VARIOUS ARTISTS: ***
"Golden Throats 4: Celebrities
Butcher Songs of the Beatles"
Few things cloud one's judgment as much as fame--unless, perhaps, it's the prospect of losing it.
It's not just the money and applause that cause you to feel magical and even invincible--there's also the encouragement and praise of managers, agents and accountants who are eager for just a bit more themselves.
All of which leads to the kind of misguided career stretches by actors and singers that land them a spot on Rhino Records' wickedly entertaining "Golden Throat" series, which was created and produced by Gary Peterson and Pat Sierchio.
The just-released fourth volume features renditions of Beatles songs by the likes of Telly Savalas, George Burns, George Maharis and Joe Pesci. Like earlier "Golden Throat" packages, the results are at once fascinating and unlistenable.
Some pairings may seem like fun in theory (Mae West doing "Day Tripper"), but they end up simply strained, while tracks that shape up as dubious from the start (William Shatner's over-the-top recitation of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds") come across as even more grating than you would have imagined.
Like an Ed Wood movie, the collection is more fun to talk about than to hear--which means that just about its only use is as a party brightener.
Sit everyone down in the room and pass out copies of Irwin Chusid's snappy liner notes and watch the fun begin as guests come up with their own one-liners while listening to such items as Savalas singing "Something," or Joel Grey offering up "She's Leaving Home."
Perhaps strangest of all is vocalist and bandleader Alan Copeland's mix of "Mission: Impossible Theme" with "Norwegian Wood"--not a medley, mind you, but a merger of the two songs.
Some moments on "Celebrities" are so awkward they're almost sad--e.g., a great artist such as Bing Crosby trying to tap into the commercial pop world of the '60s with a version of "Hey Jude" that showed almost no feel for the material.
About the Crosby track, Chusid writes, "This dignified legend . . . sounds weary. . . . He delivers the lyrics without feeling, like he walked in off the 18th hole, was handed charts and gave them a perfunctory glance before the tape started rolling. He sounds slightly distrustful of the lyrics, as if he suspects they contain coded drug references he doesn't get."
Chusid also captures well the bizarre nature of Shatner's "Lucy." The selection, he notes, first appeared on a 1968 Shatner album, "The Transformed Man," which also contained songs ("Mr. Tambourine Man" and "It Was a Very Good Year") that were "saluted" on earlier "Golden Throat" volumes.
Shatner apparently recorded the album a few months after what has been described in a biography of the actor as a desert UFO encounter. Though the album appears in Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell's "The Worst Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time," Shatner apparently stands by it.
He is quoted in the "Transformed" liner notes as saying, "The thrill I got from making this album was deeper and more satisfying than anything I have ever experienced. I really was in orbit."
About the evaluation, Chusid adds, "He still is, apparently."
More than to Beatles fans, "Celebrities" is geared to pop adventurists.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).