I was introduced to this band by the form-defining music blog CRUD CRUD several years ago, and I rank his posting of THE BETTER BEATLES’ 1980s single “Penny Lane/I’m Down” as one of my favorite web discoveries ever, a find that almost instantly validated the technology used to “acquire” it. The record itself was so unknown, so forgotten and uncherished – but nearly overnight (overnight meaning about three years) a campaign evolved to unearth this strange, short-lived Omaha band. With the recent release of “Mercy Beat”, an LP containing the 45 and all the other songs from the same session, THE BETTER BEATLES have officially arrived, 28 years later. I was even asked to write the liner notes, which I was happy to do:
Historians, record nerds and armchair musicologists are just now extensively excavating the dark crannies of American do-it-yourself whatsis that emerged from the bloom of punk in the late seventies and early eighties. Some of the treasures found in mildewing crates and from deceased moms’ closets speak volumes about the energy and inventiveness of the USA’s bored youth at the time, giving rise to a sub-subculture that found its calling in twisted, art-infused noise & jagged-edge rock, not in “punk” per se - all original, all cleanly cleaved from the past, and often capturing a strange zeitgeist that popular media reckonings of the era seemed to have missed.
Then there was Omaha, Nebraska’s Better Beatles. They sported no originals – just savagely wacked, detuned, deadpan readings of Beatles material in a manner than no one save The Residents could have imagined in 1980. Sure, bands all over the US and the UK were making oddball 45s out of analog synthesizers, primitive recording techniques and decidedly arty leanings at the time, but few approached the deconstructivist beauty of The Better Beatles’ one and only single, the self-released “Penny Lane/I’m Down”. To hear this glorious single in the 21st century, as an increasing number of partisans have (a number sure to blossom with the release of the disc you’re holding), is to still stand agog that a group could go to such unforced, random-sounding lengths and not come off in the least as some dumb-ass, Dr. Demento-lite yuk band. The Better Beatles single isn’t even “funny”. It’s dark and at times transcendent, and it simultaneously lifts the Beatles’ unparalleled songcraft to new and even better heights, while destroying the mythos around the band just the same, in as snotty & underhanded a manner as the rottenest rotten punk you can conjure.
And to think – there was a whole tape’s worth of weirdo recordings of this ilk just sitting around all this time! You’ll probably be the best judge of whether the Beatles’ legacy can survive these covers intact, because different aural cavities are going to hear these unique sounds in all sorts of funny and ultimately polarizing ways.
Here are two tracks from the album, which you can buy here.
Play or Download THE BETTER BEATLES – “Penny Lane”
Play or Download THE BETTER BEATLES – “Paperback Writer"