An enormous number of Beatles novelty records were generated during the '60s, especially in the immediate aftermath of the group's first visit to the United States in early 1964. In fact, according to the liner notes of this compilation, more than 200 novelties were produced in 1964 alone. This particular anthology has a mere 24 of them, most of them from that brief window of opportunity after the Beatles' initial American invasion, though some are from as early as 1963 and others as late as 1969 (and some, such as those 1963 sides, are even from the U.K., not the U.S.). While Beatlemaniacs!!! The World of Beatles Novelty Records by no means rounds up all the best, most amusing, or worst Beatles novelties, it's a good cross-section of this subgenre of Beatlemania, even including a few chart records (though just one, the Carefrees' "We Love You Beatles," that made the U.S. Top 40). Even Beatlemaniacs (perhaps especially Beatlemaniacs) would have to admit that most of these records were mediocre-to-horrible exploitation discs, from a time when -- as hard as it might be to imagine from our 21st century vantage, when the Beatles are viewed as artists on par with the likes of William Shakespeare -- the Beatles themselves were often thought of as a novelty, and a passing craze. Still, the cuts do exert a strange if somewhat uncomfortable fascination, if only as evidence of just how much Beatlemania pervaded both popular culture and the less savory corners of the record business.
The most dispiriting aspect of these cash-ins is how many groups apparently thought that all you needed to do to simulate the Beatles' sound was throw in a few "yeah, yeah, yeahs," some head-shaking "oohs," and some "Twist and Shout"-like chord progressions. The irony, of course, is that while these records were trying to make fun of the Beatles as a passing craze, ultimately they embodied the very American trends the Beatles were making obsolete, often sounding like nothing so much as second-rate twist and frat rock bands desperately clutching a straw. There are certainly other (and sometimes, though not necessarily, better) styles used to honor the Beatles phenomenon on display here, though. The Bootles' "I'll Let You Hold My Hand," the Fondettes' "The Beatles Are in Town" (recorded for, of all labels, Arhoolie Records), Gigi Parker & the Lonelies' "Beatles, Please Come Back," and the Beattle-ettes' "Only Seventeen" verge on raw girl group rock with a crude appeal. Link Wray offers a satisfyingly twangy instrumental version of "Please Please Me" (here presented in an alternate take). There's doo wop and a record inspired by the widespread rumor of Paul McCartney's death in 1969, the Mystery Tour's creepy "The Ballad of Paul." And there's even a Beatles homage here with genuine artistic credibility, Nilsson's "You Can't Do That," which wove snatches of more than a dozen Beatles songs into a cover of an early Lennon-McCartney classic.
There are some other pretty well-known names lurking in the shadows, though they were probably never too proud of the discs collected here. Bluegrass musician Bill Clifton's none-too-funny "Beatle Crazy" (in which he unsuccessfully tries to exterminate the Beatles with DDT) was written by Geoff Stephens, the British songwriter involved in penning several '60s hits, most notably the New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral" and Dave Berry's "The Crying Game." Sonny Curtis of the Crickets co-wrote "A Beatle I Want to Be" with major Los Angeles pop/rock producer Lou Adler. The Four Preps had a minor hit entry with "A Letter to the Beatles," which they claim was pulled under pressure from their fellow Capitol Records act, the Beatles themselves. The Beattle-ettes' "Only Seventeen" was produced by Shangri-Las producer Shadow Morton; "Saint Paul" was cut by Terry Knight, more famous for managing Grand Funk Railroad; Gigi Parker & the Lonelies' "Beatles, Please Come Back" was co-written by Chip Taylor of "Wild Thing" and "Angel in the Morning" fame; and Bobby Wilding, heard doing "I Want to Be a Beatle," later co-wrote the standard "Goin' out of My Head." Weirdest of all is "John, You Went Too Far This Time" -- an unhinged, bitter 1968 baroque-folk-rock blast against John Lennon for posing nude on the Two Virgins cover by Rainbo, a pseudonym for none other than a young Sissy Spacek. Rob Finnis' liner notes unearth an extraordinarily amount of detail about Beatles novelty records in general, and about these peculiar tracks in particular.