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The Best Of Stolf's Oldies

Beatlemaniapalooza!

 

Last updated 1/1/2019 at 11:11am | View PDF



Follow the leader, jump on the bandwagon, ride the coattails, monkey-see monkey-do. Just trying to profit from something that you yourself had nothing to do with. It's safe to say the music industry has never seen a tidal wave like that which followed the Beatles. Today they're collectively called "Beatle Novelty Records." A harsher term might be "exploitation"…or would that be Beatsploitation? And one of the earliest tries to cash in on the Beatles involved the Beatles themselves.

In June of 1961, German producer Bert Kaempfert wanted to record an LP with British rocker Tony Sheridan, who'd become popular performing in German clubs. The Beatles had sometimes accompanied him on stage, and they signed on to record 7 songs…5 as the backup "Beat Brothers," and two more on their own, John Lennon singing "Ain't She Sweet," and an instrumental called "Cry for a Shadow." These cuts were released in Germany and the UK, but a planned US issue on Decca in April of 1962 was scrapped after promo 45s sent to radio stations generated little response. Thus in the first weeks of 1964, MGM rushed these old recordings back into print, and altho none charted very high, they were out there…and "Cry For a Shadow, dedicated to Cliff Richard's backup group, is actually quite catchy.

Oddly enough, the very first American tie-in record technically came out before the Ed Sullivan debut on Feb 9, 1964. That's because it was by an American folksinger named Bill Clifton, who was touring in England in late 1963. He recorded a song written by Geoff Stephens, who went on to pen "Winchester Cathedral," "There's Kind of Hush," Tom Jones' "Daughter of Darkness," and Marry Hopkins' "Knock Knock Who's There." It was done in a gently mocking "talking Blues" style and called "Beatle Crazy"…out in England in December, then in the US soon after B-Day. An ad for London Records in Billboard proclaimed: "Boston Breakout! Comedy Smash!" Well, It charted in neither country, but Clifton was first off the mark.

But the initial deluge was incredible…you had recordings by groups called the American, Canadian, Japanese, and Female Beatles, even the Beatle-ettes. You had the Bootles, Bagels, Beagles (real "singing" dogs), Weasels, Haircuts, Bearcuts, U.S. Beatlewigs, Liverpool Wigs, not to the mention the Liverpool Kids, Lads, Beats, Set, and Five...and the Mersey Bugs, Birds, Lads, Sounds, and Beats (not to be confused with the one-word Merseybeats, one of Liverpool's most popular groups.) If it was an insect…the Bugs, Buggs, Bedbugs, Teen Bugs, Termites, Beehives, Boll Weevils, Butterflies, Grasshoppers, Insects, Roaches, Lady Bugs, Lady Birds, Bug Men…or sounded the least bit British…the Bulldogs, Beefeaters, Limeys, Livers, Redcoats, Mad Englishmen, Whippets…you'd find it in the 45's bin.

Some were decidedly anti-Beatle, like "Beatle Bomb" by the Exterminators…flipside: "Stamp Them Out." But most were unabashed love-fests. You wanna dance? You could choose from the Beatle Dance, Bop, Blues, Bounce, Jump, Walk, Beat…or just "Do the Beetle" with Gary Usher, who with Roger Christian took time out from his surf and hot rod records to produce Capitol's documentary LP "The Beatles' Story." That in itself was an unprecedented marketing ploy, and 2 discs to boot! Who else got a documentary record? The Stones, Led Zep, the Eagles, Elton John? Nobody but the Fab Four.

Now most of these cash-in records were cheap, fly-by-night productions. But there were numerous well-established "budget labels" that did a good business with low-priced copies of currently popular songs and styles, and these sprang into action. Best known perhaps is "Beatlemania! in the U.S.A." on Wyncote by the anonymous Liverpools. The issue of Billboard that hit the stands the day before B-Day actually featured it in the LP Spotlight section, commenting: "Could be a solid seller." And while the Beatle songs they covered are pretty lousy, several other cuts aren't too bad, with an almost Mersey Beat style. Still, the ripoff nature of this enterprise is betrayed by the fact that Wyncote soon released a speeded up "Chipmunks" version of the record, using the exact same music tracks!

A few of the copycats went on to bigger things. "I Wanna Be a Beatle" by the Unbeetables featured Gene Cornish, a founding member of the Young Rascals. And then there was "Ringo, I Love You" by Bonnie Jo Mason, who turned out to be none other than Cher.

Many legitimate artists also took a shot. You had Beatle take-offs and tributes from Ella Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry, the Angels, Rolf Harris, Homer and Jethro, Vito & the Salutations, Casey Kasem, Lou Monte, Allen Sherman, Little Peggy March, Sonny Curtis, the ex-Cricket best known for the Mary Tyler Moore theme, and even rockabilly legend Billy Lee Riley ("Red Hot" and "Flying Saucer Rock & Roll") with an album of Beatle songs on the harmonica. Gene Moss did a vampire version, "I Want to Bite Your Hand." Buchanan and Greenfield issued the requisite "break-in" single called "The Invasion." One of the most popular novelty LPs was by David Seville and the real Chipmunks, and it's even made it to CD, such was its lasting if goofy appeal.

And we've only been surveying 1964. As time progressed, and it became apparent the Beatles were no mere flash-in-the-pan, every conceivable variation and adaptation of their music was put out at one time or another…Country & Western style, Tijuana Brass style, Bossa Nova, Motown, all manner of classical styles from symphonic to chamber music, Polkas, you name it. Even Capitol Records mined this vein early on, with the Hollyridge Strings series of "Easy Listening" instrumentals. Sample them today on CD and you'll find them surprisingly upbeat and creative, thanks to the talented Stu Phillips.

Records of course were just the tip of the merchandising iceberg. Tie-in products, officially licensed or otherwise, flooded the market, perhaps the strangest being Baskin-Robbins "Beatle Nut" ice cream, pistachio with walnuts and a chocolate swirl. But we must ask: Were any of these novelty records any good?

Yes, some of them are very good, and a joy to listen to almost 50 years later. But here we come to an interesting point: none of them sold very well, at least not compared to "real" records that were tabulated on the national charts. In fact, only one cracked Billboard's Top 40…"We Love You, Beatles" by the Carefrees, studio singers from England, who adapted a song from "Bye Bye Birdie"…and that only peaked at #39. Just a handful of others charted, all stalling in the mid-80s on the Hot 100, and all during the first crazy months of Beatlemania…"The Boy with the Beatle Hair," a nice girl-group sound by the Swans…"A Letter to the Beatles," the last chart entry for the Four Preps…and Donna Lynn's energetic "My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut," released the day after B-Day, but recorded in January. Those last 2 were on Capitol, of all labels. I guess they finally woke up.

But the fact of the matter was, the Beatles were terrifically prolific, churning out tons of product, more than enough to gobble up a major portion of a teenager's record budget. And with any shekels left over, there were plenty of other British groups to choose from. That'll be the focus next month in the final installment of this Beatles series: the English artists that rode the British Invasion avalanche in the Beatles' wake…but how it was ultimately "The American Response" that changed the face of our music. Till next time, let's do it in the road at deepfriedhoodsiecups.wordpress.com…and rock on!

 

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