Various Artists: 'Beatles Beginnings' (Rhythmand
Blues) Grade: A MINUS
young may find the second, "rock 'n' roll" volume educational, though not as
educational as best-ofs by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, etc.
But this misleadingly billed predecessor ... more will enlighten and entertain almost any
American, not with its perfectly OK roots-style material, which is less country
than blues, but with its pop, especially its British pop. Top of which are some
terrific skiffle records, the greatest of them Lonnie Donegan's runaway version
of Huddie Ledbetter's "Rock Island Line," a novelty smash Stateside in 1956. But
the choicest are names more read about than heard: George Formby, Humphrey
Lyttelton, Chris Barber -- every one proof of life on radio for eager '50s
British kids. And then there are a dozen tracks illustrating pop's unpredictable
fecundity in any period or context: "Your Feet's Too Big" and "Sheik of Araby,"
Marlene Dietrich and "Third Man Theme," Ray Charles' "My Bonnie" and Gene
Vincent's "Summertime," even Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly joining in on "True
Love." I hated that record when I was a musically rebellious teen. But as the
notes point out, it's the direct source of John Lennon's "Good Night." Pick and
choose, pick and choose -- it's the way of pop genius.