Well, I tried. I gave it a shot, all the way through and listened to every track on The Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help From My Fwends, a cover/tribute (?) of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that features guest appearances from Miley Cyrus, Grace Potter, Tegan and Sara, and many others. The mixture of anger, confusion, sadness, and stomach upset this album has caused in me is one I will not soon get over. Granted, I’m not a fan of the Flaming Lips to begin with. As with this album, I’ve tried, several times, to see what the fuss is all about and have yet to understand. But at least with their original material, I can see where the appeal might be and there are bits I can appreciate. But this? This is The Beatles. And more than that, it’s Sgt. Pepper. You pretty much have to go out of your way to mess this up, so I’m left wondering if the intention was all that sincere. And as if to add insult to injury, the artists I named as guests on this album are artists I either like or appreciate.
It’s not that I don’t think the material should be covered. I love covers, but this album is just unnecessarily off kilter. I’m not sure what was added or revealed by completely overproducing and deconstructing the songs the way they did, i.e.like sonic diarrhea. Covering this entire album is not even anything new since it’s been done before, several times. So, in response, I’ve created a much more acceptable cover of Sgt. Pepper.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by Jimi Hendrix: There are tons of versions of the title track, but who better than Hendrix to kick it off? It’s short and sweet stays true to the original, if only a little louder and more frenetic.
“With a Little Help From Friends” by Ike & Tina Turner. The obvious choice here would have been Joe Cocker, and that version is awesome, but it’s almost it’s own thing, separate from the original, at this point. I like this version because Tina brings the soul of Cocker’s version, but it’s not as well known so it can still stand as a cover without overshadowing.
“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by Elton John: It turns out there aren’t as many covers of this song as I would have thought. Not great ones, anyway. I went with Elton John, mainly because I’ve always loved the last part of his version. Plus, that’s John Lennon playing guitar on this version.
“Getting Better” by Gomez: I didn’t find many covers of this track, but I didn’t look much after hearing this one by Gomez, with it’s bluesy guitar and airy feel. This song breathes in a way that I think adds just the right amount of new to the song. It opens it up while staying true to the original.
“Fixing a Hole” by The Wood Brothers: I might like this version better than the original, but that may be because I was never a big fan of the original. It always felt like filler to me, but this jazzy interpretation gives it an improvisational feel that calls me into that hole. It’s much more organic.
“She’s Leaving Home” by Richie Havens: Beatles covers are almost not even valid without Richie Havens. This is a song that has been revealing itself to me slowly over the years. Maybe it’s because I have daughters now, but it affects me more with each passing year. Havens, I feel, brings out some of the pain of alienation and abandon and just growing older a little more than the original, which is slightly more haunting than sad. It makes me think more about the complexity of this song.
“Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” by Fabio Koryu Calabro: As expected, it was hard to find many covers of this bizarre tune that was always one of my favorites. I think this version, in Italian, from the Sergio Pepe e l’Orchestrina Cuori Solitari album is odd enough that it’s the perfect tribute to the original’s spirit, while still being recognizable.
“Within You Without You” by Patti Smith: Who better to cover this hypnotic, Indian inspired George Harrison song? Smith’s doesn’t feature sitars and tablas, but the tantric structure of the song remains and Patti is no stranger to delivering this kind of poetry. She brings more of a tribal feel to it, which only helps connect to the universal, we are all one theme of the original.
“When I’m Sixty-Four” by John Denver: This is a bit of corny song, when you get down to it. Nothing wrong with that. And nothing wrong with John Denver, but he’s a good choice for covering a corny song. There are other versions out there, but I think they miss the boat by trying to instil too much sincerity into the song. This version keeps it light, as intended.
“Lovely Rita” by Easy Star All Stars: I’ll be honest, this is the song where this whole thing nearly fell apart. The pickings were slim.This version comes from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band, and is infused with reggae in a way that feels like it was always there.
“Good Morning Good Morning” by Soul Asylum: This version sticks pretty close to the original, which is fine, I guess. It’s not the greatest track to begin with. Even the Beatles had filler.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/The End” by Paul McCartney: Is it cheating? I don’t care. It’s Macca. And it gets tagged with “The End” from Abbey Road, but so what? It’s the right reprise version if we’re going to celebrate Sgt. Pepper and The Beatles.
“A Day in the Life” by Eric Burdon and War: This is probably an intimidating song to cover. The shear scope of this is mind boggling. Leave it to Eric Burdon, with War, to find a way to do it justice while bringing something new to the table. It’s got a soulful flair with a heavy helping of gospel feel to it. It just makes sense.