- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

The “Next Beatles” slot is open these days. Oh, there are some names out there that get tossed around a bit. There’s a rocking little combo out of Australia called Jet that’s been catching a little of the Next Beatles buzz lately, but its excellent debut album “Get Born” owes a lot more to the crackly-crunch of the Stones than it does to the buttery melodies of John Lennon and Sir Paul. Coldplay is, without a doubt, the hottest band in England. And Chris Martin’s group gets a lot of respect in the States, too. But Beatle-esque? Naaah.

Coldplay and its fellow Brit-pop travelers, Radiohead, both make interesting, sometimes Beatles-flavored pop music, but, jeez, are these guys downers or what? Coldplay’s Mr. Martin actually sings songs about free trade. That’s F-R-E-E T-R-A-D-E. In a pop song. With a straight face.

You cannot — repeat, cannot — be the Next Beatles if you don’t have a sense of optimism and humor.

The first Beatles, of course, invaded America 40 years ago this week, and the anniversary’s got the country wallowing again in mop-top nostalgia. The Beatles are a hot item on Sunday night’s Grammy Awards. There are a couple of big Fab Four tribute concerts in New York City and Cleveland this weekend. Our own American Film Institute in Silver Spring today kicks off a weeklong Beatles film fest. And then there’s the much-talked about exhibit of Life photographer Bill Eppridge’s Beatles photos at the Smithsonian.

We’ve loved the first ones so completely and so utterly for so long now … is it any wonder we’re always looking for the next ones?

The search for the replacements began even before the originals broke up. First, there were the Prefab Four: The Monkees. Next came the poseurs: The Bay City Rollers, anyone? Anyone? The painfully obvious: Badfinger. The just plain painful: The Knack. The overlooked gems, such as Eric Carmen’s Raspberries, from Cleveland, no less. The hopelessly obscure: Alex Chilton’s Big Star and Nick Lowe’s and Dave Edmunds’ incomparable Rockpile.

I remember laying awake late at night, the transistor radio on my pillow, waiting patiently for the glorious “Subrosa Seaway” by Klaatu, a band that the disc jockeys assured hopeful dreamers like me was actually a secretly reunited version of the Beatles.

A few years later I made it my business to see Squeeze every time it came through my college town. Squeeze seemed to take sounding like the Beatles very, very seriously, and frontmen Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook even looked a little like John and Paul. Sort of. If you … uh …squeezed your eyes a little.

Still, the Next Beatles tag seemed more of a curse than a compliment until the band-so-good-they-had-to-name-it-twice came along. Duran Duran may have been the best Next Beatles ever. Critics never gave the boys a whole lot of credit, but the MTV-spawned band’s string of hits holds up surprisingly well 20 years later. And I defy anyone to listen to “The Reflex” and tell me those guys weren’t channeling the Fab Four.

The best Lennon-McCartney songs of the 1980s, though, had to have been those written by Paul Westerberg and played by the Minnesota Beatles otherwise known as the Replacements. “I Will Dare” and “Favorite Thing,” the first two tracks on the legendary Minneapolis band’s “Let It Be” (That’s right — heh-heh — just like the other one), both sound like they would fit just perfectly on the B-side of “Paperback Writer” or “Day Tripper.”

Britain’s Oasis made a good living being the Obnoxious Next Beatles in the ‘90s. But spitting on your audience was an Iggy-thing, remember. Not a McCartney-thing. Give the Gallagher brothers credit for the gorgeous “Wonderwall,” though. Wow. What a song. I’ve never met a Beatles fan who doesn’t love that record.

When you don’t have an obvious Next Beatles, sometimes you have to get creative. Back in the 1970s, Eric Idle and co-conspirator Neil Innes created the Rutles, a Beatles mockumentary backed by a richly creative and hilarious soundtrack. In the parallel Rutle universe, John, Paul George and Ringo become Dirk, Stig, Nasty and Barry. “Help!” becomes “Ouch!” You get the picture. The humor’s flat sometimes, but Neil Innes’ affection for the Beatle sound shines through, even on over-the-top parodies such as “Piggy in The Middle.”

When the original Beatles issued “Anthology” a couple of years ago, the Funny Beatles resurfaced with their own “Archaeology,” featuring, of course, “Major Happy’s Up and Coming Once Upon a Good Time Band.”

Over the years, we’ve also had the Girl Beatles (Bangles). The Alt-Country Beatles (Flatlanders). The Disco Beatles (The Bee Gees). The Indian Beatles (Zero, featuring Siddharth, Rajeev, Girish and Warren).

I’ll bet a Washington Times mug there’s an Eskimo Beatles out there somewhere.

Frankly, if you want to see the most electrifying Next Beatles in the music world today, check out the Grammy Awards on Sunday night. The Lennon and McCartney of the hip-hop world, Andre 3000 and Big Boi, the duo behind the Atlanta pop-funk juggernaut that is OutKast, are up for lots of statuettes. Even better, they are, in all likelihood, going to perform “Hey Ya,” the megahit that has been parked at the top of the singles charts the same number of weeks as “Hey Jude,” another big hit with “Hey” in the title recorded by … oh … well. You know.

The Rock-Psychedelic-Blues-Goofy-County-Folk-John-Paul-George-and-Ringo Beatles. The originals.

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