Richie Havens occasionally sings Beatle songs and he's never sold a whole lot of records. Ditto Kenny Rankin. The soundtrack album "All This and World War II" (20th Century, 2T 522) is made up solely of Beatle songs performed by heavyweights like Elton John, Leo Sayer and the Bee Gees. It stiffed. Even the Beatles themselves did not sell as many records as anticipated when Capitol issued their last three ex post facto albums ("Rock and Roll Music," "Live at the Hollywood Bowl" and "Love Songs"). you would think that the point had been made. Today, old Beatles will not outsell new Aerosmith. No matter who is singing.
Now, though, comes the ultimate - what you might call a travesty of a mockey of a sham. Now comes "Beatlemania" (Arista, AL 8501). Arista may be the trendiest record company around (it also has the soundtrack to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") and "Beatlemania" id nothing if not trendy.
"Beatlemania" is the two-record, original-cast recording of the Broadway show that has sold out the Winter Garden Theater for the past several months. The set was recorded live and includes the entire score. What it doesn't include is the Beatles.
Before continuing, it should be stated that this program (that's actually what it is) never claims to be the Beatles. In fact, the jacket bears a disclaimer reading, "Not the Beatles. An Incredible Simulation." So far, no problem.
Another point is that "Beatlemania" is a show's cast recording, not rock'n'roll, and - as such - falls into a whole different category of albums; at least in record store bins. Now that we've acknowledged these facts, let's talk sense.
When the cover is opened, there are several printed photos shot from long distance. In them four men are standing a lot like the Beatles used to stand. The large photo, though, shot at much closer range but purposely out of focus, shows a band that looks more like the Grateful Dead. Also, in all but two of the pictures, "Paul McCartney" is playing his bass right-handed (the real McCartney returned rock'n'roll credibility to southpaws). Already, your suspension of disbelief is disappearing.
The idea of any original-cast recording is to highlight the music in a show. It gives those who haven't seen it a strong idea of what it's all about (and whether it's worth seeing) and it brings fond memories to the people who have seen it. Some of these cast albums can stand on their own, while others require a qorking knowledge of the show's book for true enjoyment. "Beatlemania" falls into neither category.
The reason is simple. The "Beatlemania" show attempts to bring bakc the spirit of the Beatles through slides, snippets of dialogue and music. If you really stretch your imagination, you can almost believe that some of the performances are real.However, once you put just the music on two records, all of its weaknesses appear with no show to compensate for them.The real Beatles sang the songs better.
The bogus Beatles are Joe Pecorino (John Lennon), Mitch Weissman (Paul McCartney), Leslie Fradkin (George Harrison) and Justin McNeill (Ringo Starr). With all due respect to their talents, they might as well be four guys from the corner drugstore.
The songs sound ver Beatle-esque in mimicry is spots ("an incredible simulation"), but mimicry is not music. The album opens with a sense of deja vu. "I Want to Hold You Hand" sounds authentic until the chorous, and "She Love You" and "Can't Buy Me Love" are equally well-copied. Weissman's "Yesterday" may be the only real "acting" evident on the album, since he's out there all by himself. He comes through pretty well, too, sounding like McCartney might after three months on tour. Other than these moments, thoughm it's just four actors singing Beatle songs.
"Eleanor Rigby" will never be mistaken for the original and it's obvious that "Strawberry Fields Forever" gets its fullness from a stag pit band and not from the brilliant production techniques used on the original. Over two records, the whole concept of a Beatles original cast wears pretty thin.
There is no question that the show is a hit, though not many people nationwide have seen it. Unfortunately for "Beatlemania," most people nationwide have heard the real Beatles and are going to be reluctant to shell out $11.98 (the list price) for a fake.
As close as these tracks come to simulating the Beatles, the end result is more a curiousity than a tribute. Also, it is doubtful if even those theatergoers who have seen "Beatlemania" will be reinspired by this cast recording. A lsiten to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is probably a better idea. (Ironically, the film version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is expected soon, and, with it, a soundtrack album featuring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton singing Beatle songs. Some people never learn).
Any rock'n'roll band big enough to inspire a Broadway show is a certifiable legend, and an album like "Beatlemaina" illustrates the staying power of the originals reaction to "Beatlemania." The screams sound more happy than hysterical, and they don't last all that long. The crowd, like the music, couldn't have fooled Ed Sullivan.