Thursday, June 30, 2016

W.O.C.K On Vinyl - Beatle Barkers (1983)

Before things get too serious here at Rock On Vinyl, I thought it might be fun to post a song / album at the end of each month, that could be categorized as being either Weird, Obscure, Crazy or just plain Korny.
There lies, below the fourteth parallel, an island in the shape of an old English crest. This rugged, tempest-lashed outcrop, although officially a stat of Australia, is a world apart. Famed for its wilderness regions, its apples, Errol Flynn and Young Einstein, Tasmania has air so rare that creativity abounds

Ten years ago, a jaded musician by the name of Glenn Salvestrin took over a modest sheep farm in Tasmania's ruggest southwest - isolated from the rest of the human race, with only the ghosts of convicts and bushrangers to keep him company. Glenn acquired canine companions - three affectionate and frankly lazy mutts known as Chipper, Blue and tangles.

Every evening,except during busy shearing season, Glenn would sit on his back veranda and sing old Beatle songs, accompanying himself on harmonica. In time, Chipper, Blue and Tangles became so familiar with the classic Lennon & McCartney melodies that they barked and howled along. Their master was so astonished by their grasp of melody, pitch and timing that he set up a portable recording studio in his washhouse and captured their unique vocal efforts. During the recording process he discovered that other members of his tiny farmyard community, such as the chickens had also been infected by the Beatle obsession. They too found themselves in the wash house clucking away for prosperity.

Armed with his priceless tapes, Glenn headed for the mainland, determined to share his unprecedented Fab Four tribute with the world. Sadly, overtures met with derision and scorn...until he walked through the doors of Galaxy Records. Within weeks, Beatle Barkers was on the Australian market and a new phenomena was born, one which is now set to spread across Australia. So join the The Mutz, whose bark is definitely more interesting than their bite, as they recreate the most potent sounds of the sixties. It is an experience you will never forget. [cover linear notes]

Now, if you just bought this story above, then you are barking up the wrong tree! 

The true story of how this album came about is revealed in an interview with Bob Baker Fish.  Aussie heart throb 'Gene Pierson' from the late 60's and a close friend and sound engineer Roy Nicolson, got together in the early 80's  and using a Fairlight Synthesiser, produced this bizarre tribute album to the Beatles.

Whilst Nicolson handled the vocals, Pierson procured the backing music. To this day Nicolson doesn’t  know where they came from. “Don’t ask,” he laughs.

“There was a company in Germany that was providing backing tracks,” reveals Pierson, “you just paid a couple of hundred dollars or whatever it was in those days. I think the whole album in those days cost me $2,500 or $3,000 which in today’s equivalent is probably about $10,000 or something. It was no big deal. I think the cover art and the TV commercial cost more.”

The barking however proved a little more difficult with Nicolson not just having to locate and at times even record the samples for each animal, but he was struggling with some unforseen pitch issues.

“Any kind of held note didn’t work and I wanted to get a good dog howling but dogs don’t tend to hold the note when they howl. They’re up and down and it doesn’t work musically. So we got in a session dog. Actually there was some little movie about a singing dog, I went along to try and get a recording of that dog, but it didn’t work out. But then we found this guy who did a really amazing impersonation of a dog. So we got him in to do a session, just for the long held notes. It’s a little bit Milli Vanilli. Those long howling notes are not actually a real dog – but all the others are.”

“I can’t remember his name,” Nicolson continues, “but we set him up in front of the mic and the first time he barked I jumped because I thought there was a dog in the studio. He sounded more like a dog than a dog.”

Nicolson laboured on an 8-track tape machine for about two weeks, with two tracks for the backing track, leaving him 6 tracks for dogs, chickens or sheep.

“It was pretty funny, because I was performing it on the keyboard and you know you have to channel a dog a bit to do it. I think I got somewhere in between what an actual dog might do and then putting it closer to the music. But I didn’t put it too close or it would have sounded mechanical. It is a bit out of time or out of pitch and a bit all over the place and sometimes they get a bit carried away and sing a few notes too many like a real dog might, because they don’t have good concentration.”

Yet for Nicolson and Pierson dogs weren’t enough, what about Beatle Squawkers, Beatle Meowers, or Beatle Bakers?

“We both felt the dogs became a bit monotonous after a while,” offers Nicolson, “and because I only had a limited number of samples it started to become a bit samey. So we decided to throw in the whole farmyard, for variety really. If you’ve just got Paul singing the whole album it’s just not the same is it?”

At the time Pierson had been putting together compilations for cut rate record companies like Telmak, K-Tel and Demtel, auspicious recordings like the 20 Greatest Moments in Australian Sport, 20 Greatest Rock and Roll songs or 20 Tear Jerker’. “We were doing these kinds of crazy things and the guy from Demtel, David Hammer he was a little crazy and said “why don’t you come up with something really really crazy?’ And I was like “what?’ And he said “anything, I just want to break the monotony.’ It was just the same crap you know.”

Beatle Barkers broke the monotony. If Wikipedia is to be believed, they broke it over 800,000 times.

“Gene sold it to a record company and it was marketed by Demtel- they sold steak knives,” Nicolson laughs.”They were actually going bust, and I think they did inevitably go bust, but this record saved them for another couple of years I think.”

Yet both Nicolson and Pierson refused to put their names to it, for fear of it tarnishing their other projects or even themselves. As a result the album was credited to the mysterious Woofers and Tweeters Ensemble.

“It’s disgraceful, it’s blasphemy,” Pierson laughs, “you’ve got the Beatles the best songwriters in the world and you’ve got dogs, cows and sheep singing songs. So we remained very anonymous. We got this crazy cover with half Beatle heads and dogs or whatever and had this crazy advertisement done. Then a couple of weeks later I’m driving along in Sydney and on JJ (it was in those days) comes this crazy song. And people were raving about it everywhere I’d go. Well some weren’t raving, some were actually giving it heaps.”

Yet that’s not the end of it. With sales of 860,000 units in Australia alone on the back of TV advertising and scant radio play, both Nicolson and Pierson kept their true identity as the woofers and tweeters ensemble hidden until recently when pirates forced their hand and copies of their album started appearing overseas renamed as 'Beatles Live From the Pound'.

“We kept out of it for a long long time,” begins Pierson, “up until about five years ago, when suddenly we realised that we missed out on all these royalties. We hadn’t officially released it anywhere else in the world; it was only released really on Demtel. All of a sudden a Google search revealed that Passport records have it out, every man and his dog can sample it from anywhere.”

“We proceeded to get some lawyers in LA who were pretty good at tracking down these Internet pirates. I believe its been pirated a million times in all forms, which is sad in a way because it means that the writers of the songs, whoever owns the Beatles stuff, Michael Jackson or whoever should be getting income for these songs. And we should be getting something for being so crazy or being so fucking stupid.”

“It was all done in cheek as a bit of a fun thing,” reflects Pierson. “It was never meant to be serious. We smoked a bit of pot in those days and it sounded really funny. When you heard that in the 80’s and you heard that you laughed yourself stupid. It’s still funny, I occasionally play round the house and the dog comes close to the house and starts howling, the cat runs away the kids go ‘eew’ and the wife walks out on me. All that happens. It’s quite disgraceful.”

“It was all done in great fun and it became bigger than we imagined it,” he continues. “We tried to keep away from it, but it keeps drawing us in here and there. The years have rolled by, it has matured, it’s standing on its own, people can laugh or they can cry.” [extract from]
So, there you have it, this month's WOCK on Vinyl is a tribute to the Beatles by the Woofers and Tweeters Ensemble, a truly Korny and Crazy example of commercial exploitation and drug induced music. Ripped from my recently acquired vinyl (garage sale) in MP3 (320kps) format, this post will sound best played through your sub-Woofer.  LOL.
Track Listing
01 I Wanna Hold Your Hand 2:27
02 Love Me Do 2:36
03 Ob-La Di, Ob-La Da 3:02
04 We Can Work It Out 2:08
05 I Saw Her Standing There 2:50
06 I Feel Fine 2:14
07 Can't Buy Me Love 2:12
08 All My Loving 2:02
09 Day Tripper 2:44
10 She Loves You 2:20
11 Hard Days Night 2:30
12 Paperback Writer 2:13

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