Dave Gregory, the preternaturally nimble guitarist formerly with XTC, has a pastime of which I'm quite jealous. In his home studio he crafts these stunningly perfect reproductions of his favorite hits from the Sixties.
Now, I don't mean that he does covers of these songs for fun -- I mean, he does absolutely perfect fakes, every note reproduced with painstaking detail, of everything from "Strawberry Fields Forever" to "Classical Gas" to "Third Stone from the Sun." He did a limited-edition collection of these lifelike forgeries called "Remoulds," a collector's item that brings rich rewards in the bootleg-trading world. You can hear his "Strawberry Fields" on Andy Partridge's Fuzzy Warbles Volume 3 -- I've just listened to it now, and it's an astonishing piece of work.
I haven't spoken to him about it, but I can't help but imagine that part of his motivation is to get inside the skin of the original song -- to recreate the experience of creation, if you like. If you get to know a recording down to the submolecular level, down to amp settings, guitars used, even microphone preamps and the specific kind of reverb available in the original recording studio, you might gain some kind of insight into how and why the artists and producers arrived at the musical decisions they did.
Since I was a wee lad, I've been occupied with the question, Why do I love Beatle records so much? What exactly is it about them that makes me feel that I'm listening to the best music ever made? Is it that they have an emotional hold on me, an unshakable connection to the gut-wrenching nostalgia I feel for my childhood? I'm sure that some of that must be at work, but it's also objectively true that the Beatles in their prime wrote and performed music that is simply touched with that quality we call genius. A man capable of falling out of bed having dreamed "Yesterday," and who, sure he's simply remembering a tune from somewhere, has to ask everybody he knows if they'd ever heard the melody before lest he be accused of plagiarism, surely has something going on in his creative soul that very few of us are privileged to understand.
One way to approach the question, I reasoned, might be to try to get inside the skin of contemporary Beatle imitators, the countless thousands of little four-piece combos that grew moptops and little uniforms in 1964 to try to conquer the world -- or at least that tiny part of it that the Beatles didn't yet own. They would have listened carefully for the Secret Formula they thought must exist, that skeleton key to the hearts of teenaged girls that guaranteed a theaterful of dampened seats and checkwriting impresarios.
On one of my favorite records nowadays, Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond, I found a track by The Mascots, a Swedish band that formed in October 1963 when they saw the Beatles in concert. (You can hear what inspired them -- go get your copy of Anthology, Vol. 1, and catch the blazing October 24 '63 live recording from Stockholm. Now try to tell me that the Savage Young Beatles weren't a fierce, fierce, fierce little rock band!) Inspired by this experience, like so many of their contemporaries around the world the Mascots bought some Rickenbacker 12-strings and grew some hair and cut some records -- one of which, "Words Enough to Tell You," wound up in this mindbogglingly great collection of psychedelia.
When I heard the song the very first thought was that, though a valiant attempt, it fell just short of actually being a Beatles song -- an astute application of that Secret Formula, but just not quite astute enough -- and thus I thought it might be a perfect candidate for a Gregorian "Remoulds" kind of treatment. I'd get inside the skin, try to make a forgery of the song like Dave, try to see what makes it Beatlesque-but-not-perfectly-Beatlesque, and perhaps learn something.
Here's the result of my experiment. (Pops.)
I'll leave you with this just now. Tomorrow, when I'm not quite so tired, I'll try to tap out a
little essay about this sweet, romantic little pop tune, and get at the nub of the question, "What does 'Beatlesque' actually mean?"