Tribute albums are a dime a dozen, but Lost Songs of Lennon & McCartney improves on the concept. Where most tributes simply recycle familiar material in familiar ways (or in strained reinterpretations of the songs), this focuses on 17 songs that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote but gave to other artists, or never officially released as Beatles songs. Most of this material is from the peak of Beatlemania -- although "Come and Get It" does pop up toward the end of the record -- and to be frank, as songs, they're not as good as what the Beatles released during 1963-1964, though there are some charming tunes along the way, including "Bad to Me," the one song that could have been a Beatles B-side without much problem. Still, if anybody has affection for the Beatles -- and it's the rare pop fan that doesn't -- it's fascinating listening to hear these songs, since it's possible to hear Lennon and McCartney really work at songwriting on these lesser numbers. These revelations are better-heard on the versions released during the British Invasion, where the sound and the production are closer to the Beatles, but here, the songs sound interesting because the songs breathe more and follow arrangements that don't mimic the Fabs. This is for better and for worse, since some of the arrangements are either a little too earnest, or in the case of those performed by Johnny Society (the one group of unknowns here), too leadenly rockist, sinking tunes like "Step Inside Love" and "That Means a Lot." But these are minor flaws because the heart of the album is on tracks made by a core house band featuring guitarist Duke Levine, drummer Dave Mattacks, and bassist Paul Bryan, along with Bill Janovitz and Graham Parker, who trade off lead vocals through most of the record, with Kate Pierson tackling four others. By keeping the same band for most of the album, producer Jim Sampas has given this a unity of sound and purpose, so even when the record stumbles due to the quality of the song, it has a charming, low-key, intimate feel. Sometimes, the record is a little bit too low-key, but that's refreshing compared to splashy, star-studded tributes, especially because there's a real sense of love and craft here, which makes this worth hearing.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Johnny Society