod from Traffic, the Faces and other soul influenced rock, it finds its own irrepressible grove. Right up there alongside Cheap Trick’s version (as featured on the Mojo CD mentioned above). It then flows into Deep Purple’s organ driven version of Help – taking a nod from Procul Harum and a soaring Richie Blackmore solo near the end. For the opening triplet there’s also a rollocking cover of Every little thing (from Beatles for sale) from Yes, that also throws in some Day Tripper riffs and some great harmonies. This is the pysch-pop side of Yes that works for me (before they fell into Prog).

The Design’s choral, harmonic version of Strawberry Fields Forever is a genuinely fresh take on the song with a classic late sixties pop feel.

Blonde On Blonde also pull off a great take on Eleanor Rigby – with spanish guitar and trumpets. I also love Duffy Power’s resonating and simple acoustic take on Fixing a whole. The Real McCoy’s version of I will neatly takes us back to what the song might I have sounded like on Rubber Soul rather than the White Album.

There are also some marvellously named bands on here – Kippington Lodge anyone? They produce a fairly faithful version of In my life, with some great driving organ. Also the wonderfully named Hair Rave-up who deliver a version of Birthday, that captures Macca’s original energy.

There are a few pedestrian efforts here – I think Rainbow Ffolly’s thought their cover of Lucy in the sky with diamonds would be a smash just by faithfully reproducing with a David Bowie Laughing Gnome style vocal in places. The Hollies and the Tremeloes are also here, desperarely trying to hitching a ride to the moving pop wagon as it headed into psych-pop.

We have a heavy-psych version of Norwegian Wood by Circus, complete with a deep sax solo. Dig it. Plenty of versions of I am the Walrus abound on the set – the best of these is Spooky Tooth’s – a slower, stripped back, languid version, with great deep vocals, that builds to great crescendo between swirling guitar and organ.

You also get a great version of Mother Nature’s son by legendary sixties folk guitarist, Davey Graham. Simple double harmonies backed by a tabla beat. You also get a great acoustic cover by Linda Peters, who was soon to team up with Richard Thompson.

Lastly, The Majority’s version of Hard Day’s Night is resolutely Beatley but a great reinevtion of how the Beatles might have performed it later in the sixties.

There’s lot more besides – dig in, man…

And here’s my Spotify list of Beatles covers

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