The Better Beatles I’m Down b/w Penny Lane 45 (Woodgrain. 1982)
I’ve never been to Liverpool so I can’t say if Omaha is the Better Liverpool, but I do know that for pure minimalist angst, The Better Beatles are the better.
Some time around 1980, The Better Beatles released just one record, this special two song synth punk classic. The Better Beatles do, surprise!, Beatles songs, I’m Down and Penny Lane. Both versions are great.
I’m Down actually sounds like a song about being down. The instrumentation is spare - just a bass, synth, drums and vocals. The drums are out front, driving the song with a strong, straight forward beat. The bass burbles in back and the synth plays a very simple riff. The vocals are nice and flat. There is nothing fancy here and that is what makes the song work.
The Better Beatles’ take on Penny Lane is not only good, it got me to actually appreciate the old saw and that is tough to do. Penny Lane is one of those tunes that has been killed by classic rock radio and every rock intellectual, pseudo rock intellectual, rock pseudo intellectual, pseudo rock pseudo intellectual, and creep who insists that the Sixties were the be all and end all of life as we know it. So to say that the Better Beatles resurrected and saved a song that reminds me of every lame fuck baby boom asshole, stuck on a past that is mostly nostalgia, well, that is big props to the Nebraskans.
Plenty of people - a lot of them punk rock intellectuals - go on and on about how punk saved us from a life of being bored by the Sixties. Records such as the Better Beatles one and only are a perfect example of why punk killed hippie. Unfortunately, punk often seems to be in the same endless repeat that plagued hippie. Hopefully the coming years will bring us the Better Ramones.
Addendum I: Was told "The Better Beatles was Jay Rosen's high school band. He was later in Bay Area folk nutsos The Muskrats, has been the Legendary Stardust Cowboy's guitar player for many years and played bass in the Rock n Roll Adventure Kids for a while last year. He lives in Oakland, super nice guy!"
Addendum II: Back in November Jay Hinman of Agony Shorthand came up with his Top Ten remakes of songs and threw this one up there, plugging Crud Crud in the process. As a result I got a flood of requests to repost this one. So here ya go. Fresh meat next time.
(Originally posted 5.19.05, resurrected by request.)
e-mail me at email@example.com, maybe I can convince the guys to cough up a copy of the lost tracks, or, better yet, have them released.
But better than The Flying Lizards? Nah.
I always liked the stuff we did. Mostly we got yelled at and threatened by the Omaha crowd, but we had fun!
I'm glad you 'get it'. better beatles sorta formed from Jay's adoration of, and my disdain for the beatles. I don't mean I hated them, they had a great catalog, I just couldn't stand the cult that had formed around them. Seemed like everyone I knew considered them gods.
Jay and Dave, who had played together in Sons of Roy, decided that in their next band they wanted to try different instruments than they already played. We hooked up with them after our old band Richrd Nixn split up. Kurt (my ex) played bass and I sat on a stool & read the lyrics from Lennon & McCartney Songbooks. MAN- did we piss people off!
The early 80s in Omaha were fun. I hope if the guys find this note they drop me a line.
I still have a cassette of the entire set we recorded, I should transfer it to digital. We did the definitive version of Paperback Writer!
Jean pSmith, nee Jean Smith-Magnuson
I had traded a car stereo for an old Japanese
Maxitone kit and was just really learning to play.
They were willing to try me out.
When we got together to play, their guitar player was not there. I think they had just parted ways.
I called Dave Nordin to see what he was doing. He came over with a korg synth he had just got.No guitar,just this one note Korg.
Kurt, Dave and I started jammimg a little and Jean was sitting in a chair.We did not have any kind of plan,the whole get together was off the cuff. I think I saw a "Lennon McCartney 51 songs"songbook sitting there so I handed it to Jean and that was it.
Our first show was at Saner's lounge in North Omaha,with some other bands.I think it was a party.The reaction was" mixed" at best.
We practiced more and were invited to play with Buck Naked's band "Bump Fuzz", once again at Saner's.
Buck actually really liked the band and we got to be good friends around that time.
This could have been about a month after the first show.
We had another show in Lincoln that was some how cancelled.
Also I rember putting a third show together for Saner's myself.That show was cancelled by Pat Saner, the owner. He just could not stand the idea of seeing us again. I think our band really bummed him out.
Kurt and Jean had plans to leave Omaha before the band started.We decided to record and called around different studios in the Omaha yellow pages.That led us to Brian Acklee at Studio B.
Studio B was a four track studio,quarter inch with
an Otari mix down deck. I remember this because it was my first time ever recording.We recorded a pile of songs, all live with one or two tries for each
That was the last time I saw Kurt or Jean.They left
town and moved to Seattle Washington with their friends Alice Wheeler and her husband Timmy Turmoil.
After that the record came out (Penny Lane/I m Down)
It was exciting getting letters from People like John Peel and Greg Shaw asking for records of the band.
It is kind of fun remembering the short life of the
Better Beatles.The music made people uncomfortable or they just thought it was lousy.
Brian Dentler here.....I have fond memories of all of Jay's projects and will always give him credit for pushing the envelope. And to Jean & Kurt for making people think more than once before they made up their mind. Gifted artists and under appreciated! Brian firstname.lastname@example.org