The Weeklings ‘ Studio 2 captivates with Beatlesque charm
The Weeklings | Studio 2 | 2016 (Jem Records)
A review/essay by Alan Haber
Who would ever have thought, who would ever have dreamt that, in the 60 minutes that passed between eight and nine o’clock on Sunday, February 9, 1964, everything, every single hope and dream poised to define so many of the youngsters sitting only a short distance from their family’s television sets would change or at least be significantly altered?
During those historic 60 minutes, a mixed bag of performers paraded onto and then off of the stage on the ground floor of what was originally known as Hammerstein’s Theatre and came to be known as the Ed Sullivan Theater. Families, gathered together in front of their television sets in their living rooms as they usually were on Sunday nights, watched the cast of the Broadway show Oliver! (with future Monkee Davy Jones, then only 19, in tow) sing “I’d Do Anything.” Comedian and impressionist Frank Gorshin, soon to become famous as the Riddler on the Batman television show, also performed, as did Welsh entertainer Tessie O’Shea and acrobatics ensemble Wells and the Four Fays.
Also performing that fateful night was a group of youngsters called the Beatles. They hailed from Liverpool, England, which seemed to be a world and a half away from just about anywhere anyone could imagine. Parents were befuddled with the attention their kids paid to the four mop tops, who would obviously constitute the proverbial flash in the pan, gone in sixty seconds, or at least the sixty minutes it took for Ed to open and close that night’s show.
History tells us that the Beatles’ performance that night, five songs strong, was anything but a flash in the pan. Indeed, there was plenty of flash on the Ed Sullivan Theater stage, but not a single pan in sight. That night, as referenced in Vinyl Kings’ song “A Little Trip,” was responsible for convincing legions of kids that they could do just what John, Paul, George and Ringo were doing, if only their parents would buy them a guitar and let them grow their hair long.
Written by Vinyl Kings’ Josh Leo, “A Little Trip” begins by recounting a conversation a father has with his son about what the son wants to be when he grows up. The answer is clear to the son as Ed Sullivan’s 2/9/64 show, a really big show, carries on. “I promise to send you a letter/When I am a big jet-setter,” the son sings. “Just say you believe in me/And send me all your love.”
Beyond the spectacle of the pomp and circumstance of rock and roll is the song, without which the flash means nothing. One of the innumerable characteristics that distinguished the Beatles throughout their career and beyond was, and continues to be, their mastery of melody, their ability to create songs that resonate with listeners and, in their own way, help to change the world.
Perhaps that’s too grandiose a thought, but perhaps not: Music has always had the power to affect listeners in many ways, some tangible and others less clearly defined. Good music, even great music, has the power to charm and captivate, to wash the blues away, to make us think, to make us smile.
The Weeklings, the Beatlesque, New Jersey big-beat foursome who know all about the power of music, are Glen Burtnik, Bob Burger, John Merjave, and Joe Bellia, music veterans all. They go by the nom de plumes Lefty, Zeek, Rocky, and Smokestack, respectively. By any measure, their passion and dedication to the art of making music would tower above most practitioners’ efforts. It would not be wrong to say that they are fab.
Studio 2, the Weeklings’ second record, about to be released, follows the quartet’s first, self-titled album, affectionately known as Monophonic, which combined covers of six songs that John Lennon and Paul McCartney gave away to other artists with six Beatle-flavored originals penned by Burtnik and Burger. Studio 2 takes somewhat of a different tack than Monophonic: this time around, eight original songs share real estate with four rare Lennon/McCartney numbers not given away to other artists, none of which were released by the Beatles and are unknown to all but the most fervent Beatles fans.
Monophonic and Studio 2, both presented in mono, spring from the same DNA, even though they take slightly different approaches. What they share, more than anything else, is an intrinsic love of Beatles music, more so the sound of the group’s earlier albums than the later ones. Even the cover of Studio 2 is a knowing nod to the Beatles, affectionately modeled after the frontispiece of The Beatles’ Second Album, right down to the legend The Monophonic Sound placed at the top, the album title subhead (NEW HITS BY THE WEEKLINGS Plus 4 Rare Lennon/McCartney Songs), and the short list of featured tunes and Jem Records legend on the right.
The details count, and that counts for the music on Studio 2 as well as the wrapper it’s contained within. So it will come as no surprise that the original songs, seven of which are co-written by Burtnik and Burger (“You’re the One” is a Burger/Merjave composition), and the more or less unknown Lennon/McCartney numbers are top-notch and injected with the spirit of the early Beatles records and other musical touchstones, for an overall sound that is uniquely Weeklings-esque. The whole affair is inspired, and the effect is akin to taking a lovely walk in the park on a beautiful, warm summer’s day. Listening to these songs is nothing less than a delightful experience.
Speaking of delightful, you get to play everyone’s favorite musical game, Spot the Reference, also known as Suss Out the Easter Eggs, while you listen to Studio 2. The band has woven a good number of musical and lyrical quotes into the fabric of these songs; it’s a blast to try and uncover them. I wouldn’t propose to totally spoil the fun for you, so I’ll only note a few: the sustained piano chord at the end of the rocking “Little Elvis” not only echoes the end of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” it was played on the actual piano used on that song in the actual Studio 2. (By the way, Studio 2, the album, was recorded in the actual Studio 2 at London’s Abbey Road Studios, a fact which I’ve neglected to mention so far because I’ve covered it in detail here. Lefty and Zeek talked about it at length on a recent edition of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, which re-airs tomorrow night at 8 pm ET; click on any of the listen links below to dig in.)
Here is another tasty Studio 2 Easter egg: The Weeklings’ take on Paul McCartney’s “Love of the Loved,” essayed most assuredly by Cilla Black, is recast as a lovely lullaby with rich vocal harmonies; it is ushered into the sound field with a recreation of the chord thrash that welcomes in “Her Majesty” on the Beatles’ Abbey Road album. And here is another one: The guitar stabs that open the unreleased Lennon/McCartney number “You Must Write” are right out of the kick off to the Beatles’ version of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music”; the end section is a musical quote from the group’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”
There is more, of course–much, much more. There is the opening, mid-tempo, harmonica-rich charmer “Morning, Noon and Night”; the energetic rocker “Don’t Know, Don’t Care,” which rolls through to its conclusion like a wild, runaway train; and the lovely harmony-drenched “Melody,” which sounds like it could have been plucked from the soundtrack of A Hard Day’s Night (plus, it has a quite satisfying key change near the end, which is always a plus in my book).
Records are time capsules, audio snapshots of the years in which they were conceived. At the same time, they are also snapshots of the times that influenced them. Burtnik and Burger have studied the Beatles’ music inside and out, soaking up every aspect that made it great and everlasting. The Weeklings’ Studio 2 and, for that matter Monophonic, are not only passionate love letters to the music that continues to inspire Burtnik and Burger, but also a demonstration of how that inspiration manifests itself in their own music. The result is a wonderful, memorable experience for listeners–an experience that will last a lifetime.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: Every song: “Morning, Noon and Night,” “Little Elvis,” “Don’t Know, Don’t Care,” “Love Can,” “You’re the One,” “Next Big Thing,” “Stop Your Running Around,” “Melody,” “You Must Write,” “Because I Know You Love Me So,” “Some Days,” and “Love of the Loved.” Plus three bonus tracks from the limited edition cassette version of the album: “It Won’t Be Long,” “All I’ve Got to Do,” and “I’m Down.”
When and Where to Get It: Beginning November 18 at the usual locations. Links to purchase this wonderful album are coming soon.