The March 18th release of From a Window: Lost Songs of Lennon & McCartney will bundle together for the first time reinterpretations of tunes that the Beatles' principal songwriters penned and then passed on to others to record. Producer Jim Sampas, the project's creator, recruited Graham Parker, Kate Pierson of the B-52's, Cheap Trick's Robin Zander and Buffalo Tom's Bill Janovitz to record at Massachusetts' Long View Farm Studio, on an eighty-acre farm in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains and previously home to the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith.
"It was like rock & roll fantasy camp," says Janovitz. "We'd sleep in these big brass beds, roll down, have a high-cholesterol breakfast, go into the control room and do a track. Later in the day I'd find myself having a few beers and singing at the same microphone as Graham Parker. I kept saying to myself, 'I'm getting paid for this?'"
Janovitz and Parker split the lion's share of the songs between them, working up demos with acoustic guitar and vocals, and, after a few quick run-throughs with the band, recorded most of the songs within a couple takes.
"At first I discounted 'Tip of My Tongue' by the fiendishly named Tommy Quickly," says Parker. "It's very silly, bad Austin Powers stuff. But on the second hearing, I think I may have subconsciously picked up on the guitarist's incongruous ska groove, and the next thing I knew, I was playing it in a slow, sensual rocksteady beat. This turned the song into something else altogether, and when the band began playing a kind of dub groove and I nailed a near perfect vocal in one take, it sounded marvelous. Poignant, aching, miles away from Quickly's version."
Other songs like "Hello Little Girl," "One and One Is Two," and "It's for You" were originally recorded by the likes of the Fourmost, the Strangers and Cilla Black, stacked high with horns, strings and schmaltz. For From a Window, the artists stripped them back down.
"There's certainly a couple nods to punk rock, with one of the godfathers of punk rock [Parker] in the room," says Janovitz. "Our main objective was to find maybe what the Beatles would have done with the songs themselves -- or what the Let It Be-era Beatles would have done with them."
"The title track that Graham does, 'From a Window,' is just beautiful," says Janovitz. "It feels like Dylan with the Band or around one of his first versions of electric songs."
Janovitz says the song he's most proud of is "World Without Love," originally recorded by Peter and Gordon as "an over the top, emotional, teenage love song." His version, he says, "feels like an Al Green track without being an homage. It's a good soulful version."
An avowed Beatles fan, Pierson welcomed the opportunity to play anthropologist, digging into the early Lennon/McCartney compositions and looking for lyrical indicators of what came later. "The lyrics vary from the lovey-dovey simple Sixties love lyrics to a little more dark and interesting lyrics -- they definitely sound pre-acid," she says. "'I'm in Love' has very simple lyrics. 'Every night I can't sleep thinking of you/And every little thing you do/Yes, I'm telling all my friends/I'm in love.' They're very simple but they still have a bit of twist to them. I like the idea of 'telling all my friends.' There's always something in them that makes them original even when the lyrics fall into the moon/June rhyme scheme."
With the record in the final stages, Parker only has one slight concern: "I'm more of a Stones man, really, three chords and a bluesy drawl, so I hope I've done these tunes justice."
An April tour featuring all the From a Window is currently being discussed.
From a Window: Lost Songs of Lennon & McCartney track listing:
Graham Parker, "Come and Get It," (recorded by Badfinger)
Bill Janovitz, "I'll Keep You Satisfied," (Billy J. Kramer)
Graham Parker, "Bad to Me," (Billy J. Kramer)
Graham Parker, "From a Window," (Billy J. Kramer)
Kate Pierson, "I'm in Love," (the Fourmost)
Johnny Society, "I'll Be on My Way," (Billy J. Kramer)
Bill Janovitz, "It's for You," (Cilla Black)
Kate Pierson, "Love of the Loved," (Cilla Black)
Kate Pierson, "Step Inside Love," (Cilla Black)
Bill Janovitz, "Hello Little Girl," (the Fourmost)
Bill Janovitz, "Goodbye," (Mary Hopkin)
Graham Parker, "One and One Is Two," (the Strangers)
Bill Janovitz, "A World Without Love," (Peter and Gordon)
Bill Janovitz, "Woman," (Peter and Gordon)
Kate Pierson, "Nobody I Know," (Peter and Gordon)
Graham Parker, "Tip of My Tongue," (Tommy Quickly)
Robin Zander, "That Means a Lot," (P.J. Proby)