4 May 2011

Underground Sunshine - Birthday/ All I Want Is You

Underground Sunshine - Birthday

Label: Intrepid
Year of Release: 1969

You know the drill with cheeky cash-in Beatles cover versions from the sixties by now - or if you don't, here's a handy guide which was doubtless followed by music industry hucksters at the time:

1. Listen to a copy of the latest Beatles LP, preferably a pre-release if you can obtain one.
2. Get that ailing band whose career you're worried about to record one of the stronger tracks as quickly as possible.  Don't waste money on orchestras, complex arrangements, or production values, just bang the bastard out at speed - you'll need to release it before anyone else gets the same idea, and time is of the essence.
3. Release the disc, and hope with your fingers tightly crossed that it launches some new stars.
4. If it flops, drop the band like hot bricks.  If it charts, watch with a sinking heart over the next year as it becomes apparent that they will never have another hit ever again.

So many band's careers followed the above pattern that it's amazing anyone in the industry was still bothering with the technique by 1969.  The Young Idea, The Truth, The Overlanders, Ray Morgan... all these artists had a short, sharp hit of success by riding on the back of Lennon and McCartney's tunesmithery, only to be relegated back on to the Working Man's club circuit within the twelve month.

I had assumed that in the USA this was less common practice, but Underground Sunshine managed to climb to number 26 on the Billboard Chart with this, their slightly limp-wristed cover of "Birthday".  Whereas the original has oomph, wah-wah piano, and a thumping proto-glam rock performance from Ringo Starr, the Sunshine here turn it into a bubblegum affair.  It's not bad, but it adds nothing and subtracts a fair amount, rendering the exercise as pointless as the ones their British cousins over the water attempted.

Far better is the B-side "All I Want Is You" where the band shine through in their true colours, sounding almost mod-ish and turning out a groovesome mix of hypnotic organ washes, laidback vocals, funky guitar lines and a non-fussy, raw delivery.  I must confess that I wasn't terribly sure about uploading this one - initially I felt it may be a bit too laissez-faire for its own good - but completely without prompting a number of friends have given it the thumbs-up upon hearing it, which has given me enough faith to deliver it to you good readers.

Underground Sunshine eventually issued a full-length album entitled "Let There Be More Light", but as this and subsequent singles (including the David Gates cover "Don't Shut Me Out") failed to chart convincingly, their number was up by 1970.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Paul played drums on the Beatles' version of "Birthday". It was recorded when Ringo left the band during "The White Album" sessions.

23 Daves said...

You couldn't be more right. And this is something I think I actually knew once, but filed to the back of my brain and finally forgot about...

Culpa Direct said...

Nope, it was Ringo. Paul played on "Back In The USSR" and "Dear Prudence" when Ringo left. "Birthday" is definitely Ringo on the basic track, though there is a drum overdub on there also. Great post, thanks!

Joe Terhune said...

I worked with the drummer from underground sunshine. He retired from the Manatee County Clerk's office this week. Didn't know he was a musician until his send-off party.