By Jim Bessman
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Cleverly conceived, the Gallery Six Records album "Lost Songs of Lennon & McCartney" prudently stars Graham Parker (news) (along with Buffalo Tom's Bill Janovitz (news) and the B-52's Kate Pierson) on songs written by the Beatles' chief composers but recorded by others.
Parker performs the Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas classics "From a Window" and "Bad to Me," as well as Badfinger's "Come and Get It," the lesser-known "One and One Is Two" by the Strangers and Tommy Quickly's minor 1963 Brit hit "Tip of My Tongue."
Quickly was managed by the Beatles' Brian Epstein and had one of those gimmicky names of the pre-Beatles Brit-pop era, like Tommy Steele or Marty Wilde, Parker notes.
"These people seemed pretty good, and then the Beatles came along and it was all over for the crooners," he recalls, noting that they didn't help their cause much with the "cheesy" productions typified by Quickly's original Beatles cover.
"I discounted it at first, because it was just too 'Austin Powers,"' says Parker, who hadn't heard the Quickly take prior to the "Lost Songs" project.
"It would have been easy to miss, because in those days it was top 30 or nothing," says Parker, citing the tight U.K. playlists of the '60s. "But I listened to it a second time and then started playing it in a real slow, bluebeat reggae groove and unlocked the whole thing and made it poignant -- which it definitely wasn't in Tommy Quickly's lightweight style."
This demonstrates "another amazing thing about Lennon-McCartney lyrics," Parker continues. "You can update the lame arrangements by a lot of the original cover groups, and it's startling to find that they're not throwaway songs at all, but of high quality."
Parker grew up south of London in the county of Surrey. "I missed 'Love Me Do' -- communications in England were pretty primitive then -- but heard 'Please Please Me,' which was quite a shocking thing to hear," he says. "By '64, a lot of the Merseybeat groups were doing Lennon-McCartney songs, and they wouldn't have gotten that kind of break if it weren't for the quality of material.
"Even the Rolling Stones' first hit was a Lennon-McCartney composition, because people didn't really know about writing songs: Before Lennon and McCartney, songwriting was mysterious -- people in office buildings in London or New York, like the Brill Building. But Lennon and McCartney suddenly brought it down to human terms, making it possible for the Stones and what seemed like the average guy to write songs."
Those non-Beatles Lennon-McCartney tunes reveal "a quality of writing with a lot more lyrical depth than 'moon-y, June-y' words, especially when taken out of the context of the rather cheesy '60s versions," Parker says, citing those that originated with Epstein-managed Liverpudlian Cilla Black (news), represented on "Lost Songs" by "It's for You," "Love of the Loved" and "Step Inside Love."
"They're heavy with strings and orchestration, but once you get down to the chords and words, they show just how much Lennon and McCartney were exploding into this creative world they were inventing," Parker says. "And they were clearly touched by genius, since so many of them were hits."