Recently, I was persuaded by verbiage that scratched my musical itch to download a free sampler from a new up-and-coming band. The review quote that was chosen to go along with the description of the band blatantly stated that they, in so many words, sounded like the Beatles. I’m a sucker for any comparison to the Beatles, even though I know that nine times out of ten, the artist does not compare at all to the Beatles in the ways that matter. And this was one of those cases.
I downloaded the sampler and could detect some small Abbey Road-influenced instrumental parts and maybe some vocal harmonies. However, the majority of the sampler sounded like Blues Brothers-type soul with horns. And the songs didn’t stand out. How can you compare a band to the Beatles if the songs aren’t there? I’m not saying that these songs are bad necessarily, just bad pop songs in the traditional sense. Pop songs need a strong hook to be good. I want to remember the song after my first listen.
That’s the reason most bands/artists don’t compare to the Beatles: their songs aren’t anywhere near the structural quality as the Fab Four’s output. Sure, production genius, the late George Martin had a significant impact on the overall quality, but the Beatles knew how to write timeless pop songs; you can’t fake good songs. It wasn’t so much Martin’s production or the Beatles’s inventiveness as musicians, it was the songs themselves. Think about all the different ways in which Beatles songs have been covered and re-recorded; the melodies and strength of the songs remain. You can take a Beatles song and re-record it or perform it in any musical style and it will intrinsically stand on its own merit. (That’s not to say that the Beatles didn’t have songs that weren’t up to par; they certainly did. No artist has perfect output and working with Phil Spector was a mistake.)
So here’s my suggestion: if you want to compare a band to the Beatles, at the very least explain why they sound like the Beatles. Is it the production? Is it the way the guitar player makes his guitar gently weep? Is it a vintage drum sound like Ringo is known for? Is it a bass line that is so melodic and ingenious that McCartney could have written it? Is it the vocal harmonies? Or is it the catchiness of the song(s) or maybe a combination of the other things I listed?
Here’s the thing: if you compare a band to the Beatles, I am immediately going to think you are comparing their songs to those of the Beatles. And that’s something that most artists can’t match. I find that most of these “retro” British Invasion-style bands I hear try and duplicate the songwriting and production/recording techniques of the Beatles, but the songs aren’t very good. So, please state why an artist sounds like the Beatles. (And I would ask for the same consideration when comparing a band to the Kinks. Ray Davies wrote some of the best pop songs ever and is a contemporary to the Beatles. He’s still active. Check out his newest, Americana. You can read my review here.)
There are some artists that do write material that closely emulates the Fab Four. Here’s a list of artists that I strongly feel have earned Beatlesque pop accolades. There are certainly others.
- Jellyfish (Spilt Milk will have you salivating.)
- Jason Falkner (Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown is superb. He was in Jellyfish at one time.)
- Crowded House (Together Alone is often dark and ambient at times but full of gushing pop hooks.)
- Neil Finn (One of the most distinguishable voices in rock and an incredible songwriter. One All is probably his best work apart from Crowded House.)
- Squeeze (There is something soothing about the unmistakable lead vocals of Glenn Tilbrook and Frank is one of their best.)
- World Party (Give Egyptology a spin.)
- XTC (Black Sea is full of energy, quirkiness and strong pop songwriting. They are one of the most unique rock bands ever.)
- King’s X (Ear Candy is aptly named. Heavy riffs, great harmonies and melodies abound here.)
- Galactic Cowboys (If you like your pop hooks and beautiful vocal harmonies mixed with heavy, fast music, look no further than Space in Your Face.)
- 10cc (Sheet Music is original, catchy and drips with melody. Incredible band.)
- Graham Gouldman (Graham is better known for his work in 10cc, but Love & Work has some of the best pop songs I’ve heard in years.)
- Daniel Amos (The album Horrendous Disc is an unbelievable, largely-undiscovered treasure.)
- Andy Ard (Check out How Easy It Is. Andy is a pop pro and can write and play alongside the big boys.)
- Joshua Novak (Joshua, like Andy Ard, is a Denver-based singer/songwriter and knows what he’s doing when it comes to writing pop songs. That’s probably why he seems to have been largely overlooked. With all the artists “making it” from Denver, why hasn’t he and why hasn’t Andy? It’s a shame. Check out Jason here.)
- The Kinks (Sleepwalker is pure ’70s guitar-based rock, impeccably written. There aren’t many songwriters that can compete with Ray Davies.)
Thanks for reading and please comment.
***Please check out my book Reel to Real by Reel if you are so inclined. It’s full of interviews with musicians, along with my own commentary. And please follow this blog and check out my past posts. Thank you for your support.
(c) 2017 Chris Callaway