Thursday, October 9, 2014

Alice Cooper cover of "Eleanor Rigby"

Alice Cooper Eleanor Rigby

I am going to annoy some of you with this review. Oh, well.

US rocker Alice Cooper and Indie band The Cure give their version of "Eleanor Rigby," a beloved song from The Beatles' "Revolver" that was used with extraordinary effect in the "Yellow Submarine" animated feature film.

Eleanor Rigby

In this reviewer's opinion, it was the best thing about that classic film and, as a stand-alone music video, is one of the best ever made, before or since. The song is Paul McCartney's best composition.

Eleanor Rigby

This cover is a tough one to review in any way, shape or form. The problem is that Cooper, who has been around since the early '70s, has changed over the years. He used to be this big counter-culture figure who was seen as rebelling, with his heavy makeup and wild antics.

Eleanor Rigby

More recently, however, he is more known for hitting the golf links and hosting a classic rock show on the radio.

Eleanor Rigby

 Yes, Alice Cooper is a seminal figure in rock and roll. Nobody is ever going to take away his classic tunes. "School's Out for the Summer" is something schoolkids still love to hear, especially as May approaches. That alone merits his inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Eleanor Rigby

All right, as a prep for our conclusion, here's the deal on this song: "Eleanor Rigby" is regarded by many of us as Paul McCartney's best pure composition. "Yesterday" is all well and good, but "Rigby," truth be told, tells an actual story in under 3 minutes. You try to do that sometime and see how easy it is. It isn't. But that doesn't mean that we aren't open to new versions and interpretations. They have to be good, though.

Paul's version was magnificent. George Martin sent it over the top with lush strings that were perfect for the song's sad, wistful air, but stopped short of getting sickly by maintaining a fast pace which emphasized that this is a story of the fast-paced here-and-now times and not some Ode on a Grecian Urn. It was a startling decision at a time when classical music was considered something exclusively for old fogies, but it worked - gloriously. It was thinking so far outside the box that the box itself disappeared. John Lennon would make caustic remarks about Paul's "Granny music," but he couldn't deny the quality of "Eleanor Rigby."

Even during times in the '70s and '80s when Paul was thought by the "cool crowd" to be writing drivel (he wasn't, but that was indeed the perception), the fatal flaw in their argument was always that "Eleanor Rigby" and a handful of other Paul compositions were undeniably better than anything they could ever hope to do. And they knew it, which sent them scurrying for reasons why Paul had "lost it" or "sold out" rather than never had "it" in the first place. Because he did.

And now, after that long-winded intro, the bottom line on this cover: we are not impressed.

Cooper adds absolutely nothing to the original. The strings are identical, and Cooper simply recites the words. There is no added emphasis anywhere, there is no modulation of emotion... nothing. He even goes so far in his slavish robotic copy as to add a clear British accent to some of the words. You must be kidding me.

Eleanor Rigby
They build statues to this song.

I will confidently assert that Macca's original version from 1966 is not just better from a "well, it was the original and we must honor that" perspective - it is simply better. Period. Paul releases real emotion into his vocal that is so subtle that you barely hear it - but it is there. You can hear the hint of sadness. Cooper, on the other hand, just shouts his way through it, and it sounds as if he is simply trying to copy the original. It is not bad in a local-theater tribute band kind of way.

Truth be told, Cooper was in a no-win situation. If he altered anything, that would be "destroying a classic." However, the point of  a cover is to bring something new out of the song, as Elton John did with "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" or Joe Cocker did with "With a Little Help from My Friends." It can be done well - but not by rote.

Eleanor Rigby
There are some good aspects to the cover: the strings are magnificent (again); Cooper enunciates well; he gets all the words right; he copies the intonations pretty well (just a couple of hiccups here and there; he is understandable and does not mangle anything.

Fine. But add in some original backing vocals, maybe vary the tempo, give us a sense of urgency that this woman is living a life of quiet desperation that is part of all of our lives.


Cooper can sit back and grandly say "Well, I'm a big rock star and you're not." Perfectly true. But that does not make this a good cover. It is perfectly acceptable as a homage, a re-recitation, a throw-away copy, and that is it. Worth buying? No.

Eleanor Rigby

This was released to promote "The Art of McCartney," which features artists such as Brian Wilson, Roger Daltrey, Chrissie Hynde, Jeff Lynne and Barry Gibb who have all re-recorded classic numbers by the Beatles legend.

They are all supported by Paul's current band, which quite simply is the best Beatles Tribute band in existence, even if they aren't known as that.

Eleanor Rigby
James McCartney on "Hello Goodbye"

The first artist to record a song was Beach Boys great Brian Wilson with Wanderlust, while The Cure sang the first song on the album - a cover of Hello Goodbye, featuring James McCartney on keyboards (below).

In addition, Willie Nelson contributed a version of Yesterday, while Bob Dylan recorded Things We Said Today.

The Art of McCartney is available for pre-order online.


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