(Note: I orignally wrote this nearly seven years ago, and published it on an old version of my own web site. With the Beatles remasters coming — and because I don’t blog on my site anymore — I thought it might be fitting to give this a new home at Oddball Update. I edited a few things here and there, but this is largely the same text I wrote back in 2002. I hope you enjoy.)
The year was 1964. The world of music as we knew it was about to change, and that change came from Liverpool. The Mersey Sound, as they called it, would change the face of music forever. At the forefront of this so-called “British Invasion” were four lads with the looks and musical talent that would define a generation. Together those four youngsters were known as…
With their first hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the Buggs stormed onto the American music scene, which they would dominate for years to come with such classic albums as Meet The Buggs!, A Hard Day’s Bugg, Bugger Soul, as well as the revolutionary masterwork Sgt. Bugger. They took elements from all genres of music — rock, blues, R&B, and country, to name but a few — and molded them into something unique, something timeless…
Bah, who am I kidding?
Well, the year was 1964. The Beatles had made a splash in America the likes of which hadn’t been seen since at least Elvis (Presley, not Costello). The Fab Four were everywhere; in additon to their music being nearly impossible to avoid (the week of April 4th, 1964 they held the top five slots in the Billboard singles chart, placed 12 songs overall in the Billboard Top 100 singles chart, and they had the top two albums in the Billboard album chart), they were merchandised beyond belief. It’s only natural, then, that some shady characters wanted to make as much money off this new trend (as people saw it then) as possible before it fell by the wayside. Such things were not uncommon then, and they’re still happening today. However, the sheer amount of products trying to leech off the Beatles’ popularity was immense (I even have an Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing The Beatles on LP somewhere), and one of the more plentiful derivatives you’d see were records designed to look like Beatle albums — and maybe included a version of a Beatle song or two — to try and get gullible youngsters to buy a faux Beatle product instead of the real McCoy.
That’s the real story of the Buggs. Probably just four — more than likely American — session musicians called in one day to bash out some tunes so that a record company, in this case Coronet Records in New York, could make a quick buck or two off a passing trend. The “band” was slapped with the name The Buggs (misspelled, of course, just like the Beatles misspelled their name), and the four musicians were posed in a picture that more or less resembled the cover for With the Beatles (or for you who were actually around in the 1960s, Meet the Beatles!). The album was named The Beetle Beat (printed in giant letters, of course, so as to deceive even further) and a bunch of hoo-hah was made about how it was “the Original Liverpool Sound” and “Recorded in England” or some such thing.
The album itself is intentionally vague — no credits for “The Buggs” or even for who wrote and produced the songs. The only writing on the sleeve other than the song titles or some things about Coronet Records are the simplistic liner notes:
England has invaded America! From the banks of the Mersey River, by Liverpool, England a new sound, a new beat, has gained tremendous popular acceptance.
The Mersey Beat! The Liverpool Sound! Remember these names for a new trend in popular music has arrived. The year of Beetlemania. The Mersey Beat features a strong guitar rhythm attack backed with a solid beat producing a driving, stomping, rock and rolling tempo.
The Kings of the Mersey Beat to date are The Beatles, followed by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas and Jerry [sic] and the Pacemakers.
In the album you will hear the original Liverpool sound recorded on location in England by the Buggs, a fast moving, well paced group that we are sure you will like.
Interesting to note that in one paragraph they refer to the phenomenon as “Beetlemania,” then in the very next paragraph actually list The Beatles as “Kings of the Mersey Beat” along with the Dakotas and the misspelled “Jerry” and the Pacemakers. I wonder if Gerry Mardsen knows about this? Or maybe they’re just keeping up with the misspelling a la “The Buggs.” I’ve also got to wonder about these guys listing Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas over the Pacemakers. Granted, the whole “Mersey Scene” — with the exception of the Beatles — died off by 1965-66, but I think the Pacemakers were far bigger than Billy J. Kramer in the States. Billy had a nice string of hits in Britain — hits, it should be noted, that were mostly written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (since all three bands — and most of the “Liverpool scene,” in fact — were managed by Brian Epstein as part of his “Stable of Stars”), but I think even Billy J. Kramer faded in England before Gerry and the Pacemakers…though I could be wrong.
On the other hand, maybe Coronet got in on the craze really early, when Billy J. was still really big in England.
As noted earlier, a lot of noise is made about the fact that, yes, this album was RECORDED ON LOCATION IN ENGLAND, as if that made a difference. Hell, the Beatles recorded “Can’t Buy Me Love” in Paris, and that didn’t stop the song from going to #1 (in America or England). But the thought was the kids would buy anything British or Beatle-esque, and hope they didn’t look too closely or read the liner notes that would reveal this album to be a fraud. Hell, even the song titles try to scream out “HEY LOOK, WE’RE BRITISH!”
Aside from the two Beatles songs covered — “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” — the rest of the song titles gain their titles from either British landmarks or British culture. In their rush to make the ultimate “Original Liverpool Sound” album, though, the “songwriters” (more on this in a sec) failed to realize — or likely didn’t care — that Soho, the Thames, and Big Ben are not in Liverpool, but rather London (itself named in the song “London Town Swing”), which is well south of Liverpool — and was the home of a completely different “scene” than that of the “Mersey Sound.” It could even be said that there was a bit of resentment in London over the success of the Liverpool groups, since they were seen as lower class to those in the South of England. The good people at Coronet Records obviously didn’t care about this, though. British is British is British, right?
Interestingly enough, upon hearing “Soho Mash” I recognized the song as really being “Just One Look,” made popular by Doris Troy — and later, the Hollies. So, it would seem that the fine folks at Coronet Records may have simply renamed existing songs and threw them on this album with their two rerecorded Beatle tunes…or in the case of “Liverpool Drag,” simply did a lame near-rewrite of “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” As of this time I can’t tell what the other songs are, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they were all established songs of some sort. So, sad to say, none of the titles have anything to do with the songs themselves. Shucks. I really wonder what a song titled “Teddy ‘Boy Stomp” would sound like.
(…Though it is interesting to note that, 14 years after “London Town Swing” was recorded, Paul McCartney — or, more correctly, Wings — would release an album and single with the name “London Town.” Coincidence? I think so.)
With all the examination of Beatle culture that has taken place over the last 40+ years, it’s odd to note that the Buggs and their ilk have received scant attention, aside from an offhanded mention here and there. You’d think that with people examining every nook and cranny of the Beatles legend that someone would take an interest in all these Faux Fab Fours (or Fives, depending on the group). I guess we’ll just have to file all these cash-ins under the “Whatever Happened To…” file.
…And something tells me these guys would rather have it that way, since they couldn’t really sing worth a lick. However, I’ll still take The Buggs and their version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” over Sailor Moon anyday.