The Beatles’ 1969 swan song Abbey Road inspired Booker T. & the M.G.’s to record an album devoted entirely to instrumental reworkings of its songs. The result, McLemore Avenue, was released in 1970 on Stax Records. Quick turnaround, although George Benson had the upper hand with his similar project, The Other Side of Abbey Road. Benson’s superior tribute album reached stores in 1969 just weeks after The Beatles’ original.
McLemore Avenue has been remastered and expanded with half a dozen additional Beatles covers. The album proper consists of just four tracks, three of which are extended medleys. The M.G.’s did not take the approach of covering the original album track-by-track. Instead they drastically rearranged the track list, dropping some tunes (“Oh! Darling,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”) while making some unusual sequencing choices (i.e. “Here Comes the Sun” follows “The End”).
I love listening to other artists covering The Beatles, especially when they are stylistically quite different. Booker T. & the M.G.’s were a great soul group and they did some interesting things on McLemore Avenue. The best part of the opening medley comes at the end, with a swampy, muddy take on “Come Together.” Steve Cropper gets in some nice licks after “Because” segues into “You Never Give Me Your Money” on track three. Cropper really shines on the album closing “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” with Donald “Duck” Dunn also providing some funky bass lines.
But honestly these guys sound a bit stiff overall throughout McLemore Avenue. It was an interesting exploration, but again I have to come back to George Benson’s similar tribute to the same album. Benson even approached the material in the same way, re-sequencing the songs and joining some together in unpredictable medleys for The Other Side of Abbey Road. The musicianship (featuring the likes of Herbie Hancock on keys and Ron Carter on bass, along with Benson’s brilliant guitar), the creative arrangements (fleshed out with horns and strings), and Benson’s classy vocals all add up to a stronger re-imagining of a classic.
Concord Music Group’s reissue includes bonus tracks not sourced from McLemore Avenue‘s sessions. But seeing as they are all Beatles’ covers, they definitely fit right in. There are some cool moments sprinkled amongst them, with two excellent versions of “You Can’t Do That.” The second one, cutting a slower, heavier groove, is previously unreleased. Their take “Day Tripper” is another winner. These extra tracks add considerable value to the reissue.