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Have a very Happy Crimble with the Fab Four
by Adam Forrest, Beatles News Editor
As the Beatles said, Christmastime is here again, and in this special time of year I'd like to share with you one of my most favorite holiday traditions. After being out of print for several years, the wonderful album of Beatles Christmas songs by the fabulous Beatles tribute band The Fab Four is now available on a CD called Hark!
Way back in the olden days of December of 2002, there took place an event in Pasadena California called something like "Magical Mystery Weekend" or "Liverpool Days", I think, Apple made them change the name at some point, if I recall correctly. The Beatlefest had stopped coming to Southern California, and this was an attempt to bring a new show to the Beatles fans of the Los Angeles area. Alas, it turned out to be a one-time event.
However, appearing at the show were the Fab Four, America's ultimate Beatles tribute band from Southern California, if they do say so themselves. But it's not hype, these guys quickly became one of my fave Beatles tribute bands. Some bands kind of sound like the Beatles, this band really sounds like the Beatles! The voices, the instruments, close your eyes, and you can imagine it's really John, Paul, George and Ringo.
|The Fab Four in concert|
So, as the weekend was winding down, right outside of the main hall, I chanced upon a table piled high with festive looking CDs and the guys from the Fab Four! Going over to chat with my favorite Beatles tribute band, I saw the CDs they were selling were a set called A Fab Four Christmas. Hm. Christmas Beatles music? What could this be? But, I liked the Fab Four, so I bought a copy.
Well, when I got home, I discovered I had bought something really special. What they are, and this is sort-of hard to explain, so bear with me, are traditional Christmas songs performed as if the Beatles had done the songs, in the styles of their hits. Hard to really do the concept justice by describing it, so here's one small example:
See, that's the Christmas carol Joy To The World, but it sounds like Please Please Me. Get it?
Sounds like a silly idea, and it could have possibly been in the hands of someone else. But with their talent and knowledge of how to make a performance sound like the Beatles, the Fab Four really pull it off. This CD is full of tracks that are really fun to listen to.
Some tracks are semi-serious like the one above, and some are a bit more fun.
But what gave them the idea to do something so unlike anything ever done before? Ron McNeil, who is John Lennon in the group, and is also Manager of the Fab Four, picks up the story:
"In March of 2002 we were approached by Laserlight after one of their employees saw our group perform. It was their idea of a Beatles-style Christmas CD. We signed a deal to record 20 tracks and deliver the masters by May. So we took the advance money (which was not really that much), and bought a computer, a good mic, and a Vox-AC 30. In that short time, we recorded and mixed all the tracks. During this same time we still had to squeeze in 32 regular Fab Four live shows, so we took the equipment to the Hilton in Vegas and recorded a lot of parts there, as well as the studio we built here in California, which we call Fabby Road Studios."
But how did they go about matching the Christmas songs to the Beatles songs? Ron told me:
"It was different for every track. Some were Christmas first, others were Beatles first. We also thought it'd be cool to have an Indian one (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen). But, there was no set formula, they just kinda blended themselves together."
Of all the Fab Four Christmas songs, I think my favorite track is their rendition of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, because it's so like the Beatles track.
I told Ron McNeil I think their version may actually have more energy in it than the Beatles version, that it sounded like they had a real good time recording that track. Ron said, "We like that one, too. I distinctly remember us all worrying that it wasn't gonna work! Then, it turned out to be one of our favorites."
Most of the songs on the album are one Christmas song combined with one Beatles song, but one track, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, is actually two different Beatles songs, When I'm 64 and the middle of Honey Pie. When I mentioned that, Ron pointed out another combined Beatles song that I had missed, their rendition of Joy To The World, which is Please Please Me, but has the song Little Child in the middle. Ron said these combinations weren't really planned, "both were thought of on the spot."
One of the things I really admire about these tracks is how the Fab Four melded the music of Christmas and the music of the Beatles without (except in a very few specific places) making fun of either. The songs could have easily been parodies insulting Christmas songs or Beatles songs or both. But these creations of the Fab Four do neither, and tracks like Good King Wenceslas and Feliz Navidad are just beautiful. They can be totally appreciated by anyone who just loves Christmas music.
I asked Ron, when you were doing this project, were you specifically mindful of the feelings of fans of both genres, that you were doing something that could so easily cross over the line from fun to insulting? He said, "We were certainly aware of insulting people. Just being a Beatles group period, has a great potential for cheesiness. We perform every show as if one of the Beatles were in the audience. And we recorded the albums with the same respect."
Also on the CD is What Child Is This to the Beatles song While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and it's one of the many excellent examples on the album of how much these guys sing and play like the Beatles, as they capture George's guitar solos on this track beautifully. I asked Ron if they've gotten compliments from George fans on the guitar playing on this track? Ron said, "Oh yeah, we got a lot of comments on the sound of this track compared to the Beatles, especially the guitar parts. Interesting how the chord progression is almost the same except for one chord."
Like "real" Beatles albums, Ringo has a few songs on this album. On one of them, they did something special, and included a version of Ringo's song, Dear Santa, from his album I Wanna Be Santa Claus. Ron remembers how this came about:
"Well, we had two possibilities for Oh! Darling as a Christmas song. But, we chose Ringo's song (released a year before ours), because we thought it'd be cool to see "Richard Starkey" printed on our CDs. We also thought we might win some brownie points by paying him some songwriting royalties. LOL. But seriously, we all love Ringo's Christmas album. Great arrangements from Mark Hudson."
The final track on the CD before the bonus tracks, Jingle Bells, is my favorite. I swear, so many years after first hearing the track, it still cracks me up. I can't tell you too much about it and I won't include an excerpt here because to do so would give away the joke. You just have to get the CD and hear it for yourself. Without giving away too much, for those who have heard the track, Ron said, "We thought it would be funny to put the most popular Christmas song with an obscure Beatles track. We had a blast recording this one! The flipped around guitar solo took some time."
Originally released as two CDs in 2002, all of the Fab Four's Christmas songs are now available at Amazon on a 1 CD set called Hark! which includes two bonus tracks not included on the original Fab Four Christmas CDs, Sleigh Ride and The First Noel.
So, as we gather round the family and celebrate Christmas, I'd like to personally thank Ron McNeil, Ardy Sarraf, Michael Amador and Rolo Sandoval, the Fab Four, for giving us all this wonderful new Christmas tradition! Happy Crimble everybody, and Merry Goo Year!
• The Fab Four - Hark!
• The Fab Four Official Website
• Ringo Starr - I Wanna Be Santa Claus
Published December 4, 2013
This article is Copyright © 2013, Adam Forrest, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission