The Alternative Anthology

Pinky And Perky's Beat Party (Columbia, 1965).

Tomorrow, the appropriately-named 1968 album by regulars on London’s psychedelic circuit and perpetual Next Big Things that weren’t Tomorrow, might appear a little disjointed to anyone more used to notions of ‘Classic Albums’ that have been officially designated ‘Classic Rock’. In addition to the staggering time-distorting singles My White Bicycle and Revolution, there’s a couple of similarly inclined numbers like Real Life Permanent Dream, a lone attempt at Interstellar Overdrive/Third Stone From The Sun-style free-form freaking out on Now Your Time Has Come, a significant number of post-Syd Barrett ‘character’ songs including Shy Boy and Three Jolly Little Dwarfs (I still want to know who would ‘win’ out of them, The Gnome, The Elf, The Laughing Gnome, Grocer Jack and ‘Granny’ as in Takes A Trip), and most out-of-place sounding of all, a hard and heavy cover of Strawberry Fields Forever. Meanwhile, conspicuous by their absence are b-side and favourite of Frank Zappa (who later played it when he stood in as a DJ on Radio 1) Claramount Lake, a hypnotic cover of  The Byrds’ Why?, sinister live favourite Caught In A Web and their rejected title song from Blow-Up, all of which would have appeared on face value to be obvious candidates for inclusion. Guitarist Steve Howe would later play a significant role in several landmark ‘Classic Albums’ as part of Yes, so how come his first excursion onto the long-playing format ended up so comparatively haphazard?

According to anyone who cannot comprehend a world beyond notions of ‘Classic Albums’, the answer is simply that they were ‘filling up space’ due to the demands of ‘the man’ and that these perfectly decent tracks should never have been on there but there was nothing else to occupy their place; an argument that is immediately demolished by the most cursory scan through the tracklisting of any compilation or bonus track-laden reissue. The most likely answer is also the simplest and most unexciting one – that it was a straightforward late sixties album from a time before ‘the album’ as an artform became a viable default career option for any old outfit without a proven hit parade track record. The Beatles may have pointed the way forwards with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but they were The Beatles and could pretty much do what they wanted, and until the likes of King Crimson started shifting millions of albums from nowhere more or less everyone else had to do what their label asked and put together their long players in much the same way as Herman’s Hermits might have done. Despite tiresome attempts to rewrite history, even the likes of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and Are You Experienced? are essentially just straightforward pop albums that were permitted to test the waters a little on one or two tracks, while The Small Faces were only allowed their own way on one side of Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, which is probably why they sold so well; other early experiments from Reality by Secondhand to S.F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things to even Odessey And Oracle by The Zombies barely shifted any units at all. It was, after all, a model that was still working to tremendous financial and in many cases artistic effect, and if you want to argue with that I might suggest that you have a listen to A Hard Day’s Night or Something Else By The Kinks first.

Tomorrow was really just a reflection of the band’s repertoire at the time assembled into an album that all concerned felt might constitute a hit – it didn’t, but apparently sold consistently for years afterwards and was reissued several times – and Strawberry Fields Forever was a regular feature of their live set because, well, people wanted to hear it. Back then it was that bit harder to hear your favourite music when you felt like hearing it, and with the Fab Four themselves having retired from live work, audiences quite liked having the odd Beatles cover thrown in, and – much like how their Stateside counterparts routinely belted out Louie Louie, Hey Joe, Gloria and so on – the overwhelming majority of bands were only too happy to oblige. If you could put your own individual stamp on it then that was all the better, and essentially, that’s how Strawberry Fields Forever ended up on Tomorrow.

That said, I first heard Tomorrow’s take on Strawberry Fields Forever on a volume of The British Psychedelic Trip, a compilation series that drew a lot of flak at the time for mixing far out heavy sitar-led voyages to trip-out city with flowery twiddly-diddly pop tracks like It’s So Nice To Come Home by The Lemon Tree and that Miss Pinkerton thing, but is now ironically both distinctive and significant for that exact reason. For starters it’s likely that far fewer people would have heard Green Plant by Cherry Smash and Lazy Day by Tinkerbell’s Fairydust if they’d been boringly purist about it. Also on the same compilation, and very much leaning in the latter direction, was a cover of Hey Bulldog by progressive rock pioneers The Gods, released as a single just before they decided that ‘the album’ was the direction that they really ought to go in. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that there were plenty of bands in the mid-to-late sixties who saw nothing wrong with trying to have a hit with a Beatles song if The Beatles themselves weren’t bothering to release it as a single, and of introducing this feature that I now can’t remember the origins of on some of my favourite examples of the ‘genre’, to which I’ve now added a few more – some of them even stranger still – and a playlist. As for The Beatles themselves, you can find a feature on their still-unreleased even-weirder-than-Tomorrow 1967 track Carnival Of Light in my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

If you ever wanted evidence of just how commercially unassailable The Beatles were in the sixties, look no further than the sheer amount of Fab Four covers that were around at the time. Just about everything the Beatles ever wrote and recorded, from With A Little Help From My Friends all the way to Love Of The Loved, was covered by somebody somewhere several times over in the usually vain hope of a little bit of Beatle-tinged chart magic rubbing off on them. Often they were little more than cheaply done cash-in efforts that were never going to stand the test of time – who could pick Marmalade’s version of Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da out of a line-up, for example, and has anyone ever even heard The Overlanders’ chart-topping stroll through Michelle? – but the sixties was an exciting time for exotic musical sounds even outside of George Martin’s studio trickery, and many of these covers are worth a second listen. Like, all of these for example…

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – George Martin And His Orchestra (United Artists, 1968)

Looking ahead to the Yellow Submarine soundtrack – if in fact they weren’t outtakes arranged at exactly the same time – the Fifth Beatle’s solo album British Maid/By George!/London By George! (depending on which pressing you have) included a few Fab Four makeovers amongst the Procol Harum and Traffic covers, the Radio 1 and David Frost themes and a bit of silliness that later ended up introducing Why Don’t You…?, and this brass band arrangement sees them start off marching before launching into a rowdy speaker-blowing swagger that even makes Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) sound as though they’re not hoping you will enjoy the show too enthusiastically. Incidentally, you can hear a lot more about my love of George Martin’s contributions to the music of The Beatles themselves here.

Please Please Me – The Score (Decca, 1966)

Speaking of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise), not that you’re really supposed to point this out within eighteen feet of accepted ‘Rock History’ but the feedbacky crunching guitar sounds had been doing the rounds in Mod/Psych clubs for well over a year by that point, doubtless inspired by The Yardbirds’ grimy effect box-drenched riffs on Heart Full Of Soul. Not all of the bands on that circuit got to cut a disc, but The Score’s one bid for chart stardom came with this menacingly slowed-down buzzsaw guitar-driven rethink of the Fab Four’s Royal Variety Performance-friendly close harmony clap-along favourite, complete with a sarcastic quote from (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. When he said these words to his girl last night, he was clearly after a little more than holding hands.

Tax Man – Loose Ends (Decca, 1966)

Within weeks of the release of Revolver, this mysterious Mod outfit had turned George Harrison’s rocking yet clipped attempt at satire on his having to cough up Income Tax like any old ordinary member of the public into a wild and undisciplined organ-driven blur of slow-burning funk, packed with frantic bongo breaks and a decidedly more two-fingered approach to Mr. Wilson and Mr. Heath. A big favourite on Pirate Radio but just too ‘out there’ for mainstream chart success.

Hey Bulldog – The Gods (Columbia, 1969)

When Progressive Rock came calling at the end of the decade – probably over the length of a triple album – many of the earliest exponents of the genre opted to showcase their instrumental dexterity and lofty artistic ambitions through the auspices of a heavied-up take on a poor unsuspecting Beatles number. Many of these were every bit as horrendous as you are imagining, but this bunch of arrived-too-early types not only picked an unjustly overlooked hard rocking number – relegated to the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, and even then cut out of most of the original release prints because Paul McCartney wanted to put in ‘more bloody stupid marching’ instead or something – but also gave it an even more hard rocking arrangement, kept it to a nice and radio friendly length, and liberally decorated it in chart-friendly top ten teen popster brass and harmonies. It still wasn’t a hit, though.

Strawberry Fields Forever – Tomorrow (Parlophone, 1968)

Perennial Next Big Things that never actually were, Tomorrow ironically boasted three Next Big Things That Actually Were amongst their ranks – Excerpt From A Teenage Opera hitmaker and later prolific record producer Keith West, festival-hogging anarcho-hippie and all round Punk before Punk existed John ‘Twink’ Adler, and Yes guitarist Steve Howe. Even so, their two outstanding singles failed to trouble the charts, which was probably how this thundering Fabs cover with guitars replacing all of the orchestration and sound effects ended up on their album as an extra selling point. It probably sounded fantastic through a haze of dry ice at the UFO club, but unfortunately you can’t really capture that on a record. John Lennon was by all accounts a fan of the band, though, and we can only wonder what he made of it…

Good Day Sunshine – The Eyes (Mercury, 1966)

The cautionary tales continue with one of a handful of psychedelic acts who were causing a sensation on the live circuit before The Beatles had even finished recording Revolver. The Eyes made a splash with their flourescent rugby shirt stage outfits and wild gong-assisted single When The Night Falls, but unfortunately this didn’t translate into chart success, and after a couple more tries, their record company ‘persuaded’ them to record a cover of a Beatles song that wasn’t even that good to begin with. The band weren’t happy and split soon afterwards. If only they’d been pushed towards She Said She Said

With A Little Help From My Friends – The Young Idea (Columbia, 1967)

On the evidence of their lone LP and somewhat less successful singles, this overdressed duo had designs on a more Syd Barrett/Scott Walker kind of musical territory, but they hit the big time with a respectably done Beatles cover with at least a hint of their own individual stamp – the ending in particular is very well done – and that was pretty much the end of their career. It’s certainly preferable to Joe Cocker’s overwrought histrionics, but the laws of irony have seen to it that while his The Wonder Years-introducing tedium is still inescapable to this day, The Young Idea’s version probably hasn’t been heard anywhere since the 1967 Christmas Top Of The Pops.

Penny Lane – Not David Bowie (Music For Pleasure, 1967)

While The Beatles were living the high life and snorting LSD off Mia Farrow’s arse or something, young David Jones, latterly of failed beat combos The Lower Third and The Buzz, was so poor and starving that he had to resort to making ends meet by singing on one of those ‘not the original artists’ LPs that were common currency at the time. Thus it was that he added voice to undernourished strolls through various Monkees and Beatles numbers, though the story has a happy ending, as by the end of the year he had turned his dire financial straits into a spectacular cautionary tale called The London Boys, secured himself a new deal, and ever so slowly started to evolve into the world’s favourite distant and androgynous chameleon of rock who fell to Earth. Except it turns out it wasn’t actually Bowie after all. Or it was, depending on who you listen to. He definitely played the sax on Baker Street, though.

All You Need Is Love – The Keith Mansfield Orchestra (CBS, 1968)

Staggeringly, there were probably more performers on the original of All You Need Is Love than there were on this ad-hoc ensemble put together by the composer of the Grandstand theme for an album of instrumental covers of recent pop smashes – the cover of which featured him standing next to a tree with loads of instruments stuck in the branches in a manner suggesting he might have seen the promo film for Strawberry Fields Forever more than once – but even so he managed to succeed in making this new slightly different form of choral music with a slight difference somehow sound even bigger, as if it had come straight off the soundtrack of a mid-sixties British film with some natty jazz piano riffs added for good measure. And we’ll be back – with Prince Charles – in just a moment!

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds – The John Schroeder Orchestra (Piccadilly, 1967)

The arranger and producer of a thousand (or thereabouts) hits for the Pye label starts off with an intro so uncannily similar to the original that you could be forgiven for mistaking it for the genuine article, but it’s soon invaded by Test Card-style strings and flutes that take it off to another shore way beyond the Newspaper Taxis. Picture yourself near a Clown by a blackboard, essentially.

The Fool On The Hill – Bobby Lamb And The Keymen (BBC Records And Tapes, 1973)

Bobby Lamb And The Keymen were one of several outfits that were pressed into regular service by the newly-launched Radio 2 to plug the gaps left by the Musicians Union’s strict rules about the quantity of ‘commercially available’ music that could be played per hour, enlivening many a DJ slot with their idiosyncratic takes on current hits and popular favourites. This rendition of Macca’s wistful ballad from The Magical Mystery Tour starts out with suitably pastoral overtones before degenerating into what can only be described as a pitched battle between Hammond Organ and flute. There’s much more about Bobby Lamb And The Keymen, incidentally, in Top Of The Box Vol. 2 – The Story Behind Every Album Released By BBC Records And Tapes here.

Michelle (Fantasia On A Theme By Lennon And McCartney) – The Roundtable (Jay Boy, 1969)

As part of his campaign to get everyone up and grooving to Early Music whether they liked it or not, crumhorn-toting firebrand David Munrow – whose musical hi-jinks you can read more about in my history of comedy on BBC Radio 3 The Larks Ascending here – formed a prog-jazz outfit to further his Flemish Clacket-popularising ambitions and recorded a lone and excellent album which included this wandering minstrel’s take on Macca’s love letter to a girl whose name was spectacularly difficult to rhyme with anything flattering or constructive. Verily it swingeth.

Within You, Without You – The Alan Lorber Orchestra (Verve, 1967)

Credit where credit is due and George Harrison indisputably did more than anyone else to popularise the sitar internationally. There were, however, many seasoned studio hired hands who could handle the twenty-one stringed behemoth as if they were riding a bike and make it groove into the bargain, and unfortunately for George we’re about to meet a load of them all at once. Sixties Jazz was well ahead of the curve in interpolating international rhythms and tonalities, and this bunch manage to give Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band‘s resident blissed-out drone a bit more musical muscle than should even be logistically possible.

She’s Leaving Home – Big Jim Sullivan (Mercury, 1967)

One of the most prolific session guitarists in sixties pop, Big Jim Sullivan mastered the sitar more or less while he was waiting for a bus and decided to show off his skills for hire with an LP of his very own, which included this radical take on the tearjerking story of a spoilt brat who stuck two fingers up at her parents for no good reason, paying scant regard to the lyrics, emotion and even tempo of the original as he transforms it into a high-speed raga that suggests ‘she’ had not so much left home as sneaked off behind the shed for an ‘interesting’ cigarette.

I Am The Walrus – Lord Sitar (Columbia, 1968)

Nobody seems to be quite certain of who Lord Sitar actually was – although a few accusatory fingers can surely be pointed in the direction of Big Jim Sullivan – but it’s a fair bet that he wasn’t an authentic nobleman. Nonetheless, he did get to record an album full of suitably sitared-up covers of recent chart hits, keenly sought after by anyone who’s heard the alarming snarl through I Can See For Miles and then equally keenly discarded once they’ve heard the tepid stroll through Daydream Believer. It’s worth sticking around though for this even more psychedelic than the original effort, doused in fuzz guitar and shrill flutes, and what’s more as it doesn’t say ‘knickers’ it’s perfectly safe for the Light Programme to play as well.

Flying – Sounds Nice (Parlophone, 1970)

Masterminded by early David Bowie cohort Paul Buckmaster, this deliberately Easy Listening-slanted rock outfit took that instrumental that they couldn’t work out how to finish from The Magical Mystery Tour and turned it into a heavy electric piano and overcranked organ-led groover that sounds as if the film had been rewritten to star The Ides Of March or Chicago. Until, that is, they elect to replicate the main melody on a Stylophone.

Eleanor Rigby – Enoch Light And The Light Brigade (Project 3, 1969)

Taken from his legendary (well, with certain genre enthusiasts at least) ‘Easy Listening On The Moon’ album Spaced Out – featuring the soaring harmonies of none other than The Free Design (who you can read much more about here) – this rip-roaring loungetastic speaker-to-speaker rampage through the tale of the woman who was buried along with her name whips up the tempo and overdoes it with the battling brass and fuzz guitar in truly alarming Theme From The Money Programme fashion, lending the impression that she’d at least been to a bloody good party before rocking up at Father Mackenzie’s joint.

We Can Work It Out/Hey Jude – Killer Watts (Pye Golden Hour, 1974)

In the early seventies, the dreaded synthesiser wasn’t just an Exciting Musical Instrument Of Tomorrow but an actual selling point in its own right, and record shops were practically groaning under the weight of Moog-demonstrating budget price albums. It was pretty much a legal requirement for them to feature at least one Beatles cover, and Killer Watts and his ‘many’ Moogs – which sound suspiciously similar to one multi-tracked Moog – raises the bar with this unlikely medley of two Fab hits that had never been seen in the same room at the same time before, complete with a Pipkins-at-the-disco funky rhythm and ridiculous zapping and space storm noises. This might actually be Carnival Of Light for all that anyone knows.

Tomorrow Never Knows – The Mirage (Philips, 1966)

Hits proved elusive for this highly-touted Saturday Club-friendly bunch of pop hopefuls, but they gave it their best shot with this ambitious take on a song that even The Beatles apparently didn’t dare to release as a single, swapping megaphones for close harmonies and replacing a small army of backward tape loops with a huge echoey piano. Inspired by The Tibetan Book Of Herman’s Hermits, apparently.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) – The London Jazz Four (Polydor, 1966)

The hip jazz community were as fond of messing around with sitars and backward tape loops as The Beatles (as you can read much more about here), but the London Jazz Four preferred a more straightforward ‘modern jazz’ approach, which makes it ever so slightly puzzling that they recorded an album’s worth of covers of The Beatles at their most intensively experimental. Here, John Lennon’s tale of being annoyed because a girl wouldn’t ‘do’ him is shorn of all sitar droning and becomes a frug-friendly vibraphone workout of the sort that would sound at home in a ‘beat club’ scene in a sixties big screen Brit-thriller. Isn’t it good? Yes indeed it is.

The London Jazz Four - Take A New Look At The Beatles (Polydor, 1967).

Buy A Book!

You can find a huge feature on the legendary unreleased Beatles track Carnival Of Light in my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. In one of those Get Back mugs, only with ‘PROPERTY OF YOUNG IDEA (NOT BEATLE)’ written on it.

Further Reading

Meet The Mono Beatles! is a feature looking a Capitol Records’ eccentric approach to launching the Fab Four in America, and how their albums were slightly yet significantly different for Stateside listeners; you can find it here.

Further Listening

You can hear me talking to Chris Shaw about my love of the Yellow Submarine album – and the side given over to George Martin’s soundtrack in particular – here. You can also find a chat with Paul Abbott about VHS-era documentary The Compleat Beatles here.

© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.