Booker T. & the MGs
McLemore Avenue (Reissue!)
Cover songs are one of the best examples of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Think about it: would many bands start out by practicing others’ songs if they weren’t inspired by them? And would multiplatinum-selling artists risk ridicule by recording another artist’s work if they didn’t love it? Booker T. & the MGs wanted to pay tribute to one of the greatest records of all time: Abbey Road. Frontman, keyboardist, and producer Booker T. Jones was so impressed by “music that was so bold, so different and so creative,” that he felt compelled to cover the entire album. The Beatles delivered their final record in late 1969. Booker T. & the MGs released McLemore Avenue in January 1970.
The initial release of McLemore Avenue (named after the location of the MGs’ label, Stax) featured 13 songs from Abbey Road in three medleys and one regular track. The closing songs of Abbey Road comprise the nearly 16-minute first medley — minus “Her Majesty.” (In addition, McLemore Avenue doesn’t include “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Oh! Darling,” and “Octopus’ Garden.”) Like virtually all work from the R&B soul quartet, McLemore Avenue is (mostly) an instrumental. The only lyrics occur in the first medley. Booker T. Jones sings the infamous “and in the end/ the love you take/ is equal to/ the love you make” five minutes in, and a repeated “come together” finishes the track. The first medley juxtaposes a positively elevator-Muzak version of “Here Comes the Sun” and a groovy “Come Together.” “Something” is the second separate track in both McLemore Avenue and Abbey Road. The MGs’ version starts faithful to the original and slides into a hand-clapping soul jam, which ultimately serves as the best example of their sound. The third (and most of the fourth) medley presents songs in the same order as Abbey Road. “Because/You Never Give Me Your Money” starts even slower and more somber than the original but quickly builds into a Shaft-esque groove. The last medley continues the organ-based funk of the previous one while staying true to the original songs.
The reissue of McLemore Avenue includes extra goodies in the form of five additional Beatles covers. Two versions of the lesser-known ditty, “You Can’t Do That” bookend the bonus songs. The previously unreleased last track is half as slow and twice as long as the first rollicking “You Can’t Do That.” The middle four songs are Beatles classics. Booker T. & the MGs somehow removed the inherently sad tone of “Eleanor Rigby” and replaced it with wah-wah guitar effects. And “Lady Madonna” has got to be the most funky, booty-shaking song on the entire reissue. It was a good choice to include, just like Booker T. & the MGs’ interpretation of Abbey Road.
Booker T. and the MGs: www.bookert.com