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Music Review: The Smithereens – B-Sides The Beatles

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To my way of thinking, The Beatles plus The Smithereens equals a must-have addition to my music collection.   So I knew that I would like the Smitties upcoming release B-Sides The Beatles.  After listening to it this past week I can tell you this… not only did I like it, but this CD met and exceeded my expectations!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that's a bold statement. 

After all, just reading about this record had me drooling.  Quoted in a recent press release, Co-Producer Kurt Reil said, "The project started while we were making demos in preparation for the next new original Smithereens album. As the band warmed up on obscure Beatles B-sides they used to play in clubs, we soon realized there was some unfinished Beatles business for The Smithereens, especially in light of the success of Meet The Smithereens, and the idea for a follow-up was born."  Lead singer Pat DiNizio, guitarist Jim Babjak and drummer Dennis Diken went through their own early Beatles singles collections to select which songs would be recorded.

As I read the track listings, I could hear each song (with the exception of one, but more on that later) in my head.   Every one of them, all relegated to the "B Side" of those seven inch vinyl records was not the usual throw-away filler, and should be familiar to any Beatles fan.  I'll leave the telling of that type of history to the experts like noted Beatles author/historian Bruce Spizer and Tom Frangione, member of the (syndicated radio show) Joe Johnson's Beatle Brunch

Here's what happened when I got my copy of B-Sides The Beatles.  From the first notes of the opening track "Thank You Girl" it was like stepping into the way back machine.  I didn't so much listen to the CD the first few times around… it was more like having my own private back-up band as I sang along to songs so fresh in my mind that it didn't seem possible that it had been years since I'd last heard them.  As with their earlier Meet The Smithereens, Pat, Jim and Dennis, with Severo Jornacion on bass, are so right on in these recordings that it seemed natural to add my own voice to the songfest.

Please don't think that this is a carbon copy sort of tribute album though.  Once I got the sing-a-long out of my system, I was able to give B-Sides the attention it deserved.  The Smithereens haven't steered me wrong yet and this CD is no exception to that rule.  They are vocally as true to The Beatles as they are to themselves, with the tight and brilliant harmonies that both groups are famous for.  Songs like "There's A Place" and "If I Fell" are proof of that. 

Jim Babjak stepped up to the front mic several times.  He took lead vocals on "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" and  (the only tune that wasn't on any Beatles single) "Some Other Guy".  According to a Koch Records press release this song (only found on the album Live At The BBC) was included because Jim wanted to sing another lead.  I didn't ask him about that.  But I did want to find out more about the one track that I hadn't heard of before and the only the instrumental included on the disc.

""Cry For A Shadow" was the first Beatles single I owned. I bought it off a kid sitting behind me in 7th grade.  He probably took it from his sister. I had to pay 75¢ for it which was a lot of money at the time. I didn't like the A side titled "Why". I didn't understand the whole Tony Sherdian and the Beatles as back up band mystery until I read books about the Beatles later that year.  The cool thing about "Cry For A Shadow" was that I never heard anything like it before. It was really weird and I thought all the screaming in the background was wicked. I had a lot of fun recreating the screaming part. It was almost as fun as playing the guitar on it.  I'm really glad we put this one on the album since very few people have thought of covering it before. It's definitely a lost gem."

Indeed the Smitties do love to include cool things like that on all their recordings.  Some are found in the songs themselves.  "I'll Get You" has that extra special touch of including the hand claps found in the original recording.  And drummer Dennis Diken took over the vocal chores on the Larry Williams' penned "Slow Down".

On top of his drumming and harmonies duties, Dennis is the king of The Smithereens liner notes.    B-Sides The Beatles is the latest and as with all the others, it is most informative.  Diken gave up the sticks for only one song on this album, "P.S. I Love You".  Sitting in for him was session player, Andy White, who was the drummer on the original 1962 Beatles version.  To quote Dennis, "you can look it up!"

Another tidbit from the notes.  When you get your copy of B-Sides The Beatles make sure to check out the cover artwork.  It was custom created by legendary Mad Magazine artist Jack Davis.  Dennis ends his liner notes with a special thank you to him. 

"Jack, thanks a million for drawing our CD cover and for making yet another dream come true for The Smithereens.  And we're obliged to you for helping to create a cool world where even squares become hip and anything seems possible."

Personally?  I gotta dig a world like that.  One where four "mop-tops" from a relatively small port town in the U.K. called Liverpool can change the entire world.  And a bunch of guys outta New Jersey can make their own mark as well.

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  • Hi,

    I enjoyed the review, could you post a track listing (as I’m too lazy to find out for myself!)…

    Should anyone wish to join a B-side debate, I would of course vote for Rain and Yes It Is as my favourtites, although I wonder what is a B-side on an EP???

    Sadly, as a Beatle obsessive, I don’t think I’ve even ever heard Cry For A Shadow, although I do remember it as a constant advert in (UK) Record Collector as I was growing up: £10,000 offered I think I remember for that and In Spite Of All The Danger.

    GawdSpeed and all that.


  • Hey Rev!!

    No problem. Here are the titles:

    “Thank You Girl”
    “There’s A Place”
    “I’ll Get You”
    “You Can’t Do That”
    “Ask Me Why”
    “Cry For A Shadow”
    “P.S. I Love You”
    “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”
    “If I Fell”
    “Slow Down”
    “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party”
    “Some Other Guy”

    That would be an interesting debate about EP b-sides. Would the first listed be considered the number one top choice of the two?

    In the liner notes there are pieces by both Tom
    Frangione and Bruce Spizer, both very up on their Beatle history. One of them even talks about the 7″ vinyls and specifically b-sides.

    So I’m thinking that you could ask either one of them about EPs. If you follow the links in my review, they will take you to websites for both gentlement.

    Sounds like you are going to have to buy B-sides The Beatles in order to hear “Cry For A Shadow”. Love to hear your take on the CD.

    Glad you liked the review!

  • Yacko

    “Sadly, as a Beatle obsessive, I don’t think I’ve even ever heard Cry For A Shadow,”

    Yikes, the song is as common as dirt. Came out in the US on that Why single mentioned, I think it was on MGM. Plus shows on the Tony Sheridan and the Beatles album and reissues of it, including the most recent incarnation.

    I’m sure there are UK versions, try Amazon UK and see if anything shows.

    It is an instrumental, perhaps a homage, perhaps a challenge to the Shadows (get the pun of the title?). The Beatles together and apart fancied themselves to be all purpose songwriters with a talented range. I don’t think And I Love Her (wasn’t there a Bossa Nova craze at the time?), Back In The USSR (Beach Boys) or It’s Only Love (slightly demented Anthony Newley) are accidents of design. Also the only Beatles song with the writing credits “Lennon-Harrison”.

  • Hey Yacko!

    You’re right on about this being the only Beatles song credited to Lennon-Harrison.

    Thanks for reading.