So, American Idol is doing another Beatles-themed week next week.
That’s all well and good. Because Beatles songs are fab.
My advice to the American Idols? Do something challenging. Do something under the radar. Do something that doesn’t have a lot of preconceived ideas about, except in the minds of the truly conversant in Beatles-ology.
In short, think outside the fucking box.
“All I’ve Got To Do,” With the Beatles. It’s one of their early love songs, and it’s perfect for a single vocalist. It’s ballady, but with an edge in the middle-eight. And the lyrics aren’t overly complex.
“Can’t Buy Me Love,” A Hard Day’s Night. Everyone knows this song, so it’s not really outside the box. But it is a song that demands a throat-ripping vocal, which would showcase an Idol’s talents.
“Cry Baby Cry,” The Beatles. It’s a nonsense song, loosely based on Lewis Carroll. Lennon plays the song largely as an acoustic number, which means it has a lot to offer in terms of altering the arrangement into something that would work for Idol.
“A Day in the Life,” Sgt Pepper. The singer that can do this song on American Idol deserves to be the winner of the competition at the end of the season. Why do I say that? Because it would take some serious brass cojones to even attempt this on live television. Altering the arrangement is going to be the biggest issue. The wall of sound has to go. Drop the second verse, the one about John Lennon starring in How I Won the War. But keep the rest. And aren’t they allowed to use instruments this year? If so, wailing guitar feedback for the final wall-of-sound. It’s ambitious. It can be done. And millions of Americans would drop their jaws at the audacity.
“Free as a Bird,” Anthology 1. Similar reasons to “A Day in the Life.” It would damned audacious to perform this live. Drop the George Harrison stanza. The Beatles’ performance is a bit bluesy, so make it ballady.
“Girl,” Rubber Soul. Considering that this was the song that sold me on Across the Universe, it’s no mystery why I’m recommending this. It’s the perfect song for a single vocalist. It’s a ballad. And millions of girls will go, “Aww,” and vote for you.
“Julia,” The Beatles. Another ballady song, with a similar vibe to “Girl,” only more plaintive.
“Martha My Dear,” The Beatles. Paul McCartney’s love ballad to his sheepdog would work well for a singer. Obviously, the string and horn section would have to go. If someone could turn this electric and rocking, this could be a real winner.
“No Reply,” Beatles For Sale. This song — the story of a singer who can’t figure out why his girlfriend won’t return his phone calls — has a really strong sound, requires a powerful vocal, and will connect with today’s audiences.
“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” Rubber Soul. Obviously, the sitar is right out. But this is workable for the same reasons as “No Reply” — strong vocal, solid sound, and a storyline that will connect.
“Oh! Darling,” Abbey Road. It’s a bluesy throat-ripper. That’s the only reason it’s on this list.
“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” Abbey Road. Joe Cocker’s version is fairly well-known, so I hesitate to suggest this one. But I’m suggesting it for the same reason as “Oh! Darling” — there’s a throat-ripping vocal here. The only issue in a live performance I see is the lyrics — even I have trouble remembering the lyrics straight.
“Strawberry Fields Forever.” As John Lennon’s demos show, this song works as an acoustic number. Or look at the remixed version on LOVE, which cuts and pastes from like six different takes of the song. In short, there are ways of handling this song that aren’t as heavily-produced as the Beatles’ version. I think it should be tackled for similar reasons to “A Day in the Life” above — it would take brass cojones.
“That Means A Lot,” Anthology 2. This is one of the “lost” Lennon/McCartney compositions. The Beatles recorded it, came away with a decent recording, and decided not to release it. It has a strong lyric, and a good vocalist can do a lot with this, especially in the throat-ripping choruses. Just go straight ballad with this, instead of the over-produced, heavily echoed version the Beatles recorded.
“Things We Said Today,” A Hard Day’s Night. Strong lyric that will connect with the audience.
“Two of Us,” Let It Be. There’s actually a lot that can be done with this song. The acoustic version the Beatles ultimately recorded is just one approach that they tried. There are some really up-tempo versions they recorded and discarded. The only issue with this song is that it’s really designed for two dueling vocalists, but that’s manageable.
“Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” The Beatles. Yes, I’m being serious. There’s one major problem — the song’s title is the lyric. But it’s a throat-ripper. If a singer can do this song and exude raw sexuality, it could be a winner.
“Yer Blues,” The Beatles. Bluesy song, with a throat-ripping song. The one hitch is that the lyric is a suicidal gut-buster, so I don’t know how that would fly with audiences because it’s not “safe.” But like “A Day in the Life,” an Idol with the cojones to perform this one deserves to win.
“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” Help!. This can be done pretty much acoustic, and will require a strong vocal.
There you go, Idols. I’ve just given you a list of Lennon/McCartney songs that would be good choices for each and every one of you on next week’s American Idol. I don’t know the show well enough to know which singer should tackle which song, so I’ll leave that to others. But pick from this list? I think you’ll go far.