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There’s a pretty good point-counterpoint debate in the current issue of Uncut in which Green Gartside of Scritti Politti and Chris Difford of Squeeze post arguments for and against the Beatles mash-up exercise known as Love. Gartside is pro, despite some initial skepticism–he refers to Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George and the true mixmaster of the album, as “Giles fucking Kula Shaker Martin,” alluding to the younger Martin’s 1990s work with the now-forgotten Britpop band fronted by Hayley Mills’s son. Warily as he approached Love, Gartside cops to enjoying the recontextualized bits and pieces of Beatles songs. Difford, on the other hand, is more Rock Snob canonical, viewing the whole thing as heresy.

Gartside is right in this case. Love is surprisingly good, especially in its deft meldings of songs that are atmospherically and/or structurally related (such as “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Bulldog,” or “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Within You, Without You”) and its sly contrasts of Macca chirp and Lennon snarl (as when filaments of “Hello Goodbye” are threaded into the sinister “Glass Onion”). It’s nearly enough to make you forget about the album’s unfortunate and improbable raison d’etre–that it was conceived as the soundtrack to a Vegas production by Cirque du Soleil, the body-stink French-Canadian troupe of codpiece mimes and leotard acrobats. (If you must, you can watch a clip of their desecration of the Beatles’ work here.)

But here’s the thing: Waaay back in 1967, before he even was John Lennon’s Drinking Buddy™, the great popsmith and inveterate Beatles fan Harry Nilsson (with Lennon, above) did his own winning Beatles mash-up, entitled “You Can’t Do That.” Working very much in the same spirit that animates Love, Nilsson wittily swirled together bits of the Beatles’ catalog to that date, using Lennon’s Hard Day’s Night stomper “You Can’t Do That” as a framework on which to hang quotes from “She’s a Woman,” “Drive My Car,” “You’re Going to Lose That Girl,” “I’m Down,” “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Day Tripper,” “Paperback Writer,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Rain,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”–all in less than two and a half minutes, and with no modern mixing-board jiggery-pokery!

You can find Nilsson’s “You Can’t Do That” on iTunes on the Personal Best compilation, or, better still, on CD via BMG’s lovely box-set reissue from 2000 of Nilsson’s early albums, Pandemonium Shadow Show/Aerial Ballet/Aerial Pandemonium Ballet.

January 17, 2007 More Rock Snobbery »

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